Where the carpet ends at the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail, the secured zone of long concrete hallways and blocks of housing begins.
There are veterans on both sides of the steel doors at the correctional facility; some are there to work, others wait to go home.
On Sunday, about a dozen correctional officers milled around a conference room in the unsecured side of the jail for a luncheon sponsored by the Williamsburg Veterans of Foreign Wars. Each of them served in the Army, Air Force, Marines or Navy.
“People don’t realize that when you join the service you signed a contract that included giving up your life,” Air Force veteran and VFW chaplain Jim Anderson told the group.
“It wasn’t the preacher that gave you the freedom of religion. It’s not the politician who gives you the right to vote. It’s not the newspaper that gives you the freedom of the press. It’s the veteran.”
Going to work
More than a dozen veterans from every branch of the military except the Coast Guard work at the jail.
Among the group is Lt. Ronald Roth, 49, who served as an artilleryman in the U.S. Army from 1987 to 1989.
Since he was a child, he said he always wanted to be a criminal investigator. In high school he studied in the ROTC program, finished two years of active duty service and followed up with six years in the reserves.
“Discipline is a big part of it,” Roth said of how the service prepared him for work as an internal and drug task force investigator at the jail. “You have to have good morals. The biggest thing I’d die talking about is integrity: doing what’s right even when no one’s looking.”
Roth’s investigative partner Cpl. Marcos Tomala, 41, served four years in the Marine Corps including multiple deployments to Iraq, he said.
Tomala came to the United States as an immigrant from Guayaquil, Ecuador, when he was 4. He earned U.S. citizenship after his service.
“The majority (of veterans) appreciate the conversations you have,” Tomala said. “We treat them as human beings. We’re here just holding them until they get to their next destination.”
Despite their incarceration, Roth said all veterans in the jail share the same bond: service to the nation.
“I look at it as people make mistakes in their lives,” he said. “Things happened and they made mistakes. They still served this country. I don’t look down on anybody because I don’t think there’s anybody in this life that don’t make mistakes and something couldn’t happen and they end up here.”
Behind the steel doors
Brian Giedd, 46, is among at least a dozen incarcerated veterans at the jail — they were given donated goodie bags on Veterans Day by the jail and the Patrick Henry chapter of the Disabled American Veterans.
“I made a lot of mistakes, and I also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder,” Giedd said. “I take medications, without it I act out, and when I act out, I come here.”
Despite joining the military band, Giedd went to basic training like any other soldier.
At basic, a friend and an instructor died in a grenade training exercise that went terribly wrong; a piece of the man’s bone remains embedded in Giedd’s shoulder.
He left the Army in 1992 had three sons, but started to abuse alcohol to cope with the emotional pain from that day in basic training.
“You learn some discipline and some structure,” Giedd said of his time in the Army. “For many years I was in denial, so I didn’t get help. That started a downward spiral that once it was able to be corrected, it was still too late.”
In 2007, Giedd drunkenly held a roommate against their will. He pleaded guilty in court and was given a suspended sentence of 10 years behind bars.
“When you’re in the Army it’s a lean, mean, fighting machine,” Giedd said. “Any sign of weakness was not tolerated. I hid it through drinking and a few other things.”
Giedd slipped up and allegedly violated his probation three times from 2011 to 2018. He said he will fulfill his original 10-year sentence.
Giedd, like many who end up in the criminal justice system, made at least one mistake in his life, he said. His mistake, he said, was that he didn’t ask for help.
Similarly, Lydell Webb, 45, served as a medical specialist and ambulance driver in the Army near the Pentagon, he said.
He cared for and drove about 500 people from 1991 to 1994, he said. When he left the Army, he went back to his hometown of Chicago to work a white-collar job and take care of his great-grandmother, who was dying from renal failure.
“I was kinda picked by my family because of my medical background,” Webb said. “Assisting my grandmother became my life’s mission at the time.”
When she died in 1997, he said he soon fell into a depression and developed a cocaine addiction, which eventually became a crack cocaine addiction.
“I was definitely depressed at the time,” Webb said. “I don’t handle death well. It was easy to fall into that trap; that circle of addiction.”
He began stealing to pay for his addiction, he said. Years later, he wants to win the fight over addiction; He wants to remain sober.
Now, Giedd leads his fellow inmates as a stockman in the kitchen — a prestigious job within a jail that stymies smuggling. It requires trust. Webb works alongside him there.
Both stories are a familiar tale for Roth.
“I think they sway the way some of these young people think,” Roth said of incarcerated veterans.
“That leadership that they have,” Tomala said. “It just comes out.”
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.