A host of civic leaders were honored this month when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice held a ceremony at the Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church in Beaumont on Friday, March 16. About 85 volunteers were honored at the ceremony, covering those who serve from the Conroe/Houston/Southeast Texas area.
Region 3 Chaplain Susan Mathis, State Jail Gist Unit Senior Warden Reginald Goings and Gist Unit Chaplain Mike Woods were some of the TDCJ workers who said a few words of appreciation at the event. Among those honored were volunteers who work behind the prison walls in faith-based substance abuse recovery, discipleship programs, those who assist incarcerated Vietnam veterans and those who work tirelessly to curb Texas’ recidivism rates across the board.
“There’s even people who set up days where kids can come and have a meal with their dad,” Woods told The Examiner. “They work with offenders to get offenders to be something different than the crime that brought them to (jail).”
Woods said the TDCJ wouldn’t be able to offer programs that have been proven to keep offenders from re-offending, programs that transform convicts into productive citizens after their release, if it wasn’t for volunteers who come in and perform the needed work free of charge.
“Absolutely, no way we could do these programs,” he reiterated, adding, “All in all, we average in the neighborhood of 160 volunteer visits per month. So we’re looking at about 350 hours a month out there.
“These volunteers are some of the most dedicated I’ve ever seen. At church, I had people who couldn’t wait to call and cancel teaching Sunday School, but I never have to worry about that with this group of volunteers. They’re really committed folks, and they really are making a difference.
“I love them. They’re the best.”
Beaumont resident and S.O.C. (Save Our Children) founder the Rev. J.D. Roberts hosts a S.O.C. Church weekly program at the Gist Unit.
“It’s a very good program,” Woods said of Roberts’ venture. “The unique thing about him is he has a desire to reach the hardest to reach population – the youngsters, the gang members, the guys who still think it’s OK to be in prison.
“He’s pretty effective at getting through to them, and they listen to him. God’s given him the heart to do that, and that translates to these guys in (Roberts’) words and actions. Youngsters ... know who’s genuine and who’s not.”
Roberts said it’s a mission of love: “I’m there because these young men need to know they’re not alone and people do care – not only about why they’re in prison, but what they do after they get out. What I’m showing them is that once God puts you in that box, you’re put there to do better, not to get out and keep doing the same thing.
“I want them all to know every man has been a prodigal son at some point in their life. And, they also need to know they can come home to the Lord, because he’s waiting on them just like he waited on me.”
Woods said the system could always use a few good volunteers for those special people willing to participate. He said interested parties can log on to tdcj.state.tx.us and use the unit locator to find the facility fitting of the outreach program. Then, he said, just call and ask for the chaplain.
“There is a population looking for answers,” Woods said. “For our families, for our state budget and for ourselves, we need to stop this cycle that’s going on.”