California Model, Rehabilitation

CTF hub tailors services to incarcerated veterans

CDCR Unlocked podcast focuses on incarcerated veterans and services for them. Image shows flags and veterans during Memorial Day.
Incarcerated veterans at CTF observe Memorial Day.

CDCR and Veterans Healing Veterans from the Inside Out (VHV) have formed a groundbreaking partnership to serve incarcerated veterans. VHV founder Ron Self sat down with the CDCR Unlocked podcast to talk about the program’s important work serving veterans.

Visit the Veterans Healing Veterans from the Inside Out website.

In 2021, Correctional Training Facility (CTF) and VHV cut the ribbon for the first Veterans Hub in the nation. The Soledad facility offers programs and services to coordinate delivery of benefits for eligible veterans. It also provides rehabilitative programs tailored to the unique needs of veterans.

Learn more about the Veterans Hub at CTF.

Participants take part in peer mentorship, support groups, and a dog program. New Life K-9 participants train dogs to become service dogs for veterans and first responders.

Learn more about New Life K-9’s program at CTF.

VHV has grown leaps and bounds since it began in 2012 inside San Quentin State Prison. Today, programs operate at five California prisons and in Texas and Arizona. Self praised CDCR for understanding the importance of this work and for being willing to partner with formerly incarcerated people.

“CDCR has made it absolutely possible for a formerly incarcerated guy like me to do this program for veterans inside,” Self said. “They have accommodated us at every turn, every step of the way.

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Podcast transcript

Krissi Khokhobashvili

Hello and welcome to CDCR Unlocked. This is the podcast of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. My name is Krissi Khokhobashvili, and today’s episode is brought to you from the Division of Rehabilitative Programs.

They sat down with Ron Self, who I am very honored to call a friend and a colleague, to talk about his groundbreaking program for veterans at one of our institutions.

Ron is the subject of one of my favorite CDCR stories because a few years ago, after he had gotten out of prison and was just starting this work in the community, he met with some leaders here at CDCR. I ran into him up in the executive suite, got to say hi to him, how’re you doing, and we went about our days. And then later, someone who had been in that meeting mentioned it to me and I said, “Oh, Ron, I met him when he was at San Quentin.” And they went, “He was at San Quentin?”

It was just very cool to see that Ron was no longer associated with having been incarcerated, and really is just seen and is a very important partner to the department and one who is doing some really, really outstanding work with veterans who are incarcerated, and as they return to their communities.

So please enjoy this conversation with Ron Self.

Ron Self

Well, my name is Ron Self. I am the founder and executive director of Veterans Healing Veterans From the Inside Out. Along with our Veterans Healing Veterans Staff (VHV), our team, tries to run things from here.

The program I designed, it revolves, it primarily is about narration therapy. What we try to do over a 52-week curriculum is we try to identify the first significant or traumatic event that took place in your life as a child and create an autobiographical narration moving forward, incorporating all significant events up into the current point in time.

So, for military people, obviously it’s your childhood, then it becomes the military, and then for people in prison, they get the trifecta of what it’s like being in prison. That’s definitely a trifecta right there.

I started the program as a result of my own failed suicide. And that was the result of the shame that I felt that I brought the Marine Corps, myself, my friends that gave their lives in the Marine Corps. I founded the program based on my experience of having gone to prison, and how could I have not gone to prison? So, I used the education that I had already received from the military. They had a college program at San Quentin prison that I was attending, and they allowed me to repeatedly go through the English 204 class to develop a curriculum for this program.

So, I used myself as a means to create something that would have helped me. That was my thought process when creating the program. If I wanted to help people, what would have helped me? And what would have helped me was being able to identify what were the events in my childhood and in the military that caused me to make the decisions that put me in prison with a sentence of 32 to life.

There are some very powerful programs going on within the prison system. Two of them that I participated in at San Quentin prison, was the VOEG (Victim Offender Education Group) and GRIP (Guiding Rage Into Power).

I was doing both of those at the same time, and I really felt that they fed off each other. Something I didn’t understand in one, I understood better in the other. But what I did realize from both of those programs was neither of them went deep enough when it came to the veteran stuff. And I’ll give an example, I was in the VOEG program one time reading a situation what happened in Rwanda in 1994 with some of the guys I served with. And after sharing what had happened in that mission, the guys in the room were just speechless. They just didn’t know how to digest what I had just shared with a bunch of guys I served with all my life being killed in about nine seconds in a pretty gruesome way and how they died.

Nobody knew how to address that. And that actually caused more harm to me than it did good.

It wasn’t their fault. They just didn’t know what to do with what I was sharing. I mean, the level of impact of combat trauma was just something they’d never heard.

And I left that group that day feeling probably more suicidal than I had ever felt in my life and misunderstood and not heard. And it wasn’t a fault with the program. It’s just the program wasn’t designed to deal with combat trauma. And it just really had an effect on me.

CDCR has made it absolutely possible for a formerly incarcerated guy like me to do this program for veterans inside. They have accommodated us at every turn, every step of the way.

They’ve funded multiple programs with IPG (Innovative Programming Grants), CARE (California Reentry and Enrichment) grants, and then the grant we got from the Governor because of CDCR. That’s never been done before in the history of programing. No formerly incarcerated guy ever received $4.1 million to create a pilot program. It’s never happened.

I think that speaks to the genuine sincerity of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s desire to not fix the system but improve it. And it’s in vast need of improvement. And they are absolutely doing that.

The only complaints I ever hear is  none of it happening fast enough. I mean, the guys out at the hub, Soledad prison. You know, “When’s the memo getting signed, when’s the memo getting signed?”

Okay, the memo gets signed. Okay. “Well, when’s this happening? When’s that happening.” They want everything like right now. They’re hungry (and) they’re starving for programing. They’re starving for this concept, this idea, this whole thought process around camaraderie and an entire yard of veterans to actually start happening.

For us, the concept is not just to provide positive programing for the residents, but also to provide positive programing for the staff. So, like when Def Leppard comes in, Rick Allen, drummer for Def Leppard, he has come several times. Him and his wife, Lauren Monroe from Raven Drum (Foundation). We want to have an event on the yard. We’re going to do two events a year on the yard with them.

But after the event on the yard takes place, we want to have a separate event for the staff because it’s different how they interact when the staff are on the yard with the guys and these celebrities. And then when the staff are separate and they’re not with the residents and it’s just the staff, they can be different, right? They can let down their hair a little bit. And I think it’s very important that we include them in all these types of things.

The benefit is it’s illustrating and it’s doing what should have been done with these people prior to them even going to the military. That’s addressing the trauma that almost everyone has to some degree: verbal, physical, whatever, from their childhood. It’s addressing that trauma.

It’s addressing the trauma that the military then might have added to and then prison itself. So, these people are coming out with insights. They’ve done the work; they’ve done the introspection. They’ve done things that, frankly, people on the outside have not had to do because they weren’t put in prison. These guys come out very levelheaded, very articulate in thought. They’ve connected with empathy and compassion in a way they never have in their life. That’s the benefit.

The thought, maybe I just started this program to help get myself out of prison and then they’d never see me again when I got out. And then to go back now and have almost every one of those guys, when they parole, they come here and then they get back on their feet. And our VHV staff, our case managers, they go in the prisons and work with them before they even get out. We bring in CDCR parole agents in to work with them before they even get out. So, all the anxiety of getting out, it becomes less anxiety and it’s more of a natural next step. It’s like turning the handle on the door and stepping out.

Well, since then, I’ve been asked to be a commissioner on the Council for Criminal Justice, on the Veterans Justice Commission. I serve on that with Chuck Hagel, Leon Panetta, Colonel Stewart, General Chiarelli, a lot of pretty powerful heavy hitters. The idea behind the commission is to address the needs of the 200,000 military people incarcerated nationally. All 50 states. State and federal prisons. 200,000 veterans in prison nationally. That’s a lot.

Doing this work has put me in a position, it’s put VHV in a position, where we have a voice and we can be heard at the table in Washington, D.C. and what we say influences policy.

What more can I ask for? I just got back from Texas. We’re starting in Texas. We’re going to do Arizona next. So, I mean, we went from one prison to a veterans hub system in California to now three states. And now we’re going to do it on a federal level.

We’re working with the Defense Language Institute right here, DLI. That’s the language school for the military. Any branch of the military, if you’re going to go learn a language intelligence, you go to DLI.

We work with them. They have a lot of volunteers that they provide for different events that we do. We’re going to be bringing active-duty military people to the base in busloads at a time. The active-duty people can meet with the guys that are veterans in prison. And they can have a dialog about how the guys ended up in prison and they can really show them what poor choices make or where you can end up with a poor choice.

The very concept that we’re doing in California with three hubs: a central, southern, and a northern hub, VHV would like to see at least one hub in every state. On a federal level is, what I’m working on right now, is I’m proposing to them a West Coast hub, an East Coast hub, central United States, where they can put their 14,000 federal veterans in those three hubs, and they can do it on a national basis. And provide the same stuff that we’re doing here.

So, one of the benefits of coming to the hub, if you’re a veteran, is we’ll have compensation examiners onsite five days a week to do your claim for you. So, if you’re a veteran and you have a service-connected claim anywhere from 0 to 100 percent, they can adjudicate all that for you at the hub. That’s the most important thing that the hub does.

And while you’re in prison, you can only receive 10 percent of whatever your rating is, anything above that you can do on apportionment to your family if they meet a needs scale financially. So, it’s a way for the veteran that’s incarcerated to provide support to his family still and lessen the burden on society.

If they’re on parole, we can house them. That’s LTORR- Long Term Offender Re-entry[Recovery program.

We could actually house them here (in VHV). Even if they’re not on parole, there are things we could still help them with- like getting their military records in order, filing for service compensation benefits. We have other resources that we can put them in touch with if we can’t help them because of their location geographically. So, there’s a lot of different ways we can help people if they’re veterans. We still get guys that have been out of the program for a year or two call up and say, “I need some help.” “Okay, come on in.”

To the public and to our veterans healing veteran staff, I mean, the reality is, this is a team truly. You hear that a lot, right? Military talk. It’s a team. There’s no “i” in team. It couldn’t be any more true. I would not have, and I’m reluctant to say “my” success because it’s not my success. It’s the success of this idea that if people didn’t pour their hearts and souls into, none of it would be happening.

So, the guys actually taking it seriously and doing the work, they’re the ones that are making this happen. They’re the ones that are changing their lives. We’re providing a means, but they’re the ones doing the work. Our staff who take the time, I mean, the hours that we work for a nonprofit, they are beyond most. I mean, these guys are working in the evenings often, the weekends. They’re pouring their hearts and souls into this.

And as far as the public, they see the difference in the men and women when they come out and they embrace them. And that’s what this is about.


I hope everybody enjoyed that conversation with Ron Self as much as I did. I know I could sit and talk with him for hours and hours. If you want to learn more about what Ron is doing, look up Veterans Healings Veterans from the Inside Out. There are also a couple of stories about this innovative program at

That is it for CDCR Unlocked, the podcast of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. You can find us anywhere you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening.