Joe Martinez is a guy who knows how to make connections. From growing up in Diboll to traveling the world to employment opportunities, his connections seem to have always gotten him far in life.
For example, one of his lifelong connections was made early — Axel, a foreign exchange student at Diboll High School. After graduation, Axel invited Martinez to spend a couple weeks at his house in Germany.
“It was a mansion, three stories, five Mercedes out front,” Martinez said. “I was working at the McDonald’s in Crown and saved up $800 for the plane ticket to Frankfurt, Germany. I was 17 and only had $250 in my pocket.”
The two traveled from West Germany to Paris, staying in hostels for two months. To this day, they keep in touch.
“I loved traveling,” Martinez said. “I came back and was going to move to Miami and join a cruise ship. Then I met an Army recruiter who told me I could travel the world.”
This kind of travel was not exactly what he had in mind. On Aug. 29, his 18th birthday, he began Boot Camp at Fort Knox in Kentucky.
“That was the most miserable day of my life,” he said.
He finished in December of that year and was shipped to Fort Hood in Texas for a year. He then got the call for Desert Storm.
“I traveled to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait,” he said. “I was a scout, a reconnaissance specialist. We went in front of the whole division — in front of the front line. We looked for the enemy and called in air support, tanks. We asked for what we needed. We shot more than they shot at us. GPS was just coming out. We had to use coordinates and big maps. We would go by land features. We had night vision capabilities.”
Martinez was reminded of a time he was seen on Good Morning America.
“Charlie Gibson came to our unit one morning doing a story, and a cousin of mine from Houston saw me,” he said. “After the war, we had an R&R cruise to Bahrain close to Kuwait and then I was shipped to Fort Hood.”
After four years in the military, Martinez came home and attended Angelina College and then Stephen F. Austin State University. During that time, he met his future wife, Sandy, on a blind date. He tried a few jobs at Temple, Champion Forestry and the post office, then went to a prison training academy in Huntsville that started his career as a correctional officer. His first job working in the prison system was at Polunsky Unit (TL, formerly the Terrell Unit) a maximum security prison in Livingston.
“They opened the prison with 3,000 of the worst inmates around the state,” Martinez said. It was like Gladiator with killings and stabbings. It was the worst prison in the state. This was the mid-’90s. It was called the ‘Terrible’ Terrell Unit.”
Martinez worked through the ranks. He would ride a horse and take inmates to work in the gardens. Originally, he was over 30 inmates in a squad. Then he was promoted to sergeant and was responsible for 300 to 400 inmates. Occasionally prisoners would take off toward the woods, and the officers would have to use dogs to sniff them out.
Livingston became the death row prison, where all prisoners were sent before they were executed at the Huntsville Unit. Part of Martinez’s job was to transport the death row inmates to their execution.
“On execution day, we were the guards in the van surrounded by two Crown Vics with two DPS cars going 90 mph down highway190 to get them to Huntsville,” he said.
He worked there 12 years and wanted to be a warden but he knew he would have to move around to other prisons. After talking to his wife about their future and with their two kids in elementary school at the time, he began looking for something else to do.
“I went to SFA to a job fair and met Joe Deason,” Martinez said. “I worked with his sister, and she must have liked me and told him about me. I had a double major in Criminal Justice and Spanish with a minor in Psychology.”
Deason was the Lufkin ISD recruiter at the time and hired Martinez to work at the high school, where he has served for 17 years. Martinez is now the Director of Student Support Services at LHS.
“I’m over truancy, credit make-up, tutoring, duties, UIL duties, discipline, counsel parents — a jack of all trades!” he said.
He shares his life experiences with high school students, hoping they’ll make good choices.
“I tell kids heading down the wrong path that it leads to death or prison,” he said. “I’ve talked to thousands of kids. It feels good to see a student who may have struggled once in high school graduate and see them with a family and successful life. They’re doing good things in the community and they’ll tell me, ‘You steered me straight.’”
In his spare time, Martinez likes to make connections on the golf course, fishing, being with his friends, gardening and, of course, traveling the world.