I hit the reset button on my life around nine years ago. Journalism had always been unkind to me, so I scrapped all my experience and went into an entirely different field: Corrections.

You can’t escape your past, though; for better or worse. And while most people incarcerated or otherwise had never heard of “Officer Jansky,” one of my personal heroes knew who I was right away after he saw my nametag.

But before I tell you about him, you have to understand a little bit what it’s like pounding the concrete jungle. It’s an entirely different world with different rules and expectations. Everything you were in your former life is worth spit if you can’t manage a housing unit and get your offenders under control without causing problems. 

I was young and ambitious, and I had made a name for myself being an overeager achiever with unrealistic pipe dreams. Sometimes you can have a bit too much ambition. Ever look back and cringe at how desperate you were to prove yourself?

But this man I speak of saw past that; I guess because he knew how passionate I was about my previous job. You see, this hero of mine – before I’d ever known him enough to call him that – knew me through my work. He’d been an avid reader of The Countywide throughout the six years I reported there. He saw my name every week when he picked up the weekly edition with his morning coffee.

Imagine getting to know someone – me – from a distance like that, then finally meeting them face to face in an environment totally alien to the “free world.” (That’s what us folks who have worked the concrete jungle call the land of the living.)

This man got to know me twice: First he knew my work at the paper, and second he saw how I worked at a job completely opposite.

“You used to work at the paper, didn’t you, Jansky?”

I think that’s the first time I remember him speaking to me. He was a sergeant at the time, and I was a rank-and-file CO. I think we were in 11 building – the jail within the prison – and we’d just housed a violent offender there without causing further incident.

He and I went on to share a working relationship I’ll always treasure. My hero then promoted from sergeant to lieutenant, and I promoted from CO to sergeant. I served under him on several occasions, and he never pulled punches with me.

I can’t count the times he grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and told me I was being stupid. “Use your head!” he’d yell at me. He never shied away from a fight with a convict. But he never went looking for one, either.

I don’t know if he understands how much his influence on my life meant to me. It reminds me of the old George Strait song: “If the story is told, only Heaven knows.”

That’s, I guess, why I’m writing this. I want retired TDCJ Captain Shelby Dupnik to know he’s one of my heroes.

A different hero of mine – Lt. Alfonso Garcia – died shortly after I left the department of criminal justice in 2015. We were both too macho to share these types of things, and I regret he went to his grave without knowing how much he meant to me. Mistakes made in the past can’t be erased, though.

All we can do is strive for better.