“I’ve had More Opportunity” Says One Man at Oliver J. Bell Unit

Michael Upshaw is the warden of the Oliver J. Bell Unit in Cleveland, Texas.

“When we first get the offenders here,” he says, “there’s always that time period for them to adjust and get to the point to where they see that we’re genuine and sincere about what we do, and the way we try to do it. It’s not just a front to look good, it’s what we believe in, it’s what we do every single day; the programs, the attitude of our staff.”

Residents of the facility speak of the culture present on the unit.

David Borunda: “I’ve felt that ever since I came to this unit, the Cleveland unit, that I’ve had more opportunity to grow as a person. Everyone here is coming home soon, there’s a lot of programs that you can get into. Everyone here is building themselves up for them to come home. And there’s different ways that [the] warden has opened opportunities for us.”

Abel Veras: “The good thing about this unit, we got a good warden.  Warden Upshaw offers a lot of re-entry programs such as ‘Conduits’, and this is a program that he tries to emphasize for people to take before their release. And that’s a program that I’ve taken two courses of now. So, yeah, I try to take advantage of everything that’s available here.”

John Gibson: “One of the coolest things about being here is that I’ve learned the ability to put my goals, my vision down on paper and watch all of those things come to life. And, I mean, that’s a real thing. We practice the small things here, and it gives us the confidence to pursue the bigger things when we get out in the world.  So that’s what I’m most grateful for.”

Louis Monroe: “I really appreciate everything experienced since being on the Cleveland unit that I haven’t experienced in no other unit. I say we got an awesome warden. I can say that. (He) uses a statement in life: ‘Get on the outside and save the children from coming to the place we are now’. That’s what we try to do every day.  That’s my focus: To save a child’s life from doing the exact same thing that I did.”

Warden Upshaw sums up the focus of the facility.

“Well that’s the reason we come every day,” he explains, “is to try to help these men; give them a second or a third chance to be successful. Myself, nor anybody, wants to see the men go out and re-offend, and come back to prison. Our goal, my goal, our company’s goal is to assist these men become law-abiding, good citizens, so they can be successful and reintegrate back with their families, and just live a successful life, and not continue to come back to prison.”

About Oliver J. Bell Unit

Oliver J. Bell Unit is accredited by the American Correctional Association—
achieving 100% compliance for both mandatory and non-mandatory standards in
its most recent audit. Other accreditations and certifications include the Correctional
Education Association, National Center for Construction Education and Research
(NCCER), and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).