Texas Prison Break - How He Broke out and the Problems that Caused it

An open letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Board of Directors and the Texas Legislature about the Problems that allowed for the Escape at Stiles Prison. These problems are most likely problems in most Texas Prisons. Basically, the problem is Overworked Staff and Bad Correctional Officers.

David Puckett recently broke out of the Administrative Segregation section (Ad Seg) of Stiles Maximum Security Prison in Beaumont, TX. This is the MOST SECURE place in all of the Prison. In order to get out, he had to saw through solid steel bars that are over 1 inch thick. Not to mention he had a phone in the prison to help him plan the escape.

How could this have happened?

As a person who just recently worked as a correctional officer in the Administrative Segregation section of Stiles Prison, I can tell you how this could happen.

Ad Seg is the place where the worst of the worst and most violent offenders stay in at Stiles Prison. There are about 80 inmates per section (called a pod) and 3 officers per pod (one officer locked in a room pushing the door open buttons and 2 officers roaming around with the inmates) These 80 inmates in the section are individually locked in a cell and they get a hot meal 3 times a day, they get to come out once a day for an hour of recreation (rec), and they also get to come out to take a shower daily. That does not sound too bad, except that there are only 2 correctional officers to do the job and 80 inmates. Stop and do the math. 80 inmates, each of them come out for an hour for rec. The two officers have to stay together and take out each inmate one at a time because no two inmates can be out of their cell at the same time. The inmate has to be handcuffed and escorted to one of the 10 rec areas. As soon as the 10 rec areas are filled (one by one) it is already time to start taking out the inmates from rec and putting in 10 more inmates back into rec one at a time. Not to mention you have to take them out and let them shower. Did I mention that the correctional officers serve a hot meal to each inmate one cell at a time 3 times a day. Oh, and the two officers are required to thoroughly search about a dozen cells each day, and also every inmate who comes out of the cell is supposed to be strip searched in order to search for weapons.

What does all of this mean?

It means those two correctional officers are literally running from door to door all day trying to get everything done for the day. It is nearly mathematically impossible to get everything done if it is done properly.

So in order to get everything done, these officers have to cut corners. The strip searches do not get done as the inmate leaves the cell (this is how the inmates can bring something like a saw into the rec yard), the cell searches do not get done (this is how inmates can hide saws, or cell phones and drugs for months in their cells), and the inmates do not get watched because there is just no time for the officers to get everything done so the officers are running around. It is IMPOSSIBLE to watch the inmates in the rec (This is how an inmate has time to climb to the ceiling and saw through the bars).

All the problems I just mentioned compounded together to create a situation where it was possible for Puckett to get a saw into the rec yard and climb to the ceiling and saw the bars so he could escape. When Puckett escaped out of the building he ran across the roof to the perimeter fence and climbed over without being seen by the perimeter towers. The fence directly behind the maximum security ad seg building just so happens to be in a blind spot. Everyone knows about the blind spot. These are areas where the guards in the tower cannot see the perimeter fence and inmates could potentially climb over with no one seeing them. There is a camera pointed to that blind area, but it is in the Ad Seg building control center. The officer in that control center does not have time to sit and watch the camera because that officer hands out all the keys and equipment for the building. That officer also opens and shuts the door to let everyone in and out of the building.

I am not bashing the correctional officers. I used to be one there at Stiles too. Some of the officers are great officers and follow policy (like the officers who shot the Texas inmates as they tried to escape) and some of them are not good officers (well, there are too many stories of bad officers to link to, so here is one example of a bad officer arrested bringing drugs into Stiles Prison). There were just several hundred cameras installed in Stiles Prison and those bad officers there will be caught when they try to have a relationship with an inmate or bring an inmate phones and drugs. Without Bad Officers Puckett Probably would have never had the cell phone. So bad officers are certainly a major factor, but the bad officers in prison are not at all the point of this letter because we already know there are bad officers and measures are already being put into place to catch the bad officers. The mostly overlooked point that I am trying to make is that ALL of the officers are put in an terrible position of having to either follow security policy and get looked down on for not getting everything done, or cut security corners so that they get everything done in the day and don’t get a talking to from a Lieutenant (and the LT has to ride the officers because they are told to make sure everything gets done so they are put in this bad position just like the officers). That is the bigger problem that most likely happens in all of the State Prisons and leads to corners being cut. This problem of too much that an officer has to do for the inmates stems from various factors, for instance, frivolous lawsuits by inmates lead to unreasonable policy to cater to inmates wants and that stretches the officers too thin.

Personally, when I worked at Stiles, I just DID NOT get everything done on my shift because I was security minded. I searched those inmates and I especially searched their cells to find the weapons they might use against me. I took my time to ensure safety which meant I did not always get everything done. The inmates did not like me cause I did my job and found their weapons and other contraband, but on the other hand, I was always wondering what supervisor was going to pull me into their office and write me up for not getting all the inmates into rec on my shift. But I didn’t care. I was going to follow policy and do my job and if there was just not enough time to get everything done then there was just not enough time. I would not cut security corners though because that is how officers get hurt.

The Solution?

Well there is no money for new correctional officers, and we definitely do not want to cut out any of the time consuming security measures because of safety reasons. What needs to happen is a simple change in operation of the prison.

Changes in the way the Prison is run could drastically cut back on the correctional officer work load and allow the officers to have the time to follow policy and not cut security corners. For instance, why do inmates need 3 hot meals a day? What is wrong with a less time consuming and less expensive sack meal for one or two of the meals a day and a hot meal once or twice a day? Reducing the number of hot meals could save a couple of hours of time per day per correctional officer in Ad Seg. It would also save money in the Texas Budget. TDCJ is currently looking into taking one dessert a week out of the inmate menu to save money. Why not take out an entire hot meal? I can’t even count how many MRE’s I ate in the military so I don’t see why inmates cannot eat a simple sack lunch for one of their meals a day. Also, why do the inmates have to come out EVERY day for one hour of rec? Why not have them come out for 2 hours at a time EVERY OTHER day? The inmates would get the same amount of rec time and the workload of the officers would be CUT IN HALF because they would only have to take 40 inmates out of their cells for rec a day instead of taking 80 inmates out of their cells per day.

Simple changes like these would drastically reduce the daily workload and would ensure that the officers have plenty of time to follow all of the time consuming, yet needed, security measures. Changes like these would also reduce the new officer turnover rate. TDCJ cannot seem to keep new employees. It is already stressful to work in a prison with convicts, but add in the pressure of having too much to do with not enough time to do it, and it is a recipe for a high turnover rate.

Another idea is there needs to be an officer in TDCJ that is designated as a Dispute Resolution Officer and he/she would not be a part of the TDCJ command structure. This person would be an eye on TDCJ that reports directly to the TDCJ board. They would receive complaints or suggestions from TDCJ employees and either kick it back to the employee supervisor or investigate it and present it to the TDCJ board. You see, most employees do not want to bring a problem up to a supervisor for fear of reprisal or fear of looking like a complainer. Also, many times when complaints are given to a supervisor the supervisor might just say there is nothing that can be done and the issue does not get addressed. With a Dispute Resolution Officer, many of the current and future problems would get addressed because there would be a person to go to other than the chain of command, so important issues do not just get buried by supervisors. This Dispute Resolution Officer would also drastically improve morale of the average TDCJ Correctional Officer. Most correctional officers I worked with did not feel like their voice was worth much to the supervisors in the prison.

Think about this, there are no unions in Texas but most of the TDCJ correctional officers are part of a “fake” union. But why would they pay dues to a group claiming to be a union even though it isn’t a union? (There is no collective bargaining in Texas.) They join this group and pay the monthly dues because they feel it will give them a voice for working condition complaints. This is troubling that so many employees feel as though they cannot go to their supervisor with a problem. The Dispute Resolution Officer would solve that issue and also give the correctional officers better morale because the officers will have someone to voice their complaints to. Now to be clear, the correctional officer would have to utilize their normal chain of command first before going to the dispute resolution officer unless the officer feels there is something about the complaint that would create a need to go directly to the Dispute Resolution officer, and in that case the officer can go straight to the Dispute Resolution Officer. Otherwise, most small issues can just be addressed through the chain of command first or else the Dispute Resolution Officer would get thousands of small complaints.

So now you have an inside view of Stiles Prison and the problems that more than likely played a major part in how David Puckett was able to escape. David Puckett ended getting caught a week after he broke out, but the bottom line is that something needs to be done and changes need to be made or this type of thing will keep happening. Remember that It was only last year that a couple of guys broke out of a Texas Prison. One was captured but the murderer has still not been captured.


Drive by the Wynne Farm in Huntsville and take a look at the "offenders" at the trustee camp.  Very Easy to see them from the road, plain as day.  You want truth in advertising, just watch them from the road play baseball, run, sunbath in their boxer shorts, basketball, handball and whatever else they want to do.  Watch this and answer me this, what is the incentive to not break the law?, when I can get 3 hot meals a day, workout, and go to college and education classes that you, the public pay for.  This was a very bad idea by TDCJ, when they should have kept their business private, but do they, NO.

Enjoy paying for an "offender" to do what they want.

i am a correctional officer at a tdcj max unit working ad seg as well. i couldn't have said it any better myself.  i've talked about this problem in turn out many times.  another thing that factors in, is the frequent escorts for non-uniformed staff that need to be done on the pods throughout the day, and if there is a problem with any inmate, all recs and showers, or all feeding stops.  it's virtually impossible to get everything done in the day.  the prison is a 24 hour operation, and i think that night shift really needs to take some more responsibility.  there are so many things to do, and so little time.  high turnover rate is a big issue too, on our shift, most don't last more than 8 months. there are very few experienced officers on shift.
of course everyone needs to do their job responsibly, but there needs to also be some understanding, and a change in policy.

Before you start trying to delegate some more duties to we who work at night you should no doubt be aware that the number of officers assigned to a pod at night is fewer than for the day shift.  I work high security and on our seg pods there is only one officer assigned, not 2. 

While we at night do not have to deal with rec or showers (each cell has its own shower) policy requires we make 30 minute routine rounds,  conduct 6 counts and then distribute clothing necessities and mail.  Because we have all this "time" we also are responsible for catching up legal visits between inmates, phone calls, and the requisite and endless paperwork.  Did I leave out the 12 cell searches?  All this and it is our shift that has to pass out one of those 3 meals referred to.  In addition, when the nurse comes around with meds and later for insulin, we have to stop to escort him or her around and again stop to escort any other non-officer around during the early morning hours prior to the day shift coming on.

Several times in the past the responsibility of having the barber work on our shift has been tried but lack of a utility officer to escort him around stopped that.  End result is you'd have to work the night shift and vice versa to know exactly what each shift is assigned to do and what it can actually do with the staff assigned.

the last comment was right about the officers in ad seg having to escort people all day long. how could I have forgotten about that! So basically, on top of all the duties a correction officer has to do in ad seg, they also have to stop what they are doing every 30 minutes to escort medical officer, the library officer, and anyone else who comes into the ad seg area who is not an officer. That takes up a large part of an officer's time too.

how many maximum security prisons are there in Texas?

To Anonymous:

You are a tool.  For one thing, you couldn't even spell "escape" right.  The officers are not making excuses, they are fighting and winning a daily battle the public doesn't see.    

Then obvioulsy you have not been a victim! Being a victim means you have been hurt of a crime, you loose alot when you are a victim, most of all your self security! And when and only when you will stop thinking it is ridiculously too long of a sentence, what price can one pay when drug dealer, DWI accident or a burgeler does not have to spend the rest of their life paying for the crime they committed. The victim pays for the rest of ther life (if still living) so why not the one that did the crime?

You and Bellow is both correct, I work for the highest AD SEG unit in Texas, and we have camera's everywhere, (including inside the pickett), but  NIGHT SHIFT has to pick up where day shift leaves off, and work till very late at night, and the inmates get mad, and state " we are suppose to have 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep ", but if we dont work until 1:00 am sometimes they dont get a rec or a shower, and feeding 2 times a shift, then we in the wrong "because an offender is suppose to have a daily rec and shower no exceptions", We are over worked and underpaid (like any worker) and UNDERSTAFFED and wait on KILLERS like they were a king! Thank You Bellow for putting it out there for the public to have somewhat of an idea of what we as correctional officers have to go through on a daily basis, and PLEASE don't get me started on "DIRTY or BAD Officers", Higher pay means a higher moral minded people.

As a former inmate in TDCJ, I have to agree with Mr. Bellows, 100 percent..I was there for burglary, sent from Smith County, in 1987. I served 8 yrs, got out in 1995, never broke the law again, and enjoy a wonderful business and family life. My prison time is a distant memory, until I read some liberal article bemoaning the treatment of these poor prisoners..then it all comes back to me. I went from Hughes to Briscoe to Darrington to Clements..I saw the prison system ruined by the liberals during that time. One cause of the current chaos is "workplace equality"..when I first got to TDC, the bosses were ALL big, bad, mean cowboys..every one was a man to respect and obey. They would jump off their horse and beat the crap out of a disrespectful inmate, no help needed...inmates did what they were told to do, and when they didn't, they received bread for a couple weeks, or even a wooden shampoo or two. There were no lawyers to cry to. By the time I left, the inmates were being supervised by nervous women, senior citizens, and criminals without records. When a new inmate arrives he is "checked" for weakness, fear, and naivety. If he is strong he will eventually be allowed to do his time, as the pressure let's up...if weak he will be forced to "ride", meaning become an errand boy, smuggler, sex slave, maid, or pay for protection against assaults. It is no different for C/O s..if they are scared, nervous, overly friendly, they will ride" E

I have just read this entire page - at first I thought it was for disgrunted employee's. Sure lot's for stories from guard's about what the guard's did wrong. Yikes, its sad to think you guys are the ones responsible for keep law and order in the prison system. No wonder there is such abuse in the system.  Not everyone in ad/seg is a gang member or murderer, rapist. Being thrown in a concrete cage for decades certainly removes any life form a person. Now before you get in a uproar screaming take away hot meal's - rec time - what about the victim. You are right - they should be punished for there crime. But eventually these men will be released. Yea, and what kind of positive attitude will they carry into the streets with them. Not every person in our prison is bad person - some just made bad choices.




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