The Night Before, as told by Tony Egbuna Ford

Note: the following details several events that occurred on Texas Death Row the night before the state-sponsored murder of Christopher Young took place (on 7-17-2018).

Back here on death row, the way that we are isolated makes conversation hard. Especially when you are not in the same section. On the side of the pod that I am housed we have three sections, A-C. On the other side of the pod, the other three sections are D-F. Each section is separated by a wall which separates each section’s 14 cells (7 cells on 1-row and 7 cells on 2-row) along with their day rooms, which are in front of the cells in that section. The only way into each section is through the crossover doors on 1 and  2-row and through the gate which leads into the section from the main floor. Inmates can talk with each other from day room to day room when we are allowed out at recreation, or we can attempt to yell at each other over the run, which is hard to do when there are other people attempting to talk in your section, or if someone has music playing particularly loud. Every now and then you will have inmates show some courtesy and allow someone to speak freely without interruptions or interference with other noises. The last few weeks, death row has been on lockdown, which means that we are locked inside our cells 24 hours a day. The only time that we are allowed out during this time is if we get a visit or are taken to Medical. For 3 days out of the week we are given a shower. Otherwise, we are locked in these cages (cells). So, because of this lockdown, a lot of the conversations that we have had to conduct with Chris was over the run. The main people that he talks with are Damon Matthews, who is over in B Section 1-row, Perry Williams who is in the same section that I am in, but he is on 1-row while I am upstairs on 2-row, and Ricky Cummings who is next door to Perry on 1-row in C section. The other people that Chris would like to talk to, but is not able to, are over on the other side. Anthony Medina and Rob Will who are over in D section, and Tomas Gallo and Jeff Prible who are in E section. And then there is Obie Weathers who is over in F section. Now because of the lockdown we have to pass messages over to the other side usually when the door to the crossover is being opened, or if someone from another section is placed in the shower in our section.

The night before Chris’ scheduled execution date courtesy was in full swing, allowing for conversation through the night. There was some crying and there was some laughing as we each took turns telling stories from our past together–reliving good times and bad times back here. Some time through the night, a female guard, who is new, came through with the Cleanup Squad– population inmates tasks with cleaning the floors and showers on death row. When she entered death watch (which is A section, where Chris is housed) a situation occurred where she had words with another inmate, and because she wasn’t sure of who it was, she just selected someone. And that ‘someone’ that she selected was Chris. Those of us who were talking with Chris didn’t understand what was going on. All we were told from Chris when he resumed conversation was that he believed that he was about to get gassed and that he loved us! That was all, so we were literally stunned as to this turn of events! I mean, one minute we were talking about how wonderful it would be for Chris to be able to have his daughter, along with Laurence and his Aunt Valerie, up at the radio station KPFT in Houston, on Bobby Phats’ show called “The Groove”, where a painting of Prince would be presented to Bobby Phats from Chris cause he knew that Prince is Bobby’s favorite artist. Now this?! Now Chris is about to be possibly gassed and ran in on by a five-man team of guards in riot gear–who would no doubt beat and hurt him?! When were we talking about his hope that he would get to meet the victim’s son, Mitesh Patel, and NOW THIS?!

In the intervening moments that went by, every time that we seen a guard who works the pod, we would inquire about what was going on, only to be told that, “Chris threatened a guard”. We kept saying, “No, he didn’t” and “We was just talkin’ with him”. Then, Chris calls out to us that he has asked for rank to come down. We asked him to tell us what is happening and he said, “Hold tight! I’ll get back with you all!”, and then he was gone again. It was eerily quiet. As if everyone was holding their breath. But I could tell that the tension was building for all of us who love Chris. Without anything needing to be said, I knew that everyone who normally talks with Chris was getting ready to possibly be gassed along with him! This is something that he would not have wanted, but it is something that would have happened, cause the love and solidarity that we have with/for Chris would have dictated nothing less! In the meantime, while trying to find out what was going on, we were watching the doors to the pod to see if a team was coming or if the rank was going to come down. At the same time, we were trying to get messages to the other side to let the guys over there know what’s going on.

Once the rank came down, first it was Sergeant Steele from what we learned later, the conversation went something like this:

Sgt. Steele: “Chris, why did you threaten my officer?”

Chris replied: “Look, I give you my word, cause my word is my bond, that I didn’t say anything to that guard!”

Sgt. Steele answered: “You are JUST an inmate. I’ll side with my officer ALWAYS.”

Chris then said: “Then why are we even talking? I gave you my word that I didn’t say anything to her. There’s nothing more to say. Do what you do. No matter of fact. Why don’t you call Lieutenant Couch, cause talking with you is useless!”

Sgt. Steele then left. Around this time, other people in their various sections started to become aware of what was going on and so the tension on the pod rose even more, with some of the guys getting belligerent and making declarations of their own of what they would do if something happened to Chris. This didn’t and wouldn’t make things easier, so where we could– namely myself on this side and Tomas on the other side– we started telling guys to leave it alone and to chill until we could find out what is happening. Cause things could go from bad to worse real quick if the guards get scared. When they get scared, they react. If they had guns instead of canisters of gas, there would be a lot of dead inmates, specifically black and Mexican ones! And despite how things was looking, I know that those of us in Chris’ inner circle wanted a peaceful resolution to the situation that was happening over in death watch–no matter who that situation was happening with. But as is the case with death watch now, and as is the case with death row, many of the guards walk through death row as if many of us have personally done something to them. It is hard to talk with them. And many of the senior guards, who are supposed to keep the younger, newer guards in line, just don’t. So what you have are guards who will purposely walk through death watch with an antagonistic attitude, trying to provoke the men over there. This was the case on this night.

When Lt. Couch came down he spoke with Chris. Because of their history, which at first was not very good, but as Chris changed into a more positive person the belief was that their past personal feuds was settled and left where they belong– in the past. However, that was the first thing that Lt. Couch brought up, the past, and so Chris said to him,  “I thought we was past all of that? Yet you throw that in my face again, while I am trying to resolve this situation?” And even as Chris is saying this, we learned later that the person who did get into it with the guard kept saying, “WHY ARE YOU MESSING WITH CHRIS?! I AM THE ONE SHE HAD WORDS WITH!”. Showing that some guards, whether they be new, old, ranking officer, or whatever just wanted to start shit with Chris, and possibly have a use of force against him one more time! I guess for “good ol’ time’s sake”! Fortunately, Lt. Couch continued to talk with Chris. And as he did, Chris asked him to just look into the situation and he would see that he never said anything to the guard who was accusing him of threatening her. What ended up transpiring, when the situation was finally looked into, is that it was revealed that if the guards working the pod, or Sgt. Steele, had just asked the guard who accused Chris of threatening her, they would have found out that it wasn’t him. She clarified who it was. Because she is new, she couldn’t identify who it was by name and so she ‘guessed’ that it was his cell! The situation was resolved without Chris having to get gassed and ran in on by the five-man team. Still, we was pissed cause it is something that never should have happened! After they (guards) were finished in death watch, we was able to talk with Chris and find out what happened. But, he didn’t want to focus on that. He wanted us to get back to the things that was important to him. And that wasn’t one of them. So, despite the things that had occurred and the things that was threatened against him, Chris had us laughing again. Taking our minds away from that situation and helping each of us to try and come to terms, as best we could, with what might happen the next day.

The day of Chris’ scheduled execution date and the events of the night before couldn’t have been more different than day and night! I had a wonderful visit with Chris’ Aunt Valerie. Chris was able to meet Mr. Patel face to face, in a visit that TDCJ tried too hard to prevent. Yet, it happened as both of them had long been wishing. A few of the brothers in Chris’ inner circle was fortunate enough to be able to listen to the radio program “The Groove” hosted by Bobby Phats over on KPFT. So, we were able to hear his daughter Crishelle speak over the radio, along with his Aunt Valerie and good friend Laurence, who presented Bobby with the painting of Prince that Chris did. And in between music breaks, we would talk over the run saying how wonderful everything was going. A whole bunch of “ALREADY JASIRI!!!”, calling him by his adopted African name. The night, into the early morning, turned into one of celebration. Celebrating Chris. Showing him the love and respect that he so richly deserved. And shouting out our love to him as he was escorted from the pod to his final visits with his family. The final day of Chris’ life would have been vastly different had the events of the night before been allowed to happen. But, because of Chris, it was resolved. Things was resolved in a manner that shows who he is. Something that the parole board rejected. But something that those of us who know him fully understand: Chris is a truly GOOD MAN that the state of Texas took away from us and his family. Still, his goodness and positivity will always be remembered. We all love and miss you, lil’ brother!

Always,

In Strength and In Spirit!

Tony Egbuna Ford

July 18, 2018 @ 4:10 pm

Advertisements

Local Media Reports on Disciplinary Quotas at Ramsey Unit.

Since December of 2017, the Uncaptive Voices editor has been hearing about many of the prisoners at Ramsey Unit, especially those who are Muslim and involved in the higher education programs at the unit, being targeted with disciplinary cases by the staff, including the warden, at Ramsey 1 unit in Rosharon, Texas. According to prisoners there and activists who spoke with him, Warden McMullen has made no secret of his racial and religious biases, and his dislike of the race mixing that was occurring there due to the educational programs. He has suggested to some people that some of these Muslim men in the Bachelor’s and Master’s programs, with no recent history of disciplinary problems, are involved in trafficking of drugs and cell phones. During this period of six months or so, all kinds of false and frivolous cases began being given to many of the men there, causing some of them to lose job and educational opportunities. One man lost craft privileges for having approved, legally bought paint syringes in the craft shop, despite having his receipts. He was later allegedly given another case for having religious books on his bunk.

Roughly a month ago, some of the prisoners uncovered an email directing officers to hand out cases in order to meet a quota, allegedly under the direction of a Lt. Gilbert, although one may question whether he was given this order from the warden. Senator John Whitmire was made aware of this issue and the effects on prisoners there and took action, speaking out and going to the media on this issue. The article below reports on this issue, without acknowledging the effects on educational opportunities, or the alleged religious and racial discrimination that was occurring with the cases. We intend to follow up on this issue and see that these bogus and discriminatory cases do not succeed in taking away opportunities for many of the people of color/ Muslims at the unit. If your loved one was targeted, we suggest you follow up with the Ombudsman and/or Regional Director about these cases. If they fail to act, contact your local Representatives and State Senators like John Whitmire.

“Texas prison officials reviewing disciplinary cases after quota requirement revealed” by Keri Blakinger, Chron.com
https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Texas-prison-officials-reviewing-disciplinary-12904891.php

Operation PUSH: Florida Prisoners on Strike!

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!

–Uncaptive Voices

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

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.

flavoting

The death penalty has become a hot topic in Florida just as it is in Texas. Here is a recent article on the issue:

Is The Cost of Florida’s Death Penalty Too High?

 

 

 

Warning: many posts temporarily down for editing

Due to changes in TDCJ policy meant to minimize inmates’ ability to report on the human rights abuses happening in TDCJ and their ability to stay in contact with their loved ones and supporters, this page will undergo some changes before the 15th of the month. The new policy is in the offender handbook,on pg 24, #4 under general rules.

“4. Offenders are prohibited from maintaining active social media accounts for the
purposes of soliciting, updating, or engaging others, through a third party or otherwise.”

Obviously,this site is not a personal account for any inmate; it is a page for a magazine and artistic project and I refuse to take it down for that reason as countless media outlets frequently publish work by prisoners as is their, and our, right to do so. I do not agree with this rule regardless of whether it applies to us, as it is clearly censorship and it adds an additional way for TDCJ to punish prisoners and their loved ones for simply talking about inmates or “soliciting” pen pals, support, etc. TDCJ officials have so far refused to clarify which kinds of accounts and actions will be punishable under this policy, but did suggest pen pal sites would be punishable, that prisoners would receive a major case for violations, and that free world people would be banned from visitation/contact if they were maintaining accounts for prisoners. The pen pal page has been taken down for the time being until this issue is resolved, but I will continue to encourage people to contact prisoners and please contact me for addresses if you are interested. I have temporarily removed other personal information to protect the people involved, but will continue to maintain the site. I plan to edit many of the posts and then re-post them. Hopefully this rule will be quickly clarified or nullified. I will not allow them to intimidate us into no longer sharing what is happening in Texas prisons.

For more on the controversy surrounding this new rule, here is an excellent post by Grits for Breakfast explaining that the rule is almost certainly not going to stand up legally and that it harmful to the idea of successful re-integration as well :  http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.de/2016/04/ban-on-surrogate-social-media-for.html?spref=fb&m=1 

I encourage readers to contact the Board of Criminal Justice, who oversee the prison system,  and demand an end to the human right’s abuses happening in Texas Prisons. Here are three ways:

Phone: 512-463-5069
Mail:

Texas Board of Criminal Justice
Po box 13084 Austin, TX 78711
Email: tbcj@tdcj.texas.gov

 

TDCJ Retaliation, Mental Health Failures, and Human Rights Abuses: Time to Act

We would like to publicly document some of the ongoing issues within the Texas Department of “Criminal Justice”. This includes abuse and retaliation, a complete failure at providing mental health care, and violations of human rights and civil rights on Death Row and throughout the prison system. Thanks to letters and discussions from inmates at Eastham Unit, Wynne Unit, and Polunsky Unit/Death Row, we have compiled some of the ongoing problems and resistance here.

Part 1

As we discussed in our earlier post, men at the Eastham Unit took part in a hunger strike to protest ongoing water shortages and inhumane conditions, and have since been retaliated against by corrupt “correctional officers” and a warden with no interest in fixing the problems there. This is a continuing update on ongoing abuses of inmates at the Eastham Unit in Texas:

In November he wrote us about ongoing harassment from Major Sahani. “They gave my neighbor a case for having an empty eye-drop bottle even though they sell them at commissary and give them out at medical. Also, now we have to wait 6 months to get state shoes even if they are all torn, and from what I’ve been told, Major Sahani told them to do this. I feel that this is just so that those of us who can’t afford to but commissary shoes won’t be able to go out to recreation. This major has done nothing but make things harder for us here and made up rules which make no sense.”

In December I received correspondence about a violent attack on an inmate by guards: “Around the last week of November, three officers beat up an inmate in here and left him bleeding on his cell floor; another officer found him there and they were able to take him to the hospital, which was a good thing because if not he would have died. One of the officers got arrested and the other two were sent to population(from ad-seg) pending an investigation. The arrested officer was C.O. Morgan, and the other two were Greoham(sp?) and Holden. But, these officers said that Lt. Torres gave the order…Lt. Torres was only transferred to Population. But this isn’t the first time this has occurred (also detailed in the previous post)…There was another such incident where they ran the team on a young inmate, beat him up, then brought him out handcuffed, and when they were on the third to last step on the stairs they pushed him because he allegedly “struggled”, but the inmate had both eyes busted, and bloodied nose and lips. I’ve been told there’s an investigation on both incidents. Now this all started when Major Sahani got here and instilled this officers vs inmates mentality in his officers.  Imagine how we feel to not know when or if we might get pulled out our cells and handcuffed just to get beat up?

On top of this, they have the heaters on when it is 60-70 degrees outside so it feels like 100 in here, and I’ve been getting headaches and small black outs due to this heat, but I can’t even go to the medical department because it’s a $100 co-pay…I’m just so tired of these mind games they are playing…to retaliate against us for complaining. ”

Continued Retaliation and Sleep Deprivation:

In January he wrote, “It’s crazy in here. I’ve been stuck on this cell with my toilet constantly flushing since last Friday. It’s Tuesday now and they still ain’t done nothing to fix it even though I’ve talked to 2 Sgt’s and 1 Lt. It’s driving me crazy because it’s right next to my bunk and I haven’t been able to get a “good” night’s sleep, and can’t even hear my neighbor when he calls me because of this.But it’s their little way of retaliating for my grievances and letters I send out exposing the conditions in here. I am pretty sure anywhere else this would be a violation of my human rights…as a form of sleep deprivation.” This is not the first time we have seen sleep deprivation used as a form of retaliation against prisoners. The Pelican Bay hunger strikers have faced various forms of retaliation, documented here: Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Blog

March:

Most recently, he reported that the conditions have returned to the same degree of seriousness as before the hunger strike and that he is still facing retaliation. There are numerous health related issues happening. An outbreak of illness (apparently Tuberculosis or Chickenpox) is being improperly treated, and guards refused to inform other inmates about what condition the sick men in their area had, despite the threat to all of their health. “When we started asking for answers from the Rank they said we were going on lockdown for Shakedown, so this is their way of retaliating to shut us up!” Furthermore, “They are not passing out necessities or running recreation, and during the shake down they ‘lost’ peoples’ property. They’ll come and tell us we are going to Rec and then 30 minutes later they pull out until the following day. They haven’t exchanged our socks, towels or sheets since last Wednesday(1 week before), and that day was just our socks and towels.” These issues added to the ongoing violence, isolation, and issues detailed above have set the men close to a breaking point. Creating such a hellish, tense situation is not in the best interest of prisoners or guards, not to mention the effects of a long-term traumatic living situation that will follow these men home and into their communities. This retaliation and inhumane situation needs to end now!

Part 2.

Mental Health Failures in TDCJ

Timothy B. wrote a report called “The Epithetical Criminalization of Mental Health Patients in the Texas Criminal Justice System” on his experiences as a prisoner with mental health issues(depression, anxiety, and addiction) and the dehumanizing way he has been treated. He describes his experiences being alienated both by other prisoners and the prison staff, and how the prison counselor completely failed him when he needed help. This incident began after he was falsely accused of using a counterfeit stamp, leading to his bunk being ransacked by guards and much of his property, including his writing tools,being taken. This caused him to fall into a very serious state of depression, but he was not able to be seen by his normal counselor, and instead of finding help he was labelled as a threat to himself or others. After his incident with the counselor, he was then sent to a mental health unit where he was kept in an extreme isolation cell, stripped of all his property, outer clothing, glasses, sheets, and even eating utensils and left in a freezing cold cell. He was even forced to use the bathroom without any toilet paper and while being observed by guards. These conditions led him to an anxiety attack and self harm, and his situation only worsened from there. <Link to full story>

The Texas ACLU report on Isolation, “A Solitary Failure”, also addresses the way isolation exacerbates mental health issues and increases violence and self-harm.

Part 3.

Reporting Back From Death Row on

Isolation, horrifying conditions, and censorship:

About a year ago, many of the men on Texas Death Row at Polunsky Unit began non-violent protests against the extreme conditions they are trying to survive under and demanding respect for basic human rights. Many of their demands are a system wide problem. A few of their grievances were the following:

— Health: Numerous sanitary issues pose a threat to the health of prisoners, including rampant mold, leaking ceilings, disgusting plumbing issues, unclean showers, and use of fecally contaminated water to mop cells and clean sinks.

— “Trafficking”: Men on death row are not allowed even to pass items such as food or books or magazines. This “crime” of sharing is called “trafficking” and is punished by changing disciplinary levels which restricts ability to have visits or buy from the commissary. This encourages even more isolation and deprivation for inmates and also goes against basic moral principles of sharing, creating community, and caring for people with fewer resources, which should be encouraged for inmates.

— Isolation: They are very limited in the way they can interact with others, by never being allowed contact visits and having no access to television or e-readers, and an unnecessarily-limited ability to call family or lawyers. Because there is no work program and no group recreation, there is no freedom to have any social interaction with other people.

— Repression: They are being brutally gassed and attacked for attempting non-violent civil disobedience against their conditions , for example, refusing to leave their cells, the shower or the recreation area and handcuffing themselves to furniture or other fixtures in order to speak with officers with rank.

A full list was released here:

 https://www.facebook.com/HumanRightsOnDeathRow/posts/1480982272162509

Harmful, Racist and Anti-lgbtq Censorship(on Death Row and system wide)

The censorship in the Texas prison system is out of control and harmful to inmates’ ability to work toward rehabilitation and growth. It goes against very basic ideas of freedom that we should all value. The majority of classic and popular literature is banned from Texas prisons due to strict, outdated rules on issues of race and sexuality. This is also true of classic art which is often banned due to nude figures. How can we justify banning works that every school child or college student in America would be expected to study?

Furthermore, prisoners own artwork is often trashed for absurd reasons that amount to harassment. For our recent project about families, a prisoner attempted to submit two works of art that were censored and trashed. One work showed two hands touching on a visitation window and the other portrayed a handcuffed prisoner holding an envelope/letter. The ridiculous reason he was given for this censorship was that these constituted “Escape propaganda”. Another artist who works with prisoners told of similar issues. She sent in a piece (about executions) which posed the question “Would you attend a public hanging?”. It was rejected with the justification “Violates freedom of religion”. Personally, I can not imagine any way that could be argued legally, and no further explanation was given. A death row parent recently told me that a magazine they ordered for their son was denied because there was an article about making a parachute. We laughed and shook our heads at the fantastical idea that they would find some way get all those materials, escape, and parachute out over the razor wire.

The list of banned literature also includes numerous books by African American authors that are banned due to their discussion of racism or racial violence or anything widely defined as gang related(View TCRP report). I am sure that there are countless more stories of this type of absurd and harmful censorship. It is abundantly clear that the prison administration works to prevent education and conversations about the prison system and rehabilitation from occurring through means of absurd censorship of both prisoners and the citizens who interact with them.

Another issue which is often overlooked in our increasingly progressive society is the censorship and suppression of lgbtq material, which is labelled as “sexually deviant” in the prison system, and the punishment/alienation of lgbtq people as well. When I visited death row recently, a friend I visited asked me to teach him the modern terms for lgbtq people, sexuality, and gender identities. This was not due to laziness on his part; he has no other way of accessing this information due to censorship rules, but wanted to understand and be respectful to others. According to the report on censorship by the Texas Civil Rights Project, homosexuality is one of the largest reasons given for banning material in Texas prisons. In a nation where same sex marriage is now legal, how is it that novels or magazines with gay, queer or trans* characters are banned and lgbtq people are often placed in solitary confinement in Texas (and other US) prisons? Essentially, being lgbtq or supportive of lgbtq people is still ‘illegal’ in Texas prisons. This issue desperately needs to be addressed as it is clear the rights of countless people are being violated.

A Call To Action:

Concerned family, friends, and activists plan to confront the Texas Board of “Criminal Justice” on April 15th and demand changes around isolation and conditions in Texas prisoners. The Board meeting is in Austin, and Houston residents will be carpooling that morning(at 8am) and returning in the afternoon. Each person is allowed 3 minutes to address the Board and there are numerous ‘rules’ as outlined on the website linked above. Will you join us to pack the house and demand change? Contact us to plan the trip and catch a ride.  We plan to share on conditions from letters and books written by inmates.

 

 

 

 

Recommended Reading and Viewing

Are you interested in prison, human rights, or legal issues?

Here’s a list of articles and videos we’ve seen recently that are well worth some of your time!

1. Texas Lawmakers are discussing reducing Solitary Confinement, which has large implications considering the amount of prisoners currently in ad-seg in our state. To find out more about Solitary in Texas, read the report “A Solitary Failure” by the ACLU of Texas.

http://www.chron.com/news/politics/texas/article/Lawmakers-step-up-efforts-to-reduce-solitary-6829257.php?cmpid=email-mobile

2.  George Toca was a minor sentenced to life at Angola prison in Louisiana. Recently released, he is now advocating for others like him to be released and given a second chance at life.

http://jjie.org/giving-inmates-with-life-sentences-2nd-chance-is-right-thing-to-do/192234/

3. Another minor, Kalief Browder, was held for several years at Riker’s after being accused of stealing a backpack. He was never convicted, but suffered significantly due to violence and isolation. He committed suicide last year after returning home but being unable to live normally. His mother is demanding that New York and the prison system admit that they are responsible for the mental health issues Kalief suffered during and after his incarceration, and ultimately for his untimely death.

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/02/17/what-kalief-browder-s-mother-thinks-should-happen-to-rikers?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=sprout&utm_source=facebook#.cfFexFhCZ

4. At least in Houston, the local news often bombards viewers with shaming mugshots of dozens of accused sex workers and ‘johns’. Many women and men are incarcerated every year due to the illegality of prostitution and soliciting in Texas. Interesting and surprising, this article explores the history of sex work and the illegality of it in the U.S.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/when-prostitution-wasnt-crime-fascinating-history-sex-work-america

5. Kendrick Lamar’s visual tribute to prisoners at the Grammy’s made discussions of prison and race a hot topic. See more below:

http://pitchfork.com/news/63497-grammys-2016-kendrick-lamar-performs-the-blacker-the-berry-and-alright-debuts-new-track-in-politically-charged-performance/

6. Lastly, in relation to the debate on prison and race, Human Rights activists Angela and Fania Davis discuss Restorative Justice, a movement for Abolition, and a Truth and Reconciliation Process to heal our society and ourselves.

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/34915-the-radical-work-of-healing-fania-and-angela-davis-on-a-new-kind-of-civil-rights-activism

Looking to get involved?

Books Through Bars Houston is searching for volunteers who would help get a Houston based organization off the ground. Currently Texas only has one books to prisoner program, Inside Books, which is based in Austin.

https://www.facebook.com/BooksThroughBarsHouston/?fref=ts

Upcoming Conference in Dallas, May 4-6th. Prisoner’s Family Conference. For more info:

www.prisonersfamilyconference.org

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on prison conditions and please consider reaching out to an inmate seeking a pen pal! Contact us if you are interested!

 

 

Zine Release and More

On January 9th we released our second zine to a full house of enthusiastic supporters! The event was a great success, with historical and personal information from activists Gloria Rubac, Joanne Gavin, and Robert Gartner, as well as comments from editor Marie B and contributor Cristy V. Below I will share some photos of the event and information on the prisoners involved. The overall message we wanted to promote at the opening was that it is crucially important for our community to see prisoners as humans, with families who are suffering, in order to work together to find better solutions to our society’s problems. The current unjust and oppressive prison system harms our families and communities and does nothing to fix issues of inequality, addiction, poverty, mental illness, or to prevent violence. When we begin to view prisoners as members of a family and community we can work towards a more just society. Each person has an individual story and addressing the individual causes and effects(focus on healing rather than retribution) of their behavior in a  humane way can create much more effective results than punishing them and their family for years or decades. If you would like to receive a copy of the zine, please contact us to purchase one! Continue below for more information on our contributors:

Anthony “Tony” Medina

Tony is a Texas Death Row inmate, a father, a writer, and artist. His book, Witness to Murder, is a collection of poetry and essays posing the question “What is the value of a man’s life?”. You can find Witness to Murder online. Tony is currently hoping to make a casual friend from Houston, and you can write to him at:

Anthony Medina #999204

Polunsky Unit

3872 FM 350 S.

Livingston, TX 77351

 

Howard Guidry

Howard is on Texas Death Row. He is a son, husband, brother and uncle who is very dedicated to his family. He is also an artist, writer of poetry, essays, and plays, and is adamant about practicing yoga regularly in his cell or in the recreation area. He is always looking for new friends to keep him occupied!

Address:

Howard Guidry #999226

Polunsky Unit

3872 FM 350 South

Livingston, TX 77351

James Broadnax

James, or JB, is a young man on Death Row. He is an avid writer, and has contributed both to a blog called Solitary Mind, and a book called “Emotionally Illiterate: A Collection of Writings”. He submitted a spoken word piece and other poetry to our zine.

Address:

James Broadnax #999549

Polunsky Unit

3872 FM 350 S.

Livingston, TX 77351

 

John Green

John Green is an avid writer of fiction (prose, poetry and songs), a classic rock fan, and an enthusiast of literature, radio, and comedy. He is currently working on a fiction novel, but chose to contribute an inspiring and humorous reflection on his role model, his father Bob. He has contributed several poems and songs to our blog as well. He is actively seeking a dedicated pen pal.

Address:

John Green #671771

C.T. Terrell Unit

1300 FM 655

Rosharon, TX 77583

Jorge Garcia

Jorge is currently held at the Eastham Unit, in solitary confinement. He is unfortunately separated from his family (mother, sister, and daughter) by a large amount of space and hopes to see reform in the use of solitary confinement soon, as well as hoping to be moved closer to his loved ones. He likes to read and writes poetry and short prose. He would love to make a friend to have someone to express his thoughts to and learn from.

Address:

Jorge Garcia #1372972

Eastham Unit

2665 Prison Rd #1

Lovelady, TX 75851

Kenneth Conrad-Vodochodsky

Kenneth was sent to Death Row under a law of parties conviction, but has since had his sentence reduced. He is not guilty of murdering anyone and actually was not present when the murder was committed. He will be released by 2029 and has worked to better himself during his incarceration especially since his move from Death Row has allowed him more opportunities. He is an artist and writer who works with German artist Anja Claudia Pentrop on various projects. 

Address:

Kenneth Vodochodsky #1362329

Pack 1 Unit

2400 Wallace Pack Rd

Navasota, TX 77868

Nanon Williams

Nanon was formerly on Texas Death Row, but because he was convicted as a child he was later moved to general population with a life sentence. He is an academic, a published author, and a tradesman who makes beautiful leather and metal items in his prison craftshop. He has published a prisoner newsletter for many years and continues to fight his conviction. We hope he will join us in the free world to fight for justice soon! His books, with co-author Dr. Betty Gilmore: The Darkest Hour and Still Surviving, are available online.

Address:

Nanon Williams #1306434

Ramsey One Unit

1100 FM 655

Rosharon,TX 77583

Pete Russell

Pete is a Death Row inmate and a dedicated yogi. His book, Texas Death Row Yogi is available online. Pete is currently looking to make a friend to help maintain his personal/yoga centered web page. He also contributed artwork to our zine project! 

Address:

Pete Russell #999443

Polunsky Unit

3872 FM 350 S.

Livingston, TX 77351

Sean Adams

Before his incarceration, Sean was a longtime anti-racist activist in Houston and supporter of leftist movements and he was working on a historical fiction novel about Anarchists during the Spanish Civil War.  His problems with alcohol and other drugs brought him to prison after a tragic accident. He is currently about a third of the way through his sentence and has worked hard to be a model inmate, tutoring others and continuing to be a positive influence in the life of many of his friends from Houston. He hopes to see parole in the next 5 years so he can rejoin his father, sister and many friends and continue to fight for a better world. He is currently in the transfer process, but his address can be found online.
Sean Adams #1850164

Tee Earvin

Tee is one of the longest serving Death Row prisoners in Texas, and probably in the nation; he arrived there in 1976 and has not only maintained his sanity despite decades of torture, but has changed his life in many positive ways. He is a serious writer of poetry and prose, an artist, and is politically engaged as well. He is an example of personal growth against all odds and some of the young men on Death Row have written about him as an inspirational person in their life. 

Address:

Harvey Earvin #000577

Polunsky Unit

3872 FM 350 South

Livingston, TX 77351

Terence Andrus

Terence is one of the youngest men on Death Row in Texas, arriving there at the age of 24 in 2012. He left behind a small daughter who was his motivation for contributing to this publication. He has been learning about writing and many other subjects since his incarceration began, and is seeking a mature, dedicated friend to support him.

Address:

Terence Andrus #999578

Polunsky Unit

3872 FM 350 S.

Livingston, TX 77351

 

See our Pen Pal page for more information on

(and pictures of) many of these men and others!

Pictures From the Zine Release!

gloriatalking
Gloria Rubac speaking about the men on Death Row

zinerelease16

marietalkingzine
Marie introducing the zine

zinereleasebobgroupzinereleaseboby

Thanks for Reading!

Our next post will be a continuation of writings on family and incarceration from two men in solitary confinement…coming soon!