By Rebecca LaFlure
The Cove Herald
GATESVILLE - On any given day, a casual visitor for Dawn Grounds will be subject to questioning from three security guards, several personal identification checks, a metal director walk-through and a routine pat-down before being escorted to her office.
These overwhelming safety precautions may seem excessive to most working a standard 9-to-5 job, but her job is far from typical.
Grounds is senior warden of the Gatesville Prison's Hughes maximum facility male unit. She oversees 750 staff members and 2,900 inmates serving sentences for convictions ranging from drug offenses to murder.
"It's a difficult job. Not everybody can do it," she said. "It takes a strong personality, integrity and commitment. It's strength of character, and knowing what's right and wrong and being able to make decisions and follow through with those decisions."
Grounds has worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division for 25 years, working in prisons across Texas from Huntsville to New Boston to Palestine.
She began her career as a correctional officer in the Huntsville State Prison and worked her way up the ranks as a lieutenant, captain, assistant warden and now senior warden.
Because TDCJ employees are subject to frequent unit transfers, Grounds lives by the quote, "Bloom where you're planted."
She moved to Gatesville's Hughes Unit three years ago.
"In TDC, you transfer a lot, and they put you where they need you. I don't think I ever went to a unit that I wanted to go to," she said. "But then once I was there, I didn't want to leave. It's the idea that this may not be where I want to be, but I'm going to do the best I can here."
As senior warden, Grounds manages the operations of the entire facility. She said her job often feels like being a mayor of a small town.
"We have laundry, stores, the chow hall, wastewater and maintenance, all things you would have to deal with in a city. You do a little bit of everything," she said. "You have department heads of all those areas. They do all the work, and they check up with me and keep me informed and tell me about particular problems."
Grounds said the most rewarding part of her job is influencing her staff members and watching them grow and develop in their careers.
The staff is particularly close-knit because of the daily adversity they face from many of the offenders, she said.
"In TDC, we grow people," she said. "That's the greatest part of the job, is watching people be successful."