By Barbara Kessler, TJJD Communications
TJJD Director of the Texas Model Tom Adamski doesn’t plan to spend his retirement writing a history of the agency.
But he certainly could.
Adamski, who is retiring Aug. 31, started at the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) in 1998 as a case manager and served in facility and executive leadership positions over the next 25 years at the Ron Jackson campus, in Brownwood, and within Central Office.
He worked for many executive directors (12, if you count the conservators), oversaw a variety of youth socialization programs and helped TYC navigate through the complex evolution to becoming TJJD, which in 2011 combined and replaced TYC and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission.
His colleagues came to know Adamski, who’d already completed a 22-year career as a US Army Ranger, as a committed leader who always found a way to manage whatever tasks came his way.
“Tom Adamski is the most dedicated Texas Juvenile Justice Department employee I have ever met. He has been a mainstay and model of change with the purpose to improve youth’s lives. Tom has been a proven leader as a superintendent and director dealing with agency changes and difficult times,” said Alan Michel, senior director of state facility operations.
Adamski remembers those difficult times and the challenges of 2007-2009, when then-TYC faced a painful public house-cleaning over mistreatment of youth centered at a West Texas facility.
By then, Adamski had worked for a while as a Program Administrator (today called Team Leader) at the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex facility overseeing some 60 JCOs on his roll. Texas secure facilities at that time housed hundreds of kids – Ron Jackson had more than 500 -- with youth ranging up to age 21 committed for misdemeanors through felonies. (Today, under the reformed system that emphasizes keeping youth in their counties, and serves youth only up to age 19, the secure state facilities have much lower populations.)
In 2006, Adamski became Assistant Superintendent at the Ron Jackson campus, a time he recalls fondly. “We were firing on all 8 cylinders,” he said. “It was fun to come to work. You didn’t have staffing issues. My staffing was 95 percent filled.”
Then came “rumblings” that there was deep trouble in the agency, and in 2007 it came out that two TYC employees at the West Texas State School in Pyote had allegedly sexually abused several teen boys in their care. The two men were prosecuted, and one was convicted. Investigations uncovered allegations of other violations at TYC facilities, including Ron Jackson, and at least one attempt to cover up problems by TYC leadership, prompting then-Gov. Rick Perry and the legislature to initiate sweeping changes.
These were difficult years for many at TYC. Facilities were downsized and later closed. TYC was placed into conservatorships and leadership changes roiled the process. At one juncture, “we went from being managed by people with backgrounds in childcare to management by people who ran corrections in adult system,” Adamski recalled. The agency see-sawed as executives and new programs came and went.
“We lost a lot of good staff. Many people quit,” he said.
In 2010, the Brownwood campus was downsized when “Brownwood Unit II” was closed. Administrators had to hand out 156 riff notices, Adamski recalled. You can guess this was an excruciating experience from Adamski’s total recall.
“I went down there every day for a week, and I handed those out personally, because I thought I owed them that. I owed them my gratitude and sorrow,” he said.
On a happier note, he remembers that the Ron Jackson HR Department, backed by HR in Austin, was able to secure jobs in the community for about 120 of those who’d been laid off. “They did a hell of a job,” he recalls.
Adamski’s career, and that of many others, was indelibly marked by these ups and downs, but he emerged as a trusted leader whose even hand was needed more than ever. In 2009, he became superintendent of the Ron Jackson campus, which then served about 250 boys.
As if there weren’t enough changes, the Ron Jackson facility moved in 2010 from being an all-boys to an all-girls campus. “This transition for the staff was a real challenge. We had to rebuild the skill base with girls,” Adamski said.
Interestingly, a woman brought in to help the transition suggested “softening” the environment, Adamski recalls, an idea that would land on his desk again in just a few years, as he served in another role working with leadership to make sure programs were trauma informed.
In 2012, Adamski moved from helming Ron Jackson, to overseeing all secure facilities as director of secure operations. This was a job he loved and would embrace until 2018. It leveraged the full range of his experience, from the Army, where he’d worked with a ROTC program, to his educational background and degree in Criminal Justice Administration and Corrections.
The agency had settled into a period of stability, Adamski said. Still, these years brought their own set of demands. To stay in touch with the TJJD’s secure facilities (six at the time) he traveled the state constantly, putting 200,000 miles on state cars in one two-year period. That required resilience on his part and patience from his family, though his three children were now grown.
In 2018, TJJD executive leadership, including then-State Services Director Shandra Carter, recognized Adamski’s deep experience and tapped him for a special role as Texas Model director.
He remembers hearing the vision – that it would encompass trauma-informed care and a training called Trust-based Relational Intervention. He hadn’t heard much about TBRI, but when he took the training at Texas Christian University, it all came together.
“I came back from that, and I was really impressed,” he said. “Hearing Dr. (David) Cross and Shandra (Carter) and others. . . Even though they were talking about foster kids, I thought, 'This can really work with our kids.’ I really drank the Kool-Aid at that training.”
Adamski led the roll out of the Texas Model and TBRI approach to youth rehabilitation at TJJD, coordinating countless trainings, activities, and programming for staff to enable these new approaches to become embedded in how Juvenile Correctional Officers, teachers, and mental health professionals work with the youth at secure facilities.
Getting the Texas Model to become “internalized” was a huge team effort that depended on many players, including Tatrina Bailey, Troy McPeak and Sr. Director of Integrated Treatment Dr. Evan Norton, whom Adamski describes as man who knows how to work in the trenches of youth rehabilitation and could “deescalate a pit viper.”
TJJD Executive Director Shandra Carter said the agency has greatly benefited from Adamski’s contributions.
“Tom Adamski is a trusted leader in our agency and will be greatly missed,” Carter said. “He has incredible depth of experience and moves forward with an uncommon flexibility. He has professionally evolved with the constantly changing juvenile justice landscape. His steadfast commitment to ensuring safety while providing effective rehabilitative services to youth has been inspiring to us all.”
Added Alan Michel, “Tom has been a stable, constant force and spokesman for positive change.”
“It’s been a great career” with many proud accomplishments, Adamski said. At the same time, he says he’s eager for retirement. He and his wife, Geralyn, recently built a new home in Tuscola, near Abilene, where they’ll be gardening together and enjoying their fur pals, a King Shepherd named Aslan and their five (the number is not a mistake) Papillon dogs.
They plan to staycation, work on their forever house and he will spend recreation time at the firing range, where he target shoots pistols and long-range rifles.
And instead of worrying about fine-tuning a government agency, he’ll be tuning up his other “baby,” his Harley Davidson 2022 Street Glide St. “My wife,” he said, “is going to let me put a new motor in it.”
Photos: Tom Adamski; Tom with his King Shepherd buddy, Aslan.