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Fallen TDCJ employee remembered during memorial ceremony

row of honor guards standing at attention
TDCJ Honor Guard members stand at attention prior to firing a 21-gun salute to fallen agency employee Rhonda Osborne during a memorial ceremony held at the Travis State Jail in Austin on May 25.
Photo by David Nunnelee
As an employee of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Connally Unit in Kenedy, Rhonda Osborne dedicated the last five years of her life working to make her state a safer place to live for her fellow citizens. Her dedication was remembered and honored throughout the state on May 25 as agency employees and others paused to reflect on her sacrifice and that of other correctional employees throughout the nation who fell in the line of duty during the preceding year.

Each May, fallen correctional employees in Texas and elsewhere are remembered during services held in conjunction with National Correctional Officers Week. This year, senior TDCJ officials gathered at the Travis State Jail in Austin to formally recognize Osborne and the 10 other correctional employees from across the nation who lost their lives between January 2004 and January 2005. Separate ceremonies were held simultaneously at TDCJ facilities throughout the state.

Osborne, a 33-year-old clerk at Connally, was murdered by an offender there on October 21, 2004. She was the 33rd TDCJ employee lost in the line of duty since 1884.

A 21-gun salute, the blowing of Taps, and the tolling of a bell in Osborne’s honor were sobering segments of the ceremony that also featured comments from TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston and Texas Board of Criminal Justice Chairman Christina Melton Crain. The ceremony opened somberly as a black riderless horse carrying nothing but boots turned backwards in the stirrups and a prison field officer’s hat set across the saddle horn, was led before the audience in a symbolic tribute to the fallen.

“There are few occasions which mean so much to us as when we recognize the contributions of those who have given their lives to public service,” Livingston said. “Gathered here today, we are all proud to have served with the men and women who have devoted their lives and ultimately lost their lives in providing for the public safety. We are proud to recognize their sacrifice and honor their memories. And we are proud to say that they are not now and will never be forgotten.”

Crain sang an uplifting song of remembrance in honor of the fallen correctional employees after addressing a large audience that included Osborne’s parents, Thomas and Meredith Dworaczyk, her 12-year-old daughter, Brooklynn, and her brother and sister-in-law Steve and Michelle Dworaczyk.

“For those who we are honoring, it is their commitment and ultimate sacrifice that remind us of what we ask of those who work in the correctional system,” Crain said. “Whether they wear gray or civilian clothes, their jobs are not easy and they are not always safe. The dedication of these employees to public safety and their commitment to others is an inspiration.”

A potted live oak tree standing near Osborne’s portrait was later taken to Huntsville where it was planted alongside the 26 others that are part of a living memorial to fallen employees that rings the centerpiece monument at the TDCJ Sesquicentennial Plaza.

Steven Dworaczyk said the tribute to his sister meant a great deal to her family.

“It means everything,” he said. “It brings into remembrance everything that Rhonda was to us. “I know that as bad as this tragedy was that God is going to take it and turn it around for the good.”

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Resolution adopted by the Texas House of Representatives

WHEREAS, The correctional officers in Texas jails and prisons strive to maintain the high professional standards necessary to operate safe, secure, and orderly confinement facilities; and

WHEREAS, Dedicated and loyal public servants, correctional officers work in a sometimes hostile environment and willingly place their lives in harm’s way to protect our communities from many of society’s most dangerous individuals; and

WHEREAS, They work in programs that provide offenders with opportunities for self-improvement and that aid offenders in becoming productive citizens when reentering society; and

WHEREAS, An essential element in the success of our criminal justice system, Texas correctional officers are worthy of our greatest respect and appreciation; and

WHEREAS, In 1984, a resolution was passed by the U.S. Congress declaring the first full week in May as National Correctional Officers Week, and it is most appropriate to join in honoring these outstanding men and women at this time; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 79th Texas Legislature hereby honor the achievements and hard work of the correctional officers in Texas jails and prisons and recognize the week of May 1-7, 2005 as Texas Correctional Officers Week.

(H.R. 1482 by Kolkhorst)

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