As part of the 2019 National Correctional Officers and Employees Week, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice held its annual Fallen Correctional Officers Memorial Ceremony on May 10 at the HEARTS Veterans Museum of Texas, next to the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville. Unseasonably cool and wet weather prompted this year’s ceremony to be moved indoors.
Dozens of uniformed and non-uniformed TDCJ staff were in attendance, along with representatives from the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, state and local politicians, and family members of agency employees who lost their lives in the line of duty. Similar ceremonies were held at agency facilities throughout Texas, and many units hosted appreciation events in recognition of the professional commitment demonstrated every day by TDCJ staff.
Following the posting of the colors, Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Logistics Division Director Bobby Lumpkin welcomed the assembly and explained the purpose of the event: “We are here to honor the memory of TDCJ employees and all correctional workers across the nation who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and well-being of others. A ceremony such as this is a most fitting tribute to those brave souls who have died in the line of duty. We are honored to share in this occasion with each of you and are hopeful that this day will serve as an inspiration to us all.”
TDCJ Chaplain Timothy Jones led the group with an invocation, and Administrative Review and Risk Management Division Director Kelvin Scott lit a memorial candle in tribute to the fallen. Lumpkin then presented the Riderless Horse, with its traditional black blanket, saddle, bridle and boots reversed in the stirrups, symbolizing disorder due to an untimely death.
The keynote speaker for this year’s ceremony was TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier, who drew upon scripture for comfort and perspective: “In the New Testament, in the Book of John, chapter 15, verse 13 says ‘Greater love hath no one than this: than to lay down one’s life for his friends.’ I can’t think of any better scripture for today’s service. One day a year we formally pause together and reflect on the legacy of those men and women who paid the ultimate price, those who gave their lives in the line of duty. On the other 364 days a year, we quietly remember their sacrifices and we remain forever indebted to them for their services and indebted to their survivors.”
Collier continued, “Each of them was committed to a cause greater than themselves and each of them is a hero. They believed in timeless values that we share as a society. They valued justice. They valued peace. They knew that public safety doesn’t come free. They valued human life so much that they were prepared to give their own life in order to protect others. Unspeakable and unimaginable tragedy may be what brings us here today but our unending appreciation for the unsung work of those in criminal justice is what binds us together.”
Collier described corrections as a demanding, dangerous profession, earning little praise as most of the work is performed away from public view. He also noted that “The lack of visibility does not diminish their contributions. Our communities are safer, and this state is safer because of the work of TDCJ and correctional employees. The work you do each and every day really does matter. You know it matters, and that’s why you do it, and that’s why you’ve answered the challenge.”
Collier concluded by addressing surviving family members of those who lost their lives in the line of duty: “We will never forget the sacrifice your loved ones made. We will make sure that the names and ideals of your husbands and wives, your fathers and mothers, your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters will live in the hearts, minds and souls of citizens for generations to come. That is our commitment to you. Thank you for being here today to honor our fallen. May God watch over and protect each and every one of us. May He bless you all and may He continue to bless the great State of Texas.”
Pastor Jason Studdard, a TDCJ volunteer chaplain, performed a memorial song before Texas Board of Criminal Justice Vice Chairman Terrell McCombs presented the Living Memorial, a group of live oak trees planted on the Sesquicentennial Plaza in honor of TDCJ employees who lost their lives while performing their official duties.
McCombs praised correctional employees’ commitment and sacrifice: “On this occasion we remember and celebrate the lives of public servants here in Texas and throughout our nation who paid the ultimate price, and also for all of them out on station right now, all across our great state, covering nearly a thousand miles by a thousand miles geographically. They’re on duty, on watch 365 days a year, seven days a week, protecting you and I from others, many of which would often gladly do us harm. For that, every night each of us should say a special prayer of thanks.”
McCombs continued, “To honor fallen Texas Department of Criminal Justice staff, 15 years ago the Department established this beautiful, enduring living memorial.” He then described the dangers corrections employees face every day: “There’s always the potential that carrying out that mission can lead to sacrifice. That potential is part of the code honored not only by every correctional officer, but also by every spouse, child and family member, some of those seated with us here today know all too well. It’s a special burden they bear to give the rest of us the safety we sometimes take for granted. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who wear the gray uniform and the thousands more who serve in other critical positions within correctional institutions, and in parole and probation offices across our state.”
Correctional Institutions Division Region III Director John Warner oversaw the placement of the memorial wreath, and TDCJ Deputy Executive Director Oscar Mendoza conducted a roll call of fallen correctional employees from across the nation. After the playing of Taps, CID Region I Director Wayne Brewer presented the Missing Officer Table and led a final salute to the fallen.
The ceremony concluded with retrieval of the colors by the agency’s honor guard and a closing prayer led by TDCJ Chaplain Timothy Jones.
The Missing Officer Table
The table is round to show the everlasting concern for our missing loved ones.
The tablecloth is white, which symbolizes the purity of their motives while answering the call of duty.
The sword symbolizes honor.
The single red rose reminds us of the life of each of these missing loved ones, and friends of these correctional staff who keep the faith.
The vase is tied with a yellow ribbon as a symbol of our continued determination to remember and take care of our own.
The slice of lemon reminds us of the bitter fate of those killed or crippled while protecting society.
The pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by those missing, and their families who seek answers.
The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those of us who continue on.
The glass inverted symbolizes their inability to share this day’s toast.