When Thompson joined TDCJ in 1991, the agency distributed nothing but gray short-sleeved shirts to correctional officers like himself who worked inside the building. Only those working outside got the long-sleeved shirts he favored and finally got to wear when he went to the field force as a sergeant three years later. It’s a shirt that still suits him so he says he won’t be changing into the new short-sleeved Polo-type shirt that many of his fellow officers have been eagerly awaiting.
“I earned my long sleeves,” Thompson said about his two years as a field supervisor.
Distribution of the navy blue Polo shirts was expected to begin in September and continue by region until all officers wanting the new shirt style statewide receive them. The vast majority of officers surveyed recently indicated that they were interested in wearing the Polo shirt.
The shirts, made of a cotton-polyester blend, can be worn with a solid gray BDU (battle dress uniform) pant sporting large leg pockets or the familiar blue-striped “Class A” pant. A third option is to continue to wear both the Class A shirt and the pant that has been repatterned to look and fit better.
“It’s basically the BDU pant with the accessories (pockets) taken off and a blue stripe put on,” Ron Hudson, garment division manager for Texas Correctional Industries, said about the repatterned pant that features an adjustable waist band, a tightly fitted inseam, and greater tapering at the ankle.
“They’re much more comfortable, especially around the waist and the legs.” Ellis Unit Major Billy Reeves said about the new pant manufactured at Ellis.
Reeves and other senior unit administrators predict that the majority of officers will opt to wear the Polo-style uniform. Some may wear both, they say.
“I think the Polo shirt is the greatest thing we’ve ever gone to,” said Lonny Johnson, senior warden at the Hightower Unit near Dayton where the new shirts are made. “They look professional and I think it’s time for a change.”
“It depends on their background,” Reeves said when asked which uniform officers at Ellis might choose to wear. “If they’re from the country and have been outside most of their life, most of them will wear the long-sleeved shirt. If they’re used to a different way of life, most them are going to want to wear the short-sleeved Polo shirts.”
TDCJ last changed the look of the uniform worn by officers a decade ago when pleats and service stripes were added to the long-sleeved dress blouse. The wide blue stripe was also put on the pant, and a patch of the American flag was attached to the shoulder. The new Polo shirt sports a round breast patch of the Texas State Seal, a TDCJ shoulder patch, and a patch of the American flag that has been reversed so the stars run forward like on a military uniform. To make them stand out from their blue background, white thread is used in the lettering and bordering of the patches instead of the gold thread used for the gray shirt patches.
Production of the new shirts began in late July. Dovie Love, plant manager at the Hightower Unit garment factory, said that about 270 offenders are assigned to work morning and afternoon shifts at the garment factory and that between 45 to 50 of them build the Polo shirts during each shift. They gained experience earlier this year with the making of approximately 500 red Polo shirts for the agency’s correctional training instructors and are soon expected to be turning out approximately 8,000 of the blue shirts a month.
“By April of next year, we’ll be doing 1,000 shirts a day,” Love said.
“Uniformed officers are allocated up to four sets of clothing a year and may request the old uniform, the new uniform or a combination of the two,” said TDCJ Laundry, Food, & Supply Department Director Tony D’Cunha.
Love said that far fewer steps are involved in the making of the Polo shirt.
“A gray uniform shirt has 29 steps while this new Polo-type has 10 to 11 steps,” she said. “For us, that means we can make three of the new Polo-type uniform shirts in the time it takes us to make one gray shirt.”
Also, Hudson said the cost of producing a single Polo shirt is about three dollars below that of the gray Class A shirt.
To build the Polo shirts, Love said the factory needed four different kinds of machines it didn’t already have. One is used to double stitch the shoulder joint, sleeve, and sleeve welts of the shirts.
“Double stitching of the seams is what is found on high-quality shirts,” she said. “It just enhances the durability and quality of the shirt.”