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Butch Langhorn

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco was honored for his impact surrounding gang violence and rehabilitation during Council For Unity’s annual Champions for Children Gala Nov. 9. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

In 2006, a year after he was elected Suffolk County sheriff, Vincent DeMarco took a huge risk. In an effort to reduce gang violence in the Riverhead correctional facility, DeMarco brought a seemingly ill-fated program into the jail where rival gang leaders and members — Bloods, Crips, MS-13, Latin Kings and Aryan Brotherhood — gather in a room to share stories, make peace and help one another escape a life of crime. In doing so, Riverhead became the first county jail in the nation to embrace Council for Unity, a nonprofit founded in Brooklyn in 1975 to keep gang activities out of schools and communities and replace a culture of despair with a culture of hope. The newly-appointed sheriff’s gamble quickly paid off.

Robert DeSena, Vincent DeMarco, Alex Bryan and Butch Langhorn were recognized for their work. Photo by Kevin Redding

In a matter of months, DeMarco and correctional facility members watched the entire jail system turn around, as inmates who came to the prison as enemies began to form friendships through their similar experiences. The men, many of whom are imprisoned for violent behavior and drug dealing, find careers after they’ve served their sentences thanks to job and education opportunities offered in the program.

Inmate population and the rate of recidivism at Riverhead are now at an all-time low and the jail serves as a model for other correctional facilities statewide. The Riverhead Police Department has since developed its own companion anti-gang program with the organization.

“DeMarco has changed the dynamic in that facility and has created hope for inmates who live without hope,” said Robert DeSena, president and founder of Council For Unity, who met with DeMarco and his staff to pitch the radical concept in February 2006. “He has a tremendous social conscience and his perception of incarcerated people is atypical. He saw they had the capacity to be reclaimed and he went with it.”

DeSena and others involved in the program, including ex-gang members, honored DeMarco for his significant impact surrounding these criminals’ rehabilitation during Council For Unity’s annual Champions for Children Gala at the Garden City Hotel Nov. 9.

“I had this smirk on my face as if to say to ‘this guy is nuts. You’re going to get Crips and everybody together Kumbaya-ing? That’s not happening here. But Sheriff DeMarco is somebody who’s willing to take a chance. And let me tell you, it was worth a chance. I love this man.”

— Butch Langhorn

The annual event aims to celebrate public figures on Long Island active in the reduction of gang violence in society. DeMarco, who has served as sheriff for 12 years and decided earlier this year he would not seek a fourth term, was on the short list of honorees alongside Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and Council for Unity alumnus Dr. James Li.

He received a plaque referring to him as a visionary, reformer and humanitarian “for creating a climate of hope and possibility for the inmates in his charge.”

While introducing DeMarco to receive his honor, Butch Langhorn, assistant to the sheriff who oversees the Council For Unity sessions at the jail, recalled the first meeting he and DeMarco had with DeSena.

“While we were listening, I had this smirk on my face as if to say to ‘this guy is nuts,’” Langhorn said. “You’re going to get Crips and everybody together Kumbaya-ing? That’s not happening here. But Sheriff DeMarco is somebody who’s willing to take a chance. And let me tell you, it was worth a chance. I love this man.”

During his 2005 campaign, DeMarco advocated for more programs that aimed to work with inmates and provide opportunities to change their lives. This came in response to a New York State mandate at the time to build a new $300 million correctional facility in Suffolk as the county was pushing 1,800 to 2,000 inmates per day. He was determined to not only lower the population, but make sure the inmates were working toward a goal beyond bars.

“I thought, this is corrections and we’re supposed to correct their behavior,” DeMarco said at the podium. “The facility isn’t about warehousing people and just putting them back into the same situation they came from.”

Although he admitted being skeptical of the idea of intermingling gang members at first, fearing it would only lead to more violence, the sheriff said he left the meeting with DeSena fully on board.

Mario Bulluc, a former MS-13 gang member, went trough the Riverhead jail program and spoke during the gala. Photo by Kevin Redding

“He did this Jedi mind trick on me and I was spun around,” DeMarco said laughing. “I just kept thinking, ‘this could work, this could work.’ It was the right thing to do and we’ve come a long way. A couple people who went through the program are out now and they’re getting paychecks, they’re married. [The program] got them out of gang culture. That warms my heart and makes it all worthwhile for me. I know we’ve helped change people’s lives, so this is a big honor for me. You always seem to remember the first and last thing you did in a position and Bob was the first meeting I ever took and now there’s this. It’s a nice little cap off.”

Mario Bulluc, 22, who was an MS-13 leader when he was a student at Riverhead High School and now serves as an employee of the council, sought refuge in the program after countless close calls with death and time spent in the Riverhead jail. He now devotes his life to helping kids get out of gangs.

“Council For Unity saved my life — DeMarco and DeSena are the greatest men I’ve ever met,” said Bulluc, who joined the infamous gang when he was 14. “They try and get to the root of our problems and help us see we are the same people no matter our race, gang, or gang colors. If I can change, anybody can.”

Alex Bryant, a retired corrections officer at Riverhead and a Council For Unity advisor, said the council was put to the test in the correctional facility and has been proven to be life-changing. He pointed to DeMarco’s leadership as the reason for its success.

“I’ve been under several sheriffs in my 30-year tenure in the field,” Bryant said. “DeMarco is by far the best. He is progressive and eons ahead of most sheriffs across the state of New York.”

Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured in uniform during his Army days. Photo from Langhorn

By Rich Acritelli

Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured in uniform during his Army days. Photo from Langhorn
Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured in uniform during his Army days. Photo from Langhorn

To say that Long Island native Butch Langhorn has lived a full life would be an understatement. As a veteran and a community man, he has both seen a lot and given a lot back to the county that raised him.

From his youth, Langhorn was a gifted three-sport athlete, excelling in football, basketball and track for Riverhead High School. His impact was so great that he held the record for the triple jump for 10 years after his graduation.

In 1964, the young man enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Totten in Bayside, Queens. While he worked in the personnel office, his sporting abilities allowed him the chance to play basketball within the Special Services of the Army. Langhorn competed as a 5-foot-8-inch guard against many who had experience playing semiprofessional and Division I hoops. The servicemen competing had the rare opportunity of representing their military bases in games that ranged from Maine to New Jersey.

The next year, Langhorn was deployed to South Vietnam, where he saw the earliest action of the war in Southeast Asia. In an interview, he noted the beauty of the nation and the influence of French culture on the former capital of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. For a couple of months, Langhorn was a gunner on a helicopter that flew into the major combat areas of South Vietnam, engaged against the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. He was tasked with helping medical evacuation crews with the vital mission of returning wounded and dead U.S. soldiers to American bases.

As a young African-American soldier during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, Langhorn observed the treatment of blacks in South Vietnam. According to Langhorn, he had a relationship with a local woman of French descent who took him home to meet her family. When he met her mother, the woman told him to shower and take a nap before dinner. Again he came into her presence and she wrongly believed that he was a white soldier who had too much dirt on his skin. It was one example of a different racial experience for Langhorn — he quickly learned that most of the black soldiers who were fighting against the communists in South Vietnam were not understood by the very people they were trying to protect.

Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured with his family. Photo from Langhorn
Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured with his family. Photo from Langhorn

After more than a year overseas, Langhorn went home to finish his Army tour. By 1971, he quickly re-enlisted as an active guardsmen reservist, serving full-time for the New York 106th Air National Guard base in Westhampton Beach. For many years, he was the head of the recruiting station that brought in many fine airmen, noncommissioned officers and officers. Langhorn had a prideful hand in signing military members from different backgrounds to enhance the Air Force wing. Many of the men and women he recruited have been deployed to the Middle East to fight the war on terror, conducted massive air-sea rescues in the Atlantic Ocean, endured the rigors of the elite pararescue jumper training and deployments, and tackled the older mission of aiding space shuttle landings. Langhorn later oversaw the personnel department that was responsible for sorting out the paperwork needs of the military unit.

Langhorn may be retired after serving four decades in uniform, but he is still a dominant member of his community and has spent a lot of that time trying to help young people. He served on the Riverhead Central School District Board of Education for five years, working to keep athletics and other programs in the schools, and as a current assistant for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, he organizes educational programs that bring high school criminal justice students to visit the county jail. In his role, he also helps guide nonprofit groups that are focused on rehabilitating inmates. In addition, former Congressmen Michael Forbes and Tim Bishop both recognized Langhorn’s professionalism, and he served as an instrumental member of their staffs to handle veterans affairs.

Since his youth, this North Shore citizen has given back to his society and to his nation. TBR Newspapers salutes him during Black History Month.

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