North Carolina Department of Correction News - May 1999

Pioneers honor Warden French

GOLDSBORO — Central Prison Warden James B. French received the Lewyn M. Hayes Award during the Annual Reunion of the Minority Pioneers held March 26-28 in Goldsboro.

The Annual Reunion is held each year in the spring and is a time for longtime and new employees to come together to celebrate the contributions and achievements of minority employees within the Department of Correction. Minority Pioneer employees include African-Americans who were initially hired in the late 1950s and early 1960s on up to today’s employees.

The mission of the Minority Pioneers is to give recognition to employees of today who are helping to create opportunities for employees of tomorrow by achieving excellence in the field of criminal justice.

In keeping with that mission, one outstanding employee is selected each year to receive the Lewyn M. Hayes Award. The award, named after Hayes who was one of the first African-Americans hired to work with youthful offenders, is given to an individual who has given of himself so that others with less experience and less knowledge of the prison process may be afforded an opportunity to become a significant part of the department.

French, who was selected as the recipient of this year’s award, holds the honor of being the department’s first African-American warden. A native of Sanford, French began his career with the department in 1972 as a correctional officer. Over the years, he was promoted through the ranks, eventually becoming warden of Central Prison in July 1994. As warden of Central Prison, French heads the largest and most complex prison in the state.

French said he would like to thank everyone who had a part in nominating and selecting him to receive the Lewyn M. Hayes Award.

"I have received many awards during my career and lifetime, however, this one will always be very special and cherished because of what Mr. Hayes did to advance the careers of minorities," he said.

Other nominees included Charles N. Benton who was employed in 1961 as a member of the first group of African-Americans hired by the department as correctional officers for the McLeansville field unit and James L. Brown, former Area Administrator of the North Piedmont Area until his retirement in 1998.

The theme of this year’s gathering of the Minority Pioneers was "And if that’s not enough – try some good old fashioned networking." Individuals attending the gathering were given many opportunities to network with others during a pig-picking, panel discussions, a fish fry, dance and banquet all held throughout the weekend.

Secretary Theodis Beck was the keynote speaker for this year’s banquet. During his remarks, he reminded those in attendance of the Pioneers’ legacy and their responsibility to future generations.

"It has been said that what we do for ourselves dies with us, but what we do for others lives on," he said. "And such is the legacy of the Pioneers. Sometimes we feel weary and tempted to give up, but we must remember – we have come too far from where we started from to turn back now. After all, the work we do here today is not merely work for us, but we are building for others." u

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