The South Bay Stand Down, put on by the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, holds a wealth of benefits for homeless Veterans, providing clothing, medical care, dental care, food, and even court services. This September, over 160 homeless Veterans were bussed into Boulder Creek, CA to attend the Stand Down.
The amazing care at the South Bay Stand Down never ends, but it's the Veterans who return with success that make the real story.
Donald "DC" Barlow, Marine Corps Veteran, spoke at the Stand Down opening ceremonies, telling his story of reaching the bottom and climbing his way back to the top.
Barlow was honorably discharged at a young age, ready to take on the world but the world consumed him in return. Turning to gangs in Southern California, Barlow was caught up in a world of crime and violence.
A few incidents later, his lifestyle gave him life in prison. "Because of the amount of time I received, I was sent to a maximum security prison," said Barlow. "I came to the realization just because I had life in prison, didn't mean I had no life to live."
And that's what fueled him to do better. Utilizing the educational system in prison, Barlow sought out to learn everything he could. He moved to different prisons in order to receive different education.
Receiving his degree while in prison, he wanted more and received his optometry license as well. Wanting to give back, he also signed up for all of the youth intervention programs.
"I wouldn't allow my mind to go into a state of deprivation," said Barlow. "I fought hard."
Finally up for parole in 2004, Barlow hoped his new education and outlook on life would give him another chance but his release was blocked, not once, but twice. So he worked harder.
He joined Project Aware and SQUIRES (both youth intervention programs) to help the youth, debate teams to improve his thinking, and Toastmaster to improve his speaking skills. He read, trying to find out how famous people who were incarcerated found their edge that ended in their release.
He finally found his way when he met with the Veteran Outreach program. Without even knowing him, they advocated for him, writing to the parole board. They knew that if he got out, there was a place for him to reform - at the VA.
After four years of fighting, Barlow's case reached the Second Appellate Court in San Diego and was picked up by the California Supreme Court. He was finally released.
Making it through various rehabilitation programs within the VA, Barlow began working through the Compensated Work Therapy program, and just recently was hired as a permanent employee in Environmental Management Services at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.
"We have resources, an agency designed to help us," said Barlow. "Transition after 27 years of incarceration isn't easy but because of the VA, I am making it a success."
His story received a standing ovation at the South Bay Stand Down, inspiring not only Veterans but employees and volunteers.