by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor
An historian at heart, Peter Grande, CCE has played a major role in the lives for inmates serving time at the United States Disciplinary Barracks of Fort Leavenworth.
For the past 15 years, Grande has served as the Chief of Staff at the iconic military correctional facility.
The Landmark recently had the chance to speak with Grande at the Platte City Mid-Continent Public Library during a special event for veterans.
Grande's unquenchable interest in history motivated him to write a book on what many consider to be one of the most iconic military correctional facilities of all time. Grande offers a close look into “this city inside a city” inside his book titled Images of American United States Disciplinary Barracks. Readers are given a sense of what life is like on the inside from the thousands of images of the historic U.S. Military Barracks.
The U.S. Military Barracks date back to 1875. Grande said the original facility, constructed by prisoners between 1875 and 1921, once held a population of 1700 inmates. Over the years, the structure became dilapidated and was eventually torn down in 2004. A new military correctional facility was constructed just north of the original military barracks.
Currently, 500 prisoners are serving long term sentences at the facility, including a number of high profile prisoners. Robert Bales, who pled guilty to killing 16 Afghan civilians during the Kandahar massacre, is carrying out a life sentence.
Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, who leaked classified documents and video images to WikiLeaks, is serving out his 35-year sentence.
Prisoners who have been ordered to serve a long term sentence are usually sent to the United States Disciplinary Barracks. Grande said the average stay is 19 years.
“Seventeen prisoners are serving a sentence of life without parole and six inmates are currently on death row,” said Grande.
To an extent certain aspects of life in confinement resemble normalcy, including a routine work schedule, physical fitness opportunities, and the consumption of three meals a day.
Grande said prisoners have a 5 o'clock wake up and are expected to be on the job at 6:50 a.m. Apart from death row inmates, every prisoner has a job.
“We pride ourselves on vocational training and rehabilitation at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks,” he said.
Prison inmates perform conventional job tasks including welding, engraving, textiles, and embroidering.
“We made every name tag for every soldier that came into the military since 2009,” said Grande.
The facility also has a barber college that is recognized by the Kansas State Barbering Board.
“The board comes in twice a year to test our inmates,” he said. “We have the highest scoring barber college in the state of Kansas for the past 20-plus years.”
The shop training the inmates receive is recognized by the Department of Labor.
“When inmates complete the program they receive a certificate for the Department of Labor,” he said.
After work, inmates can compete in a large spectrum of recognized sports' programs.
“Good inmates are tired inmates. So if he works all day and plays all night, less problems for us,” said Grande.
Inmates can also take college classes through Kansas City, Kansas Community College and Western Missouri. Since inmates are not eligible for Pell grants, they must rely on family to fund their extended education. If the inmate did not earn a high school diploma or pass the GED, the inmate is afforded the opportunity to earn a GED.
Grande said 99 percent of the population has earned a GED or received their high school diploma.
“Our mission from a U.S. code is to train, rehabilitate and educate,” said Grande.
Religious programs for 12 different religions are also offered to inmates.
Folks wanting to take an even closer look inside the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks should pick up Images of American United States Disciplinary Barracks.