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Texas Correctional Association on rise with increased membership, energy

Collier standing in front of presentation screen
TDCJ Parole Division Director Bryan Collier led a workshop segment at the Texas Correctional Association annual conference in Galveston in June. He has been active in TCA the past two years and now serves as president-elect of the organization.
Photo by David Nunnelee
The Texas Correctional Association (TCA) is on the rise. And TDCJ employees like Correctional Institutions Division Director Doug Dretke, president of TCA the past year, are given much of the credit for its recent ascension.

“Doug has brought to TCA not only renewed energy and enthusiasm, but I think he has brought the association a stature of visibility, not just with TDCJ, but across the board in corrections,” said TCA Executive Director Chuck Space. “When you have people of that magnitude within the corrections profession, people take notice and want to be a part of something that can attract that kind of leadership.”

Membership in TCA now numbers approximately 400 corrections professionals, up from less than 200 just a couple of years ago. About 300 members attended the association’s annual conference in Galveston in June when Dretke passed the president’s gavel to Peggy Carr, deputy chief of Denton County’s Community Supervision & Corrections Department, and TDCJ Parole Division Director Bryan Collier was named president-elect.

“It has been a tremendous honor for me this past year to serve as president of the Texas Correctional Association,” said Dretke, a TCA member since the mid-1980s. “My association with TCA has been long and valued and I have especially enjoyed the opportunity to interact with people across the spectrum of criminal justice in Texas. I have learned through the years to appreciate professionals at all levels of the system.”

TCA was founded in the 1960s to provide a forum for all corrections professionals in Texas to come together and exchange information and ideas. Over the years, however, the association’s membership became somewhat one-dimensional, made up of mostly state probation officers. Collier said he became active in the organization two years ago when he saw that its membership was becoming more balanced.

“I think now what we’re doing is starting it over as an organization that serves adult and juvenile corrections from every aspect in Texas,” Collier said. “That’s why I got back into it. I thought if it can be that, then I what to be a part of it.”

While many TDCJ employees are also members of the American Correctional Association, Space said TCA is especially effective in addressing issues that directly impact Texas.

“The American Correctional Association is serving people on a much broader scale,” he explained. “We can zero in much more effectively on what the issues and problems and solutions are as far as Texas is concerned. We’re just able to focus in more so than a national organization.”

“Both organizations are important, but each provides for different opportunities,” Dretke said. “TCA provides a unique opportunity to learn from professionals within Texas. Everything that happens within the criminal justice system in Texas directly impacts each of us and it is important that we understand those dynamics so we can better work together in continually improving our system of justice.”

TDCJ employees who are members of TCA say the organization provides a pathway for networking with other corrections professionals across the state.

“We provide the network where people get to know each other,” Space said. “They get to understand different parts of the corrections profession. To me, the networking and the ability to come together and learn about all the different facets of corrections and the people who are involved in it is probably one of the most important things we offer.”

The Galveston conference was the first for TDCJ-CID Region V Director Rodney Cooper who joined the association a year ago. A number of other TDCJ employees, including CJAD Director Bonita White, also attended.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to network with people from all the different correctional backgrounds,” Cooper said. “It’s just a good time to get to know people that you can network with. Anytime you get to know people better that deal with a different aspect of what you’re doing and get a chance to pick their brain a bit, you can’t do anything but help everybody.”

“When we just sit down and really take our time to understand what happens in other pieces of the system, that education process creates opportunities for us to discover and explore new ideas,” Dretke added.

Attendance at this year’s annual conference was double that of last year, a welcomed sign of TCA’s renewed growth.

“This year’s conference affirmed to all of us that TCA has a continuing important place among criminal justice professions in Texas and we think that there has been a new viability and energy brought back to the association,” Dretke said. “We anticipate its continued growth.”

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Regional director drinks in scenery, tea of Kenya on missionary trip
Cooper working on wiring in the ceiling
TDCJ-CID Region V Director Rodney Cooper works on wiring inside the college dormitory he helped construct in Kenya earlier this year.
Photos courtesy of Rodney Cooper

When summer settles on the High Plains of West Texas, TDCJ-CID Region V Director Rodney Cooper is accustomed to drinking iced tea to quench his thirst. But this past summer, Cooper found himself in Kenya where the tea is nearly as hot as the weather.

“You don’t ever see ice in a glass,” Cooper said about the two weeks he spent in Lumur, Kenya in June as part of a Baptist church group that traveled there from Plainview to build a woman’s dormitory on the campus of the Kenyan Baptist Theological College. “You drink hot tea, hot coffee. If you drink any water, it’s room temperature.”

Fortunately for the 14 church volunteers, June was the start of the winter season in Kenya so the temperatures were not uninviting. In fact, Cooper described the countryside around Lumur, which sits along the edge of a mountain range about 30 minutes from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, as spectacular. The theological college there is affiliated with a Baptist university based in Plainview.

“They had a need for a female dorm so a group of us went over there to help in the construction,” said Cooper who took vacation time to make the trip. “It was just a great opportunity to go.”

In constructing the dormitory big enough to house 16 students, Cooper and his fellow church members worked hand-in-hand with local builders. They just didn’t always work with the same tools.

“They were working alongside us, and, of course, they’re used to doing everything manually with no power tools whatsoever, and to watch the way they do construction compared to the way we would do it here, it’s quite interesting,” Cooper said. “We did some their way and we did some our way. We took battery-operated drills and some power saws and taught them how to use some of that and they taught us some of the manual ways of doing things.”

Silhouette of a tree with sunset in background

A tree stands in silhouette against a Kenyan sunset.

Cooper said the Kenyans stopped work twice a day to drink tea.

“They stop for tea each day at 10 o’clock in the morning and at 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” he said. “It’s a hot tea mixed with milk and a lot of sugar. It doesn’t look like tea at all.”

During the tea breaks, Cooper and his colleagues from Texas took the opportunity to talk with university students about their lives and ambitions. He described their living conditions as primitive when compared to those in America.

“You go to help them but I think it does as much for those who go over,” he said. “We learn to appreciate what we have here.”

The Kenyan trip was not Cooper’s first missionary mission. In 1997 he was part of a church group that traveled deep into the bush country of Uganda to minister to locals.

“It’s just a great opportunity to get to go and help out,” he said.

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