The Dirty Darrington II

I wish I could have confined the shortcomings of the Dirty Darrington to just one chapter. Alas, it’ll take at least two. We saw last time that laundry, food service, housing, and transportation were utterly inept. Now I’d like to focus my attention on the one thing that, any reasonable person would think, is the most important reason for the existence of the prison- keeping track of the prisoners. I hope you agree.

Let me tell you about a few of my associates that have made medical trips through the Darrington, and let me see what you think for yourselves.

A co-worker of mine from the laundry, Mr. Salazar, was sent on a wild goose chase. He had been scheduled for an eye exam that UTMB (University of Texas Medical Branch), began requiring of TDCJ’s diabetic prisoners a couple of years ago. The exam was to take place at the Darrington Unit. I guess the people who should have been setting up this appointment were too busy stealing the Hep-C drugs, because when Mr. Salazar got to the unit, no one gave him the exam even though he was on the roster for it. Now, these “missed appointments”are nothing rare or unexpected for us. Two times, I’ve been transported all the way to Galveston where I sat in the waiting room all day with the blaring televisions and the raucous crowd only to receive no appointment all day and get sent back on the bus with, “You’llbe rescheduled in three weeks.”Oh, joy.

Since Mr. Salazar wasn’t seen, he thought he’d be put back on the bus the next morning and face making the trip again in the coming weeks. Bad as it was, this wasn’t the worst-case scenario that played out for him. When he woke up the next morning at three to get ready for the bus, he was told he wasn’t on the chain list. Often times, when an appointment is “missed”, there is a one-day lag in the roster for chain coming back, so he thought, with some measure of optimism, that he would be on the bus the next day. Wrong.

Again, he woke up to get ready, and there was no Salazar on the chain bus. Keep in mind that transport rules limit the items we can take with us on chain. For instance, no matter how cold it is, you are not permitted to wear your jacket unless you have a medical pass. The only people I’ve seen get one of these passes are either terribly old or were fighting for their lives against cancer. Salazar was neither, so in the dead of winter, with all the broken windows letting in the cold air, he was forced to make do with nothing but the blanket he’d been given when he disembarked. At first, he had no mattress, either, but was able to snag one the second day when people leaving on the chain vacated their cells. With a mattress and a blanket, he was living like a prince compared to most.Besides no jacket, he had no reading material. You can’t bring any books with you on chain, despite the guaranteed hours of sheer boredom that await you. And even if you could, it wouldn’t matter, because there are no lightbulbs in the cells at the Darrington. The Bible is so true when it speaks of the darkness; it’s only purpose is to hide evil.

For two days now, Salazar was without books or puzzles. He didn’t have his radio. There was no television in the cell, and there was no television in the dayroom. Even if there had been, he wouldn’t have been able to see it, because transit prisoners get no dayroom time.

(Transit is a well-used and abused enigma in the TDCJ. Recall that inmates in transit aren’t counted on unit population or system population. The website of the TDCJ has an inmate status page that won’t even tell you where your loved one is if he’s in transit. They say this is to prevent escape attempts, but this is how it’s used. An inmate in transit effectively ‘‘disappears’’ from the system, as you’ll see. This makes it great as a punishment. Piss off the right people, and you could find yourself riding the busses for months, overnighting at all kinds of sleazy units like the Darrington, and even getting beat up in seg cells before you’re put on the bus for another trip.)

Mr. Salazar wasn’t stuck at Darrington for two days, nor three. He wasn’t there for just a week, or even two. For 23 days- three full weeks- Mr. Salazar was “lost” in transit. Medical didn’t know where he was, only that he’d “missed” his appointment. Administration only knew that he was “in transit”. As days passed, we began hearing from other inmates that were making the trip and coming back that Salazar had been at the Darrington the whole time with no medical appointment.

My immediate supervisor, who was Mr. Salazar’s boss, too, heard these inmates coming back and saying her worker was stuck on the Darrington, and after about ten days, asked our local administrators to look in on it. They did, and were told that he was waiting for his medical appointment. About another week went by, and he still hadn’t shown back up, so the supervisor went way beyond the call of duty and called the medical department on our unit. That’s when one of the nurses who is really great on our unit called the Darrington to find out what was going on. Darrington’s medical department had no idea that Mr. Salazar was sitting right there in one of their cells waiting for this supposed medical appointment that never took place. But at least Mr. Salazar was “found”. After waiting one more weekend, since busses don’t run, he was put back on the chain and returned to his home unit.

I can’t even describe how Mr. Salazar looked when he came back and got off that bus. It was how I imagined American POWs returning from Japanese camps after World War II would look. He’d literally dropped thirty pounds, and he was not a fat man to begin with. His usually dark-complexioned skin, the gift of his Texanistan heritage, was gaunt and pale. His hair was unkempt. The worthless razor the TDCJ gives out lasted him about five days. (We get one each week.) After that, he had nothing to shave with, so he had his mountain-man beard growing. His clothes hadn’t been changed since he left, so he stank and was filthy. I’ve seldom felt more pity for those I’ve been incarcerated with, even though I’ve seen some awful things that I’ll never forget.

Here’s the thing. Mr. Salazar is a man of God. He loves the Lord, and he cares very much for his faithful wife who has stuck with him throughout his incarceration. In a spirit of forgivenenss, and also hoping to avoid any trouble that would keep him from making parole, he decided he wouldn’t even grieve the way he was treated, so there was no formal complaint filed. This time, and many times before, these people got away with the most inhumane treatment of their fellow man.

My personal friend, Mr. Westbrook, is a diabetic that had the stroke last year youv’ve already read about. He was told he couldn’t go to medical even though his mouth was drooping and he was slurring his speech, classic symptoms of the very emergency he was suffering. The follow-up care to the stroke for which he was finally hospitalized some 24 hours after his first symptoms appeared cost him many trips back and forth to Galveston. On one of these jaunts, he, too, was lost on the Darrington for 29 days!

Another inmate here with us, Mr. Earls, left on chain and disappeared for four weeks. On one of the follow-up trips for my foot surgery, I happened to get housed near his cell. When I got chain the next morning, he begged me to takean I-60 (communication with official form) with me back to the Stevenson and drop it off. It explained how he’d gotten to the Darrington and couldn’t get off. Two days after I carried this paper back to the Stevenson and dropped it in the mailbox, he was chained back.

How in the world does this happen? What if someone DID manage to escape off the chain bus while on the trip to Darrington? How long would this individual be missing before anyone figured it out? From what I can see, if someone “disappeared” between the bus ride and the Darrington, it would be weeks before they even figured out he was missing. Is there any way in the world this can be justified?

And none of this was in front of the cameras when Texas CountryReporter was telling the public about the wonderful graduation of the SWBTS students from their program at the Darrington. I can see why. The Texas-sized cow patty would have hit the fan. At least I hope it would have.In these two last essays, I’ve shown you that Darrington officials can’t keep track of who is coming, who is going, or even who is ON their own unit. This is insane. It belies the one most important duty of the prison system- to make sure the incarcerated person is accounted for.

To make the human body work right, many parts and systems function, working together, to create a viable, living organism. A prison unit is the same way. There are many parts that must work, and must work together to make the whole a functional system. If in the body, the brain or the heart gives out, the body dies. Yes, there can be problems. A broken foot, a blind eye, a deaf ear, won’t kill the body, but it will not run as efficiently as it could or should. Similarly,a prison unit typically has problems. Maybe the kitchen is lacking and the food quality is poor or the portions are too small. The unit still functions. Perhaps the laundry holds back new stock, shorts the soap in each load, fails to keep older clothes in good repair. The inmates look dirty and bedraggled, but the unit still functions. But, keeping up with inmates- that would seem to me to be the brainsof the body wouldn’t it? If that isn’t working, the organism ought to die. And just to review, The Dirty Darrington has a broken laundry, a broken kitchen, a broken transportation protocol, officers that can’t communicate with inmates be cause of a language barrier, a medical department that not only fails to treat inmates, but also loses them and steals millions of dollars worth of their life-saving drugs, and finally, to top it all off, they don’t even know which offenders they have on their unit or for how long. As incredible as it sounds, this is the present state of affairs. The unit is not “alive”, not by any reasonable definition of what should be required of a healthy, functioning prison unit. So why in the name of heaven and earth is it still open? They need to take this monument to the pioneer days of old Texas and raze the whole thing to the ground. It would sure be a lot easier than firing every single person working there and rebuilding the whole place from the ground up. You’ve seen the zombie movies. When that which should be dead and buried is up and walking around, it stinks and it causes lots of problems.

If you can’t bring yourself to call your congressman here in Texas and tell him you want the Dirty Darrington Unit closed because of its inhumane treatment of prisoners, then please do yourself, and all your fellow tax payers a huge favor and tell your congressman that you want the Darrington closed because of graft, corruption, and gross mismanagement that is wasting the money that comes right out of your pocket every time you pay the sales tax. Perhaps even now you can’t bring yourself to see this dangerous dinosaur of a prison should be closed down. If this describes you, let me ask you to think about one thing. Doesn’t make you shutter to think that a prison unit operating a few yards from residential homes and suburban developments- a unit that daily handles hundreds of prisoners along with some of the most dangerous criminals in our state- can’t even keep track of whether or not one of these prisoners is still safely behind bars?

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