Must See Film: Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four

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!

 

Film Website:

http://www.southwestofsalem.com/about-2/

 

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Art from Eastham, by Jorge Garcia

This recent art card from Jorge reads:

“Solitary hearts, silent voices, searching for understanding and compassion..”

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Write to Jorge Garcia

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!

Prisoner Lives Matter Too – But Not In Texas!

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:

  1. K-2 (synthetic marijuana) and the psychotic episodes associated with its usage is causing deaths at Beto Unit.

  2. Employee abuse, medical neglect and deliberate indifference are causing deaths on Beto Unit.

  3. 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,

Comrade Malik

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)

Summer Update

Hello everyone, we are still active! Editor here to give an update since it’s been a minute! I have been a little distracted by several different personal projects, prisoner support projects, and generally been caught up in writing letters and visiting inmates in my “free” time. Now that I have wrapped up some work on things, I will start catching up on posts soon! I may even have a second (newly) free-world editor joining me this summer!

What we are doing this week:

We are excited to learn from, dialogue with, and network with other abolitionists at the Fight Toxic Prisons convergence in Denton this weekend! Learn more at:

https://fighttoxicprisons.wordpress.com

 

We also recommend you check out this great work from our friend ACP who does art with prisoners (based in Germany):

Article with photos: http://www.boredpanda.com/the-exhibition-which-changed-everything/

Blog: https://artthroughprisonbars.wordpress.com/

Enjoy and see you soon!

Art from Eastham Unit

To kick off 2017, two men at Eastham Unit in Texas have sent us some art with a message. These pieces show both the loneliness of living in solitary confinement, and the hope and connection to others that keep them alive. Hope you will show them some support and join us in the struggle against solitary confinement and for prisoner’s rights!

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J. Garcia

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By Juan Gonzalez (#1368213)

Just in time for the holidays–pen pals, prisoner support, and books!!

In order to encourage spreading love and friendship this holiday season, we have re-posted our pen pal connection page for our friends on the inside. Many of the people listed are in solitary confinement and/or have no family support. Here are three people who have recently been added or updated:

Kenneth-Conrad Vodochodsky

Gerald Marshall

Ronald Hamilton

We also recommend checking out the links to other pen pal sites on the right hand side of our page!!

Since this is our holiday season post, here are a few more things:

We have two holiday wishes this year; the first is that you join abolitionists in Houston for a yearly holiday card signing and get-together. We will have pen pal info here as well.

See the event here: Holiday cards to Death Row

The second wish is that our contributor Nanon Williams will come home soon. Ballistic experts have stated that Nanon was not the shooter in this Houston case from 1992, and his conviction has been overturned several times, but the appeals court has blocked his release. We are asking you to help show that his life matters and encourage Texas politicians and the new Houston DA Kim Ogg to bring him home. Nanon should not die in prison, or spend another year, month or day wrongfully incarcerated!! See petition below:

Bring Nanon Williams Home

Two great books worth buying this month:

.Brian Stolarz, who helped innocent man Alfred Brown get off of TX death row, has written an incredibly interesting book about the case, trial, and struggle to bring him home. It is frankly hard to put down: Grace and Justice on Death Row

. Gerald Marshall and several other Texas death row inmates recently contributed to a book of poetry and art that is now available: Creativity in the Midst of Chaos: Poetry and Art from Texas Death Row

Look out for some more posts coming soon!