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James Crabtree Correctional Center incarcerated veterans honor other veterans and families of fallen service members

The veterans club at James Crabtree Correctional Center in Helena, OK, began a flag afghan project to provide crocheted flag afghans to veterans and families of fallen service members.
BY OLIVIA INGLE Published: July 8, 2012

Helping out

Each flag afghan costs $50 to make.

The inmates fund the project with portions of their $10 to $12 monthly salaries, but some funding comes from outside prison walls.

Joy Reed's sixth-grade class at Timberlake Elementary in Jet began raising money for the project a couple of years ago. A father of one of the girls in the class received a flag afghan and the class decided to help the cause.

To date, the class has given the club nearly $1,600.

“We rely on the goodness and kindness of people to be able to do what we do,” Fowler said. “It's always nice when we receive a little help from out in the world.”

Disabled American Veterans Chapter 66 Jr. Vice Commander Mike McCauley, James Crabtree Correctional Case Manager III Vernon Sanders and Maj. Gen. LaRita Aragon also help the club by locating veterans and families of the fallen and delivering the afghans.

Aragon said she met the veterans club at the prison about three months ago.

“I fell in love with these guys,” she said. “They were all standing at attention and were happy that I was there.”

Aragon was presented with an afghan during her visit.

She said the veterans club and the flag afghan project are the best therapy for the incarcerated veterans.

“We have to keep in mind that most of them are there because of things that happened to them traumatically in the military,” she said. “People have to understand they're dealing with things most of us will never encounter.”

Afghan recipients

The inmates crochet two different types of flag afghans, ones with white stars and ones with gold stars. The white-starred ones are for veterans and families of fallen troops across the United States. The gold-starred ones are specifically for families of Oklahoma who have had a loved one killed in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2003.

Fowler said there has been one exception.

A gold star afghan was presented in May to Mark and Carol Graham, of North Carolina, at the Woodring Wall of Honor and Veterans Park's Memorial Day ceremony in Enid.

The ceremony honored veterans and fallen Oklahoma heroes.

Maj. Gen. Mark Graham was a speaker at the event. He recently retired from the Army after 34 years of service.

The Grahams lost two sons to different wars.

Their youngest son, Kevin, was an ROTC cadet and attended the University of Kentucky. In 2003, he took his own life after battling depression.

Eight months later, the couple's oldest son, Army 2nd Lt. Jeffrey Graham, was killed serving in Iraq.

Carol Graham said the afghan was a surprise and moved the couple to tears.

“It meant the world to us,” she said. “We were so touched and honored, especially to see other families receive blankets.”

Carol said she covered herself up with the afghan on the flight home to North Carolina. She wasn't going to let it out of sight.

“I was wrapped in love and support,” she said.

She said it's great that the veterans club is focusing on the needs of others who are hurting.

“We felt the love that was poured into every stitch,” Carol said. “We're both grateful and want them (veterans club) to know that.”

McCombs said the club's intent is to not let the current generation of veterans go unnoticed like some of the center's incarcerated veterans were when they returned home from war.

“We can't give the wrong veteran or family a blanket,” McCombs said. “Everyone needs one.”

Fowler said the club's motto is what's most important.

“Though we cannot serve our country, we will serve those who have,” he said.