Timpson ISD Senior Class students took a tour of the Shelby County Jail on Wednesday, September 17, 2014. The Shelby County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Willis Blackwell is allowing these tours to area schools in an effort to illustrate to the young the affects crime can have on their lives.
William Cox, Shelby County Jail Administrator, is giving the tour of the jail to the students. From start to finish, Cox shows the students the process of admission to the jail when someone is arrested and being booked-in. With the assistance of jail staff, Cox explained the process of being photographed, fingerprinted, disrobed and being put into an orange inmate jumpsuit.
The students were introduced to the inmate cells and the outside recreation area where inmates are sometimes allowed outside for exercise. There is a restraining chair in the jail for inmates that do not cooperate with jailers. This was demonstrated for the students by inmate Coty Whitehead, who volunteered to participate for the students. Afterward, students were allowed to sit in the chair and see what it was like.
The students viewed the detox room where newly arrested individuals who are intoxicated are housed until they are no longer under the influence of drugs or alcohol. All of the students walked into the solitary confinement cell and learned of its small dimensions. they also viewed the commissary, visitation room, and laundry room.
Students later sat down one-on-one with four inmates who described some of the experiences that landed them in jail and the effects it has had on their families.
Monique Brown just recently returned to the Shelby County Jail on a bench warrant. She and Cox relayed a story to the students in which she was shot with a pepper spray gun in jail. She explained how badly it hurt and how it got her attention. When an inmate doesn't listen and talks back to jailers, they are rationed a "loaf" at meals. Cox explained this consists of whatever is on the menu for that day, blended up in a blender, baked in an oven and given to the inmate. It's up to the inmate to eat the "loaf" or not. Brown did have occasion to have the "loaf" and previously lost 40 pounds while she stayed in the jail.
Students are seen observing William Cox and Teresa Vasquez as they strap Coty Whitehead to a restraining chair for demonstration.
Brown shared with the students that she just had her rights to her children taken away from her in a Child Protective Services case. Hearing this story brought tears to the eyes of some of the students.
Another of the inmates to speak with the students was James Cody Fleming. Cox introduced Fleming as a stepson of one of the investigators at the Sheriff's Department. Fleming explained that earlier this year he got out of a nine-month rehab program for drug addiction. Fleming told the students that he has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for possession of a controlled substance. He has a son that is 10 years old who is currently being allowed to see him during visits, but Fleming described how he can only talk to his son through the glass of the visitation booth and cannot touch him.
Fleming does not know where he will spend his time in prison, it could be anywhere in the state. Cox explained that the state prisons in Texas are very full and that Fleming could go to prison as far away as Amarillo or Brownsville.
Coty Whitehead is in jail for failure to appear on a driving while intoxicated charge. Cox stated that he worked with Whitehead's parents at the Skyview Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Whitehead shared that he has been a four-time felon in Louisiana. He stated that he has been on such substances as meth, cocaine and anything that someone could think of taking. He suggested that the students not make the same choices that he has made.
The final inmate that the students heard from was Sheldon Starling who is in jail for burglary of a habitation. Starling has had multiple run-ins with the law and he told the students several times one way or another their actions would catch up with them. He says that he is facing 25 years to life in prison on his current charge of burglary of a habitation. Starling said if the law didn't catch up with them, then "the good Lord will." Starling says he has four children and the oldest who is 16 will not visit him and that none of the people he was associated with on the outside seem interested in how he is doing. He said that he attended church when he was younger; however, as soon as he had the opportunity he quit attending. Starling encouraged all of the students to attend church and really listen.
Two things were asked of the students by Cox. He requested when they get home they thank their parents for raising them right, and to write down what they took from their experience at the jail and give it to their teacher.
Cox told the students before they left that he was remembering their faces and he warned them not to come to his jail.
There is an open invitation to all schools, churches and organizations in Shelby County for a tour of the County Jail. If anyone is interested in doing this contact the Shelby County Sheriff's Department at (936) 598-5600 and ask for Sheriff Blackwell, Chief Sparks or Jail Administrator, William Cox.