RCC hosts veterans’ summit

Published 9:47 am Wednesday, September 16, 2015

On Thursday, Aug. 27, Rayburn Correctional Center hosted the third annual Louisiana Incarcerated Veterans Summit in the Bethel Interfaith Chapel at the facility.

As they entered the chapel, each guest was greeted by Vets Staff Sponsor, Karla Hillman, and Post Commander Master of Ceremonies Charles E. Boyd. The 2015 summit commenced with welcome remarks from the post commander; and a prayer led by Chaplain Mark Hollingsworth.

Boyd introduced the RCC host, Warden W.S. “Sandy” McCain. McCain highlighted the importance of the annual event toward the department’s re-entry efforts.

The first featured speaker was Rhett Covington, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. He applauded McCain and his staff for innovative and progressive programs and spoke on the reentry initiatives and services of the department.

Covington was followed by David LaCerte, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

“It is my honor to partner with the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections for the 2015 veterans summit,” LaCerte said. “Regardless of your current situation, you served our country with honor and I am pleased to connect you and your families with the available resources.”

LaCerte encouraged the incarcerated veterans to remain focused and positive, and to lean on each other for moral support. He reminded the men that they were not alone in their plight, and that people remembered them and what they had done for their country.

The crowd also welcomed 15-year-old Sean Noel, a youth volunteer and hemophiliac from Mandeville. Noel spoke about his faith in God obliging him to make a difference; and that his story may help others afflicted with hemophilia or other blood disorders.

Boyd then announced that the local post had voted unanimously to award Noel honorary membership. He then presented Noel with the customary post red “VETS” cap and American flag lapel pin. Noel also received an American eagle plaque, which was handcrafted by a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. The back of the plaque contained the signature of every member of the local post. Boyd then escorted Noel to the Post Color Guard, whom snapped to attention and rendered him honors.

Orleans Parish Criminal District Judge, the Hon. Arthur L. Hunter Jr., also spoke. Hunter spoke at length about the Veterans Treatment Court and how he evaluates each person who comes before the court.

“I not only consider the violation and offender before me, I look at other factors, such as what led this person to this moment,” he said. “As judges, we must administer justice in a manner that is fair to everyone, including the offenders.”

Retired USMC Lt. Col. Duane “Dutch” Van Fleet was the keynote speaker, talking about his Vietnam combat experience.

During a segment of the program, incarcerated veteran commanders from across the state stood with their respective wardens, Sean Noel, and Crystalline Meshell, Outreach Coordinator for the Louisiana Hemophilia Foundation, as checks in the amount of $75 each were presented to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Louisiana Hemophilia Foundation.

The veterans and wardens stood with Phil Ruddock, founder of Brothers & Sisters in Arms Dog Training as checks in the amount of $750 each were presented to Ruddock’s organization and the National Wounded Warrior Project. The cumulative donation from incarcerated veterans was $3,000.

The Louisiana Veterans Honor Medal Ceremony then began. Each honoree, by their name, rank, and service branch, proceeded up the aisle to receive the Veterans Honor Medal.

RCC Deputy Warden Keith Bickham was the final speaker. Bickham commended Hillman and the veterans for a job well done.