In remembrance: Fallen TDCJ correctional officers honored at Hightower Unit ceremony

Jesse Logan, field sergeant with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, leads a riderless horse at the Hightower Unit in Dayton during a memorial service honoring fallen corrections officers on May 8.

By Vanesa Brashier,

About 30 people, mostly employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, gathered at the Hightower Unit in Dayton on Wednesday, May 8, to recognize National Correctional Officers Week, May 5-11, and to honor the nine correctional officers across North America who have died in the line of duty in the past year.

Fortunately, none of those losses were in Texas, but among longtime TDCJ employees like Stacey Leblanc, warden of the Hightower Unit, 2015 will be remembered as one of the worst in the agency’s history.

“In 2015, we had two killed in a bus crash and another killed by an inmate,” Leblanc said after the ceremony Wednesday. “I think services like this are important to honor the people who have given everything they had to this agency. I think it’s also important for our staff to remember every day the dangers of this job.”

The ceremony included a roll call where the names of the 73 correctional officers killed in the line of duty in Texas since 1882 were read aloud. A riderless horse, adorned with backward-facing boots in the stirrups and an empty hat across the saddle, was walked around the grounds outside the memorial service to symbolize the missing employees.

The memorial service was an appropriate time for Leblanc to unveil a new Fallen Officers Memorial Garden that is planted between the entry guard station and the main office.

“Some of you might have noticed the sidewalk as you were coming in. I would like to thank our staff who worked diligently on the memorial garden. We are dedicating the garden to the brave officers who were killed,” she said. “Like the flowers that have been planted, their memory will bloom in our hearts year after year.”

Because of a very limited budget for such projects, inmates at the Hightower Unit grew many of the plants from seeds. In addition to the plants, the Fallen Officers Memorial Garden has wooden markers with the names of every Texas correctional officer killed in the line of duty.

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