Bang! Bang! Bang! “Mail call! What’s your number?” yells the obese, miserable guard who just finished beating on my rickety cell door with his pale, meaty fist, as though he’s trying to wake the dead. Startled out of my blank stare at the off-white, filthy, concrete cell wall with peeling chunks of paint, I drone a response in a voice devoid of any feeling, “Nine, nine, nine, three, seven, seven .”
Yesterday, on the national day to honor Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Florida prisoners began what could become a long-term strike against prison slavery and human and civil rights violations. You can read their full statement here. Their main demands and the call for solidarity are shown below:
“Sending out an S.O.S. to all parties concerned!
We are currently forming a network agency within D.O.C. We are asking all prisoners within the Department of Corrections to take a stand by laying down starting January 15, 2018, until the injustice we see facing prisoners within the Florida system is resolved.
We are calling on all organized groups as well as religious systems to come together on the same page. We will be taking a stand for:
1. Payment for our labor, rather than the current slave arrangement
2. Ending outrageous canteen prices
3. Reintroducing parole incentives to lifers and those with Buck Rogers dates
Along with these primary demands, we are also expressing our support for the following goals:
• Stop the overcrowding and acts of brutality committed by officers throughout FDOC which have resulted in the highest death rates in prison history.
• Expose the environmental conditions we face, including extreme temperatures, mold, contaminated water, and being placed next to toxic sites such as landfills, military bases and phosphate mines (including a proposed mine which would surround the Reception and Medical Center prison in Lake Butler).
• Honor the moratorium on state executions, as a court-ordered the state to do, without the legal loophole now being used to kill prisoners on death row.
• Restore voting rights as a basic human right to all, not a privilege, regardless of criminal convictions.
Operation PUSH: Every Institution must prepare to lay down for at least one month or at longer: No prisoners will go to their job assignments.”
Outside support for the strike is growing, with over 100 organizations signing on in solidarity. The Fight Toxic Prisons blog lists 5 ways to support Operation PUSH here, including: attending solidarity events, writing prisoners, sharing articles, and donating to outside groups that are coordinating solidarity efforts.
Here in Texas these issues feel all too familiar. In fact, we have seen lawsuits and small scale strikes around some of these issues here. However, Operation PUSH appears to be remarkably well organized and it has gained more widespread support than any US prisoner strike in the last several years. This seems to show a new level of organization and solidarity on the issue of ending prison slavery and in the struggle for human and civil rights for incarcerated Americans. We wish them luck as they light a path forward in this struggle!
Voting: Felony disenfranchisement in Florida is out of control and very racialized, as this graphic taken from sentencingproject.org shows. Here I compared Texas to Florida.
The death penalty has become a hot topic in Florida just as it is in Texas. Here is a recent article on the issue:
Article shared from Workers.org, with permission.
By Nanon Williams and Donshá Crump
The authors are incarcerated on the Ramsey Prison farm in Texas, formerly the home of five slave plantations.
For the last several years we have protested the Confederate flag and demanded that statues be taken down, or we have just taken them down ourselves. Those symbols of power represent racism, oppression and the degrading of a people. They represent profit from slavery, the death of Black men, women and children dying in cotton fields, being lynched and people of color being treated more like animals than human beings.
When some see these symbols, they feel pride and heroism. We see victims, pain and suffering. We are reminded that justice, fairness and equality are a false promise.
Confederate soldiers wore dark blue, called Confederate Blue, and gray uniforms. In the Texas prison system, the guards’ uniforms are these exact colors. Yet Blacks, Latinos, Africans, along with poor whites and others unconsciously wear this symbol of racism to earn their minimum-wage paychecks. They wear it to incarcerate poor people from their own neighborhoods.
These guards wear hats that say, “We Protect Our Own.” Who is “we”? Is it Native Americans who were slaughtered and had their land stolen? Is it women and girls of color raped by their master? Does history really include us? Does this “we” include me? We wonder if Texas prison guards are even aware that their entire bodies are wrapped in a uniform of confederacy that makes them moving signs of power but also ignorance!
Prisons are indeed modern forms of slavery, and Texas has one of the largest prison populations in the world and has executed (or legally lynched) more prisoners than the next eight U.S. states combined.
We need to take down and smash all forms of racism, from statues to flags to prison slave plantations. Solidarity with the Durham anti-racist heroes!
Occasionally I see a film or book about or by prisoners that I absolutely have to share with the readers of this blog, and the film I saw Friday night definitely qualified! I, your editor, do shamelessly admit that I cried through a good portion of this film, along with everyone around me, for several different reasons. The documentary, Southwest of Salem, follows the case of 4 latina lesbians from San Antonio, TX who were falsely accused of gang raping two young girls during the Satanic Panic era. The film highlights the tragic consequences of trials that allowed homophobic accusations, faulty physical evidence, and outlandish testimonies from two young girls that were being manipulated, one of whom later officially recanted and testified in the women’s defense. They also show the struggles of the wrongfully convicted in dealing with their incarceration, readjusting to freedom, and receiving justice and exoneration. These women are touring with the film with the hope of bringing light to the past and current biases of the “justice” system, and the issue of wrongful convictions, which has shown to be much more widespread than many would have imagined. The film does a great job illuminating these issues and showing the human toll of wrongful convictions, both focusing on the women and their families.
This film was especially important to me because we continue to see bias against LGB, Trans and Gender Non-conforming people, and race and class are exacerbating factors in the targeting of and wrongful convictions of numerous people. We also continue to see cases based on faulty evidence and biased prosecution today. This biased prosecution was true in the more recent case of a black trans woman named CeCe McDonald, who was targeted due to her race and gender identity and incarcerated for defending herself and her friends during a hate crime. Issues of race and also economic class(which generally implies lack of access to quality legal representation) are a factor in most of the exonerations we are witnessing. Sexual orientation, gender identity, and race often play a role in false accusations such as those involved in the San Antonio Four case. LGBTQI people are maliciously stereotyped as “perverts” and “pedophiles”, which we still see with the “bathroom panic” that has emerged recently, in spite of evidence proving there is no truth to these stereotypes and fears. The same has been true for black, hispanic, and asian men who have been stereotyped as rapists throughout history and we have seen them be convicted and exonerated of sexual assault cases at much higher rates than white men. False accusations are the leading cause of wrongful convictions for child sexual abuse/assault such as in this case.
I hope others will view this film and apply the concepts it discusses to other cases we are seeing, and join people who are working to help exonerate people and to help wrongfully convicted people readjust to society. One such Texas case is Nanon Williams, who was wrongfully convicted of capital murder at 17, and sentenced to Death. His sentence has been overturned three times, and we now know that his conviction was based on false ballistics testimony and the testimony of another man involved in the shooting who escaped punishment. Nanon is one of likely hundreds of wrongly convicted people in Texas who rely on exonerees like the San Antonio Four to show Texans that they do exist and to give them hope that they too will one day come home and receive a semblance of justice for what they have endured. There is a real human cost to these cases which is rarely discussed, but is displayed quite clearly when we give the wrongfully convicted a platform to tell their stories. Hope you will check this film out on one of the online viewing platforms where it is available!
This recent art card from Jorge reads:
“Solitary hearts, silent voices, searching for understanding and compassion..”
Jorge’s art continually expresses the isolation of long term solitary confinement experienced in Texas prisons and the loss of family contact he has faced due to his incarceration far away from his home. Texas Department of “Criminal Justice” recently announced they were no longer using solitary as “punishment”, but “gang affiliation” is still one of the top reasons that people remain in solitary(ad-seg) in Texas, despite the fact that the vast majority of Texas prisoners are affiliated with a racialized gang; this is because racial separation and tension are encouraged by prison officials, and joining gangs is a matter of survival for many in a system where violence is rampant and often subtly or overtly allowed (and perpetrated) by officers. So the use of solitary on certain gang members is honestly arbitrary, and the long term use of it essentially amounts to torture, and has shown no real positive effects. This isn’t hard to understand; we don’t rehabilitate people by locking them in cages and denying them education and human contact. Instead “ad-seg” increases mental health issues, makes people more violent and suicidal, gives little incentive for positive change, and is a barrier to healthy socializing and maintaining family bonds/ outside relationships. This practice needs to be completely eradicated!
Another issue being discussed at Eastham Unit is the toxic water, and we were made aware that one prisoner there has filed a lawsuit on this issue. Prisoners at Wallace Pack Unit in Texas successfully sued over toxic (arsenic laden) water and extreme heat last year. We hope to see another success here as the heat and water issues at Eastham have been a main complaint in letters to us for the past several years. These problems have deadly consequences for inmates and it is an unacceptable violation of human rights to have people getting ill or dying due to unsafe water and extreme heat. Stay tuned for any updates and please support these prisoners in their struggle for survival. The link under the artwork will take you to Jorge’s address!
By Keith “Malik” Washington
“To cooperate passively with an unjust system makes the oppressed as evil as the oppressor.” – Dr Martin Luther King Jr
Peace & Blessings Sisters and Brothers!
This month of October 2017 marks the 10th year that I have been incarcerated inside prisons and jails operated and maintained by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Many things have changed in those ten years, but many things have stayed the same. The “lock ’em up and throw away the key” philosophy is still prevalent in the state of Texas. I watched closely as prisoner rights advocate Jennifer Erschabek fought passionately to reform the broken parole system in Texas. The Texas legislature has no desire or will to change the system. Texas State Representative Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat from Houston, Texas, agreed with Ms Erschabek that the parole system needed reforming, and she authored a bill, HB2120 that would have given more prisoners in Texas a realistic chance of freedom. The bill died in committee.
In Texas, prisoner lives don’t matter, and nothing illustrates this point better than the decision by the Federal Government to abandon over 2000 prisoners at the Federal Prison Complex in Beaumont during Hurricane Harvey. My friend, journalist Candice Bernd of Truth-Out, wrote a heart-wrenching piece which detailed the horrendous living conditions prisoners were forced to contend with during and in the aftermath of Harvey.
As far as the state response to Hurricane Harvey, I have to admit TDCJ did a very good job evacuating state prisoners and moving them out of harm’s way.
However, I recently returned from a Federal Bench Warrant in order to attend a Federal Civil Court proceeding. While en route to Court, and during the many days it took me to return, I discovered some horrible things.
I travelled to many other prison units in mid to late September 2017. I spoke directly to prisoners who were travelling on buses and vans with me. One glaring issue and topic which continued to come up throughout the course of our conversations is the shocking increase of prisoner deaths inside facilities operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Many of these deaths are attributed to an epidemic of synthetic marijuana usage, which has created chaos for both prisoners and staff throughout the State of Texas.
The problem seemed to be extraordinarily pronounced at the Beto I Unit located in Tennessee Colony, Texas. I spent about 1 week at Beto awaiting my transfer back to the Eastham Unit which is located in Lovelady, Texas.
The Senior Warden who is in charge of ensuring the safety and security of both his staff and the prisoners in his care is Mr Norris Jackson. In my opinion, Warden Jackson has failed miserably in protecting the lives of prisoners, and he should be removed by the agency immediately.
Here is what I have discovered:
In the past 2 months, there have been approximately 10 prisoner deaths on the Beto I Unit. The cause of these deaths has been varied, but are in line with a pattern and a trend my free-world friends have noticed across the penal state:
K-2 (synthetic marijuana) and the psychotic episodes associated with its usage is causing deaths at Beto Unit.
Employee abuse, medical neglect and deliberate indifference are causing deaths on Beto Unit.
Prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and suicides are causing deaths on Beto Unit and many other Texas prisons.
The bottom line is prisoners in Texas are dying at an alarming rate. I need help from media correspondents in order to uncover the details.
Contrary to the popular belief among prison administrators in Texas: prisoner lives do matter!
Sisters and brothers, no matter the race, religion or gender of a persyn, a humyn life is precious to me!
I can introduce you to caring and thoughtful prisoners at Beto I Unit who can provide you with the much-needed details concerning these deaths so we can collectively save some lives.
Lorie Davis is the director of TDCJ’s Correctional Institution Division, please let’s ask her why Warden Jackson continues to fail in preserving and saving the lives of prisoners.
Saving lives should be Job #1, don’t you think?
If you are interested, please contact me or one of my dedicated free-world comrades.
Dare to struggle, dare to win, all power to the people,
Keith “Malik” Washington is a humyn rights activist currently incarcerated in Texas. He is a co-founder and chief spokespersyn for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement. Malik is a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and he is the Deputy Chairman of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter). Malik has been instrumental in calling for the abolition of legalized slavery in Amerika and he is very active in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign. You can view his work at comrademalik.com or write him directly at Keith ‘Comrade Malik’ Washington TDC# 1487958 Eastham Unit, 2665 Prison Road 1 Lovelady, Texas 75851 (936) 636-7321 ext. (**009)