Leading a staff responsible for helping people re-enter society after incarceration is no easy task. It includes coordinating housing, providing employment guidance, and supporting people as they rebuild their lives and make their way back into the community.
Amid the coronavirus crisis, Stephen, resident at RPM-managed Muir Lake, faced new challenges in his role as Deputy Director of Re-entry and Integration Division for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). First, his team faced the logistical challenge of transportation.
“We had to stay up-to-date with all county ordinances and look at each route to see if transportation services were available to get offenders to their destination or if we had to coordinate pick-ups by calling the releasing person’s family,” he said.
His staff and the recently released offenders also struggled with fears of the virus. Stephen’s team had daily contact with the public, so he eased their concerns with communication.
“I focused on educating everyone on CDC protocols and ensured policies and procedures were being followed,” Stephen said.
This isn’t the first crisis he has faced. During Hurricane Harvey, he was responsible for helping evacuate facilities, ensuring all offenders were moved out of the impact zone, and then finding offenders placement after the impact. Stephen said that was a different kind of emergency.
“You knew there was going to be an end to that crisis; you knew the water was going to recede,” he said. “But this will be an ongoing issue – even when it levels off, it can still come back.”
Stephen will be retiring at the end of this month, after having served the TDCJ for over 23 years. He began his career as a prison guard and worked through various roles with the goal of making a difference in the lives of people serving time in TDCJ facilities. With one of his last major projects, he assisted with a new program called STRIVE (Strength Through Restoration, Independence, Vision and Empowerment), which was created specifically to help women in the criminal justice system learn new job skills and achieve vocational certifications, so they have employment upon release.
As society continues to adjust to the new normal, Stephen has seen some positive impacts.
“You’re seeing more people spending time together,” he said. “There are more people outdoors together and typically you don’t see that family time. In work, people are finding new ways to do jobs – things we didn’t think of before. There are so many new opportunities.”