I recently had the invitation and opportunity to tour the Bradshaw State Jail facility operated privately by MTC (Management Training Corporation). This was my first opportunity to tour this facility or any prison facility in my lifetime, for that matter. I have always had a vision in my mind of what was behind the walls or fences at a prison or state jail, but those visions came from television shows, movies or stories.
Before coming back to Henderson and serving as City Manager, I did not truly understand the difference between a publicly run prison facility and a privately run facility such as Bradshaw. MTC as a private company has a contract with the State of Texas to operate the prison. My mindset was that if a for-profit company were running a jail facility, the inmate care would probably be lacking due to cutting costs to turn that profit, right? At least that was my thought process before my tour.
I can now say that I completely had it wrong! I was blown away at what I saw simply because it wasn’t at all what I expected. In fact, some of the tour felt like I was touring a high school or small college campus. I’ll explain in more detail later.
Upon my arrival, naturally I had to go through security. Obviously, no cell phones, wallets, weapons, or anything of that nature were allowed into the secure area. Once I provided them with my information and signed over my property the Warden’s secretary greeted me and she promptly took me to his office. I already knew the Warden, so introductions weren’t necessary. We spoke for a few minutes about the jail and how it was run and then immediately headed out the door to start our tour. I was given a visitor’s badge prior to heading into the secure area to denote that I was just visiting.
We walked directly through a gate and into an open courtyard area between the buildings. This area was filled with inmates walking to and from different areas. As we walked inmates acknowledged the Warden and us acknowledged them with very polite conversation. We made our way to the chapel building first. A group of inmates were leaving the building as we entered. Each of them seemed to have smiles on their faces. They were interacting with the guards and staff as if they were just at school or on the street. This group had just finished a class that is being led by an instructor from Kilgore College. The Warden and the college instructor spoke for several minutes about the class of approximately 30 individuals. MTC had recently partnered with Kilgore College and things were going well.
As we left the Chapel, the Warden talked about the different education paths that were offered to the inmates while they were serving their time at Bradshaw. We next made our way to the chow hall or cafeteria. Again inmates to and from as well as numerous staff along the way engaged us. The respect level went both ways between the MTC staff and inmates and it wasn’t due to fear. I could tell it was genuine, but I wasn’t sure why.
We then passed by the commissary and saw a short line of guys purchasing the products they needed for the coming days or weeks. We spoke to an inmate about what he had just purchased. He showed us his wares and told us how much he spent as he left with a smile. The Warden then took me into the room where the MTC staff was fed. The food was just being set out for the beginning of lunch and it was the same taco salad that the inmates were being fed in the main cafeteria. It looked and smelled great and I really wanted to make a plate for myself, but we had to move on.
The next building we entered is where I truly began to recognize why the inmates and staff seemed to enjoy their time at the Bradshaw facility. As mentioned earlier, this is where the high school or college campus feel came in. I was introduced to instructors and teachers who were responsible for leading the GED and High School Diplomacy programs. The staff was amazing. I could tell each of them truly had a heart for what they were doing. This genuine interest clearly shown through to the inmates, which revealed to me why the respect level was so high between them. It was all starting to come together in my mind now. Again, this was not as I had imagined things were behind the tall fence with razor wire.
I stepped into the skills and trade area to see wood working projects being turned out by guys. I saw a group of guys reading around a table on their own and studying for whatever class they were attending. We then entered two different classrooms and the warden introduced me as a guest and then began dialogue with the teacher and the inmates. I was amazed at the conversations I witnessed as the Warden allowed them to ask anything they wanted. The questions went from menu choices at lunch to the schedule and policies on transferring GED or high school credits. Policies and rules were talked about and the Warden took his time and explained the reasons behind whatever policy or rule was brought to his attention. We spent about 30 minutes in each. Most of the time we spent in the classrooms was with the Warden and inmates engaging in conversation. Again, not the image I had of the goings on behind the walls of a prison.
We began to make the long walk back to the gate in which we started, and the Warden said that’s what happens every time he comes out which is almost daily if he is at the facility. “They just really want someone to listen to them and care about what they are saying,” said the Warden. And I responded, “We all do”. That’s exactly what I witnessed throughout the tour. All the MTC staff were actively listening, relating, teaching and engaging the inmates during their journey to recovery from whatever landed them in Bradshaw.
As I finished the tour and left the property, I reflected on what I had just witnessed. MTC does an outstanding job as a for profit company operating the Bradshaw State Jail. But it never really felt like a jail inside other than everyone was wearing the same white jumpsuits. Never did I see where the company might be trying to save a few dollars. It was just the opposite. They had poured money into the buildings and continue to do so every year. Their focus is rehabilitation on a one by one basis and they are having success.
I am a big advocate of Public/Private Partnerships (PPP). I even completed a research project and wrote a paper on the 3P concept for my Certified Public Manager program. Even after my year here, I didn’t realize that it was happening in a state jail facility right here in Henderson, Texas. Management Training Corporation has it figured out and understands their purpose. The Warden asked one of the inmates in the classroom if they remembered something he said in orientation when they got to Bradshaw. The inmate quickly responded with the following quote, ”Don’t serve the time let the time serve YOU!” The Warden acknowledged the statement with a head nod saying, “Keep up the good work.”