Fort Leavenworth Sgt. 1st Class Aljournal “A.J.” Franklin believes every individual should be treated with dignity and encouraged to become better — even if that person is on death row at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.
Franklin, 43, a noncommissioned officer who administers the military post’s mental health facility, provides counseling to five men awaiting execution and about 425 other inmates with life or long-term sentences at the corrections facility.
“We give them a better and brighter outlook for the future,” he said.
The U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, completed in 2002, is the only maximum-security prison in the Department of Defense. The majority of inmates are housed under medium- and minimum-custody levels, although some are trustees and live in a campus-like environment. The facility provides correctional treatment and vocational training, such as barbering, carpentry and welding skills, to give the inmates meaningful work and certified skills upon release.
Franklin, who volunteered to work with the inmates, said the most rewarding part of his job is seeing a change in the people he counsels.
“To see a person I’ve helped six months later and they’re doing better, and they’re happy, or even to hear them say something positive after they were initially very pessimistic, that’s very rewarding,” he told The Fort Leavenworth Lamp.
Franklin didn’t enter the military with the goal of counseling people who had committed crimes while serving their country.
He joined the Army in 1989 after graduating from Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina with a degree in political science and playing semi-pro football.
In 1991, he was deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq as part of Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
He and his wife, Maria, who were parents of a young son, were happy to learn a year later that his next assignment would be at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where he would be trained as a mental health specialist.
Those working in the mental health field typically are assigned to clinics or hospitals and aren’t required to relocate as often as some other soldiers.
‘No typical day’
After assignments at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and in Germany and Kosovo, Franklin arrived in September 2007 at Fort Leavenworth to begin his work at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks.
“There is no typical day,” he said when asked to describe his routine.
In addition to his work with inmates, Franklin provides training and counseling to soldiers new to the base or returning from duty in other countries.
His supervisor, 1st Sgt. Ron Hussung, said Franklin’s “skills, maturity and know-how” work to his advantage when counseling soldiers who have combat-related stress, are experiencing difficulty re-adapting to civilian society after being deployed or struggling with other issues.
Franklin said working at the disciplinary barracks has changed him, too.
“Working in a place as challenging and changing as USDB with people who have been adjudicated and sentenced, I find myself doing a lot of reflection and prayers,” he said. “I find my prayer time pays dividends in my work time.”