By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
With more women wardens, Myers believes, some will automatically absorb the traits that they saw in their male mentors. At the same time, "with more women in the system, rather than seeing so many grievances and lawsuits, you'll see more mediated conflict," Myers predicts. "The warden of a unit characterizes the whole institution."
TDCJ Executive Director Andy Collins, though, is less comfortable with broad gender theories. What will affect prisons much more than the shifting sexual makeup of the prison system's wardens, Collins thinks, are the procedures that Ruiz set up for all prison management, male and female. Inmate Hargrove concurs. "The worst problems in the prison system are race and gangs," he says. "Those are problems that originate outside, and the leadership of women is not going to have an impact on either."
But women's interpersonal skills, in any case, are perfectly learnable. In fact, you could argue that the TDCJ's real prototype for a woman warden was male.
"Warden Howard Sublett was the warden of the geriatric and disabled unit known as the 'broke-dick' farm," Hill remembers with a fond smile. "Serving time under him in the 1950s and 1960s was like serving under a nurturing parent." Sublett was the safest man in the prison, too. In a full-blown riot, Hill avers, Sublett could walk into a mass of men and they would part to hear him speak. Though he retired long before the Ruiz case started, Sublett's secret was said to be that he treated his inmates decently, and even counseled them long before those ideas ever surfaced in state prison management.
"The inmates all respected him," Hill says. "His nickname was 'Mama' Sublett."
Dessie Cherry walks firmly through the damp dirt to look through the bars. One day old, a sand-colored foal hugs his mother's side and furtively blinks back. This is one of the high points of Cherry's day, the apex of her rounds across the dormitories, through the trusty barracks where inmates who work outside the unit sleep, and through the cafeteria. Like Neva Yarbrough, Cherry grew up on a farm, and the sight of Goree's four newborn foals is a delight she's been anticipating all morning.
Goree's horse farm, which supplies animals to all the prison systems in the state, wraps the unit in a pastoral glory that must be painful to any inmates peeping out. On the five-minute drive to Goree's stables, wild azalea bushes dissolve into a bluebonnet field, and finally give way to a dense grove of trees. From the wood-railed corral where Warden Cherry communes with the sandy foal, the Goree horses at pasture look no bigger than bushes.
Having landed this assignment that, for reasons that are plain, is considered one of TDCJ's plums, Dessie Cherry says she's content. Yet she's not particularly surprised that she's here. From her very first day working at Goree when it was all female, Cherry says, she visualized herself running such a unit, and began carefully molding herself into the warden she is today. To Dessie Cherry's mind, the socialization women bring to prison management has only helped her. But all in all Cherry doesn't theorize much, preferring the tasks directly in front of her. It's how she's always done things. For now, Cherry's concerns include a thousand inmates of various descriptions, and a population still adjusting to Goree's first woman warden. Add to that a large horse farm.
"What's the matter with his neck?" Cherry asks the red-shirted cowboy, inspecting an angry brown stallion growling in a stall.
"He's got a hematoma," the cowboy explains. "He got bit up pretty good. He was getting dangerous -- biting, kicking. So I put him out with the mares, and they whipped him pretty good. They taught him some respect."
The cowboy looks puzzled as the usually equable Cherry bursts into a loud laugh.
"A success story!" she says.