KAMC Investigates received a call from a concerned guard at the Preston Smith Unit in Lamesa, who was worried for her safety.
The guard's identity is being protected because, she tells us, the prison's warden has threatened to fire any employee who speaks out about the issue.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirms the prison is operating with roughly half the staff it needs.
A TDCJ spokesman says the staffing level has fluctuated between 53% and 58% between October and December 2012.
The guard we spoke with says the staffing shortage is putting officers' lives in danger.
"On shift, you're lucking if you're turning out 13-15 for positions that you need 25 to 28 people," she said.
Right now, there are about 400 staff members keeping guard over roughly 1,700 prisoners. That number is down in recent months after TDCJ transferred hundreds of inmates to other prisons to help deal with the staffing shortage.
The concerned guard says the shortage means working alone in a unit with more than 100 inmates, often with little or no backup in the event something goes wrong.
"You have to hope that they have the manpower for someone to come in save you if somebody gets mad and decides they want to hurt you," she said. "We get cussed at, we can't cuss back at them. We get stuff thrown at us: urine, feces, throw up, blood, spit; we get shanks, which are like knives, thrown at us. It's pretty scary every day."
Jason Clark, a TDCJ spokesman, disagrees with the worried guard. He tells us that while staffing levels are low, the prison has had a safe number of employees on duty at all times.
"We've looked at the staffing reports and we have not had an instance where there were 13 staffers working on the unit," Clark said. "The number is substantially more than that."
The guard who spoke with us claims the staffing shortage has spark an increase in guards getting hurt and has even led to more fighting between inmates, something Clark disputes.
"Staffing levels have not contributed to unsafe conditions," he said "When you look at the statistics from the Smith Unit and compare it to another unit of similar size and offender population, those statistics are very similar."
One thing Clark and the guard agree on, though, is that the low staffing levels have led to an increase in overtime for the employees who do work at the prison.
Records provided by TDCJ show the state paid $1.7 million in overtime to Smith Unit employees between January and November 2012. A staggering figure Clark says the state expects to have to continue paying for as long as there is a guard shortage.
To help with recruiting, the state has doubled its recruiting bonus for recruits willing to work at under-staffed prisons. It's part of a strategy to help TDCJ compete with highers wages being offered in west Texas oil fields.