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Veterans released from prison have the chance to work in veterinary cemeteries

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After spending the past 27 years in prison, Kent Brewer looks forward to going to work every day, where he sees green, open spaces and “people are like family”.

Brewer, 69, who has a slight build but a firm handshake, is a full-time employee at the Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery in southern Prince George’s County. His work is made possible through a partnership between the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) to hire honorably discharged veterans who are incarcerated to work in the cemeteries of Maryland. state veterans once they are released.

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The program is part of an effort to reduce barriers and help people in prison reintegrate into communities, Maryland agencies said.

“Our goal is to see all veterans who have been incarcerated successfully reintegrate into the communities in which they live,” MDVA Secretary George W. Owings III said at a recent press conference announcing the program. “This partnership is one way to help them succeed.”

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So far, three men have been hired under the partnership. They began working while incarcerated and assigned to pre-release facilities, said Mark Vernarelli, a DPSCS spokesman.

DPSCS’ Public Safety Works restorative justice initiative aims to provide incarcerated people with jobs, from pre-release to employment. The partnership between the MDVA and DPSCS at veterans cemeteries enables those who have served and spent time in prison to give back in a meaningful way and be employed, said DPSCS Secretary Robert Green.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to connect those who are in our system or have served in our system who are veterans and reconnect them to something that I’m sure can be very emotional for them at times.” , Green said.

Captain Tiffany Evans, director of Public Safety Works, said attendees did a wide range of landscaping work, including lawn mowing, grounds maintenance and cemetery restoration. After they complete the pre-release program, they are hired full-time at a state veterans cemetery, she said. Maryland has five veterans’ cemeteries in Prince George, Anne Arundel, Dorchester, Baltimore, and Allegany counties.

Brewer completed the pre-release program while at Dorsey Run Correctional Institution in June and was released on February 14. He became a full-time employee at Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery on March 9.

Under the program, people receive a state job identification number, guaranteeing their employment and pay as a state employee, said Russell C. Ware, director of cemetery and cemetery programs. memorial for MDVA.

“We believe in the system so much that we’ve actually reserved positions in cemeteries for this particular program,” Ware said.

When a state job ID became available for Brewer at Cheltenham, Superintendent Dimitra Johnson said, she knew she wanted him on her team.

Johnson said Brewer’s work at the cemetery covers “a bit of everything.” He repaired and realigned the headstones. He mowed the grass and even drove heavy equipment.

“He’s proud of what he does,” Johnson said.

Brewer served in the Coast Guard during Vietnam, he said. Shortly after enlisting, he was discharged for medical reasons.

He faced substance abuse issues, went back and forth in prison and, at the age of 43, pleaded guilty to a murder he committed during an argument while he was high on drugs, Brewer said. He served 27 years in prison.

“When you use drugs, the only thing that matters is what you can do to satisfy your addiction. I learned that in prison, people matter. Your family matters, and strangers matter,” Brewer said. “It just occurred to me that ‘what you’ve done is wrong. It’s terrible, and you need to straighten up. And that’s the effort I put into it.’

While in prison, Brewer became a tutor to help other inmates learn to read and write, joined a Quaker community and helped train a service dog as part of a program that provides the dogs to injured veterans. .

Ramona Buck, who attended the recent press conference, met Brewer while he was incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Facility in Hagerstown. She and a group of Quakers started a cult group there, which Brewer joined. Buck and her husband followed Brewer over the years and, upon his release, provided him with accommodation and a car.

“Kent is a remarkable human being,” Buck said. She said he helped others who were bullied in prison with his kindness.

Brewer said he applies his work ethic to his job every day and hopes to work at the cemetery for a long time. Two of Brewer’s brothers are veterans and one is buried in a veterans cemetery.

“I know I have somewhere to go everyday,” Brewer said. “It has been a blessing. Things fell into place like I had never dreamed of.

Owings and Green praised Brewer at the recent press conference. Owings described him as a “true asset” to Cheltenham Cemetery and a “focused and dedicated employee”.

“Mr. Brewer, we are proud of you,” Green said. “We are proud of your hard work, your commitment to your success that has made this opportunity possible, and the example you will set for others.”

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