Art from Solitary: Jorge Garcia

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” I added color to show the darkness and despair in here and how a letter and/or music can bridge this and bring some life and hope to prisoners.”

Write to Jorge:

Jorge Garcia #1372972

Eastham Unit

2665 Prison Rd 1

Love Lady, TX 75851

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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

 

How Can We Make the World Better? A Few Thoughts on “The Interrupters”.

What may come as a surprise to some readers is that many incarcerated individuals feel strongly about wanting to make amends for their past wrongs or give back in some positive way. I’ve heard over and over again “You don’t know how much it means to us to be able to give something positive to the world.” Unfortunately, with life long sentences, that is not always an easily attainable goal. However, the Frontline documentary “The Interrupters” shows not only the goodness that can be done by formerly incarcerated individuals, but also an effective tactic for preventing violence and confronting it at its roots rather than simply seeking punishment in the aftermath. The ‘violence interrupters’ that are shown attempt to address the learned behaviors and societal issues that lead to interpersonal violence and show that it is possible for communities, separate from the legal system, to decrease violence and mediate conflicts. It is an interesting and thought-provoking message that I would like to share. My questions for others who view this film are: Can you imagine using these kinds of mediation methods in your own community? Can you think of other issues which could be addressed directly to reduce violence or other harm? Can you think of other ways the formerly incarcerated, or currently incarcerated, could be positive forces in their communities? Without a doubt there are other great examples of harm reduction work and formerly(&currently) incarcerated people giving back in positive ways. I think these questions are important in order to imagine how changes in the way we view and treat prisoners could improve our communities and to see how changing our tactics around harmful behavior could improve society as well. Want to discuss these ideas? We welcome comments and messages!

Watch the documentary “The Interrupters” at the link below:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/interrupters/

Also, another great way to make a positive change in the world is writing to inmates. If you would like to know about getting a pen pal, please contact us. We have many addresses of prisoners waiting for someone to drop them a line!

Lastly, our Zines and Crafts page has been updated to accurately show our current publications and bracelets available. Please be in touch to order!

–the editor

 

 

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!

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Gloria Rubac speaking about the men on Death Row

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Marie introducing the zine

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Thanks for Reading!

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

Upcoming Zine Release in Houston!

Featuring work from more than a dozen incarcerated writers and artists and a family member as well. If you know one of our contributors, or would like to get involved with us, please don’t be shy! We will be happy to meet you and learn more about the people involved.

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Hope to see you there!

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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