Prison bars don't stop Iowa veterans from serving their community
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa
ROCKWELL CITY, Iowa — It is not surprising that when U.S. Air Force veteran Matthew Krewson saw a story about Taylor Morris on the news, he was inspired to help the 23-year-old bomb detection expert and Cedar Falls native who was severely injured in a May blast that cost him portions of all four limbs.
What may be surprising is that Krewson is an inmate at the North Central Correctional Facility in Rockwell City.
Krewson heads up a six-person veterans group within the confines of the prison that, through a series of fundraisers, was able to raise $4,000 for Morris.
NCCF, located in Calhoun County about 30 miles southwest of Fort Dodge, is a minimum security prison and is considered a transitional facility. It houses about 500 inmates.
The facility itself, made up of small buildings that include a control center, dining hall, visiting center and administration building, features white walls, red roofs and Southwestern-style arches. The picturesque setting is in stark contrast to the fencing and razor wire that surround it.
Meeting in the prison library to discuss their fundraising efforts are Krewson, 37, the veterans group commander; Chad Hendrickson, 35, the group's vice commander; and Dudley, a black lab-retriever mix who is settled comfortably at Hendrickson's feet. Joe Bush, the facility's activities specialist, also is on hand.
Krewson, who has spent the last 18 years in prisons around Iowa for second-degree murder and first-degree arson, is animated as he talks about why and how the men in the group do what they do.
"Veterans feel a bond no matter where they are," Krewson said. "When I saw the story about Taylor, I said 'We have a situation here where we can help someone.'
"Taylor is 23 years old, he does his job, now he's missing limbs," Krewson said. "It is important for him to know he is not forgotten, his sacrifice is remembered."
Krewson also has praise for Danielle Kelly, Morris' longtime girlfriend.
"Think about her strength of character to continue to stand behind him," Krewson said.
Krewson took Morris' story to the group, which also includes inmates Robert Majors, Stacy Weston, Bryan Moore and Wayne Berry, and all agreed to help.
"As vets, we are a democracy," Krewson said. "If it's not a unanimous decision, it doesn't happen."
To raise money, the group holds cookouts and sells food items such as pizza and ice cream.
"We try to provide things the inmates don't typically get," said Bush, a Columbus High School and University of Northern Iowa graduate who has worked at the prison since 1993.
This year, the group was able to raise $9,350, all generated by the inmates.
Morris' portion was sent to his grandparents, Sid and Alvira Morris of Cedar Falls. It was the largest single donation the group has given since its inception in 2005.
The veterans were excited when they received a card from the Morris family acknowledging receipt of the donation.
"We appreciated that," Krewson said. "It was good to actually hear it made it to them.
"We know it's not a lot," he said. "But it's the best we could do under the circumstances."
While Morris received the largest chunk of funds this year, the veterans group supports a number of causes ranging from a veterans band that survives solely on donations and Boy Scout troops to care packages for veterans' families and leader dogs for the blind.
"We try to keep stepping it up," said Army veteran Hendrickson, who has been imprisoned for two years after a string of infractions including possession of marijuana, burglary and multiple OWI charges. "It was about $10,000 this year, next year it will be more."
In addition to raising money, members of the group are involved in other community service activities.
Krewson and Hendrickson, who are roommates, don't only provide financial support for the leader dog program, they train the canines as well.
Dudley, who is sponsored by the Rockwell City Lions Club, is one of about 10 leader-dogs-in-training currently living with inmates at NCCF to complete their first phase of training, which lasts a year.
The group also was instrumental in the building of Veterans Memorial Park in Fort Dodge and purchased and installed a wall of mirrors in the NCCF visiting center bearing the names of fallen Iowa soldiers. They also provide support and assistance to any veteran incarcerated at NCCF, including helping them fill out paperwork, obtaining military records and informing them about benefits they are entitled to.
Both Krewson and Hendrickson credit the prison staff and administration with allowing and facilitating their efforts.
Written proposals are submitted for approval by Warden Cornell Smith, and Bush works as a liaison between administrators and inmates.
"It is not only vets they care about," Bush said. "It goes way beyond that. They have become role models for the other prisoners. They are willing to help and aren't looking for pats on the back.
"I'm happy to have individuals like that here," he said. "It makes our job a lot easier."
"Look, I know I screwed up," Krewson said. "There are certain crimes that nothing can rectify. But in the military, there is a special bond, and we have to continue to push forward and show support. We wouldn't have the freedoms and liberties we have without them.
"All I know, is no vet should ever have to go without," Krewson said. "And if one person can make a difference, what can six people do?"