Not Sent to Prison to Die

By Jay Goodman

I want to talk about several things in this chapter that mean a lot to me and every prisoner serving time in T.D.C.J. I have thought a lot about how I can describe the situation that I am wanting to talk about. The best idea I have come up with is this. I know that most people that live in Texas especially as well as other people in our country have driven somewhere during the hottest months of the year June, July and August when the temperatures are well over 100 degrees, have parked your cars outside of the mall or grocery store and have gone inside to do some shopping or other things. After several hours we go back to our vehicles and unlock the doors and crawl into an oven. I know most of you who are reading this can relate to how terribly hot it was just for those few seconds before starting your vehicles.

Well, that is how my prison cell feels right now. The difference is that I can’t turn on any air conditioning, I don’t have any. That same oppressive heat that you’ve felt in your automobiles is what I live in day after day, month after month. We see in the news media every year how very young children are killed when their parents leave them in those same automobiles for only a few minutes the same way I have seen inmates cooked to death inside these ovens that T.D.C.J. calls our prison cells. At least with most of the parents it was a terribly awful mistake, but not with the officials controlling these prisons, they just sit and watch us suffering or die every year.

About 80% of the prisoners were not given death sentences nor did they commit a crime which constitutes them being slowly roasted to death. Yet every single year inmates are being killed at the hands of the very people whose job it is to make sure the inmates are kept safe. I have written about how the dangers of the deadly heat that we are forced to endure each year. A new article was written in the Prison Legal Magazine that I would like to shed some light on. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has reported 23 prisoner deaths due to heat-related causes since 1998, the actuality of pinning a heat-related cause to a death means that the number is much higher. Believe me, if the actual numbers went public it would shock the world. Just in 2011 alone, 10 Texas prisoners died in a 26-day span from July to August. Even the Federal U.S.District Court Judge Keith P. Ellison, a normally conservative jurist overseeing a lawsuit brought in during 2014 by prisoners at the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota Texas, who ordered the Texas prison system lawyers to disclose the number of heat-related prisoner deaths, this is something they refused to do during the discovery process. Judge Ellison said “(We are not talking about how many widgets were sold out of a factory, we are talking about human lives, and I would be very distressed if the answer is that T.D.C.J does not keep count of how many people have died of heat-related illnesses.” Distressed he would become several during the three-year ordeal.

At one point the Pack Unit Warden Robert Herrera was cited for obstruction by ordering the discontinuation of indoor heat index measurement in the inmate living areas once the lawsuit was filed. These tyrants that run the Texas prison system do not care if we are being torched to death, hell they don’t even care if the prison guards are being roasted to death. Lance Lowry, the union head that represents the Texas prison guards observed that suicide attempts rise among prisoners every summer. Prisoners trying to avoid heat-related illnesses stop taking their psychotropic medications, thereby putting themselves and staff members at risk. Lowry also said, “I do not have love for these people (referring to inmates) but incarceration is their punishment not cooking them to death.” When I read that I thought, WOW! I am really glad that someone who holds a position like this had enough backbone to speak up like he did. Even if you don’t have love for the people in here that doesn’t mean you can’t speak up if you see that we are being treated inhumanely.

The district court also chided T.D.C.J. experts for exaggerating retrofit expenses that Texas Attorney General Keith Paxton called, “unnecessary and not constitutionally mandated.” Prison officials had told the court it would cost $22 million dollars to air condition the Pack Unit, which was built in 1983, plus another $500,000 in annual operating costs. Judge Ellison found an estimate presented by the plaintiffs- $450,000 up front and $175,00 per year thereafter was more credible. This is a clear example of how the people controlling this prison system will lie and manipulate anyone and everyone to get what they want. They don’t care if he is a federal judge.

The district court also chided T.D.C.J. experts for exaggerating retrofit expenses that Texas Attorney General Keith Paxton called, “unnecessary and not constitutionally mandated.” Prison officials had told the court it would cost $22 million dollars to air condition the Pack Unit, which was built in 1983, plus another $500,000 in annual operating costs. Judge Ellison found an estimate presented by the plaintiffs- $450,000 up front and $175,00 per year thereafter was more credible. This is a clear example of how the people controlling this prison system will lie and manipulate anyone and everyone to get what they want. They don’t care if he is a federal judge.

Nothing is more important to these vipers than to keep this prison system full of free laborers and allow this criminal organization to steal, kill and destroy every single man and woman who enters into the Texas prison system. I mean hell, look at this ridiculous estimate given from the prison officials of $22,000,000 as opposed to $450,000. The lengths they will go to just to have what they want or to cover up their illegal activities is insane! In the Bible God said “that everything done in the darkness will be brought into the light.” Because the Puppet Masters continue to get put in court over their abuses they continue to make fools of themselves like they did with Judge Ellison.

In addition to the Pack Unit case, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas is also the venue for most of the 17 lawsuits related to excessive heat that have been filed against the Texas prisons. One of these was a wrongful death complaint brought in by the family of Robert Allen Webb, 50, a mentally impaired prisoner at the Hodge Unit, one of the 10 prisoners to die during the 2011 heat wave. In his case, it was a day when the outside heat index reached 104 degrees. Just to show you again how corrupt the Texas system is and how they will go to any lengths necessary to cover up their crimes. January 2018, prison officials agreed to settlement talks in the Pack Unit suit as well as in another case filed by Jeff Edwards on behalf of the families of three prisoners who suffered heat-related deaths in 2011 and 2012. The Texas prison system decision followed a motion filed by Edwards to deny state prison officials a jury trial after it was revealed they had shredded inspection logs and prisoner grievances at the Gurney Unit.

Tod Rillam, a Gurney Unit risk manager, testified that he shredded the records shortly after he was hired in 2014. This included evidence that Edwards said would have proven whether the deceased prisoners received water, working fans or other heat mitigation efforts. Rillam said he was never ordered to save the documents and in fact obtained a sign off from the warden before disposing of six boxes of records and 40 computer disks. Texas prison officials didn’t talk to Rillam about the improper destruction of the evidence until June 2017 and Edwards wasn’t informed until the following month (imagine that).

Edwards also claimed in his motion that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice failed for three years to share a 2011 e-mail from a Palestine hospital that stated several prisoners who died had internal body temperatures of over 105 degrees. The T.D.C.J. Regional Director had continued to deny that heat-related deaths were a widespread problem. “At a minimum, it reflects absolute incompetence on the part of the agency and learning about this abuse is particularly disturbing,” Edwards said. The T.D.C.J. and University of Texas Medical Branch were sanctioned by a federal judge in the McCollum case in January 2015 and ordered to pay sanctions of more than $200.000 for not producing relevant documents and failing to investigate or interview employees about crucial events surrounding the 58-year-old's death. McCollum, a former cab driver, was found convulsing in his cell in July 2011. He arrived at a hospital with a body temperature of 109 degrees and was removed from life support six days later.

In conjunction with the Pack Unit class action settlement agreements were reached in eight other lawsuits involving Texas prison heat-related deaths and injuries. Edwards lawsuit included $900,000 for the death of Kenneth James, $450,000 for the death of Douglas Hudson, $750,000 for the death of Rodney Adams. The family of Larry McCollum received $905,000 and Texas prisons paid $600,000 for the family of Allen Webb from the Hodge Unit, $500,000 for the death of Michael Marton at the Huntsville Unit $450,000 to the family of Alexander Togonidze who died at the Michaels unit, $250,000 for the death of Albert Hinojosa at the Garza West Unit.

I sit here and look at all these men who have died for no reason. Yes, they were all sent to prison to be punished for breaking the law, but not one of these men were sent here to die such a horrible and unjust death. To all the politicians in Texas and in Washington D.C. take a hard look at the “dignitaries” who are running this prison system. Look at the cover-ups, the lies, the abuses, look at the complete disregard they have for human life. They have known for decades they are torturing prisoners to death. They have known it and yet they have done nothing to stop it. What does that say about the Puppet Masters? I know what to say, they are all MURDERERS.

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