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An employee publication of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
May/June 2010

Offenders’ families, friends get
answers during PACT conference

  talking to offender's family
 

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Member Conrith Davis of Angleton talks with a couple attending the PACT conference in April.

Photo by David Nunnelee

Rodolso Castillo of Dallas traveled to Huntsville early on the morning of April 17 with questions about the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the state parole process. So did Abagale Ariza of Arlington and Wesley Conerly of Montgomery. Later that day, they returned home from the Public Awareness – Corrections Today (PACT) conference at Sam Houston State University with their questions answered.

“It’s very informative,” said Castillo, whose brother is incarcerated and was attending the PACT conference for the first time. “I didn’t really know what to expect when I came, but everybody is so helpful and knowledgeable of their areas. I’ve gained a lot more knowledge as to what I can do as someone on the outside to help someone on the inside like my brother. It’s been very helpful, and I would recommend it to anyone who has questions.”

Now in its seventh year, the free daylong PACT conference is held every other year as a way to communicate with the families and friends of offenders. TDCJ senior staff, including Executive Director Brad Livingston, and members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, including Presiding Officer Rissie Owens, were among the conference participants. Informative presentations featured subjects ranging from changes made to the agency’s visitation policies to the workings of the recently-installed offender telephone system, and representatives of TDCJ and the Board of Pardons and Paroles were available during the conference to answer questions and address concerns.

Bobbie Turner-Parker, manager for Resolution Support within TDCJ’s Administrative Review and Risk Management Division, said the conference is a way for the agency to interact with an offender’s loved ones on a personal level.

“We do everything we can do to connect with the public,” she said. “Everyone is someone’s loved one. And just because you have a loved one who’s incarcerated doesn’t mean you love him or her any less. So in order to keep up the morale of incarcerated offenders, it’s very important that we’re able to get their family members and friends involved and interact with them directly whenever possible.”

Ariza was attending her second PACT conference and had questions regarding her husband’s upcoming hearing before the parole board.

“I wanted to meet the board members for the San Antonio region because my husband is coming up for parole soon,” she said.

Ariza also sought out Oscar Mendoza, deputy director for Management Operations within the agency’s Correctional Institutions Division, to discuss arranging special visits with her husband, who is housed in Beeville.

“A lot of my questions have been answered, especially with Mr. Mendoza,” she said. “He’s been a big help.”

Conerly said he has two sons now incarcerated and attended the conference to gain more knowledge about TDCJ in general and the parole process in particular.

“I want to find out a little bit more about the criminal justice system and the facilities where my sons are incarcerated,” Conerly said. “I thought it would benefit me by coming and finding out what kind of support I can give my sons.”

All three family members said they liked the personal aspect of the conference.
“I’m here because I wanted to get all the information I can from the administrative staff of TDCJ and I’ve found it kind of hard to get information when you’re not able to speak to them in person,” Ariza said. “When I can talk to them face-to-face, I know who I’m speaking to and can put a name to a face.”

“It’s a lot easier to speak to someone one-on-one than it is over the phone,” added Castillo. “The one-on-one is the best thing.”

Turner-Parker agreed.

“As an agency, we’re real people dealing with the issues of real people,” she said. “It’s important for the family members to be able to put a face with a name, to know that there’s a human being who is in charge of their loved ones. It puts a human face on what we do.”

Conerly said he got a lot out of the conference.

“I loved it,” he said. “I think everybody should attend if they have a loved one incarcerated. I think they’d find out a lot more about it than what they’re thinking.”

 

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15th Annual Governor’s Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Awards

Recognizing the service of TDCJ volunteers

By Eric Gambrell, Member

  portrait of Eric Gambrell
  Eric Gabrell

In April, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice hosted the 15th Annual Governor’s Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Awards in Austin. These prestigious service awards were created in 1995 through the collaborative efforts of the TBCJ and then Governor George W. Bush. They honor volunteers who have made outstanding and remarkable contributions and sacrifices to the mission of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

I had the distinct privilege and honor to serve as master of ceremonies at this year’s event, introducing 20 very special individuals and programs that are making Texas a better place for all of us.

Currently, we have more than 19,000 approved volunteers serving within TDCJ. During fiscal year 2009, these individuals collectively gave more than 440,000 hours of their time to provide valuable services within our prisons, treatment
facilities, parole offices and out in the community. There can be no question as to the positive daily impact these volunteers have on the lives of the offenders, their families, TDCJ staff, victims of crime and our towns and neighborhoods.

The services provided by volunteers within our system are remarkably diverse. They work as chaplain assistants, teach religious studies, lead religious services, and even organize appreciation events for the employees. Some coordinate AA and NA programs, while others mentor in the reentry process or teach offenders education and life skills. Volunteers encourage self-development and transformation, and help in the healing process for victims. They offer transitional and aftercare services. They provide faith-based learning, fellowship and encouragement. They even help raise funds to build, repair and maintain visitor centers, chapels and multipurpose buildings for treatment and religious services. In short, they change lives.

While each of our 20 recipients has an amazing story of commitment and impact, there are two that I would like to briefly spotlight: Randy Richter and Leonard Davis.

Mr. Richter was the recipient of this year’s Carol S. Vance Volunteer of the Year Award. Ministering for more than 30 years, he became an approved TDCJ volunteer in 1994. While volunteering, he became committed to freeworld aftercare for Christian ex-offenders and established a residential ministry for male ex-offenders in Buffalo, Texas. In addition to this ministry, he provides three-day crusades at various units across the state. In 2009, Mr. Richter accepted full-time responsibility for the development, implementation and operation of the faith-based dorm at the Wynne Unit. Since then, he has recruited many volunteers to help with the program and secure outside funding to support it. His devotion also led him to begin an effort which ultimately raised nearly $300,000 to replace the roof of the Wynne Unit’s Rockwall Chapel. He has dedicated countless hours in meetings with potential donors, agency staff and contractors.

Leonard Davis, a dedicated volunteer since 1994, was posthumously recognized for the most hours served during 2009. Mr. Davis passed away in October 2009 at the age of 78. Prior to his death, he contributed 1,865 hours of volunteer service to TDCJ during the annual reporting period. This was Mr. Davis’ fourth time to receive the Greatest Number of Hours Award, earning it in 2005, 2007 and 2008 as well. Over the last five years alone, Mr. Davis contributed more than 9,300 hours serving offenders at the LeBlanc and Stiles units in Beaumont. In honor of his unwavering devotion, the board during the April ceremony respectfully renamed the Greatest Number of Hours Award to the Leonard Davis Most Number of Hours Award.

As I noted earlier, the award recipients recognized at the April 8 ceremony personify the tens of thousands of volunteers who serve our criminal justice system on a daily basis. This agency and our state are thankful for the difference these volunteers are making through their time, efforts and talent.

15th Annual Governor’s Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Awards
Gilbert Peters
Chaplaincy Department Award
Kevin Marks and Kevin Varner
Private Facilities Contract Monitoring/ Oversight Division
Lovers Lane United Methodist Church
Religious Services Award
John N.
Substance Abuse Treatment Program
Marie Herbort
Judy Burd Award - Windham School District
Women’s Storybook Project of Texas
Susan Cranford Award - Female Offender Program
Regional Criminal Justice Ministry of South Texas
Community Service Award

Leonard Davis (posthumous)
Greatest Number of Hours Award

Ricky D. Henderson
TDCJ Employee Volunteer Award

Randy Richter
Carol S. Vance Volunteer of the Year Award

David Rust
Correctional Institutions Division Award
Reverend Wilbert Burney
Nancy Hees Award - Parole Division
CrossNet – Criminal Justice Ministry
Religious Services Award
Jessica Godinez
Pathfinder Award - Victim Services Division
Calvary Commission
Restorative Justice Award
G4 Faith-Based Row (Wynne Unit)
Most Innovative Program Award
Mercy Heart Legacy Day with Mom
Best Family Program Award
Ronald Field
Extensive Travel Award
Jacqueline Anderson
Dickerson Criminal Justice Administrator Award

 

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