‘A better living’
Indalecio Ramos reviews work at his desk at Pine Prairie Correctional Center. The 39-year-old, who immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of four, has been in charge of the GEO prison facility for approximately a year now. (Gazette photo by Elizabeth West)
By: ELIZABETH WEST
By: ELIZABETH WEST
Positioned on the outskirts of the small community of Pine Prairie is a structure that can almost be considered its own little world. With nearly 12,000 detainees processed in the year of 2016 and over 171,000 miles driven by GEO’s GTI division, GEO Group’s Pine Prairie Correctional Center houses inmates from a total of 50 different countries.
The man that has been put in charge as the warden of the privately owned prison is one that through the similar life experience of being an immigrant in this country has been able to feel empathy for his detainees. However, the fact that his family chose to follow the correct procedures to eventually become American citizens has made him stern when it comes to handling those who chose a different path.
At the age of four, Indalecio Ramos journeyed with his parents and siblings to the United States of America in search of what Ramos called a “better living.”
Their path to a better life however didn’t happen by just crossing the border from their native country of Mexico and settling down in a small American town.
“When my family made it here, we moved to a small town in Texas named Shepherd,” said Ramos. “We started school there and I only remember there being one other Hispanic kid. We couldn’t communicate well because our English wasn’t good, which made me nervous.”
The language barrier he and his family faced was not the only challenge the Ramoses encountered during their quest to earn dual citizenship and an accomplished life.
Ramos said, “My parents didn’t have a license to drive here so if I missed the bus, I had to walk to school which was about five miles from where we lived.
“My father wasn’t going to let us miss school because he wanted us to be dedicated to doing the right things so that we could achieve the right goals.”
Throughout his school days, Ramos learned how to work hard and be dedicated to the right things by holding a job at a local grocery store in the area where he unloaded and stocked supplies.
Ramos said, “When I got a job at a local store I began having to get up earlier each morning to go to work first, then school and then back to work. I would get off around 11 at night and then I had to walk home. I was dedicated to what I was doing just like my father wanted us to be.”
It was during high school that Ramos, whose father had filed a petition to become a resident of the U.S., was finally able to take his exam to become a citizen of the country he had been living in for years. In the early 2000’s he officially became a citizen.
The 39-year-old said, “It felt good to finally have citizenship in the country that I had spent the majority of my life in.”
When he graduated from high school in 1997, Ramos went straight to work at a machine shop for nine months before the company prepared to move it’s location to Houston. The 55 minute drive to the new facility however was not appealing to Ramos. Therefore, he made the decision to look elsewhere for work.
The first place he came to was a trucking company in Cleveland, TX. However, right across the street from the trucking company, an opportunity was waiting for Ramos, which would lead to his long lasting career in the area of criminal justice.
The Pine Prairie Warden said, “There was a Wakenhut Prison (now owned by GEO Group) across the street from the trucking company. I knew I always wanted to do something in law or criminal justice so I couldn’t help but go apply for a job there as well.”
Two days later and one day before the trucking company had called Ramos, he received a call from the Major of the prison unit and he couldn’t say no to the job that offered him the chance to begin his dream career.
Ramos said, “I’m glad the prison called first, because when the trucking company called I was able to tell them I had committed to meeting with the prison about a position. I don’t know what I would have done had the trucking company called first.”
Once he began as a prison guard at the Wakenhut Prison, Ramos’s career took off and not even discouragement from other employees in the prison system could slow him down.
“I still remember the prison warden making a comment that I wasn’t going to make it,” said Ramos. “But, you see I had been taught by my parents that if you put in the effort you can be successful so that’s what I focused on doing.”
Success is exactly what Ramos has created for himself and his family today as warden of GEO’s Pine Prairie Facility, which provides services to the Immigration Customs Enforcement and the Louisiana Department of Corrections.
As warden at a facility housing mostly illegal aliens, Ramos says he has been able to explain to detainees that there is a right way to do things.
“I have compassion for them, but I believe in following policy,” said Ramos. “I always tell them that I don’t feel sorry for them. I explain to them that I myself was not born an American citizen but today I am one. I remind them that people come here all the time, but they do it the right way and I hope that they understand you have to do the right things in life. I really can’t put it any other way.”
The bilingual warden, who is fluent in English and Spanish, continued, “I am not a counselor, but I try to tell them that doing the right thing will always pay off.”
The warden, who has been at the Pine Prairie facility for a year now, says he doesn’t know how long the GEO Group, who has 104 facilities worldwide with more than 98,000 beds managed, will have him in Pine Prairie but he knows that as long as he is there he will enjoy what he is doing.
Ramos said, “I am enjoying it here. The community here is great and the prison facility is one I look froward to advancing through renovations and possible expansions. The staff is wonderful and I know that GEO looks forward to continuing to provide jobs to this area and becoming more involved in the community by providing eight $1,000 scholarships to seniors graduating from Pine Prairie High School. This is a way that we can help students advance their skills just like GEO did 18 years ago when they took a chance on me by giving me my first job in the criminal justice system.”