The Oregon State Pen Rises to a 100-Mile Challenge to Stop Soldier Suicide

This article was written by the Oregon State Penitentiary’s Public Information Officer. With Memorial Day just around the corner, we thought this story was particularly inspirational and a good reminder of how we can remember the American service members we have lost.

The veteran memorial at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, OR

In a time where uncertainty and unrest are at the forefront of society, and communities are struggling to maintain alignment and unity with one another, individuals are still pushing forward, adapting to challenges, and finding creative ways to stay connected. For those struggling with mental illness, this is a greater challenge. For our nation’s veterans, this is an act of survival.

Veteran suicide is reported to be at a rate 50% higher than the national average. It is one non-profit’s mission to reduce these numbers by raising awareness and providing resources to veterans of all service members. Stop Soldier Suicide has created challenges in which statewide Facebook groups made up of veterans and their supporters can participate to help raise awareness. Oregon’s 100-Mile Challenge for the month of March sparked strong interest and involvement by an unexpected group of individuals at the Oregon State Penitentiary.

The 100-Mile Challenge, which ran from March 1, 2021 through March 31, 2021, had veterans, adults in custody, and correctional staff all working together for this one important cause. In total, 137 participants submitted nearly 5,000 miles to raise awareness for veteran suicide. Throughout the month, staff and AICs alike encouraged each other to continue to push on in a true collaborative spirit. This challenged the dichotomy often assumed about prison staff and prison residents, with staff reporting their miles to AIC representatives for recording.

To make this challenge a reality and spread the word, the efforts of our Asian-Pacific Family Club, Veteran’s Club, and Athletic Club joined efforts to research, propose their idea, post the information to institution TV networks, and place flyers around the institution. The clubs also shared this information with community supporters. After the challenge ended, the efforts for veteran suicide awareness did not. The Veteran’s Club of the Oregon State Penitentiary also donated $1K to Mission 22, an Oregon charity supporting the veteran community with veteran treatment programs, memorials, and community social impact.

Although society is not without challenges, and communities are struggling to remain united, the community within the walls of Oregon’s maximum security prison are fighting to increase unity, minimize adversity, and come together for the common goal of compassion and charity.