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Madeline Ortiz

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Madeline Ortiz
Helping needy lifetime work for rehabilitative division director

Ortiz standing with a classroom of female offenders attending class
Rehabilitation & Reentry Programs Division Director Madeline Ortiz oversees programs like the Cognitive Intervention Program for women at the Henley State Jail in Dayton.
Photo by David Nunnelee
Not many people, if any, go to law school for the reason Madeline Ortiz did. She went not to practice the legal profession from a plush penthouse office but to prepare herself for running a humble halfway house.

“I went to law school because my dream was to operate a halfway house and felt the only way that I could be effective would be to have a working knowledge of the law,” said Ortiz, director of TDCJ’s Rehabilitation & Reentry Programs Division. “I never really wanted to practice. I just wanted to know the law.”

Ortiz, a New York City native, got her law degree from Seton Hall University in New Jersey in 1984. She had earlier earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in criminal justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. And although she’s not yet run a halfway house, she’s worked on behalf of people in need, including offenders, her entire professional life.

“Two of my greatest role models are my mom and a childhood family friend we referred to as Big Sister,” Ortiz said. “My mom worked with underprivileged children and Big Sister operated a foster home for neglected children that no one else in the system wanted to keep. These children had been severely abused in one way or another and just being around them and seeing the love and care that she provided to them and the interest she took in them had a tremendous influence on me.”

Another person who helped shape Ortiz’s future was a young woman she refers to as her “cousin” even though the two are not related. As a newborn, the woman had been thrown in a trash bin by her natural mother but survived. The woman, raised in foster care, went on to become a social worker and to reunite with her natural mother, whom she cared for in her later years.

“I wanted to be that same type of person,” Ortiz said about the woman’s gesture of love and forgiveness.

Ortiz worked as a legal aide while in graduate school and law school. Soon after earning her law degree, she and her husband, Orlando, were called to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where his U.S. Army field artillery unit was based. There she worked at a work-release center for offenders, started practicing Yoga, and got involved with her church and college sorority. In the mid-1980s, her husband was transferred to Kitzingen, West Germany where she became a substance abuse counselor for the military. To earn her certification, the Army sent her to San Antonio for training, her first exposure to the Lone Star State and its infamous summertime heat.

“It was so hot,” Ortiz recalls about the first time she set out to walk to a nearby store and back. “I had to catch a cab from the store.”

Ironically, the next duty station for Ortiz and her husband was Killeen, Texas, not far from TDCJ’s Gatesville and Mountain View units where she started work in March 1990 as a substance abuse counselor and clinical social worker. Sure that she could fix what ailed offenders by simply using the medical model she had relied upon to dispense pre-measured prescriptions to soldiers, Ortiz found out during her very first group session that she couldn’t.

“I’ve just come from Germany and think I can fix these ladies,” Ortiz said. “During a group counseling session, I begin to tell an offender what her problem is, and she looks at me and says, ‘You know, Ms. Ortiz, you can’t fix me.’ At that point I wanted to give up.”

After familiarizing herself with Alcoholics Anonymous’ and its Twelve Steps treatment system, Ortiz came to realize that the offender was right.

“You can’t fix anybody,” she said. “You can just extend your hand and guide them through the process of recovery, but you can’t fix it.”

The following year, Ortiz joined a private firm hired to operate the first in-prison therapeutic community for women in Texas at the Hackberry Unit in Gatesville. In August 1994, former TDCJ Executive Director Wayne Scott, impressed by her performance, offered her a job as warden of the Glossbrenner Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in the South Texas community of San Diego.
Soon after opening Glossbrenner, Ortiz left to serve as TDCJ’s assistant director for substance abuse treatment programs, a position then responsible for the management of operations relating to treatment beds. She left the agency in November 1998 to join the National Institute of Corrections in Washington D.C. as a correctional program specialist, and worked with state corrections departments throughout the United States and its territories in the areas of prison health care, classification and management. She returned Texas to take over as director of the former Programs & Services Division upon the retirement of Debbie Roberts.

“When the job was offered, I felt like it was time to come home,” Ortiz said

As director of the Rehabilitation & Reentry Programs Division, Ortiz has spearheaded a initiative designed to better an offender’s chances of successfully reentering society by tying together all of the agency’s rehabilitative resources and offering them to offenders in one package. Recommendations from the initiative that includes every component of TDCJ are expected to be formalized soon.

Ortiz said she feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on behalf of those in need and has been especially gratified by her career in corrections. She does plan on practicing law when she retires, characteristically vowing to work as a legal advocate for abused children and the elderly.

“I’ve always been really involved in working with people,” she said. “I think there is a bright future for everyone. We just have to help them to get there.”

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