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prior to I drive into fort Leavenworth, ns was a sublieutenant colonel in the Army. And within minutes, that would certainly all be taken far from me.

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In 2012, ns was sentenced to offer a year at Leavenworth—the nation’s main military jail for those that serve in the armed Forces—for exposing a an initial lieutenant to HIV. I’d to be HIV confident for number of years, v my viral pack suppressed come the point where it was impossible to transmit the virus. In spite of that, and other evidence in my favor, ns was tho charged v felony assault, willful disobedience, abusive sexual contact and also conduct unbecoming one officer.


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Weeks before, when the judge in my court martial discovered me guilty, ns was top top my method for a promo to it is in a complete colonel, the highest rank in the military before ending up being a general. In the military, location is everything; it literally specifies who you are. It specifies your pay, of course, but likewise it speak others exactly how to respect you.

As a private, you’re in ~ the bottom that the food chain. Everyone above you requires a salute and a greeting that the day. You relocate aside for greater ranked soldiers. You stand at attention and look at an elderly officers in the eye and also say, “Good morning,” while mopping the floors.

It took me over twenty years to get to sublieutenant colonel, a location that out of every human being who served in mine family, just my uncle was able to achieve. It was such a proud moment for my family members that ns was provided his personal WWII sidearm—a Colt .45 pistol.

But the night of mine conviction, my mom in her own trauma was questioning for that exact same side eight back; she was afraid i was walk to use it versus myself.

In Leavenworth, your former rank dead no weight. Top top the day ns went in, the silver- oak leaves emblazoned on mine uniform the signaled what ns was to be taken away from me, and also I came to be an inmate—a sinner to a country that ns swore come protect and serve.

Or, in ~ least, that’s what ns was an alleged to be.

I was among the highest-ranking human being in fort Leavenworth during my time there—and anyone knew that. In spite of the military being America’s biggest employer, it’s exceptionally small; it’s impossible to not know everyone’s rank as soon as they to walk in.

The commandant the the prison appeared to protect against me (until recently, I had outranked her) and also I still had guards inadvertently speak to me, “sir,” accidentally. They’d catch themselves and also shuffle off, unsure of exactly how to work with the dynamic the a human you’d generally have to salute currently being a person you had actually to mental after.

But my former rank also could’ve placed me at risk. Unlike in the civilian civilization where attorneys decision on even if it is charges are filed against someone, in the military, that commanders and also colonels—people choose myself—who decide on if human being should be charged for crimes the could an outcome in them offer time in Leavenworth. I felt prefer a ar attorney walking into the center of song Sing prison.


To self-preserve, I never tried to pull rank amongst the other inmates—or the guards, for that matter—until I got news the my 16-year-old cousin died while i was locked up. I saw the clock commander the the prison and demanded to it is in left alone for a week. I might have been in a brown uniform at that point, but that watch commander knew damn well that Lt. Col. Pinkela was telling him to be left alone.

And castle did.

Every night, I preserved a journal and also wrote the preamble of the U.S. Structure … over and over. “We the people of the United states of America … ,” filled fine over a dozen pages. Ns traced my hands. I created out the military strategy native “The art of War” just to repeat myself of who I was.

I never ever pulled location again. Yet I did use it to help others. Young soldiers that were using for clemency—many of lock with only a high institution diploma—were make the efforts to compose essays questioning for forgiveness to it is in let out and go home and also see your families. Together a an elderly officer, ns would review clemency letters weekly. In Leavenworth, ns would aid the men draft lock out.

I became known together a little bit of a den mother, caring after her chicks. And also that’s what a most the world I was locked up v were—they were children being watched by various other kids.

On my last day in Leavenworth, the security helped publication time at the library, whereby I offered to aid my children draft the end their letters. One by one, they every came as much as me, hugged me and cried.

“Who’s going come look after us,” ns remember one son saying. “Who’s going to help?”

The emotions I had that night were unforgettable. Even though the military took mine uniform far from me and I no longer had the authority—or even the responsibility—to take treatment of these guys, the armed forces would never take away the pride and also love I had for taking care of soldiers and their families.

The following day as soon as I was released, I gained my uniform back—silver oak leaves and also all. Now that i was separated from the Army, the didn’t average the same as the did prior to I walk in. Before, the uniform to be what do my business feel meaningful. However being in ~ Leavenworth teach me something else: ns didn’t require the uniform to it is in of service.

Ken Pinkela, 51, is the communications and also military plan director at The SERO Project. He resides in Otisville, brand-new York.


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