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Rehabilitation Programs Division

Volunteer Services Program

2011 Governor’s Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Awards

John “Zeke” Young
Carol S. Vance Volunteer of the Year

Photo of Award Winner(s)

In 2000, the Ferguson Unit in Midway, Texas, acquired a new volunteer that “hit the door running!” Zeke Young, along with his team of volunteers, began visiting offenders that were assigned to administrative segregation. Administrative segregation houses offenders commonly considered the worst of the worst. Mr. Young and his ministry team, Less Than the Least Ministries, began going cell to cell ministering to the offenders and sharing the gospel of Christ. The unit chaplain fondly referred to these volunteers as the “Bar Hoppers.” This ministry group not only shared what they believed, but lived it out in this very challenging environment. Their testimony had a tremendous impact on these offenders as more than 30 were baptized after the first year while they were still assigned to administrative segregation. The ministry grew to providing services on Sunday mornings about six times a year. The impact of his ministry affected the entire unit.

Mr. Young’s ministry was not limited to the Ferguson Unit, as he began reaching out to other units across the state. It was also not limited to just being on the unit. In order to offer encouragement and hope to the greatest number of offenders possible, Mr. Young began a weekly radio program that offenders in both administrative segregation and general population could listen to in units as far as their band width could reach.

While volunteering on the Ferguson Unit, Mr. Young became concerned about the chapel, it was unusable having been condemned in 1989. Although a new roof had been put on the chapel in 2000, the inside was still in disrepair. With the energy and spirit unique to this dedicated volunteer, Zeke Young, with the support of his home church, Sagemont Church in Houston, began to push for donations to restore the unit’s chapel. He broadcast from his radio station the need to restore the chapel and he hosted banquets and volunteer appreciation events to raise money. He has been heard to say many times, “I’ll bang on every door if I have to!” At one point, to draw attention to the cause, he even committed not to cut his hair until the project was complete. Zeke Young was determined. Finally, in 2010, after raising $100,000.00, and with the participation of the state, the chapel at the Ferguson Unit was beautifully restored with state of the art sound equipment, a video system, musical instruments, office furnishings, a baptistery, and new seating for the congregation. Mr. Young was able to cut his hair, and the offenders, as well as others, have a place to worship in quiet dignity.

For his dedicated service to change lives and to offer hope to those considered less than the least, and for his determined efforts to ensure the offenders on the Ferguson Unit have a place to worship, Zeke Young has been selected as the Carol S. Vance Volunteer of the Year.

[Note: Cynthia Young, wife of Zeke Young, and mother to their son, Carey, went home to be with the Lord on February 7, 2011. Mrs. Young was also a volunteer and a great supporter of her husband’s service to the TDCJ. Cynthia knew before her death that Zeke would be receiving a Governor’s award for his dedicated volunteer service to the TDCJ. She was very proud of her husband.]

In 1999, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice named the Volunteer of the Year Award after Carol S. Vance, former TDCJ Chairman and Board Member, former TDCJ Programs Committee Chair, and current Chaplaincy volunteer (since 1996) at the Darrington and Jester Units. This award recognizes his many contributions in the development of rehabilitative programming offered to offenders to effect change.