To Our Elected Officials

By Jay Goodman

I can practically see, in my mind’s eye, the reaction of some of my fellow Texans as they read what I’m writing. “Oh, please!” they’ll be thinking. “You did the crime, now do the time, and stop your whining.” But, truth be told, my only obiective here is to give you guys out there in the free world the real view of what’s going on in here instead of the 5 o’clock news TDCJ sound bite version of lollipops and rainbows. I know there are people - a lot of them work here - who think it’s good that we suffer, that positive results will come from our mistreatment. That’s absurd. Good things spring from discipline, yes, but nothing good was ever made by abuse.

Understand also, I’m not saying there shouldn’t be prisons. I’m not one of those prison abolitionists. There has to be some kind of punishment for those that break the law. When I wrote about super seg and isolation, those things needed to be exposed as necessary tools in the incarceration arsenal that are being used, not to encourage positive change in offender behavior, but as hammers to whack people over the head - people who are often innocent of the charges that got them in isolation. There is a desperate need for a new kind of rehabilitation.

The Texas prisons focus on revenge more than rehabilitation. And for some people, that may sound good. But, is it truly the best solution? Here’s a question, fellow Texans. Has building and filling up 112 prisons solved any of the crime problems in Texas? No, of course not. In fact, it’s only taken money away from your wallet and put it in the coffers of the state government. Has this method of treatment helped the prisoner population with recovery or recidivism? No. Building all these costly facilities and keeping the mindset that prisoners need to be physically and mentally beat down has not changed anything. It has only made things worse.

In the United States, businesses are built to create things that society needs and make it better as a whole. And when something is discovered in the manufacturing or service process that doesn’t work, it is scrapped, and the big dogs go back to the drawing board and start over. The people who are running things will all take a long look at what was done wrong, and then figure out a solution to fix the problem. Texas, it’s time for us to realize that our prison system is not only broken, it’s a total disaster. Something that’s broke simply fails to make things better. A disaster comes along and makes everything worse.

Look at everything that’s happened since the Ruiz lawsuit. The Texas prisons became a bloodbath. And remember everything I’ve written about what has happened since the 1990s when all of these prisons were built. Here’s a question for all the politicians. Has the Puppet Masters’ philosophy of prison management from the plantation master’s playbook changed anything for the better? Has a twofold increase in the number of prisons solved the problem? Let’s face it, Texas. It’s been almost thirty years, and nothing has changed. You’ve still got the same revolving door prison system destroying the lives of the same families year after year.

This problem is not going away. In fact, it’s going to get worse. Take a hard look at what all these prisons have truly created. First, it’s permitted an environment where prisoners are used as slaves and being physically and verbally abused. Fewer inmates die working the fields with an aggie in their hands. Instead, they die locked in oven-like cells. A sheen of credulity has been given to guards and officers that abuse the disciplinary procedures by flat-out lying about infractions and inmate conduct. They double-downed on this by implementing a sham grievance system run by investigators who answer nothing but, “no evidence found to substantiate your allegations” on every one they receive. Believe me, the list could go on. In the end, it’s only created meaner, harder criminals. Maybe that’s the whole idea. Perhaps they are trying to make the Texas prisons so hard that everyone who goes through the system would be utterly broken, but as history has repeatedly shown us, whether it’s a woman being beaten by her husband or a child being abused by the parents, or a concentration camp filled with unwanted untouchables, the outcome is never good, and it is ALWAYS morally wrong. I believe it was Dostoevsky who said, “Show me a prison, and I’ll show you a society.” Even if you take a dog and mistreat it long enough, it will turn and bite you.

Also, look at the types of people the TDCJ is now hiring because of this “lock-em-up and throw away the key” mentality. The system has evolved into a legalized, government-supported criminal organization that is getting bigger by the day. Everyone is involved in it; everyone is affected by it.

Let’s take a look at the prison population. It’s somewhere near 160,000, with about 20 to 30,000 more in transit, so the Texas prisons can have at any given time around 200,000 prisoners. These numbers are not getting any better. If you built a hundred more prisons tomorrow, you know what the TDCJ would do? By the day after tomorrow, they’d have every bed filled up with a warm body. It would be a dream come true for the Puppet Masters and every other criminal that works for the prison system. The more inmates, the merrier, because every one means more money in their pockets from more cell phones, more drugs, more K-2.

Surely this is not the desire of our elected officials, is it? Is this what our state senators and representatives had in mind when they got all this going with Governor Ann Richards? Has the Texas prison system got to this point simply because the legislature keeps hoping that the system will fix itself? Had they too much faith in the TDCJ officials? Or, did these men and women elected by us to lead our state think that be speaking out against the rottenness and failure of the system that they would look weak on crime and lose their seats in government? Whatever the reason may be, one thing is absolutely certain. It’s not getting any better on its own. The Texas prison system is a complete failure.

If you are one of those elected officials, and you are reading this, please don’t take offense at what I’m saying. I truly pray that you are not thinking, “Who is this man, sitting in prison, to tell us anything or ask us any questions?” I truly have the greatest respect for you, and I fully understand the pressures of reelection. But you know, Alexander Hamilton said once that what is expedient for the people is not always what is BEST for the people. The reforms that might appear to be “soft on crime” right now, will be lauded in a few short years as the catalyst that revolutionized the war on crime and repulsed the ever-growing and insatiable prison-industry complex. I beg you to take a look at what I am saying and see the truth of what’s happening in this system. The TDCJ needs a complete overhaul, top to bottom. And believe me when I say that if someone doesn’t have the courage to listen now and implement change, there will come a time when the system will again reach an impossible crisis, and it will once again take the feds or worse, the military, to step in and reassert control. And I’m not talking about prisoner-led riots or anything like that. I’m talking about the fact that so many officials in the prisons now are de facto drug lords and crime czars. I say with little doubt that it might even now be impossible to wrestle away the system from these people.

Look, the unit I’m on is considered by many to be one of the best units in the state - a clean, tight ship. But even here, our last warden stole so much food that we were lucky to get a decent meal from time to time. And, yes, he got caught, but none of the people that were helping him steal TRUCKLOADS of food were held accountable. They’re all still working here, just like nothing ever happened, just like they aren’t guilty of aiding and abetting grand larceny. On top of that, here on this “shining city on a hill” of the TDCJ, the K-2 is out of control with an endless amount coming from somewhere. From the families that visit and are searched every time they go in or out? NO! From the officers that are coming and going all day, the ones that are SUPPOSED to be searched coming and going, but never are. The inmates may be users, but the guards are pushers and dealers.

Let me give you an example. Remember back in 2008, a prisoner on DEATH ROW called Texas State Senator Whitmire who chairs the congressional board on criminal justice issues. This inmate made some threats against him, even though he’s consistently been a voice of reason and positive change in the system. TDCJ officials ordered a statewide lockdown to search for all these contraband cell phones that were floating around. I was at the Estelle Unit at the time, and we stayed locked up for three weeks, eating johnny sacks. Finally, they let us up, and guess what happened? That’s right. This same inmate calls Senator Whitmire AGAIN! A death row inmate with no access to any other prisoner and no free world visitors called a state senator, not once, but TWICE, and they order a state-wide search of inmates cells and institute increasingly invasive searches of inmates families. And meanwhile, while some officer is copping a feel of your wife’s person, some guard is bringing cell phones into death row inmates and putting money in the bank. Incidentally, we never did hear where officials thought these cell phones this inmate had come from. I would have thought this incident would have been a wakeup call for state elected officials.

This occurred in 2008. Here we are in 2018, ten years later, and we are in the midst of a K-2 epidemic. The drug boom has permitted me to see inmates get suckered into working with dirty staff members, not because they wanted to, but because they feared that if they didn’t, these guards would set them up with more time. And if you’ve been following the news lately, that’s just what happened at the Ramsey Unit. Guards were caught planting shanks on prisoners. This is only a small part of what continues to happen all over the state. The guards and rank do what they want, and they don’t worry about getting caught. Last year, a lieutenant on my unit said this to one of my friends. He said he could open his rule book, write the prisoner up for whatever infraction fell on that page, and he WOULD be found guilty. He was speaking TDCJ gospel truth. Later in the year, this same man got mad at two prisoners and wrote them a case for having cell phones. The prisoners were outside trustees and were innocent of the charge. One of them had never had any case and had been working the job for four years. He was found guilty and kept in lock-up for six months. They didn’t file free-world charges, because there was no evidence to substantiate a conviction. He then got a set-off from the parole board. If this inmate would’ve had ten witnesses, it would have made no difference.

All the Ruiz changes have been made a mockery of, and it is taking a toll on the prisoners If it keeps up, what will happen in the long run is that everyone will get fed up, and everyone will take a who-gives-a-shit attitude. How many times do you think you need to set-off an inmate with zero disciplinary cases from parole before he just gives up altogether?

So, I ask all the State Representatives and State Senators who might be reading this, how can someone rehabilitate if they spend everyday abused and mistreated? Don’t you want to see prisoners get out and stay out? Then SOMETHING needs to be done. By the way, I’m right here if you want to hear some really good ideas about fixing the system.

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