Inhumane and Brutal Conditions at Eastham Unit, as Reported by a Texas Prisoner.

I have been in contact with dozens of prisoners since I began working to share the voices of our incarcerated brothers and sisters through zines and through the blog you are reading. One thing I have found is that there are countless concerning issues within our prison system, which leads me to question what these issues say about our country and state. Do we see these issues and simply not feel enough sympathy to try to address them? To say that would suggest we are detached from the relationship of those people to ourselves and our society. Or, do we simply prefer to be blind to the injustices which are in our prisons and also leaking over into our communities as prisoners return home and as the families of the incarcerated struggle due to the the emotional, social and financial burdens imposed on them? Is it possible that many of us are in denial of the serious nature of human rights violations occurring, and consciously or unconsciously unwilling to do the uncomfortable work of addressing these issues? Nelson Mandela, who spent a great deal of time behind bars before his release and rise to power in South Africa, once stated:

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”

It is with that concept in mind that I bring you all information on the ongoing situation at the Eastham Unit, a men’s prison in Lovelady, Texas. This unit is not exceptional in any way, and the following information is surely not unlike events at other units.  I know without a doubt that Polunsky Unit, where Death Row inmates are held, faces similar issues frequently. Although, while there are many human rights groups discussing Death Row conditions, men at Eastham seem disconnected from the majority of advocates who they could report their situation to. In March of this year I was contacted about ongoing issues which were making life unbearable for inmates, and more recently I was informed that these issues had since led to protests, and now retaliation and brutality by the guards and administration. I know that there was a petition to have the unit closed that was circulated in April, but the administration has since tried to downplay the issues, and replaced the warden at the prison. First, let me describe the initial issues reported through excerpts of letters detailing the conditions and effects of solitary confinement from a prisoner at unit.

The men in Ad-Seg, or isolation, are in small cells with no a/c and “very little ventilation”, which makes them very hot during the majority of the year in Texas. He wrote, “We are allowed recreation only 2 hours, 3 times a week, if we are lucky. The rest of the time we are kept in these cells by ourselves with only a clock-radio for those lucky enough to have money to buy one.” The heat and isolation men and women in Texas prisons and Ad-Seg experience have both been argued to be inhumane by human rights organizations such as the Texas ACLU, but there has not been any changes made to either issue at this time.

This prisoner also wrote to me about his need to write about his experiences and feelings just because he “has so much to say and no one to say it to,”. He has been placed far away from his family, and has not seen his daughter in 10 years, which he says “saddens his heart the most,”.  He elaborated that:

“My mother, my sister, and nieces and nephew have come to visit me two times since I got here(over 8 years), and it’s hard for them to see me in this condition. Though they try to be strong, I see their eyes reflect sadness… I understand it’s my fault I’m in here and only hope that some day I may be able to go out there and be a better son, brother, father, and uncle for them…My mom is already up in age and it’s hard for her to come up here, and my family is scraping a living so it’s not easy for them to come up with money..plus my sister can’t get time off from work..I wish I could be closer to Laredo so it would be easier for my family to visit…”.

It is clear to me that his isolation is wearing at him emotionally and mentally, but isolation is only one small part of the issues he is reporting on. After detailing to me the issues with heat back in March, he addressed the problem that the water at the unit was frequently turned off for days or weeks due to claimed “plumbing issues”, and that during this time they were unable to flush the toilets in their (approximately) 5 x 9 isolation cells, which of course would not only cause issues due to the smell in a confined space, but would also be a health issue after some time has passed. He wrote on 3/24 that, “We don’t have running water since (yesterday) 3/23 around noon, and they’ve told us we will be without water for at least two weeks.” He went on to say that they were only being given “two small cups of water every day,” which was not enough for any of them to stay hydrated. He ended that correspondence by stating, “It’s very hard to do time in these conditions. It’s not only depressing, but inhumane the way they have us here.”

It has been made clear now that at some point the men decided to go on hunger strike as these conditions became intolerable, some changes were made in the administration, and some of the guards may have been reprimanded for failing to properly care for the inmates. This is the information I received on the ongoing problems with retaliation as of 10/7/15:

The current situation is being described as increasingly brutal as a Major and Lieutenant are retaliating against prisoners for resisting the bad situation several months ago and the new Warden has allowed this to continue.

“Unfortunately things here are getting worse since now we have a new warden, and Major Sahani(sp?) and Lt. Torres have started to harass us in retaliation for the hunger strike we had staged a while back to get necessities, hot meals, and recreation, which got them in trouble with the other warden. So, now that he’s gone they feel that they can do whatever they want since the new warden isn’t paying attention or may not care.”

Examples of retaliation and brutality

“This officer working the line, who is always causing problems…refused to feed an inmate two cells down from where I stay and when asked to call Rank she refused. Another officer came and talked to the inmate and told him they would bring him a tray, but when this other officer came(officer Keller), she said she wasn’t gonna give them a tray and to do whatever he wanted and started bad mouthing him until the inmate threw water on her and told her to get away from his cell. (Throwing liquids is often one of the only possible forms of expressing anger for people in long term isolation, so this may seem odd or petty but it is actually a common protest in their situation as they feel very powerless). She called Rank and they (pepper) sprayed him and beat him up after he was already handcuffed and on the ground, Lt. Torres being one of the officers doing this.”

The inmate claims Lt. Torres has consistently been brutal and retaliatory towards the inmates. He stated “this is not the first time Lt. Torres has done this,” and that the Lieutenant “has told his officers that he expects them to write us cases even if they have to make up a reason. I was told this by several officers that felt it was wrong to do so.” The inmates’ attempts to protest this through filing grievances and bring it to the attention of the administration have been ignored and so far nothing has changed.

The inmates have asked their family members to contact Huntsville about these abuses, but many people would claim that often this route has little effect or results in retaliation or threats on the men whose families complain. For this reason, I have posted this publicly so that the situation can be understood by many people and cannot be silenced by targeting a specific prisoner whose loved one calls or writes. These men deserve better than the treatment they are being given. I think many people would not tolerate their loved ones being subject to the conditions described above. At this time I ask you all to circulate this information and to declare that you do not tolerate human rights abuses! Not in our state, and not in our prisons.

If you would like to write or call about these issues, there are multiple options:

You may call Eastham Unit, to request to speak to the Warden:

According to the TDCJ website, the “Senior Warden” is Mr. Kevin Wheat

Unit phone number: (936) 636-7321

To contact the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, who oversees prisons in the state:

Texas Board of Criminal Justice
P.O. Box 13084
Austin, Texas 78711
tbcj@tdcj.texas.gov

Or to contact Brad Livingston, Executive Director of TDCJ:

(512) 463-9988

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 13084-Capitol Station
Austin, TX 78711-3084

Or the Ombudsman Program, who act as a “liaison” between the public and TDCJ:

They are supposed to address “General Issues concerning the agency’s operation and policy and procedures, issues from the public relating to secure facilities (prison units, state jails, and substance abuse felony punishment facilities), and any specific concerns regarding offenders confined in these types of facilities.”
P.O. Box 99, Huntsville, TX 77342-0099
(936) 437-4927
Fax (936) 437-4930
ombudsman@tdcj.texas.gov

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10 thoughts on “Inhumane and Brutal Conditions at Eastham Unit, as Reported by a Texas Prisoner.

  1. I have a son at Eastham unit in ad segregation he has told me all these conditions and I’m trying to figure out who to write who to call without having him pay for it in the long run he said They carried out guys the other day that just died from the heat why can’t they do something about these prisons where is there a petition how do I sign up this is a horrible place my son never hurt not one soul but yet his crime has him in there with this situation which he need to pay for but not like this

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    • Cathy, is your son still having problems there? You are supposed to be able to call the Ombudsman for Texas prisons:
      P.O. Box 99, Huntsville, TX 77342-0099
      (936) 437-4927
      Fax (936) 437-4930
      ombudsman@tdcj.texas.gov
      We have called the wardens also, and let them know that they will be held responsible for anything that happens to our loved one based on their negligence. We have told them that we will inform the press. This has helped somewhat. Just make sure that they do know that your son has someone outside who is monitoring his situation and who will be there to advocate for him. Blessings.

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      • Yes my son had a heat stroke back in August he said it was hundred and forty degrees in the cell. I think God that at least someone found him and took him to the Infirmary. Of course I did not hear about it from the prison when it’s all said and done messing with me a letter. No I’m not sure butt it’s getting colder and I don’t think he has blankets because he mentioned something about wearing long johns under his clothes because it’s been cold or if it gets too cold. They are also not allowed him to go to commissary at times for no reason whatsoever and he has money in his commissary account. From September 27th 2016 he had $60 in his account that I sent him did not allow him to go to commissary and kill October 11th 2016 these things are happening and those are only small things that he’s been sitting in the letters I just pick up on them tomorrow I will be calling to find out why this is happening. I want to thank you so much for caring thank God for a captive audience you can contact me anytime to my email address. Sincerely thank you Cathy Martin: a sad mother

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  2. Hello Lupe,
    I want to thank you for taking the time to care. You ask if my son Richard is still having problems at Eastham Unit. I do believe so. But I can’t get up to visit him and it is hard to say in letters; being the read every letter that goes out and every letter that goes in to him. My son has been in ad seg now for going on four years. I have sent him an email via Jpay and asked him certain questions. I am waiting on the answers. I found out today that I sent him $60. For his commissary on September 27th 2016 and for no reason whatsoever they did not allow him to go to commissary until October 11th 2016. Now I am going to call them on that matter tomorrow as I get the chance to call. But to answer your question about his treatment at Eastham he has told me of them putting bugs in his food, about them spraying him with a chemical that burnt his skin all over like he was on fire. He stated that this chemical was not to be sprayed more than 2 times on them and they emptied for cans on him left him in his cell to burn for 24 hours. They repeatedly forget to take him to wreck. And at times they don’t take him to shower. Now I know my son he does it want any retaliation sure he hasn’t he hasn’t told me anything else I know that he was in Darrington and Ed said he got stuck with a six-inch shake when he is being moved from the shelter to shower when no one else was supposed to be in the hall and there was four seals with shields up and put the shields down and turned around my son was stabbed Mercy throne to the hospital in Galveston I did not hear the situation until I’ve gotten the report in the mail at my address when he returned to Darrington he have been robbed of everything he owned in a cell. Now for someone that is not supposed to have any human contact and no one is supposed to be in Toronto how did this happen that is my question I am putting together all the facts to the things that I can figure out to what has happened to him and what they’re doing to him as best I can and when I get together it’s all going to be easy or you and whoever else I can send it to I want answers but I also want my son safe. With all the retaliation going on I do not understand how to handle this situation I have to get there to see him in person to speak with him before I take any action. Or maybe you know someone that could go visit him and find out from him let him know that his mother is on it without any more trouble but that is ridiculous but that is also what I want. I need help I am a widow and I’m hours away from him I have no car and no job at the moment I have no way to get there to see him. The last time I saw him they cost me $600 to go visit him because I have no way to get there. Sure if there’s any help out there you could help me see him I can see him for me that would be such a blessing. So if you can find anything out for me let me know I appreciate everything you’re doing everything your organization is doing and anyway I can help I will.
    Sincerely thank you
    Catherine Martin
    cassfreedom215@gmail.com
    (210) 760-0158

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    • Dear Mrs. Martin: First let me say that I am sorry that you are going through this, as well as your son. I do not belong to any organizations. My son is also in prison in Huntsville but he was telling me he might be transferred to Eastham and I was trying to find out the conditions there.
      I know that you can call the Warden and the Chaplain at the unit to find out about your son. They may not tell you much but you can definitely tell them that you are aware of what is going on and that if anything happens to your son you will hold the warden accountable.
      Also you can call the Ombudsman for Texas prisons that I copied you above (936) 437-4927 and complain and tell them what you know and what you suspect is going on. Besides calling though send them a letter so you have written proof that you are investigating the conditions your son is dealing with.
      I know it is expensive to go see our loved ones especially if they are far away. Maybe you can ask them to move your son closer to you for compassionate reasons since you have no job or car, and you are a widow. I would also contact your church or pastor to see if they can help you in any way.
      We definitely need to them know at the prisons that our sons have someone on the outside who is watching out for them. I have had many people tell me that I should just let my son suffer because he broke the law. But they are not his mother. He is paying for his crime by being locked up but that does not give them the right to treat him worse than an animal. I will always love my son and support him. I pray for him every day and I will ask my Lord to help you and your son also. We, as mothers, cannot lose hope but we also have to fight for our sons. So Mrs. Martin be sure to call and bother these people about your son. Blessings!

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      • Thank you Lupe For your prayers and all the love you have for your son. It means a lot to me just to have someone that understand that we love her sons and we hurt versions and we care about them. We make mistakes everyone does they made mistakes and they are paying for them but they are human beings and they are loved thank you so much Miss Lupe. I too will pray for your son and for you. Good luck and stay in touch I will keep you updated on what I know is going on at Eastham Prison. And if your son just transfer to Eastham let me know please thank you very much you have a wonderful blessed day. Sincerely Catherine Martin May the good Lord bless you and your son

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  3. Hi my name is Diana I have a brother that has been at Eastham for about five to six years and yes I’m aware of the conditions but I have no idea where or who to talk to about this issue it is inhumane of what’s happening to these inmates no one should be living under those conditions I’ve been having to send my brother ecom so he can at least have some drinking water please let me know what I have to do… that prison needs to be shut down completely and never reopened

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