CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG

I know what you all have seen in the movies about how inmates and officers get along. The relationships vary from the Green Mile to Alcatraz and everything in between, and as far as that goes, with a lot less drama, that’s pretty much the way things really go around here. You’ve got your good guys and your bad guys. You’ve also got the ones that will bring in contraband and the ones who play it straight.

Let me say right off that I came down here to get straight, do my time clean, and get the H-E-double hockey sticks out of here once and forever. Dirty cops just get in the way of all that, so I don’t have much respect for-so-called “officers” who don’t even respect their own rules or even laws. The worst of these are the ones who enforce all the rules that somehow aggravate or worry the offenders with Nazi-like zeal, but don’t mind letting all the same rules slide when it puts them out or causes them work or aggravation.

In this essay, I’ll give some examples of what I mean, and then I’ll tell you about how these interactions affect the relationships between the screws and the inmates. I’ll start with the chow hall, since if you’ve read this far, you’re already familiar with some of our on-going complaints about the food.

Let’s say you go up to the window, and it’s “Beef Noodle Casserole” day. Imagine Hamburger Helper with LOTS of noodles and so little meat you need a cadaver dog to find it. Anyway, anytime they mix noodles or potatos with the meat, we are supposed to get-a double portion of the main. While we’re supposed to get a 4 oz. hamburger (HA!), if it’s beef noddle day, we’re supposed to get 8 oz. Simple enough, right? Of course, we are not, allowed to carry our own cups down to the chow hall, and even if we were, they don’t have measurements on them, but the ladles that they use to dish out the food are sorted by certain sizes, and all of us know which ladles are which. They’ll use the 4 oz. ladle to dish up the beef noodle, and then they’ll earn their scornful nickname, “Spoonshakers”. The inmates who serve the food are called this, because once they fill up the ladle, they will shake it out again before putting it on the tray. This stretches the food, and they have to do less work replacing the inserts on the heating table. Also, if there’s food left over, they can steal it and sell it back in the dorms. Of course, this is against the rules, but if you take your measly little helping over to the officer working the chow hall, he’ll look at you like you’ve grown a third eye and tell you to “bump it on down” or “kick rocks”, meaning, Get out of my face. But, Let’s say you see a friend of yours in the chow hall a couple of tables down, and you stop by his table to say hi. The officer will have a coniption fit, “Get your ass in a seat or get out of MY chow hall!” Right.

Both of these rules come from the same book. You’re supposed to get 8 oz. of beef noodle, and you’re not suppoes to talk to another table in the chow hall. One rule makes THEM do what they’re supposed to do and it never gets enforced. The other rule makes US do what were supposed to do, and it ALWAYS gets enforced. There are dozens examples of this type of thing going on all the time, but to save room, I’ll let that example serve.

You can probably figure out that doesn’t do much for the good feelings between the inmates and the officers. Imagine if your city police officers one day decided that they were going to enforce all speed limits down to the exact digit, but were’nt going to respond to or investigate robberies or assaults any more. The public would hate them, of course, and that’s the kind of emotion the inmates are dealing with all the time. Most prisoners don’t WANT to hate the officers that work in here, but it sure is easy to let hate rule your emotions when the drip, drip, drip of the daily grind wears you down.

Just about all the ofticers engage in this behavior with more or less attitude attached, and therein lies whether respect or hate will be felt towards that officer. The ones who gleefully come after you like a pitbull are hated. The ones who iust seem to be doing their job so they can feed their families are respected.

The ones who are hated have already shown they’re mean. The next determinsation is their intelligence level. I realize, even as I write it how conceited it sounds. Who am I to analyze anyone else’s intelligence when I’m the one who got myself locked up in prison, after all? But trust me, there’s some realy smart people that are doing time along with a bunch of dumb ones, and they’re are some real stupid officers working side by side with folks that are working way below their pay grade. Looking back on the different sectors I’ve worked in, I guess the same is true of many vocations.

Anyway, the WORST officers to work with are the ones who are both mean and stupid. They’re too dumb to know you are just trying to stay out of their way, and too mean to care if they did know. They’ll come for you no matter what. So, for these special folks, you run hide behind the nearest object like a charging rhino is after you... or at least I do. There are some who have made an art form of engaging this dangerous enemy, and like matadors before the bulls, they are very entertaining, at least until that one last charge.

There was this kid we all called Junior. He could give the dumbest officers a run for their money, but he also was funny as all get out. There’s a particularly nasty lady boss here named Salle. I don’t want to call her stupid, but I don’t want sharks to bite either, but they do. She’s one of the most despised officers on our unit- hateful, bitter, and more highs and lows than a Texas weather report.

One day, a few years back, she comes in the wing and something has happened to her nose. She’s got a regular sized bandage across the bridge. It’s hard to tell if she’s got black eyes; there’s always dark circles under them anyway. It’s six in the morning, and there’s only a few of us awake, but old Junior is up and at ‘em. As she passed by his cell door, we could hear him ask in a mournful, loud voice, “Ms. Salle?! What happened to your FACE?” She gave him the dirtiest go-to-hell look she could manage with a bandage strapped across her puss. The rest of us were cracking UP.

Well that count time comes and goes, and she has to come back in to roll the doors for the morning’s first in and out. When she got to Junior’s cell, he’s got this 4”by6” bandage covering the whole bottom half of his face, and he’s yelling, “My NOSE! My NOSE! I think I broke my NOSE!” Friends, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, we were laughing so hard, we were crying. The joke didn’t come for free. She came back around later in the day and made sure his life stayed miserable, but to him and to all the rest of us, that moment was worth it.

Sometimes, you have to outsmart them. During that 6 AM count I was just talking about, you have to show the officers your I.D. If you get out of bed to show it, you’re losing an extra hour of sleep since the doors don’t roll until seven o’clock, so a lot of guys would stick their I.D.’s in the window of their cell and hope the law wouldn’t wake them up. And it worked, too, until for some reason they decided that putting the I.D.’s in the window was a security threat. (Don’t ask me! I have no idea.) They even started writing cases for doing it. So, this cellie I had came up with a brilliant idea. He taped a piece of string to the ceiling about three inches away from the door and hung his I.D. on it so it would be right in front of the window. They couldn’t write him a case since it wasn’t “in” the window, but inside the cell, but all the officers could still read it, and wouldn’t wake him up. That started a trend!

Another time, one of the mean ones was workig the chow hall. He was a morbidly obese seargant named Young. (By the way, you never can tell why some of these officers are so mean like that. Sgt. Young’s mom worked here for years, and she was a great lady. We all miss her since she retired.) We were having grilled cheese sandwiches, and something had gone desperately wrong when they were cooking these things, because you could literally squeeze oil out of the sandwich like it was a sponge. Sgt. Young had a habit of propping the top half of his large buttocks on the hand rail down the center of the chow hall. Distracted by a problem, he’d walked over to one of the tables, and one of the inmates got his revenge for some unknown grievance. He took his grilled cheese sandwich and smeared the oil off of it right down that center rail. Well, big boy makes his way back over to his perch, and presses both cheeks right up on that rail. The chow hall exploded in laughter, and he’s looking aroud like, “What’s got into ya’ll?” He stands up and turns around to see what’s so funny, and now we’re really dying because he’s got this big stripe on his butt. He reaches out to grab the rail, and now his hand is covered with the stuff, too. He found out why we were cracking up the hard way.

Sometimes, having a good relationship with an officer can backfire. A guy I used to hang around with named Joel liked to give this one lady officer a hard time, but in a friendly way. She was real big on making sure there were no clothes lines hanging in our cells during the daytime. This was kind of a pain in the neck for us, because it meant trying to figure out a way to dry all your clothes, and possibly your cellie’s clothes, too, in a limited amount of time. This causes the clothes line rule to be broken about as often as the 55-mph speed limit. Anyway, Joel heard her come in the dorm door and went to the window to look. She was going house to house looking for lines. He decided he’d be funny and hung clothes on anything and everything he could find before she could come around. Then he sat down at the desk and waited for the surprise. SURPRISE! What Joel hadn’t seen was that the warden and his boss, the Regional Director, were doing a walk-through at the same time, and they got to his cell first. You should of seen the eyes bug out of the warden’s face when he saw that cell looking like a Chinese laundry. I thought he was going to have an apopletic fit. The Regional Director looked in to see what was grinding the warden, and he bust out laughing. “Got a little laundry to do today, offender?”“Well, uh, no, sir, not really,” Joel was stammering. “It was supposed to be a joke.” The Director was still laughing as he walked away. At least someone had a sense of humor.

It’s not necessarily true that the “law” has to be the enemy just because they wear gray. Fact is, there are a lot of officers I’d rather spend time with than a whole passell of inmates, just like I’ve made friends behind bars that will last me a lifetime, and I never would have thought that likely before I myself came to prison.

That said, here’s a message for any TDCJ officer or prospect that might be reading this. It is NOT your job to “punish”the inmate. Trust me. All that time away from those he loves and his livelihood, and his pursuit of happiness is punishment enough. If you’re treating him like dirt, that just piles on in a way that will make him hate you.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez