By Barbara Kessler, TJJD Communications

twmart11Honest. Trustworthy. Dependable. Epically patient.

These are the qualities Terry Williams’ colleagues call out when they consider why he’s been so successful in his career at TJJD.

“I can always go to him, and I will get the same effect that I got 20 years ago,” said Pamela Whorton-Taylor, a team leader and dorm supervisor at TJJD’s Mart campus. Whorton-Taylor has worked with Williams for 15 years, since he trained her as a JCO, and she knew him even before that, because they both grew up in Marlin.

Williams is retiring this May after a long and productive career at TJJD. He has gracefully served the agency and its predecessor, Texas Youth Commission, since 1984.

As a lead trainer for TYC/TJJD, a job he held for many years, Williams was caring, loyal and concerned about his co-workers’ welfare, Whorton-Taylor said. She recalled that over the years she often went to him for counsel on work matters. “He trained a lot of us, and I just love him. He’s been exactly the same way the whole time I’ve known him.”

LaShunda Porter, a program specialist at Giddings State School who has worked with Williams for some 20 years, part of that time in the training department, remembers he cultivated a collegial atmosphere.

“He remembers your birthday, your anniversary. Things like that. We’d do birthday parties in the training department. It was more like a family in the training department,” Porter said. “It seems like we were doing TBRI before they even called it TBRI (Trust-based Relational Intervention),” she added, referring to the treatment protocol for TJJD youth that emphasizes connection and strong relationships.

But as a trainer Williams was also firm. “He had rules as a trainer. He told us, ‘I want you to respect me, and I will respect you. But I need you to not be late (for class)’,” Whorton-Taylor said.

And he was good for his word. If JCOs showed up late for training, they might just find the doors locked. Then they’d have to visit the superintendent to explain to them why they were missing required training that day.

It seems as if Williams was presciently practicing TBRI - promoting nurture within structure -- albeit with staff, years before it was introduced at TJJD. Staffers listened to him because he cared deeply and was thoroughly connected to them and he applied the rules even handedly.

In his 40-year career (he officially marked the anniversary in February), he worked at three facilities, starting as a JCO at the Brownwood facility, now called Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex. He moved to the J.W. Hamilton State School, in Bryan, and when it closed, to the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility, in Mart. There he became a mainstay in the training department.

“Terry is an incredible employee and an even better person. As a trainer he had the ability to engage the class and also connect with the individuals.  His knowledge, especially historical knowledge of TJJD was such a great asset to the team,” said Training and Program Development Director Chris Ellison. He was greatly missed in the training department when he moved into administration, Ellison added.

Williams worked for the past two years as the assistant superintendent for the co-ed Mart campus, which houses around 180 youth. He worked alongside Supt. Antonio Houston who noted that Williams has had huge impact on the agency. 

"Terry Williams' everlasting tenure with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department has been nothing short of exemplary. With over 40 years of dedicated service, his vast experience and unwavering commitment to juvenile justice have significantly transformed others' lives and started successful careers," Houston said.

"Terry's leadership and expertise have been instrumental in implementing progressive training, reforms, fostering a rehabilitative environment, and ensuring the well-being of the youth in our care. His profound impact on the TJJD and the broader juvenile justice system is a testament to his exceptional work ethic and enduring dedication."

Keys to success: Adapting, learning, baking and barbecue

Houston and Williams made changes to shift the campus culture at Mart to a more comfortable, but structured, environment that supports staff so they can best support the youth in their rehabilitative activities. Williams was excited about these changes and was comfortable with the direction the agency was taking. He had lived through a flurry of changes impacting TJJD over the years. Those included major legislative reforms in 2009 and 2011, in which the maximum age for youth at state juvenile facilities was lowered from 21 to 19, dropping youth populations and precipitating several facility closures across the state.

The 2011 reforms merged the Texas Youth Commission with the agency overseeing probation, creating the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

TWmart2Williams served under several executive directors during those change years, and studied an array of programs that were, at times, tweaked, re-imagined, and sometimes abandoned. He thrived, seemingly born with the inherent qualities necessary to surf the waves of change can buffet politics and juvenile corrections.

“I learned how to adapt to change and deal with change and the difficult changes of agency theories and philosophies,” Williams said, when we caught up with him this spring for an interview at Mart. “I tell new hires, this agency is great, but like with any government agency or the military, be able to adapt to change.”

“Even in life, how do you adapt to change and how do you handle change? That’s another secret that people have to get to learn. How do you deal with change?”

Flexibility is one facet of Williams' longevity at TJJD. But another reason he managed such a smooth long career is that he is sustained by a strong family life, numerous hobbies and community involvements. He serves as a deacon at his church. He’s an avid cook and barbecue master. A family man, with a wife and two grown kids. And a hobby rancher who’s tended horses and cattle and goats.

His dedication to a Christian life shines through in his regard for people and respectful comportment. “He has to be super mad to even say the word damn,” said Whorton-Taylor. “If I say a cuss word, he doesn’t get mad, he just gives you that look, you know.”

“He works for that church tirelessly,” Porter says. “He’s helping with the graveyard to make sure it’s clean and everyone has a proper headstone. And he caters for some of their events also. He’s a very good cook and he bakes. He made one of the best lemon pound cakes I’ve ever had.”

You could say in a twist on the old saw, that Williams is a man who knows how to make cake out of lemons!

He grew up in Marlin, the youngest of seven kids. His parents had a small retail store, no doubt the wellspring for his cooking and catering interests. As a young man taking classes at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, he imagined he’d build a career in business. But when he took a job at the Brownwood youth facility, he discovered a special talent for working with youth. He felt needed and capable, confirming what he’d learned in a previous job working with the state mental health agency -- and that persuaded him to stay.

He was touched by the youths’ deep needs for connection and direction at the Texas Youth Commission campus, and “my passion to work with kids grew and grew and grew.”

Even as assistant superintedent, he kept connections with the kids, meeting them on his campus rounds. He lent a hand at events and helped foster the cultural changes underway at the Mart campus.

“Time has flown,” Williams chuckles, as surprised as anyone that 40 years have elapsed.

What's next for Williams in retirement, beyond cooking barbecue, serving his church and family? He'll take some time to decide and he will welcome and roll with the change.

 
(Photos by TJJD: Top, Williams in the family room at Mart and bottom, watching youth moving across campus.)