GALVESTON, Texas - It doesn't take long to figure out that James Reveley loves what he does. Reveley, a University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston dentist at the maximum security Connally Unit in Kenedy, speaks enthusiastically about extracting molars and repairing broken teeth.
In a rapid-fire manner, he describes a typical day during which he might treat dozens of inmates, performing simple procedures as well as some oral surgery.
And he speaks just as enthusiastically about the small-town ambience of working in South Texas and then being able to head home to San Antonio to spend the weekends with his wife and family.
"I hope to be here until they take me out feet first," he says. "I have a great staff, enjoy the surroundings. The public always imagines a prison as some dark, dreary place, but my work conditions are neat as a pin, with plenty of sunlight, and great equipment."
But it wasn't too long ago that Reveley was not happy with his career.
After years of practicing dentistry in San Antonio, he was burned out. At age 48, he was working long hours, didn't see much of his family, hadn't taken a vacation in decades and didn't like tending to the business side of his profession. He decided to hang up his drill.
Reveley, who had been a mortician, a funeral director and, finally, a dentist, was ready for something different. So he quit his practice and even sold real estate for a while.
And then one day about eight years ago, he read a newspaper article that eventually led him back to dentistry. The article was about a shortage of security guards in prisons and Reveley decided to inquire. His phone call led to a referral and the next thing he knew, he was on his way to becoming a correctional dentist.
It wasn't too long after reading the newspaper article that Reveley was treating dental patients at the Garza Unit in Beeville. He worked there a couple of years and then got his own dental clinic at the nearby Connally Unit.
Reveley, 63, is one of 72 UTMB dentists who provide dental care to inmates at Texas prisons. Working in South Texas has made him realize that working in a small town can be very rewarding and he wishes that more people in the medical profession would set up practices in such areas.
"When I'm down here, people really know who I am," Reveley says. "This is one of the best things that ever happened to me. I really like working in correctional managed care. I prefer it over private practice. All I have to concentrate on is dentistry, not on the business side or the hiring and firing."
Today, a typical day for Reveley starts way before dawn and he arrives at the Connally Unit at about 5:45 a.m. and he may see and treat up to 25 patients a day.
He sees and treats even more inmates when he drives to the Garza Unit in nearby Beeville.
One recent visit to Garza was exceptionally busy, with Reveley operating on more than 30 patients in one day. "I was so busy yesterday that when I woke up this morning, my hands were hurting," he said.
But Reveley wasn't complaining. He relishes the fact that he can focus on the dental work. "I like to do surgery and all of my assistants are excellent. Plus we did about 55 intake patients and everything flowed as smooth as silk. I like to do what I do."
The Connally Unit is perhaps best known as the prison from which the notorious Texas 7 escaped in December 2000 and committed a series of robberies and killed a police officer in Irving, Texas before their crime spree ended about six weeks later in Colorado.
Reveley, however, feels very secure and safe at his job in the Connally Unit.
"There are 10 locked gates or doors between the outside and my office that I must go through everyday and two metal detectors. ID is always asked for, no matter how well you are known. The strictest security measures available are enforced," he said.
Reveley says that he focuses on a patient's dental chart, not a prison record. The inmate patients that Reveley sees are escorted to the dental clinic by prison guards.
"Sometimes there is an officer in the clinic; it depends on the patient and what security level the patient is," he said. "Many of our patients are escorted, but we often work without security present directly in the office since we are in a secure area."
And Reveley quickly quashes any thought that some inmates may just be seeking some sedatives or pain killers. "We don't issue any narcotics. The strongest pills we have are ibuprofen."
And just as he is so enthusiastic about his job, he has nothing but high praise for UTMB, an institution to which he has strong family ties. His father, grandfather, uncles and two cousins are UTMB graduates.
And, since he started working for UTMB, he and his wife, Lily, try to schedule a big vacation about every two or three years. This November, the couple is taking a bird-watching trip to Kenya.
"You get such wonderful perks working for the state. Like vacations and sick days. I never had that in private practice," he says.
James and Lily Reveley on vacation several years ago on the Galapagos Islands.