Employees recognized for ‘exemplary actions’ in wake of Hurricane Rita
When Gist State Jail Assistant Warden Dawn Williamson opened the envelope from the Correctional Peace Officers (CPO) Foundation in early May, she was “flabbergasted” by what she found inside. It was a letter from the foundation’s chief administrator informing her that she was invited to the organization’s national memorial service in St. Louis, Missouri in June when she and her fellow workers would be recognized for their “exemplary actions” immediately following Hurricane Rita’s onslaught on Texas last September.
“Wow,” Williamson said. “It was pretty awesome.”
Stiles Unit Senior Warden Joe Smith had the same reaction when he opened his letter of invitation from the foundation.
“I was completely surprised by the letter,” Smith said. “I was just doing my job.”
Also invited to attend the ceremony were Bonnie Young, assistant warden at the LeBlanc Pre-Release Facility in Beaumont, Greg Dawson, senior warden at the Lewis Unit in Woodville, and Dirk Lorimier, senior warden at the Goodman Transfer Facility in Jasper. Each was due a plaque in recognition of unit employees who went “above and beyond” their duties during Hurricane Rita. Correctional employees from Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida were also presented with recognition plaques.
Williamson said she was shocked by the invitation because, like her colleagues, she didn’t feel she did anything during Rita that deserved being singled out for recognition by the foundation. The group annually recognizes correctional employees who lost their lives or otherwise distinguished themselves professionally in the preceding year.
“I don’t think I stood out over anyone else,” she said modestly. “We all were here doing the same thing.”
What hundreds of TDCJ employees in Southeast Texas did during the damaging storm was steadfastly stay at their posts to maintain the security of their units against great odds. Afterwards, Williamson led efforts to set up a shelter in a vacated Texas Youth Commission facility in Beaumont so employees and their families would have a safe and dry place to stay until they could return to their damaged homes. In all, more than 350 TDCJ correctional officers and many employee family members took shelter in the facility. Williamson also helped employees and their families in obtaining clothing and food, and provided them with emotional support.
“She deserves it,” said Gist Senior Warden Reginald Goings about the CPO Foundation recognition.
Prior to Rita’s landfall in the Beaumont area, the Stiles Unit took in approximately 2,000 offenders from Gist and LeBlanc to shelter them and more than 300 employees from the two units. Smith and his staff then orchestrated the evacuation of approximately 1,300 offenders from LeBlanc and some 170 parolees from area halfway houses to facilities far from the path of the storm.
“I am very, very honored by it,” Smith said.
Williamson said she, too, was humbled by the recognition, and would proudly accept the plaque on behalf of her co-workers.
“I’m real proud to be able to go represent the employees here, because as I’ve said before, they’re my heroes,” she said.
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