2019 Tillman Scholar

Eric Chastain

University of Southern California

“I’m dedicated to improving communities and restoring family integrity through criminal justice reform and smart decarceration policy.”

Eric is a Command Sergeant Major in the United States Army with 22 years of active military service. He has served in every duty position from rifleman through sergeant major and was recently selected to serve as a Brigade Command Sergeant Major. Eric recognizes his successes were made possible by the selfless service, commitment and support of others who provided guidance when he needed it.

Growing up with limited resources in a community adversely affected by an aggressive criminal justice system, Eric witnessed the positive impact of community support and the negative consequence of a broken family. At a young age, he decided to dedicate his life to community improvement, reinforcing families and reducing over-incarceration for nonviolent crimes. Serving in the Army taught him individual discipline and the power of a collective team. Transforming citizens into soldiers, enduring ranger school and nearly three years of combat operations in Iraq galvanized his core belief that dedicated professionals united in purpose enable sweeping reform.

He applied this mantra in his local community as well by serving on local government advisory boards, volunteering with the veterans’ treatment court, leading social support groups for at risk youth and providing transition counseling in the county correctional system strengthening his resolve to rebuild community and reduce the criminal justice system’s impact on families.

As a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, Eric will focus on community organization and restoring family integrity through criminal justice reform and smart decarceration.