Pasted below is a letter I mailed to the Director Head Lady of TYC earlier this year... and got no email response -- apparently then, as now, no one in the Ivory Towers is really much interested in my ideas and opinions. Well, OK. What do -I- know?
April 5th, 2011
Thanks for taking the time to read this email. I've been intending to write to you personally for quite some time now. After recently coming home from working my shift at a TYC facility -- I finally feel obligated to correspond in order to keep a clear conscience concerning what is happening at where I work. I hope you won't mind if I write how I honestly feel about these issues. It's not my intention to be vindictive towards you of anyone specificly -- as TYC State employees, we ALL share in the responsibility of the agency being what it is, and what it is not.
The problem I'm having now, besides being tired from work, is that I'm tired of TYC, too. I'm tired of being part of a system that is indefensibly and undeniably NOT WORKING. I'm tired of trying to make the shift between the Real (and "free") World at home and the La La Land that my job has become since I started as a JCO in 2005. While I can't speak for my co-workers, of course, it's been my experience during the past few years (especially since the sex scandal in 2007) that pretty much NOT ONE of my fellow JCO's is proud of what goes on at the job -- not proud of their supervisors, the programs (especially CoNextions), or the disipline (and lack thereof) in regards to the youth AND staff. Workplace morale there, in a word, is SHOT. The only thing holding the whole festering sore together is the fact that as long as pretty much everyone comes to a concensus that "The Emperor Has No Clothes", well, hey -- we can all continue to get paid if we all play "Let's Pretend" that everything really is OK.
Well, everything is NOT OK. I've just gotten fed up to the point where coming home and venting to my poor spouse about every shift I work simply isn't enough relief anymore. Forgive me for sounding bitter and angry here, but MY tax dollars are helping fund a sinking ship called TYC, and I'm unwilling to go down with it. What I have to say is more than just "sour grapes" -- or just MY opinion only. It's what my fellow JCO's and I have to deal with every day, every shift.
For the record: I'm a parent, and have many years experience working in commercial daycare/respite care/Head Start/Big Brothers, etc. I've been a State worker elsewhere, and have managed an indepentant supported living facility with disabled adult clients, etc etc -- AND worked in the medical field for 20 years. In short, I've seen what works and what doesn't work in terms of providing meaningful and responsible care for a wide range of folks who really need it. Due to the rampant mismanagement, waste, and outright corruption I've encountered and had to deal with at TYC, my attitude has been degraded to the point where... guess what? I SIMPLY DON'T CARE ANYMORE.
I don't care to be told, without any explanation, that I must do the youth's laundry for them even though I wasn't hired for that job. I don't care any more if they break up their expensive new flat screen TV's, or tuck in thier shirts, or if they lose their overly generous privileges for 72 hours or 72 minutes -- either way, they rarely end up learning any disipline, self-control, or respect for authority or anything/anyone else. "All staff are ENEMY" a youth told me once... but I'll bet I was a lot more considerate than those "caring" for him now at TDCJ (if he's still alive). So WHAT if the youth adopt a non-caring attitude -- is it my fault? Who's problem is it?
It's MY problem when the same staff habitually come to work late, if at all, and I'm repeatedly required to pull 12 hour shifts without warning. It's my problem when virulent, campus wide racial tensions simmer away, contributing to hard feelings between staff, who often leave TYC for less discriminatory jobs. It's MY PROBLEM when youth violently assault us and each other. And because I love Texas and fellow Texans it's MY problem when we release a youth back into society who goes on to anally rape a child to death BECAUSE I HELPED THEM GET AWAY WITH IT by not speaking up sooner about the shoddy "product" we routinely turn out. From what I've seen, most TYC youth are NOT being significantly educated/rehabilitated/cured as far as I can tell... but what do I know? It's not really my problem, I guess. Maybe it's a community problem, maybe it's a Texas wide problem... and, if I'm really lucky, maybe no "troubled youth" that slipped between the cracks will end up killing or injuring ME or anyone I know or care about when we're walking down the street at night. If not -- NO PROBLEM! So WHAT if so many of us JCO's are on high blood pressure medication, right? The monthly hazardous duty pay and insurance covers the cost, more or less. But I'm here to tell you, though, there's not another drop of blood I'm willing to spare the State. Been there, done that, had enough. Trust me, it's not worth it.
It's sad, yes. Sad I've lost faith in agency that neglects the legitimate and critical needs of convicted youth, allow some State employees to get paid for doing basicly NOTHING for years and years on end, and gives State workers in Austin big raises when I'M forced to burn off an earned vacation day every few weeks due to the 4 on, 2 off schedule that's been implemented. And I'm sad to acknowledge that publicly speaking up against the insanity of it all is THE QUICKEST way to get escorted out the gate and lose one's job... or at least suffer some type of retaliation from certain supervisors and administrators. Been there, done that, too. Seen it happen time and time again. Since it's "the squeaky wheel that gets the grease", most JCO's prefer not to squeak since they've seen what happens and know exactly what to expect. No one expects to be able to hold the youth accountable much anymore since we've all been stripped of our ability to provide meaningful consequences for their behavior. We've become toothless tigers, and they know it.
Sad, sad indeed. So sad I can't and won't identify myself at this point. I'm sure we BOTH understand why and how "whistleblower" is a dirty word, and the consequences of being frank. Sigh.
Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. If I wanted to, or, wasn't so tired right now, I could go on and on... but hope you get my point. My current situation dictates I should try to keep my job for at least another few months if possible, but I assure you I'm making plans, and as soon as I'm able to bail out of TYC, I'm GONE. I'll be willing to take my chances with the lousy economy as it is, and throw away the "security" (HA!) of insurance, retirement, and a Regular Paycheck for the opportunity to do HONEST work that I'm good at and enjoy doing, if that's what it takes to regain my lost sense of self worth and dignity. Sorry I can't offer easy answers or solutions to the problems facing this agency... sorry I waited so long to write... and sorry that this letter probably won't change a damn thing in the long OR short run. Sorry, sorry sorry -- I've got nothing more to offer. The first few years weren't so bad; the past few years have been nothing but downhill.
The math bothers me. The Austin American Statesman states the 2011 TYC budget for paying youth to work at lockups is $167,642: High restriction facilities are allocated up to $50,000 a year EACH and $10,000 per halfway house. I can't say right off the top of my head how many TYC facilities exist, but would be interested in an accounting breakdown for all money paid to these institutions. In all the time I've been here, NOT ONCE have I heard of a youth earning any sort of "special vocational certificate" for working in the kitchen or picking up garbage, etc. It's almost a crime that it costs us taxpayers over $131,000 a year to allow an average healthy TYC teenager to sit around and not be expected to do much of ANYTHING for 16 hours a day except make their beds and properly wear the uniform of the day. For that kind of money we should be providing them with an apartment, food, and bus passes for getting to and from college! A disgustingly large amount of "funding" (?) already goes to providing them with the very latest video game consoles, movies, TV's, pizza parties, kites, slip-n-slides, sports gear, and outright BRIBES to gain their complince. Were anyone to ask my opinion, I'd have to say it's a slap in the face to see this type of extravagance being accorded to spoiled children who most often don't express any appreciation for what's been given them and will often destroy these things at will. And will be given more. At MY wages, that's a hefty price to pay to keep them entertained for the length of their sentences.
By now, EVERYONE on campus knows that three TYC facilities and many JCO positions are soon to be on the chopping block. Big changes are heading our way. That's the stark reality I'm facing, and that's what prompted me to screw up the courage to finally write you today. So far, I haven't decided if I want to, or need to, or SHOULD speak out at the upcoming public meeting to discuss the facility closing (or not) where I work. If I were to stand up and calmly read this letter out loud, after eveybody else was done slapping each other on the backs over how GREAT everything was going -- there probably wouldn't be much left for anyone to say, you think? OK, well, call me crazy and I'll sit down and shut up.
Even as dismal as I am about the nature of MY job, I'm glad I don't have the responsibilities YOU do. In my humble opinion, the agency as it exists today is already running on four flat tires, and it CAN'T be made any better by continuing "business as usual". The future of our State and the youth we serve deserve a better chance for success, so we need to get serious for a change.
A Disgruntled JCO
In : Lofty Notions