TBCJ thanks TDCJ staff and volunteers
By Dale Wainwright, TBCJ Chairman
As we begin a new year, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who plays a role in helping TDCJ fulfill its mission. Despite considerable challenges, which included a direct strike by a historic hurricane, 2017 was a successful year for the agency, and that success would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of more than 35,000 men and women who make TDCJ one of the premier criminal justice agencies in the nation. Each of us performs an important and interconnected function, and I expect the quality teamwork which saw us through the difficulties of the past year to continue paying dividends as we move into 2018.
Another group the agency relies on to achieve its mission includes individuals who are not on the payroll: TDCJ volunteers. Martin Luther King once said, "Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" Within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, more than 23,000 volunteers answer this question every day when they generously donate their time and effort to help those in need, with no prospect of financial reward. For agency volunteers, the real reward is helping someone make a permanent and positive change in their life.
Each December, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice receives an update on the great work performed by volunteer and faith-based organizations during the past fiscal year. This update focuses on volunteer programs for offenders incarcerated with TDCJ, but the volunteer and faith-based communities also provide assistance to offenders on probation or parole supervision. I'd like to highlight a couple of the many outstanding volunteer programs that work to break the cycle of recidivism, and help incarcerated parents become better moms and dads.
When a parent is convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison or jail, the lives of the children who are left behind suffer a negative impact, and we know they are more likely to become involved with the criminal justice system. It’s critically important to keep these children from following in their parent's footsteps, and this is where the "Day with Dad" volunteers step in. Throughout the year, Day with Dad volunteers go to TDCJ facilities and hold special events where children can come in and spend an entire day with their father. Prior to the event, volunteer mentors and offenders meet to discuss how they can improve their parenting skills. These volunteers help offenders acquire the real-world skills and tools they need to become a successful and law-abiding parent after release.
When children get a chance to spend a fun-filled day with their parent, I assure you it makes a significant positive impact on both the offenders and their kids. Offenders work hard to ensure they can participate in the event, which serves to remind them of how important it is to both provide support and to have the support of family. Even if it’s just one day, the children walk away with positive memories of their father.
Incarcerated mothers can participate in similar family-bonding programs, and one of these is called Girls Embracing Mothers, or GEM. This innovative program takes place at the Woodman State Jail in Gatesville. On the first Saturday of each month, a busload of young ladies leaves the Dallas area and makes a two-and-a-half-hour trip to the unit. Once they’ve arrived, the children spend the day bonding with their mothers. The group's motto is "breaking the cycle and building the bond." This volunteer program was created by attorney Brittany Barnett-Byrd, whose mother was incarcerated when she was a young woman. As she grew older, she saw a critical need and felt compelled to take action. We are so grateful she did.
These two volunteer programs are just a few examples of the outstanding volunteer work which takes place both inside our secure facilities and in communities across the state. In April, we will have the privilege to recognize some of those organizations and individuals at the annual Governor's Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Awards ceremony though, to be clear, our appreciation for agency volunteers is not confined to a single day. I commend their work and wish these selfless servants the best in 2018 and beyond.
Thanks again to our everyday heroes, the staff of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, for their dedication and commitment to integrity, and for welcoming our volunteers who help provide an environment conducive to rehabilitation. Have a happy, safe and productive new year.