UNION COUNTY, Fla. — You might think they'd blame Vietnam for their situation -- many locked up for life for terrible crimes.
But blame the trauma of fighting in Vietnam? No.
The Vietnam Veterans of America --VVA -- Chapter 1080 inside the Union County Correctional Institute was awarded best chapter of incarcerated veterans in the country in 2017.
First Coast News' Jeannie Blaylock interviewed some of the veterans and heard them say things, such as, "I can't give back enough. I screwed up. Yes, I screwed up."
Chapter President Ed Shook said a "bunch of us old guys" do walk-a-thons to raise money to give back to the community.
One of the group's sponsors, not an inmate himself, is Vietnam veteran Col. Bob Adelhelm. He says, "This VVA chapter has raised $34,000 over the last seven years and given it to the community."
But how do you raise money from inside a prison?
The walk-a-thons entail actually walking in circles, often for a couple of days in a row, around the prison yard.
And Shook's legs the next day? "Sore," he says with a smile.
You might not think there would not be much to smile about facing the rest of your life behind bars, but the VVA Chapter members say working to help others has been remarkable therapy for them, even for struggles with PTSD.
The prisoners have raised money for local schools and for local veterans.
For example, First Coast News aired a story about Chris Langston, who served in the United States Marines. His home burned down, and he was in tears, as he pulled out his father's uniform, tattered, pretty much in ashes. Through tears, he said, "These are my dress blues. These are my father's dress blues."
The inmates say they were watching First Coast News and saw his story.
At the next meeting they voted to donate $1000 to Chris.
Chapter 1080 has also worked to support Buddy Check and the Buddy Bus, a mobile mammography project between First Coast News and Baptist/MD Anderson. They've donated walk-a-thon money to help buy the Buddy Bus.
As one incarcerated veteran says, "We done something to take away from society and this is our way, as veterans, to give back."
They also ask for more respect for all Vietnam veterans, as they still express - some 50 years later - their pride in serving in Vietnam.