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collage of blueprint and central two camp builidningFormer prison building to become focal point for homeowners

For 30 years a stately structure in Sugar Land once known as “Central Two Camp” housed hundreds of TDCJ offenders. But soon, it is to become a focal point for thousands of homeowners living in a community being developed on 2,000 acres of former penitentiary property.

The former prison farmland just south of the present-day Central Unit was sold by the Texas General Land Office five years ago and is now being developed into a master-planned community that will consist of more than 3,000 single-family homes. Developers decided to keep the old prison building located at the north end of the development, and a recent proposal called for it to be turned into a satellite facility for the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The exterior of the 50,000-square-foot building that had sat empty for decades has already been renovated, and plans are for a recreational center to be built on its northwest side.

Central Two Camp building
The old “Central Two Camp” Building in Sugar Land could become a satellite facility for the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Photo by David Nunnelee

“They did a great job with it,” said Don Hudson, an industrial supervisor at Central who has independently researched the unit’s history. “They replaced a lot of the bricked-in widows, added oak doors, and did a lot of nice ironwork.”

Hudson became well acquainted with “Two Camp” years ago while working as an agricultural supervisor at Central. In those days, fields of cotton and oats surrounded the building that was built in 1939 out of red bricks fired at the nearby Jester Unit plant. It was unique for its day since many buildings housing prisoners in the region then were made of wood.

“This building marks the era when TDCJ began to modernize,” Hudson said. “They began to build brick structures as opposed to the old wooden structures.”

Freestanding facilities away from the main unit were common during the early agrarian era of the state prison system so offenders could be housed nearer to the fields they worked. Central, in fact, once consisted of the main building erected in 1932 and three surrounding satellite work camps. “Two Camp” housed approximately 400 prisoners at any one time until 1969 when it was abandoned. Besides the normal prison hardware, it featured a state-of-the-art hospital on the second floor that included an operating room.

The former “Two Camp” building was used as a warehouse by Texas Correctional Industries until 1999. Since the start of the development, houses have fast appeared on the landscape.

“It’s an odd feeling, remembering the times I worked out here,” Hudson said. “You look at the land now and you can’t tell where some of the old turn rows were and where some of the old buildings stood. It’s an end of an era, really.”

Still, Hudson said he is pleased that the building was saved and will have a second life as a focal point of the new community.

“They wanted to preserve some of the history of land, and I think that’s a good thing,” Hudson said. “Some of the history lives on.”


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Culinary arts program comes with puffy white hats and all

offenders in chef hats putting glaze onto cinnamon rolls
Offenders enrolled in the pilot culinary arts training program at the Eastham Unit near Lovelady dish up cinnamon rolls after baking.

Photo by David Nunnelee

There’s nothing unusual about seeing men wearing white hats at the Eastham Unit near Lovelady. White cloth hats are standard issue for state prisoners, after all. But there’s something very different about the white hats worn by nearly two dozen offenders at Eastham. They’re not the standard issue. They’re the white puffy hats chefs wear.

“No, I didn’t think I’d ever see that,” said Senior Warden David Sweetin about the chef hats worn by offenders enrolled in a culinary arts training program recently introduced at Eastham through Lee College of Baytown. “But that’s good. That’s all part of getting engaged with this program. To act the part, you’ve got to look the part.”

Twenty-one offenders pulled from units throughout the state made up the inaugural culinary arts class that graduated last summer after four months of training. A second program for male offenders was recently introduced to the Ferguson Unit near Midway and one is now offered to female offenders at the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville.

Offenders chosen for the program come recommended by their Food Service captains based on their custody levels, past kitchen performances, and potential for becoming better cooks. They are split into four teams for training but are housed together in a unit dormitory.

Tony D’Cunha, director of the agency’s Food Service, Laundry & Supply department, said he initiated the first-ever in-kitchen culinary arts program in an effort to improve the quality of cooks and cooking in TDCJ kitchens.
“We get a higher caliber of cook in our kitchens,” D’Cunha said. “With that, the goal is to raise the quality of cooking in our kitchens. The offenders get real hands-on training that can lead to certification and a job. We’re not turning out chefs, but we’re turning out institutional cooks that can work toward their chef certification should they choose to pursue it. “

“What they’re taught in the class will help them get a job in the food industry when they get out of prison,” said Angela Lowe, a former TDCJ Food Service captain who teaches the course for Lee College at Eastham.

Offenders are trained in five different areas during the four-month program. Lowe begins with instruction in basic food preparation and ends with an advanced course that has the offenders cooking more complex dishes. The class also prepares dishes for taste testing from recipes that are being standardized.

Lowe said one of the simplest but most important lessons offenders learn is how to follow a recipe.

“Some of the offenders had experience in cooking but couldn’t follow a recipe,” she said. “They learn real quick that just by following a recipe, the food tastes good.”

For the first few months, the culinary class prepares the evening meal for the 2,400 offenders housed at the unit. And they and the staff have taken notice.

“The offenders have seen a difference in the quality of product, as have the employees,” Sweetin said. “Wanting to make a difference is what it’s all about. It’s the agency wanting to make a difference by sending that message down to our staff that, in turn, trickles down to the offender population.”

D’Cunha said culinary arts training programs for both male and female prisoners are now offered through the Windham School District and Lee College. Lowe said the college is in the process of getting the classes accredited.

“When the courses are all converted to college credits, it will help them toward a college degree in culinary arts,” she said.

Warden Sweetin welcomes the program, puffy hats and all.

“From an administrative standpoint, as many programs as we can get (offenders) involved in makes my job that much easier,” Sweetin said. “They and the staff have responded well. So I’m all for it.”



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