A MEAL AND A PAT ON THE BACK

By LORETTA FULTON

It didn’t take David Lofton long to reach a conclusion.

“I think it’s pretty good,” he said, “and the cobbler’s excellent.”

Lofton is warden of the Middleton Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, located just north of Abilene. On May 16 and 17, Lofton and his close to 500-member correctional and support staff were treated to a fajita stacker meal and peach cobbler made from Jim Young’s own recipe. Both days, employees were served in two shifts, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. to make sure everyone was covered.

Young is coordinator of the Restorative Justice Ministry program of Texas Baptist Men, whose mission is to “mobilize believers to engage the world.” TBM is best known for disaster relief and building projects. TBM built the Eunice Chambless Hospitality House located near the Middleton Unit in 1999 to give prison visitors a place to stay. The 20-person crew that fed the Middleton staff over two days stayed at the hospitality house.

“Having a real bed was a real treat,” Young said, since the crews normally sleep on the floor of a church gymnasium.

The work crew set up under two bright yellow tents on the Middleton Unit parking lot, their blue and yellow semi-trailer parked close by. As Middleton correctional officers and support staff passed through en route to the serving line, they were offered a devotional book, “Experiencing God Day by Day,” and a “thank you” card handmade by children from several area Baptist churches.

In the top right photo Priscilla White, chaplain for a Disaster Relieft Unit from Dallas, hands out books like the one the right at an appreciation luncheon for correctional officers at Abilene’s Middleton Unit May 16. In the bottom photo, volunteers with Texas Baptist Men serve the meal. Shown in the bottom photo on the right are Middleton Warden David Lofton, left, and Jim Young, coordinator for the TBM”s Restorative Justice Ministry program.  Photos by Loretta Fulton

Larry Tarver, director of missions for the Abilene-Callahan Baptist Association was in a meeting with a representative of the TBM’s restorative justice program when he learned about the opportunity to get a feeding crew to Middleton.

“We just began talking about it,” Tarver said, and that led to contacting the warden, who approved the plan.

The crew arrived Wednesday night and moved into the hospitality house in preparation for two days of feeding. The correctional officer appreciation meal is just one function of the Restorative Justice Ministry program. It exists to serve prisoners and their families, officers and their families, and victims and their families, Young said. Prior to joining the Texas Baptist Men two years ago, Young, who lives in Dallas, was a senior chaplain and an assistant director with the TDCJ. He also previously served with the Texas Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.

In 1984 President Ronald Reagan signed the National Correctional Officers Week proclamation that sets aside the first full week of May each year to honor correctional officers. This year, the Texas Baptist Men’s feeding crew was working with prisons in Beaumont and New Boston, so their trip to Abilene was a week later–but no one was complaining. Some prisons host their own appreciation week events, Young said, including a memorial service, but the Texas Baptist Men’s feeding event is unique.

“We’re the only one that does this in the state of Texas on a regular basis,” Young said.

Lofton has been warden of the Middleton Unit, a medium security facility for one year. Middleton processes 10,000 offenders a year for prisons in various parts of the state. As pleased as his staff was with the meal and appreciation shown them, the crew feeding them was glad, too.

Priscilla White is chaplain for the Disaster Relief Unit from Dallas that came to Middleton. Normally, as the name implies, the unit responds to disasters, so feeding the correctional crew an appreciation meal was a nice change.

“This is our first one,” she said. “It’s a blessing to be here.”

Young, coordinator of the TBM’s Restorative Justice Ministry program, was pleased how things were going during the first shift on Thursday. The weather was pleasant, the officers and support staff obviously were enjoying their meal, and everyone was grateful.

“We’re glad to be able to come out and say ‘thank you,'” Young said. “These people are the ones doing all the hard work.”

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