TX Inmates Whip Up Delicacies at Prison Dedication

Cooking | Image by Iryn/Shutterstock

Inmates studying the culinary arts whipped up a Mexican-inspired menu for attendees of a renaming dedication ceremony at a Texas prison in Gatesville last week.

The Mountain View Unit, a female prison housing up to 645 inmates, including those on death row, was renamed the Patrick L. O’Daniel Unit in honor of the former Texas Board of Criminal Justice (TBCJ) chair who served from 2017 to 2023. The board unanimously passed a motion to make the name change earlier this year.

“The TBCJ and [Texas Department of Criminal Justice] express their deep appreciation for Mr. O’Daniel’s loyal service, integrity, and tenacity,” said TBCJ chair Eric Nichols in a statement. “The renaming of the Mountain View Unit to the Patrick L. O’Daniel Unit serves as a fitting tribute to his remarkable contributions.”

The culinary arts program offered at the prison is just one of the many programs O’Daniel endeavored to create during his tenure to inspire positive growth. It is run by the Windham School District, which operates 98 campuses in correctional facilities across the state.

The district’s programs in life skills, academics, and career and technical education aim to prepare eligible inmates for their release into the community by equipping them with “the tools and knowledge necessary” for success, per its website.

Windham’s culinary arts program is available at 18 different campuses across the district. At the Crain campus, students meticulously prepared a Mexican-inspired spread of dishes for the dedication of the Patrick L. O’Daniel Unit on May 3 under the guidance of instructors Joyce Johnson, Martha Robinson, and Dexter Spalding. Enchiladas with an array of fillings, charro, refried beans, Spanish rice, deviled eggs, and more were on offer. A tres leches cake for dessert finished things on a sweet note.

“Windham School District is immensely proud of these women for their display of talent and dedication at the Patrick L. O’Daniel Unit Dedication Ceremony,” said Kristina J. Hartman, Windham’s superintendent, in a press release.

“Their culinary expertise not only showcased their skill, but also honored the legacy of Mr. O’Daniel, whose unwavering support has significantly impacted our district and its students.”

A federal study from 2021 showed that the recidivism rate of formerly incarcerated people was 45.8% within five years. This propensity to commit crimes again jumps to over 80% when prisoners have juvenile records. Other research has shown, however, that the likelihood of offending again drops by around 43% when inmates are provided vocational training and education in prison.

The Dallas Police Department has been executing a three-step crime reduction plan for the past three years, although a significant officer shortage has led to it producing mixed results thus far, as covered by The Dallas Express. Work towards putting the final step, which involves a focused deterrence program, into place is still underway. This approach, which aims to tackle the driving forces behind crime, emerged in Boston in the 1990s.

By mobilizing an array of different actors from law enforcement and the community, the program aims to curb criminal behavior among those most likely to offend. For instance, as recently reported by The Dallas Express, DPD began working with the South Dallas Employment Project (SDEP) last year to convince repeat offenders to ditch a life of crime. The effort involves raising awareness among gang members and violent criminals about the risks of their lifestyle while offering them opportunities to achieve stable financial outcomes through legal means.

“We have two choices: If someone has done their time and paid for their crime, we can help them become a productive, taxpaying citizen, or we can continue to see them recidivate and then go back into incarceration where the taxpayer supports them,” Wes Jurey, a managing partner of SDEP, previously told The Dallas Express.

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