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Huntsville ceremony marks sacrifice of fallen correctional employees

Rehabilitation programs rid Eastham of rugged reputation

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Huntsville ceremony marks sacrifice of fallen correctional employees

Two correctional officers standing behind a wreath of flowers as Stewart rings the bell.
Classification and Records employee Beverly Stewart tolls a bell while officers tend a memorial wreath during the Seventh Annual Fallen Officers Memorial Ceremony in Huntsville on May 12.
Photo by David Nunnelee
It seemed fitting that 11-year TDCJ veteran Daniel O’Neal got his sergeant bars on the same day the agency paused to pay tribute to employees lost in the line of duty over the years. It seemed fitting because it was the spirit of those fallen heroes that roused O’Neal to a higher rank.

“For me, the fallen heroes we remember today have played a large role in my decision to attempt to further my career,” O’Neal told a crowd attending the Seventh Annual Fallen Officers Memorial Service on the grounds of the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville on May 12. “I cannot stress enough how proud I am to be a part of the correctional officer family. There are times as correctional staff that we may begin to feel that we have a thankless job because seldom does anyone not associated with the correctional field recognize the difficult task we meet head-on on a daily basis. So what is it that makes us continue our efforts? I believe it is our unique desire to serve our community and to be able to make a difference.”

O’Neal was chosen by his TDCJ Sergeant’s Academy classmates to speak at this year’s administrative memorial ceremony, which honored the four correctional employees from around the nation who lost their lives during the preceding year and remembered the 40 Texas correctional employees to have died in the line of duty since 1882. The Huntsville ceremony, which coincides each year with National Correctional Officers Week, was held in conjunction with similar memorial services at individual TDCJ facilities throughout the state.

Although no TDCJ employees were lost in the line of duty last year, the tone of this year’s service remained somber in remembrance of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the past. It began with the leading of a riderless black horse around a monument standing at the center of the TDCJ Sesquicentennial Plaza. Later, the lonesome ringing of a bell, a 21-gun salute, the mournful playing of ‘Taps,’ and the singing of Amazing Grace honored the fallen.

“This is always a somber occasion for everyone in the TDCJ family, for as each of you know, we share very close ties with one another,” Executive Director Brad Livingston said. “The loss of a fellow co-worker affects all of us. I have personally witnessed our employees comfort each other during a time of need, and I can’t help but be proud of how we respond to one another. As we gather here today, I believe this is a good opportunity for us to remind ourselves of the sacrifices that come with working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.”

As a living memorial to each of those employees who have given their lives in protecting Texans over the years, 40 live oak trees now ring the centerpiece monument at the Sesquicentennial Plaza. Texas Board of Criminal Justice Chairman Christina Melton Crain told the crowd that markers bearing the names of the fallen employees would be placed in front of the trees.

“It is our hope that as the years pass, family members, friends and TDCJ employees will walk these grounds, look at these majestic live oaks, remembering, reflecting, and respecting those who have passed,” she said. “Like these trees, these individuals honored today will have an everlasting effect on the landscape of our lives and this agency.”

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