By RICHARD STEWART
Margaret Curran, 53, has for 11 years been a correctional officer at the 8,008-acre Clemens Unit, a 111-year-old prison farm in Brazoria County that now specializes in housing 14- to 16-year-old male offenders who were tried as adults. Curran, who has four children -- a daughter in middle school and three sons, all in college and one also working as a correctional officer -- talked recently with Houston Chronicle reporter Richard Stewart about life on the inside.
Question: Two officers at the Eastham Unit were recently seriously hurt during an unsuccessful prison escape. Do you ever worry about getting hurt by an inmate?
Answer: It's just something you can't think about, you can't dwell on it because it would eat you up. But you try not to put yourself in harm's way. You just be very attentive to what you're doing and where you're going. I'm known as a hard but fair officer.
Q: Are the younger offenders harder to deal with, or the older?
A: The younger, because you've got raging hormones, and even the best teenagers have their hormones raging, and now you've got several hundred teenagers with their hormones raging and that's difficult to deal with even in the best of circumstances. They're locked up and they're being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it and, yes, they are more of a handful.
The older ones, they have already decided to do it the easy way and they'll mind.
You think of it, some of the younger ones that we have right now, their parole officers aren't even born yet. And that's a sad thought.
They will never know their young years, their teenage years, just exploring life. They'll be old men when they get out.
As the saying around here is: "He didn't sing too loud in the choir to get here."
Q: You seem to have a very pleasant attitude. How do you keep that when you're dealing with such difficult things?
A: When I walk out these gates in the evening, it stays right here. I have learned over the years to let it stay right here at this place. See, I have a whole other life when I'm at home.
You keep a pleasant attitude, and they pick up on it. I don't curse, and I get very few of them cursing around me.
Anyone can whip a female, let's be honest, so all they can do is say, "I whipped a woman," so they'll leave you alone. They'll go jump a guy standing right beside you.
Q: How did you get into the business?
A: My mother was a CID (prison) nurse first, and I was a self-employed person and raising a family and I needed a steady income.
Q: What do you like most about the job?
A: You come in and you do your job. It's a job that needs to be done and I do it. It's job security.
Q: Recently an officer at the Darrington unit was accused of helping to smuggle cell phones into a unit. Have you ever been approached to do something like that?
A: No. That's where in their own way they classify you. They know I'm tough and I'm going to mind the rules. I've never been approached. I have too much pride in myself, and how could I face my children if I did something like that, because I taught them to do it the right way.
Q: Have you ever worked on the towers?
A: Yes, there's no position I haven't worked.
You know ultimately if they get out and they hit that fence you're going to have to stop them and it's just a mind-set. I figure if they get over the fence, they may get my daughter. That isn't going to happen.
I've never had to draw down on anybody, but that's the mind-set you have to have.