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Susan Benoit
Lychner Unit Liaison determined to help former co-worker in need

Susan Benoit’s letter wasn’t addressed to that merry old soul at the North Pole, but she still got what she wanted for Christmas.

And as always, what she wanted was to make Christmas merry for someone in need. So on the day before Thanksgiving, Benoit wrote a letter to Jim McIngvale of Gallery Furniture notoriety telling him about the misfortunes of Kareasa Hicks, a former correctional officer at the Pam Lychner State Jail in Humble where Benoit has worked as a Human Resources assistant the past four years.
Susan Benoit sitting in front of fountain with statue
Susan Benoit, Human Resources Assistant at the Pam Lychner Unit sits in front of a statue (dedicated to the Unit's namesake an her daughters who were killed in
a plane crash) outside the unit. She wrote a letter to Gallery Furniture on behalf of a correctional officer who l
ost all her belongings in a flood in Houston and then was diagnosed with Cancer and lost her left leg. The letter prompted Gallery Furniture to give the officer a whole house worth of furniture. She also raised a considerable amount of money and presents for her children as well.

Benoit wrote that Hicks, a 27-year-old single parent to three young children, desperately needed furnishings because in June 2001 she had lost all her household possessions to floodwaters spawned by Topical Storm Allison. And just two months later, she was forced to take medical leave because of a persistent pain in her left hip and leg, a symptom that would eventually lead to the discovery of a cancerous tumor, and, in November 2002, the amputation of her left leg at a Houston hospital. And since exhausting her sick leave in March after nearly five years of service, Hicks, after paying her bills, had only what was left from a small disability check to provide for her family at Christmas, Benoit wrote.

"I just told the truth," Benoit said about her heart-wrenching letter to the man widely known as "Mattress Mac." "She needed help."

Benoit wrote to McIngvale after a co-worker told her that the furniture store selects 15 needy families from the Houston area each holiday season and provides them with free furnishings.

"After that, I saw a couple of commercials and thought, well, I’m just going to try it," Benoit said.

Georgia Ann Spears, Special Events director for Gallery Furniture, read Benoit’s letter and pulled it from among the 8,000 letters the company received this year.

"It touched me, because I thought it was so sad that she had all these problems and this cancer and she had taken all of her sick leave and then they had to let her go," Spears said.

TDCJ Employees greet Kareasa Hicks
TDCJ Employees greet Kareasa Hicks at her home as they surprise her with Christmas gifts and help Gallery Furniture deliver a house full of furniture in her time of need.
Photo courtesy of Susan Benoit
Just days after writing her letter, Benoit was informed that Hicks was one of 30 persons still being considered for furnishings from Gallery. All the store needed was additional information about her dire situation, said Benoit who immediately started collecting information and personal references from Hicks’ friends and former colleagues.

"They wanted to know everything, just to prove my story, that I wasn’t just trying to get something for somebody when they didn’t really need it," she said.

Meanwhile, Benoit was also busy collecting cash and toys from unit employees to present to Hicks and her children at Christmas. In all, Lychner employees gave more than $1,300 in cash and more toys than could fit under the family’s Christmas tree.

"?With the gifts, you couldn’t see the tree," Benoit beamed. "We wanted it to be a Christmas they would always remember."

It would turn out to be.

With less than two weeks left before Christmas and just days before Hicks was to return home from the hospital, Benoit received word that Gallery would indeed be providing the Hicks family with much-needed furnishings. It was delivered the day after Hicks returned home and unloaded by more than 30 of her former colleagues at Lychner. Gallery provided Hicks with a dining room set, a sleeper sofa, a love seat, end tables, a coffee table, lamps, bunk beds for her two boys, ages 4 and 8, a twin bed for her 6-year-old daughter, and two king-size beds for Hicks and her brother who helps with her care. Sheets, pillows and comforters were also provided.

"She couldn’t believe so much was there," Benoit said about Hicks’ reaction. "We all started crying. It was nice."

Spears said Gallery has provided free furnishings for needy families the past 19 years.

"Mac believes in giving back to the community, and he thought this would be a good way to give something back," Spears said about the annual giveaway. "Of course, we can’t give everybody something, but we certainly do try to do what we can. Like we always say, no one can do everything, but every one can do something."

Benoit, who serves as the unit’s liaison to the Correctional Peace Officer’s Foundation, strives to do something for someone each holiday season because she, too, has suffered loss. While living in Liberty in May 2000, she and her husband Edmund, a major at the Hightower Unit in Dayton, and their two children lost most of their possessions to floodwaters.

"I’ve been through a flood and know what it’s like not to have anything, not to have any assistance," Benoit said about her efforts to aid Hicks and her family this year. "We have to help each other. You have to be there for somebody else, not just yourself. That’s what Christmas is all about."

Editor’s Note: Former Lychner Unit employee Kareasa Hicks died Jan. 12, 2003, from cancer. TDCJ is deeply saddened by her death, yet proud of her service and courage, and extends its deepest condolences to her family.

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