|Michael Mowry survived a vicious attack from two offenders attempting to escape from the Eastham Unit near Lovelady last June. He now works in inventory control at the Huntsville Prison Store.
Photo by David Nunnelee
Michael Mowry didn’t smell trouble or sense that fate had put him in the wrong place at the wrong time on the morning of June 1, 2004. Now the former TDCJ Food Service sergeant can smell nothing at all; not the scent of his wife’s hair or the sweet aroma of a pie baking in the oven.
“Some things you take for granted,” Mowry said about losing his sense of smell and much of his sense of taste as a result of being viciously beaten during an escape attempt from the Eastham Unit near Lovelady that morning. “You never know how much that is a gift until it is taken away from you. It was an eye opening experience for me. But I have so much to be thankful for. It could have been worse, a lot worse.”
The assault occurred shortly before 4 a.m. as Mowry, his two alleged assailants, and two other offenders entered the commissary to retrieve cleaning supplies needed to scrub the grills and to return packages of pancake mix left over from the morning meal.
“They go into the commissary, turn to the right, and put the extra supplies down,” he said. “I turn to the left to unlock the cage that has the vinegar and steel wool in it and that’s when I was hit from behind.”
Mowry later learned that he was struck six times in the head with a galvanized pipe fitting the offenders allegedly swung in an apron. The blows cracked his skull from the bridge of his nose to the top of his spine. The back of his head was caved in and his left ear was nearly severed. When an offender working in the commissary tried to intervene, a blow meant for Mowry’s head struck him in the jaw.
Mowry doesn’t remember being stripped of his uniform or how much time passed before he woke up and saw an offender with his hands tied lying next to him on the floor.
“When I open my eyes, I see him and I see blood,” Mowry said. “But at the time, I didn’t realize that it was my blood. My hands were tied in front of me and I have a T-shirt on and my underwear and socks. That’s all.”
To his surprise, Mowry saw his personal set of keys lying next to him. He would use one of the keys to unlock the door to the commissary office and call for help.
“For some reason, they didn’t take my personal set of keys, which I thought was really weird,” he said. “I was using them to unlock the cage and the only thing I can think of is maybe when they hit me they flew back.”
Once untied and helped to the office, Mowry barricaded the door, sat down on the floor behind a desk, and picked up the phone to central control.
At about the same time, Officer Baker one of two officers assigned to the food serving lines that morning - was walking into the commissary to tell Mowry that he was going to take a break. He was attacked in the same brutal fashion as Mowry, suffering head injuries so severe that after many months of therapy, he still could not speak.
Mowry said the next thing he remembers was the offenders outside the office yelling that Baker had been attacked and asking if he had called for help. He said he called a second time and almost immediately heard the familiar voice of the third shift lieutenant outside the office.
“He’s got a very distinctive voice and if I hadn’t heard his voice I probably wouldn’t have come out,” Mowry said. “I was really afraid that they were offenders who had put my uniform on.”
When Mowry opened the door, the lieutenant didn’t recognize his bloodied and disfigured friend.
“When I went out there the last thing I remember of him was when he looked at me he said, ‘Offender, get on the ground.’ I was unrecognizable.”
Seventy metal staples were needed to repair Mowry’s head wounds and reattach his ear. He was hospitalized for three weeks at East Texas Medical Center in Tyler before being released to his wife who had to promise doctors that she would take time off her job at the Region VI Education Center in Huntsville to care for him around the clock. He returned to a clerical job at the Food Service and Laundry headquarters building in October and now works in inventory control at the Huntsville Prison Store.
“I requested to go back to work,” he said. “I still have not gotten a full medical release but I’m not one of those individuals who is going to sit around and take a handout. I don’t want the state to give me anything. Everything I’ve done in my life, I’ve earned, and I’m not changing that now.”
The double vision Mowry suffered from for months after the attack has mostly cleared up, but other side effects, including some memory loss, have been more lasting.
“I still have ringing in my ears that will wake me up at night,” he said. “I sleep with the music on now to offset some of that. I still have some vision problems, and I still have no sense of smell. Zero.”
As the Food Service shift supervisor that morning, Mowry feels responsible for the debilitating injuries Baker suffered. He constantly replays the events he can recall over in his mind and has even returned to the scene to try to piece together what happened. One thing he remembers is that his alleged assailants were looking for keys to the bakery exit door that if opened would have given them access to the outside. But in accordance with procedure, he had the keys locked up, blocking their outside access and leading to their eventual capture within the facility.
“I did everything in my power to keep that from escalating,” he said.
Before the attack, Mowry, who is close to earning a college degree in criminal justice, was planning on transferring to security and perhaps working his way up the ladder to the position of warden. Those plans are now on hold.
Mowry said the attack forever changed his life but that support from his TDCJ colleagues has helped him stay positive as he looks ahead to renewing his career.
“No, my life will never be the same,” he said. “Hopefully it will be better. Somebody told me once that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s so true.”
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