Finishing School

Sent to TYC when she was 13, Brittany Pollard grew into a young woman and model prisoner in a state prison, but will the lessons she learned there last when she's back in the free world?

Even Brittany brushes off the silliness--costly silliness, that is, interspersed with episodes of violence, including two assaults on fellow inmates--from her days at TYC. "When I first entered TYC, I was mad at the whole world," she says. "I never really had nobody to tell me, 'You can't do this, and you can't do that.' I was like, 'I can't do what?'

"I was one of the youngest people there," she adds. "Anything that got cronk, I wanted to be a part of."

TYC doesn't appear to have had any problem convincing a Dallas County judge that Pollard needed the additional structure of adult prison. And there she went, six months after her 16th birthday.

Brittany Pollard has been locked up since she was 13. Now nearly 18 and housed at TDCJ's Hilltop Unit in Gatesville, Pollard expects to taste freedom soon.
Mark Graham
Brittany Pollard has been locked up since she was 13. Now nearly 18 and housed at TDCJ's Hilltop Unit in Gatesville, Pollard expects to taste freedom soon.
"We call her mother," says Pollard of Alice Tippit, director of the Youthful Offender Program for women. Tippit puts in plenty of off-the-clock hours for the Hilltop girls.
Mark Graham
"We call her mother," says Pollard of Alice Tippit, director of the Youthful Offender Program for women. Tippit puts in plenty of off-the-clock hours for the Hilltop girls.

Today, it's impossible to reconcile that TYC report with the young woman who looks you right in the eye, searching for a hint of sympathy before she lays out her life's struggles and pain. Her soft brown eyes tear up several times during a lengthy interview, especially when she talks about her uncertain future.

Alice Tippit, director of TDCJ's Youthful Offender Program, says Pollard has an outstanding record since her transfer. "She's doing wonderful," Tippit says. What happened? Ask Brittany, and she'll say she simply grew up. "I quit being mad at the world. I adjusted," she says. "You need to pick and choose your battles; that's what one of my teachers here said. At the time it was like I was fighting a brick wall. The whole time, people were trying to tell me something to do. I was like, 'I ain't going to hear that. You're just trying to hate on me.' All the time they used to tell me, 'Brittany, the way you're thinking right now, it's not going to help you.'"

As part of the Youthful Offender Program, Brittany and the other girls would dissect their crimes on a blackboard, diagramming the wayward deeds and thought processes that led them to violence. The use of drugs, the fits of anger, the heedlessness about consequences. Tippit shepherded them with motherly care through classes such as the "ABCs of Resocialization" and groups covering substance abuse and other issues. "We call her mother," Pollard says. "If she sees that you're trying to help yourself, she'll do whatever she can to try to help you.

"Oh, Ms. Tippit loves me," she adds. "She has come up here on Saturdays, and you don't clock in and get a paycheck, and stays from 9 a.m. till 4 or 5 in the afternoon, letting us draw posters and stuff like that."

Another positive influence was a Christian married couple, Charlie and Mary Alice Wise, who, as volunteers, taught a class on spirituality. The Wises can see the bright lights of Hilltop from their home, and they bonded like grandparents with Brittany and the other young women in Tippit's program. "They're all hurting, every one of them, and we hurt with them, to tell you the truth," Mary Alice Wise says. "What we know, and what we want them to know, is that there is hope."

Brittany, she says, "is a very precious little girl. I just sent her an Easter card."

In November 2001, Pollard graduated in the Youthful Offender Program's first class of women. At the ceremony, the handful of girls did their hair up and donned crisp prison whites. Tippit handed out certificates, and the girls nibbled on cake and punch along with their families, who'd come out for the occasion.

All except one girl, who was alone. The Wises stepped in, serving as Brittany's family.


No one ever forgets Brittany Pollard, Alice Tippit says. She is "different and unusual," and Tippit worries about her as she prepares for freedom and the halfway house where she'll likely be placed in a few months. "She's been locked up since she was 13," Tippit says. "She's an adult all by herself at 17 years old."

A young woman with no home.

Tippit will always remember Brittany, the girl who told her, "I'll always be your poster child."

Even if she's inclined to forget, there are reminders all over the state. It's Brittany who put the star on the enormous Texas flags produced in Hilltop's flag factory that one finds flying over cemeteries, state buildings and such. Brittany is proud of that star, which she stenciled onto the fabric. She explains her delicate craft.

"Let me tell you, the Texas star is not symmetrical," she says. "It is not. I'm dyslexic, right, and sometimes I draw the star backwards. And if you turn it any other way, it either looks like the devil's horns, or 'star man,' or something.

"It's really important," she adds, "because if I mess up, the whole flag is messed up."

Right now, she says, a flag is flapping somewhere over a state cemetery with devil's horns instead of a star.

Brittany was there.

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