Prison Employee found confidence in Wayland Degree

Release Date: January 5, 2009    

AMARILLO – Mentors in one’s career field are important, and perhaps no one knows that more than Norvel Arnold. An assistant warden at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Jordan Unit in Pampa, Arnold found supervisors who set a good example for him to follow as he worked his way up the career ladder.

But that first began with following his supervisors in continuing his education.

“TDCJ began promoting college education heavily, saying that if you wanted to promote above sergeant, you needed a college degree,” recalls Arnold, who has worked for TDCJ for nearly 20 years total. “My warden at the time, and my major, were going to Wayland and they encouraged me to go there too.”

After a visit with academic advisors at the Amarillo campus, Arnold enrolled in 2002 after earning his associate’s degree from Amarillo College. He attended each term, often taking several courses per term while working full-time, and graduated with a degree in justice administration in 2004 at age 39.

Arnold said he believes his experience of returning to school as an adult was actually easier than if he had taken the traditional route of attending college right out of high school.

“When I was a kid, I wouldn’t have made it through school,” he said. “I wouldn’t have had the discipline to continue with it. But I wanted to be a warden someday and have my own unit, and that kept me going.”

Arnold got one step closer to his dream after being promoted to assistant warden in the summer of 2008. He has worked at the Jordan Unit for nearly four years, spending 14 years before that at the Clements Unit in Amarillo and one year at the Telford Unit in New Boston. Working his way up the ranks, he focused on building his skills and his knowledge through his education.

He credits his WBU experience in moving his dream along.

“The best thing Wayland has done for me is give me the confidence to go for my dreams. I was below average in high school. I played football and didn’t care about the school part,” he said. “(At WBU), there is a lot of report writing, and once I found out that I could do the writing and work my way up, I knew I could do it.

“I expect to be a warden very soon in my career, and I would never have gotten that without the degree. I would never have had the confidence to go for it.”

Being a warden for Arnold is not just the end of a dream, it’s the culmination of a career he truly loves, in a field that is admittedly not for everyone. But the rewards are many.

“Seeing some inmates really change their lives during their time here is rewarding,” he said. “You know you’re doing important work, keeping people inside that need to be inside. And I enjoy meeting and training new officers and mentoring them too. We provide a lot of good training.”

Arnold and his wife Sheila, who works at the Clements Unit as laundry manager, have two grown children and three grandchildren.