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 .”
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:
Texas Board of Criminal Justice
Po box 13084 Austin, TX 78711
I keep breathing
despite the odds
The only people
who think I shouldn’t
don’t really know me.
They don’t know about the person
who rescued dogs and cats
or volunteered to read
to the children at the local library.
They don’t know about the father
who worked all day and night
just to watch his son and daughter
grow and thrive.
They don’t know about the reasons
they sent the boy away.
Just the awful things
they claim he said and did.
They don’t know about the money
or the legacy he lost
or the inheritance
the state stole from his kids.
I keep breathing
hoping that some day
I’ll get the chance
To right the sinking ship
To bring closure to this nightmare
To end this awful trip
This piece is by Texas prisoner John Green.(address linked) John is actively looking for a pen pal who will offer him a second chance at life and the ability to bond with someone on the outside and keep him motivated to work for parole after years of incarceration, while being a model inmate, has continued to keep him isolated and fearful that he may never be released. If you are looking for a kind-hearted and mature person to write, John would be a good friend! He loves rock music, animals, literature, and writing. I believe his writing shows his good nature and his vulnerabilities. I hope one of the people reading this will decide to reach out to him and make his days brighter.
As some readers may be aware, in the last several years inmates in several states have protested against the use of long-term solitary confinement and the conditions in “ad-seg”. This has also recently been the case in Eastham Unit and on Death Row in Texas (Polunsky Unit) according to correspondence I have personally received from inmates in those facilities.
In February of this year the ACLU of Texas released a 50-page report finding that Texas greatly over uses solitary confinement, and that it has concluded that this practice has had a negative effect on (violence in) the prison system, our communities, our economy, and inmate mental health overall. The report states that Texas uses Solitary at a rate of over 4% in our prisons, for an average of 3.7 years and that “Texas locks more people in solitary-confinement cells than twelve states house in their entire prison system”. The report finds that a drastic decrease in use of Solitary in other states, like Mississippi, has either greatly decreased the rates of violence or had no negative effects. They also concluded that the damage Solitary does to inmates has absolutely no rehabilitative effects and increases the likelihood of recidivism and violence once they are released. This is probably greatly due to findings that Isolation worsens or creates mental illness in a large number of inmates. The report demonstrates these findings as well as giving proposed solutions to the issue of overuse of Solitary Confinement, which would save Texas tax payers millions of dollars every year. The report is relatively short and written in a easy to read manner; find the pdf here:
I think this report may change the way anyone views the current state of prisons in our state (and country) and the need for a major change. Furthermore, I recently watched a TED Talk by journalist Johann Hari which seemed relevant to this report. The talk focuses on addiction and compulsive behaviors rather than Solitary Confinement, but his findings certainly seem to challenge us to consider isolation and the way we treat prisoners. When I considered his reference to the mice experiments, I immediately saw a connection to the ACLU’s findings on isolation and mental health. So, I will link to this video as well. You can also read the transcript here.
Texas Death Row protests: https://www.facebook.com/HumanRightsOnDeathRow/posts/1480982272162509 and
Eastham Unit protests: letters from inmate Jorge G.