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

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Reflection by Kenneth Conrad Vodochodsky

Bang! Bang! Bang! “Mail call! What’s your number?” yells the obese, miserable guard who just finished beating on my rickety cell door with his pale, meaty fist, as though he’s trying to wake the dead. Startled out of my blank stare at the off-white, filthy, concrete cell wall with peeling chunks of paint, I drone a response in a voice devoid of any feeling, “Nine, nine, nine, three, seven, seven .”


I’m lying on my hard, lumpy mattress which consists of a hard, plastic sleeve, stuffed with what feels like a bunch of golf balls. Lying on a bed of dirt would be more comfortable. The dingy, white death row uniform I’m wearing is basically a jumpsuit of sorts, made of denim-type material. The letters “DR” are painted on the back and on one of the legs. The thin grey socks attempt to keep my feet warm. My head is propped up with the old threadbare blanket I was issued. It looks like something even a homeless person would balk at.

“Here”, barks the police academy reject, in a voice that lets me know he’s disgusted with me, and he slides two letters under my cell door, just past the doorway.

It takes my depressed mind a second to register the mail on my floor. Once the realization hits, I leap off my bed as if it were on fire, take 3 steps to the doorway, and snatch up my mail from the cold concrete floor. Using the evening light struggling to squeeze through the tiny window in the back of my cell, I read the front of each envelope. One from my mom and dad, and one from Sara, the mother of my son.

My heart is beating so hard and fast, it feels like it’s going to explode right out of my chest. My hands are trembling and my breath is struggling as if I just sprinted a mile. The sheer desperation emanating from my being blurs out everything but those two letters. Someone could have opened my cell door and hit me over the head and I would have been oblivious. I am starving beyond words for communication outside the steel and concrete walls –especially from my family.

I read the letter from Sara first. Even though our relationship was on the rocks, I miss her terribly. Just holding her letter brings me comfort– the softness of the paper she handled, and the scent she left on it. I soak in her words like a dry sponge touching water for the very first time. Her loving words make me ache for her even more. I did not realize she was experiencing as much pain and suffering from being apart as I was. I read her letter so fast I have to read it again, a bit slower, to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I read it a third time, slower still, because I need this reprieve from the darkness that has plagued me since my arrival on death row nearly a month ago. I cling to her words like a drowning man clings to a life preserver in the middle of the ocean.

Reluctantly, I place her letter on my bare desk, which is nothing more than a thick sheet of metal welded to the wall, right next to my metal bunk. The desk and bunk are dingy, and rusted in several spots. I take a deep breath and open Mom and Dad’s letter. I say “Mom and Dad” but Dad isn’t much of a writer, so Mom writes for both of them. Their letters are always so full of love, comfort, and encouragement… Things I desperately need to hear to keep from being swallowed by the darkness and going insane. It would be too easy to just let go. Like I did with Sara’s letter, I read my parents letter a second and third time, basking In the comfort with each pass. God, I miss them so much. I can’t even begin to imagine what they are going through. Children are not supposed to die before their parents! (Sigh) I place this letter next to Sara’s, and sit on my bed.

It’s cold in my cell, which tells me it’s still cold outside. The heaters don’t work here; no surprise there. Nothing seems to work right around here. To operate my steel-encased wall light (which resides above the sink/toilet combo) you have to beat the front of it– one or two hard hits turns it on, and four or five hard hits turns it off. I’m surprised the light bulbs haven’t shattered yet. These are your tax dollars hard at work. The toilet is probably the only thing that works properly. It’s a stainless steel sink/toilet combo bolted to a stainless steel wall. It’s quite the beast! In fact, it works so damn good, when you sit on it and flush, it feels like it’s going to suck you right down the drain! I have to be careful, as I only weigh a buck thirty. When it rains, water trickles through all the cracks in the walls. Which is probably why my cell smells like a moldy, wet dog.

As I sit on my bed, the pain and horror of my situation begin to creep back in, like watching a horror movie in slow motion. I am soon filled with despair. The Jury Foreman’s words haunt me: “We, the jury, find the defendant, Kenneth Vodochodsky, Guilty of Capital Murder of a Peace Officer…” and then there’s the voice of the judge:  “…I hear by sentence you to Death…” What a nightmare! When will I wake up? Murder…Guilty…Death…all for a crime I did not commit! “How the hell did this happen?!” I ponder aloud for the thousandth time.

I squeeze my eyes shut as tight as I can, trying to block out the memories. Tears begin to stream down my face, hot and accusing, puddling on my lap. My eyes are red, puffy, and hurt to the touch. I no longer bother to wipe the tears away. When will they stop?! My nose is red and on fire from attempting to wipe away all the snot that seems to be trying to keep pace with all the tears running down my face.

It’s times like these I’m grateful to at least be in a cell by myself. The sight of a grown man breaking down and crying is a disturbing one. And in prison, it’s a sign of weakness. If you’re perceived as weak, the predators will come after you. And, being surrounded by a pack of convicted killers is another reason to be grateful for a cell to myself. I contemplate if any of them are planning to come after me. What about the guards? Their looks of disgust and hatred are overwhelming. I shiver from the fear, the unknown. I pull my knees up to my chest, tightly wrap my arms around them, and rest my chin on top. I take a deep, shuttering breath. The tears are now down to a trickle. I think to myself, again for the umpteenth time, what am I going to do now? Am I going to die here?


(To be continued)




Art from Eastham, by Jorge Garcia

This recent art card from Jorge reads:

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

20171117_114220

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!

A Greeting From Death Row

Receiving the Death Penalty, by the state responsible for handing it out and using it more than any other(Texas),has changed many former things about me and my life. Many of those were things none of us truly control, like the death or abandonment of close friends and family, or the mistakes we make as humans, and the pain of regrets unchangeable, no matter the passing of time.

Time in prison anywhere is hard in every facet of life. The lack of support from friends and family strains the heart and the mind, while lacking financial support leaves me without the essentials we all need in life to survive. Spending time in solitary for 22 hours a day will make the strongest of men struggle to maintain their sanity. You are in a constant battle with yourself to survive, while being powerless to do for yourself psychologically or physically, in a box, alone… with time.

As a man in the world I would do whatever I could to make the money I needed to survive. On Death Row we have no jobs and no hope to do for ourselves, and it’s a hard pill to swallow to rely on others for help, yet without it you’re the definition of helpless and the example of life without.

Without support you have no materials to write, or postage to mail, and without those alone you lose your voice, the most essential and powerful part of us all, taking with it my hope for healing, and redemption from those I leave behind. With it though, a man can write those he loves and the lawyers he needs, or buy art supplies to express himself when words alone would fail. We can buy hygiene products to maintain what remains of our self-worth and our dignity, and have the ability to buy food that will sustain my body while providing some comfort, neither of which the food we’re served ever can or will do.

I am in the final stages of my appeal for life and my time is running out for me to see my son who I love and miss. So… Today, I am asking for your help, for support, and for friends who will STAY when my days get short, my nights get cold, and what’s left of my life here wanders away, letting me know that I was loved when I needed it most. I wish to feel in the end I was worthy of help, while society says I’m worthless and takes from me my final breath, from a man that life misunderstood yet hoping in the end…
I was.

Erick Davila 999545
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351
USA

Looking for a pen-friend this Valentine’s Day? We know a few people!

Many of the incarcerated artists and writers we work with are looking for friends, and especially friends from the United States. We hope you will check out the pen pal profiles on our page and make 2017 a better year for someone! Check out a few of the pictures below and then find more information and explore more pages under “Pen Pal Connection”!

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You may also look for pen pals on these websites:

http://www.writeaprisoner.com

http://www.blackandpink.org/pen-pals/