Damon West-led prisoner impact program earns governor’s criminal justice volunteer award

Published 1:22 pm Friday, April 21, 2023

Damon West’s prison impact continued long after he exited the facility as an inmate.

During the Governor’s 2023 Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Awards program in Austin, The Change Agent was presented the Most Innovative Program Award.

In early 2022, West implemented The Change Agent program at Wynne Unit in Huntsville. This cognitive-based program is based on his book “The Change Agent” and is designed to develop self-esteem and restore self-confidence, take responsibility for actions and behaviors, manage emotions, build and maintain healthy relationships and become a servant leader.

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This program uses inmate facilitators to deliver the curriculum to their peers. The peer-led environment provides an opportunity for the inmate facilitators to serve in a healthy way and have a positive influence on the unit’s culture.

The University of Houston is conducting research on the program’s effects on inmate’s institutional adjustment.

The Change Agent is one of 23 organizations and individuals from across the state recognized for efforts to help inmates and those who are on parole or probation.

They donate many hours of their personal time every year with the goal of changing the lives of convicted inmates, as well as aiding and comforting their victims.

West, a former Port Arthur sports star and current Nederland resident, accepted the award from Texas Board of Criminal Justice Chairman Patrick O’Daniel and TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier.

“These award recipients, by volunteering countless hours, are helping to build a better Texas for themselves and everyone whose lives they touch,” O’Daniel said. “It is an honor to recognize them for their hard work and dedication.”

Collier said it takes a special kind of person to give of their time and expect no material reward.

“These volunteers are invaluable to us and have made a lasting impact through their contributions to the public safety of all Texans,” he said.

West has shared his message many times: The moment that prison door slammed behind him in 2008, his recovery began. It was, he said, a life-changing moment, the cold slap of reality that drilled this truth into his meth-ridden skull: He’d been given enormous gifts — loving parents and brothers, a sharp mind, huge athletic skills, a charming disposition — and wasted them, all of them.

He’d hurt others, sometimes immeasurably. He’d turned his back on God. There was only one way to go from the bottom of a living, fiery pit: Up.

“What I want people to understand is that addiction is disgusting, awful and it affects everyone in the country,” he previously told Port Arthur Newsmedia. But prison is no picnic either, as he illustrates starkly in his two books, in which he is unsparing in his own self-assessment but hopeful in his outlook.