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Huntsville ceremony marks sacrifice of fallen correctional employees

Rehabilitation programs rid Eastham of rugged reputation

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Once described as America's toughest
Rehabilitation programs rid Eastham of
rugged reputation

A national news magazine once described the maximum-security penitentiary near Lovelady as the toughest prison in America. But one man opened doors to voluntary rehabilitation programs in recent years that have helped rid Eastham of its once rugged reputation.

Stacks standing in the prison hallway at the entryway into the prison.
CID Management Operations Deputy Director David Stacks introduced a number of rehabiliation programs to the Eastham Unit near Lovelady during his five years as senior warden there.
Photo by David Nunnelee
“If I was to accept any credit, the only credit I would feel comfortable in accepting would be for opening doors,” said former Eastham Senior Warden David Stacks. In April, he received the Governor’s Correctional Administrator Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Award for his efforts in introducing a number of rehabilitative programs to the facility, where the likes of Clyde Barrow and Charles Harrelson served time. “That’s it. For the most part, all I did was open the doors.”

Stacks, a 27-year TDCJ veteran who is now the Correctional Institutions Division’s deputy director of Management Operations, first walked through the brass front doors of Eastham in October 2000 after serving as senior warden at the Torres Unit in Hondo and the Darrington Unit in Rosharon. He says he found the Eastham offender population to be as tough as it had been previously portrayed by Newsweek magazine.

“I found it to be a prison that consisted of a lot of very hardcore offenders who have done numerous sentences before, not just in the state of Texas, but in others states, as well as in the federal system,” he said. “They were tough, hardcore criminals. And I found a lot of potential for aggressive behavior in the offenders, just based on their criminal histories and some of their institutional behavior. But I also found a very knowledgeable staff, a very experienced staff dedicated and committed to the mission of this agency. A lot of them had experienced some of the difficulties of managing that hard population in previous years, and they knew the importance of being committed, working together, and supporting one another.”

Stacks was particularly impressed by the chaplaincy program he found at Eastham. And he used it as a vehicle to enhance faith-based programs at the unit that dates back to 1917.

“We can educate people all day long,” Stacks said. “We can help them with their chemical problems. But until we find a way of changing a man’s heart, we’re not really going to change that individual. I firmly believe that a person who has a changed heart is never the same person again.”

Through the chaplaincy department and its many volunteers, Stacks first opened the doors of Eastham to the Kairos Program, a spiritual curriculum that had been taught at other TDCJ facilities for years. He later adopted a program first introduced at female facilities in Gatesville that allows offenders to read a children’s book on audio tape. The tape and book are then sent home, where a child can listen to the voice of his or her parent reading the book and follow along. The Storybook Project was subsequently accented by the Video Visitation Program, which allows an offender to be videotaped reading a book and gives them the opportunity to pass along parental guidance to their children.

Stacks finally teamed with Dr. Paul Carlin, a prison evangelist from Crockett, in introducing the Spiritual Dynamics of Criminal Recovery and Relapse Program, a two-year, biblically-based spiritual study open to offenders of all faiths who are housed together in a designated dormitory.

Stacks said the four voluntary programs were well received by the offender population at Eastham. In addition to those attending bible study classes regularly, several hundred now participate in one or more of the programs Stacks introduced.

“We had offenders coming out of the woodwork wanting to participate,” he said.

Stacks said he’s most thankful for the people he’s worked with over the years. Working in any TDCJ facility requires men and women who are tough mentally, physically and spiritually, he says.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m as tough as Eastham,” he said. “I would say what makes me tough is the good people around me. I was proud to hear the accolades in receiving the Governor’s award, but I was embarrassed because even if I wanted to take the credit for it, I couldn’t because I didn’t do it alone. Eastham didn’t change because of me. Eastham changed because of a succession of people that I followed. All of these people deserve credit for what Eastham has become.”

Stacks, 47, left Eastham in September 2005 and expects to retire in three years. He said he’ll count his accomplishments at the historic unit as a highlight in his long career.

“I don’t think my career would have been complete without having spent some time on the Eastham Unit because of its history,” he said. “And I believe that there’s an atmosphere and approach there now that’s more acceptable for healing to take place in a man’s heart. If anything I did at Eastham changed one individual’s heart, whether it be an offender or an officer, then I’m pretty proud of what I did.”

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