TEC’s Forgotten Veterans Program for Incarcerated Veterans
By Katy Hackworthy along with Toni Mattson, Trinity Equestrian Center
The Trinity Equestrian Center (TEC), whose mission is to provide hope and healing, has a rich history of serving and supporting veterans in the Chippewa Valley. In addition to their Rise Above program, a free Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning (EAP/L) for veterans and their families, they’re also developing additional programming in partnership with the Stanley Correctional Institution (SCI) for incarcerated veterans. Program Director and co-owner Toni Mattson chatted with Second Opinion to tell us more about their new wellness programming, Forgotten Veterans.
What is the Forgotten Veterans program?
TEC will provide a 12-week EAP/L program for nine screened and approved veteran participants at SCI at no cost. Each therapy session lasts 50 minutes and will be conducted by one of TEC’s treatment teams: a WI licensed Therapist, a Certified Equine Specialist, and one of TEC’s therapy horses. The session format is an innovative blend of face-to-face, on prision grounds sessions and live streaming sessions with each participant’s horse and human team conducted from TEC’s location, and the cutting-edge use of equine behavior and perception tools.
Mr. Drost, the SCI’s Veteran Wing Manager and Toni have been developing the Forgotten Veterans program together since 2017. Many veteran inmates shared their goals for the program, with one stating, “I am tired of being angry and unhappy about what happened in the military. I still have 12 more years to serve, and I think working with the horses will help me gain confidence, tone down my temper, and maybe find some peace in my life.” Mr. Drost is a graduate of TEC’s Veteran Wellness Program himself, and everything he shared with Toni about the veteran inmates solidified her desire and commitment to provide them therapeutic programming.
What makes this program special?
It is one of the only therapy programs in the Midwest that takes horses into a prison setting in order to work with veteran inmates struggling with PTSD and other service-related issues. The goal of this program remains to help restore hope and dignity to incarcerated veterans of SCI, specifically through managing service-related PTSD, depression/anxiety, anger and antisocial behavior, making their living environment safer and calmer. TEC also strives to help veterans prepare to rebuild/reconnect with a positive, supportive social and faith network in order to support a successful community reintegration post release. If an inmate’s sentence outlives their life, the program still helps them live a life of dignity, pride and purpose, even while incarcerated.
What makes you passionate about serving veterans and folks in prison?
We are passionate about veterans because of our family’s long military history, dating back to our great grand-father and as recent as my husband, another of our co-owners of Trinity. I believe serving our country is an honor, privilege, and even our responsibility, but I also believe that the act of service can create a double-edged sword. On one side you have the accolades and praise, and on the other, the demons and haunting memories. It’s the second side that causes the passion for us to help as many veterans as we possibly can.
Everyone is worthy of redemption and everyone deserves a chance to change.