An employee publication of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
In This Together: Tristan Witt's Journey
If there’s one life lesson Correctional Officer Tristan Witt hopes to instill in his two-year-old daughter and one-year-old son is that even when life places obstacles in the way of your dreams, hard work and perseverance will get you through them.
It’s a lesson that 25-year-old Witt, who joined the Texas Department of Criminal Justice two months ago, was instilled with growing up the youngest of five in a single-parent household in a small rural town.
“Growing up I didn’t have a father; I didn’t have someone to go outside and play catch with. I didn’t have any of that. My kids are the number one thing in my life. They’re everything to me. My kids are there for me and I’m there for them,” Witt said. “If there’s anything they can take away from me is that nothing comes easy, whatever it is you have to work for it. Life gave me lemons, and I squeezed them up and made lemonade. I’m no longer thirsty, just thirsty for success.”
Driven by that thirst, Witt takes any challenges thrown his way head on, because for him, a challenge is neither too big nor too small.
It’s his ability to succeed in persevering through whatever challenges are handed to him that gives him a sense of pride, and what ultimately led him into wanting to enlist in the United States most elite military branch - the U.S. Marine Corp. - at 17 years old.
“All the men told me to join the military and make it into a career, so I decided that I would enlist in the Marine Corp and I’m going to make it a career,” Witt said. “I said I’m not going to just join any branch, I’m going to join the ‘Devil Dogs’ the hardest of them all, so that’s what I did.”
Witt spent a total of four years in the U.S. Marine Corp. where he served with the 1st Marine Division - 5th Marine Regiment - 2nd Battalion - 4th Marines Fox Company - Weapons Platoon. He served in various capacities, such as team leader, squad leader, and gunner, and was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California.
During his time in the military, Witt learned a lot about teamwork, dedication, and brotherhood. He and his fellow soldiers spent time with the British Royal Marine Corp. in the United Kingdom training with each other, as well as spending time in Australia working with their armed services too.
While overseas, Witt served as chief instructor of more than 4,000 soldiers.
After leaving service due to medical reasons, Witt began looking at a variety of different career paths to enter into. It wasn’t until exploring online that Witt came across an advertisement to become a correctional officer with TDCJ. From there, he quickly embarked on the application process, including speaking with the TDCJ Veteran Resource Officer, to be one of the many men and women to wear the iconic gray uniform.
“It was about a 20-minute process to apply,” Witt said. “I got a phone call about three days later and then about a week later I was sitting in the academy.”
Soon after starting at one of TDCJ’s Regional Training Academies, Witt saw the many similarities between being a correctional officer and a member in the country’s armed services including having the characteristics of honor, courage and commitment.
“Everything I do, I carry those keywords with me through life especially in a job like this,” Witt said. “You have to stay committed, you have to have honor and you have to have courage like in any branch of the military, because people are depending on you and TDCJ is the same way. People are depending on you to respond in a moment’s notice. The most important thing is to have integrity.”
Like the military, Witt saw the friendship and fellowship that came with putting on that gray uniform between the men and women he currently works with at the Ferguson Unit in Midway, Texas. To him, like to many correctional officers that formerly and currently serve, they’re family.
“We’re a tight knit group of guys. We actually care about each other just like in the service,” Witt said. “I would say you know the family I have at home, that’s my second family, and the family I have here at work is my first. I spend most of my time here with these ladies and gentlemen and we’ve built that camaraderie.”
During his time as a correctional officer, Witt hopes to make a difference in the lives of the inmates he helps keep secure through promoting positive change in behavior and attitude. To him, it’s about being fair and looking forward at how he can impact a person’s future without reflecting on his or her past.
Whatever happened in these (inmates) past, that doesn’t matter. You know It’s where you are today that matters,” Witt said. “An inmate might’ve done something silly when he was 17, but now he’s 45 and we’re helping him transition back into society and to help change their life and be a better person.”
Through all the challenges he has faced in his lifetime, Witt says he’s grateful for them because it made him into the person he is today - a person who is driven to be hardworking in order to be successful in making that important impact in a person’s life.
“Every time I fell, I got back up, and I fell a lot, but I got back up. It’s the fight in me. I want to be a good dad, I want to be a good husband, and I want to make an impact in somebody’s life. Money isn’t everything, but if I made an impact on somebody then I have done my part.”