TDCJ helps Hurricane Katrina victims weather aftermath of storm
|Stiles Unit Operational Review Sgt. Nadria Turner, left, and Field Training Officer Kim Lewis brought boxes and bags full of donated items to this drop-off center in Beaumont where they were sorted and distributed to area shelters.
Photos by David Nunnelee
Texas Correctional Industries plant manager Jimmy Stone knows the misery a massive storm can cause. When he was a 16-year-old living in Beaumont, a tropical storm struck the coastal city during the height of summer, knocking out all electrical power for two weeks.
“The heat was terrible and the mosquitoes were horrible,” Stone said. “It was the worst two weeks of my life.”
The memory of that sultry summer flooded back to Stone as he and others worked practically around the clock inside the mattress factory at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville in early September to produce mattresses to comfort victims of Hurricane Katrina. Four thousand mattresses shipped initially from TCI factories at Wynne and the Smith Unit in Lamesa were requested by the Louisiana Department of Corrections for distribution to offenders and citizens displaced by the devastating storm. Later, Texas communities housing Gulf Coast evacuees requested more than 700 additional mattresses for their shelters and the State of Louisiana asked for 5,000 pillows from TCI. Approximately 205,000 evacuees were eventually housed in 197 shelters across Texas.
“I thinks it’s a terrible thing that’s happened and if we can provide comfort of any kind for these people, then that’s a good thing,” said Stone.
TCI also provided mattresses for Drug Enforcement Agency helicopter pilots and crew members flying relief missions out of Conroe early in the relief effort. In addition, TDCJ furnished more than 500 cots to shelters set up at Huntsville churches to house evacuees. And at the request of the Huntsville Police Department, the TDCJ Office of the Inspector General assigned staff to provide 24-hour security at the two church shelters where the agency also supplied staff and metal detectors to screen evacuees.
|Offenders at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville load mattresses on a trailer bound for victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana.
wElsewhere, laundry employees at the Choice Moore Unit in Bonham washed and folded approximately 300 pounds of clothes collected for distribution to evacuees at a Red Cross shelter housing more than 150 people. Laundry services were also provided by the Huntsville Unit, the Duncan Unit in Diboll, and the Telford Unit in New Boston at the request of the state and local emergency officials.
TDCJ is a member of the State of Texas Emergency Management Team and is primarily tapped to address transportation issues during times of crisis. So, soon after Katrina delivered her devastating blow to communities along the coastlines of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, the agency’s Freight Transportation Department mobilized to carry cots and blankets from Salvation Army facilities in Austin to shelters set up in Beaumont. Six pallets of blankets needed at a shelter in Pasadena were picked up and delivered by TDCJ freight transportation vehicles. Freight Transportation also delivered a refrigerator trailer to one of the Huntsville shelters for the storage of perishable items. All units within Walker County were asked to provide the shelters with ice, and Security Operations provided a room at its warehouse in Huntsville to store shelter supplies. The decontamination of approximately 12,000 cots set up at the Reliant Center in Houston was completed by the Region III office in Rosharon.
Under an emergency disaster declaration approved for Texas by President Bush, TDCJ can apply for 100 percent reimbursement of the eligible cost incurred during the disaster period.
Meanwhile, agency employees throughout the state took up collections for the storm victims, a gesture of generosity praised by TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston.
“Your donations to the American Red Cross and other charitable organizations responding to this disaster once again demonstrate the generosity and compassion of the agency workforce,” Livingston said. “With the State Employee Charitable Campaign underway, I realize there are many worthwhile causes and charities seeking your assistance. Your generosity to those less fortunate and your responsiveness to times of crisis is deeply appreciated, as is your constant dedication to serving and protecting the public.”
At the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, Operational Review Sgt. Nadria Turner spearheaded efforts to collect donated items and deliver them to local shelters for distribution. A number of employees also volunteered to help with the sorting of donated clothing, and some offenders offered to donate commissary items to the relief effort.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Turner said about the response. “I get chills talking about it because there was such an outpouring of support.”
School supplies and other items were collected at the neighboring LeBlanc Unit where community work squads worked extended hours to assist the City of Port Arthur in ferrying supplies to relief shelters there. Offender work squads from LeBlanc and the Gist State Jail also provided custodial services at the local Salvation Army facility and at Ford Arena where hundreds of Gulf Coast evacuees were temporarily sheltered.
“It hits home a little more being this close to Louisiana,” said LeBlanc Senior Warden J.W. Mossbarger about the unit’s response to the catastrophe. “A couple hundred miles in this direction and it would have been us. But if our community is involved in what’s going on in Louisiana, then so are we because we are a part of this community.”
Ouida LaBeouf, the post-trauma team leader at LeBlanc, volunteered to sort clothes at Ford Arena soon after it was opened as a shelter.
“The little girls and boys would come up and it was heart wrenching because they had nothing,” said the grandmother of eleven.
Stiles Unit case manager Seterria Anderson volunteered at Ford Arena with 15 of her sorority sisters from Lamar University in Beaumont. She helped children making arts and crafts.
“I cried when I got there,” Anderson said. “I said I wouldn’t, but I did. But it makes me feel good that I can help out. I don’t have a lot of money but I do have something I can give, which is my time.”