By David Krough, TJJD CommunicationsJCOWeek Brandon Thibodeaux

JCO Brandon Thibodeaux

Juvenile Correctional Officer Brandon Thibodeaux started working at Giddings State School in the Capital Offender dorm in 2015.

“I came to Giddings just looking for a job to make ends meet, not knowing that it would turn into a job that I enjoy coming to,” he said.

Thibodeaux credits his parents, along with his training staff Aretha Bradford and Stephanie Collins, for helping him to become a part of the great team that works there today.

“My mother has worked for multiple college financial aid departments throughout her career after serving in the Army. My father has worked for Waller County sheriff department for Lord knows how long, after serving in the Army as well. Their dedication and work ethic has inspired me to work hard and be an example for others.”

Working with the Capital Offender Group Thibodeaux said, has been his favorite part of the job so far, watching how the youth start in group(s) and go through the process, all the while learning about themselves and their peers.

“I have learned to be more patient and look for the reasons behind peoples’ behavior and not the actual behavior they present,” he said.

“A.C. was one youth I (will) never forget. He was charismatic and knew his policies to the point where I had to learn them to ensure that myself and staff members could quote them as well as he could.”

Thibodeaux said he especially enjoys the dorm during down time playing dominoes or spades along with heading outside for athletics and other games.

“My age and old bones make it hard, but it's in me to compete,” he added.

Long hours on the job can be difficult he said, if you don't know how to manage your time.

“Being a JCO is not for the weak of heart. The youth will test you mentally like every teenager does, (it’s) just that you have multiple ones doing it at once. If you can get past that, then you'll have a blast working with them and trying to lead them down a better path.”

“Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.”


JCO Tia Morris

Tia Morris has served as a Juvenile Correctional Officer with McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility, in Mart, for nearly two years.

Morris used to work in the adult system and moved to TJJD, motivated to help kids avoid becoming a part of the adult justice system.

“With kids, it's different. There's an aspect of molding that can take effect with the right people in the right environment, with the right circumstances, you might be able to just kind of … (help shape) what their mentality is of their life when they get out.”JCOWeek TiaMorris

Morris says the best part of her day in being able to what is called “depositing emotional coins,” just checking in with the kids to let them know she is available to help and listen.

She enjoys going into the dorms for playing spades and shooting hoops or playing volleyball,

“I'm able to just go around and hang out and, check in with the ones that have maybe been too quiet to make sure that their mental health is up or … talk to the ones who have been too loud and ‘like, hey … it's ok, but you’re bringing a lot of heat on yourself that you told me you don't want. Are we still watering those seeds that we planted as far as who we see yourself as compared to who we are in the everyday aspect? If you're not putting in those 1% better each day (coins) - we're not going to get to our goal.”

Morris says she explains to the youth that how we grow from hardships is what makes us better as people.

“It's OK to be angry, but it's how your anger may affect other people that matters. I find that most times when I communicate with a kid or I'm counseling with a kid, they really either just want to be heard or hugged or helped.”

Morris recalled how she helped out one of her most challenging students after a confrontation where she just asked the girl to come outside and talk.

“About 15 minutes in, she starts crying, (she said) ‘I want to be who I see myself as, but it doesn't match up with the environment that I'm in.’ I just told her the calmest place to find yourself is going to be the same way it is in a tornado. It's going to be in the eye of that storm and everything around you is going to seem like it's spinning … in a complete disarray and it's, it seems like you can't hold on to it. But if you find a sense of peace within yourself, nothing here will matter because it's all temporary, you're either going to make it or break it.”

“And regardless of how it goes, I need you to understand like it's your choice. These are your stories and only you have to live with your choices and your actions.”

That student ended up earning her GED and was released just a few months later and it was clear, Morris said, that her teachers and other staff had seen remarkable and positive changes in that time.

“I may not be able to reach every kid but reaching that one can reach another. It only takes one, to change a nation and sometimes that one can be that kid that I met, nine months ago. Or it could be the kids you meet tomorrow. It's worth it, the bad days and the good days. We’re not just changing lives, we’re paving ways to better futures.”


JCO Julissa Muro

Julissa Muro has been a Juvenile Correctional Officer at the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg for nearly two years. 

Muro worked with youth in a foster home setting previously in her career and was already trained in trauma-informed care before coming to TJJD.

Julissa Muro IMG 0233 smlJCOs like Muro in the Redirect Program (RDP) work to prevent violence among youth who have serious rule violations. Muro says the majority of kids there need more direction to stay productive and positive during group times within their dorm.

“I consistently bring in board games, encourage my youth to express themselves with their music and art,” she said. “When possible, we encourage them to showcase their athleticism either outside by running ball game tournaments in our courtyard or workout challenges. If a youth is willing to express themselves positively, I will always be willing to lend a hand to help make things work out for them.” 

Muro cites her mother, who has worked for 40 years as a teacher and her 91-year-old grandfather as her inspirations.

“My grandfather (is) the epitome of how hard work pays off and to always be willing to extend a hand … (he never) changed his mannerisms and compassion for those in need and he has always reminded me to keep myself humble, take care of my work, and be willing to take risks for the betterment of your future.” 

Muro recalled the story of working with one 15 -year-old with whom she was able to eventually build a relationship in the RDP group.

“He would act up, there was no stopping him. He would commit to whatever trouble he was going to get himself into,” she said. “Even though we had our ups and downs, I remember he was getting ready to leave to another state school to continue his treatment when he started crying to me and another peer.”

The boy eventually admitted to Muro that he was scared that he wasn't going to find staff that cared about him the way he felt the staff at Evins had treated him. Ultimately, he saw them as positive role models.

“At that moment, I had some kind of confirmation that I was doing something right here and that I would continue to not give up on those who have given up on themselves,” she said. 

“At the end of the day, I am aware I work what is ultimately the field of corrections (but) I have learned to implement how to be unbiased, being more mindful about practicing what I preach and lastly being aware of my surroundings yet keeping calm and collected,” Muro said.

“A large portion of our youth have already experienced more adversities than many of us will ever see in a life time so what are we to gain by adding fuel to a fire? Maybe it's just the way I was raised or the people I've worked with who have strongly engraved this into my mindset, but I truly believe (our compassion) is what will help one be successful here.”


JCO Stevie Turner

JCOWeek24 StevieTurnerStevie Turner is a veteran Juvenile Corrections Officer at the Gainesville State School. Turner has been with TJJD/TYC for nearly 30 years, and also has worked at McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility, in Mart.

In addition to job security and the benefits of working for TJJD, Turner said he finds working with kids from all different walks of life is one of the most inspiring aspects of being a JCO.

“Working with them - keeping them on the right path and then showing them how to be right and be held accountable for their behaviors and hopefully - be successful, successful young men,” Turner said.

Turner attributes a lot of success he’s seen in youth over the years to providing leadership skills.

“A lot of the kids that I've dealt with over the years - once they get out of the agency, out of the facility, a lot of them want to join the service, you know, like some of them end up going to the Marine Corps (or) to the Army. (They) turned out to be good soldiers or whatnot,” Turner said.

He’s also worked with plenty of youth in obtaining scholarships and many have gone on to success in family life and raising kids.

Turner’s recipe for youth success is: a blend of consistency and a sense of responsibility.

“(Don’t) give up, be fair and consistent and just hold the youth accountable. Teach them discipline, give them structure,” Turner said.

Lessons for TJJD youth also can work into the life of a JCO.

“(The job) taught me to have a lot more patience, whether it be personal life, it's also given me the, necessary skills that maybe not only that the kids were learning, but it helped me as a staff member and also in my personal life as well, learning certain coping skills and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills and things like that to help me be better off,” Turner said. “Not only the kids but myself and my family life as well.”

With so much experience as a JCO, Turner is an inspiration to those fresh on the job.

“It's going to be challenging. It's got its days, weeks and moments every day to even this day. Now it's still challenging for me. I've been doing it over 30 years, but you just have to be fair and consistent and provide discipline and the structure and hold them accountable,” Turner said. “Try to be a positive role model and give them some leadership skills.”