The Fred Cruz Story: The Final Chapter a Big Win, for a Different Time

By Jay Goodman

As wrote in the last three chapters on Fred Cruz and Frances Jalet. I thought about the mindset of the people who controlled the Texas prison system then compared to now. I have wondered how on earth after 52 years, can something as evil as the Texas Department of Criminal Justice still exist in 2019? Whether we like it or not, time changes. I am 55 years old, and of course, I’m not the same man I was when I was 20, 30, or even 40 years old. Times are different, because as we grow older we begin to see that life changes every one of us. I guess the word I’m looking for is “mature”. I naturally do not, think or act, the way I did 30 years ago, why? Because, as we grow older, we are supposed to change, and hopefully become a better human being, and mature. Imagine at age 55 if we still thought the same way we did at 15 or 20, there would not be much to life.

Fred Cruz was a troubled young man growing up in San Antonio, he only had an eighth-grade education, and looked at by the Director George Beto, and Warden McAdams, as a punk kid who would always be just that. They did not want to look at the man he was becoming. Nor when he started studying philosophy and legal theory, and started dedicating himself to studying law and helping others. Both Beto and McAdams understood things later, when Cruz started showing them that they did not follow their own policy, or that they violated federal law. Now they realized, Cruz was more intelligent than they first thought. They did everything in their power to keep him from helping in any way, or even worse from showing the other prisoners.

Remember, the Puppetmasters do not want rehabilitated inmates. If they did, this is August of 2019, they would of by now built all of the one hundred and nine prisons into some type of training centers, that would educate every prisoner on how to leave this place, and never come back. But as I have said, their focus is on keeping us here for the rest of our lives.

After Jalet and Cruz married, the final chapter was about to take place inside the Federal Court House in Houston. The surprise marriage wasn’t the only unexpected development, that first week of trial. Robert Slayman, one of the three “Turnkeys” suing Jalet, because both Beto and McAdams talked them into it, was released from prison the second day of the trial. It was seemingly his reward for filing the suit. Then he up and disappeared. Now that he had his freedom, he apparently saw no point in continuing the farcial lawsuit, claiming that Jalet was some revolutionary mastermind. Dreyer and Lock, the other two prisoners suing Jalet, played their assigned parts at least in the beginning. On the stand they swore that Jalet, through Cruz, had encouraged her client to join a conspiracy to take over the prison. They portrayed her as a dangerous ringleader of a group intent on revolt. Other turnkeys were also brought in to testify. Julius Dwayne Perry, said that Jalet had told him that riots like the one in Attica, New York, were necessary. “Sometimes we must suffer to open the eyes of the public”, he Claimed she said. Another turn key testified, that Jalet had suggested he Murder one of his fellow prisoner’s. Warden McAdams then testified, “After one or two visits”, he said on the stand, “there was more work stoppage, more fights, more tension, and more men in solitary.” McAdams said under Beto’s rule, Texas prisons had transformed from an institution rife, with sexual perversion; drug use, and violence, to a modern institution, where inmates were educated and rehabilitated. At the beginning of the second week, Jalet took the stand. Under questioning, she denied that she had ever encouraged open-revolt, or advocated for the beating, or murder of prisoners. Outside of the outlandish claims of the turnkeys themselves, there was no evidence that Jalet had ever done anything besides represent her clients. The lawyers for Lock and Dreyer had to resort to hypotheticals. They also brought up her marriage to Cruz, to impugn her motivations.

When it came her turn to call witnesses, Jalet and her lawyers could have presented a narrow defense, focusing on the fact that there was simply no believable proof that she had advocated violence; Or revolt in Texas prisons. But that, they knew would have been a missed opportunity. The case against her gave her the chance to record all the unconstitutional conduct she’d observed in the Texas prison system. So, for nearly a month, Jalet’s attorneys called dozens of current, and former inmates to describe what they had personally witnessed, and experienced. One after another recounted the exact forms of brutality McAdams had casually dismissed as lies. Many of the stories implicated the warden personally. One former prisoner named, Clyde Sewell, gave a graphic account of an incident, in which three inmates, all supposedly shot by McAdams during an attempted escape. They were all laid out as examples, alive, but bleeding profusely, at the entrance to the dining hall. “We had to walk through the blood to get to the dining room”, Sewell testified. No one was certain what effect the testimony was having on, Federal Judge Bue. But it changed the mind of at least one man in the courtroom. After weeks of testimony, Donald Lock, gave word to Jalet’s attorneys that he wanted to take the stand again. It was an unusual request for a plaintiff to ask to be recalled by the defense. Jalet was normally a flurry of activity at the defense table, taking copious shorthand notes, and passing messages to her lawyers. But, when Lock took the stand for the second time, on May 22, she sat perfectly still, hands clasped in her lap, eyes downcast as if in prayer. “It’s all a lie”; Lock said right away, his hands shaking. He started to cry. “Ms. Jalet had done nothing. She’s tried to help me. She’s, tried to help the entire prison population.” A lawyer for Jalet asked him if he had been pressured to file his lawsuit. “They don’t come right out and tell me to file it”, Lock said. “But you get used to the way those people talk, and you know what they mean. I knew that filing the suit was my only out.” He identified McAdams as one of three prison officials who had pressured him. After agreeing to sue Jalet, Lock said, he had been immediately rewarded. He began, “living the good life”, or what passed for it in prison. Promoting him to trustee, Lock suddenly had power over low-level guards, and could get prisoners put into or taken out of solitary confinement. He also detailed beatings he had suffered at the hands of prison guards and turnkueys. He said Beto was a “phony”, who oversaw a prison system that was pure hell. And he said, McAdams, not only knew about the brutality, but participated in it. He was a “sadistic, sick man”. Lock predicted on the stand, that his decision to tell the truth would be his death sentence. “I think they’ll do it kind of legal-like”, he said in a shaky voice. They’d take him out in a field, he figured, put a bullet in his back, and claim he had been trying to escape.

When it finally came time for Beto to take the stand, he flatly denied that any brutality was permitted. Do turnkeys have responsibility for punishing inmates? “None. I think generally the inmates regard (turnkeys) as porters, janitors, and the like”, he said. Bill Kiligarlin, an expert trial attorney working on behalf of the ACLU, dismantled Beto’s testimony. Quizzing him about the background of supposedly peaceable turnkeys. The record showed that turnkey Jesse “Bay City” Montague, had stolen from his fellow prisoners, set a prison employee on fire using lighter fluid, and raped other inmates. Was this the type of person that the Texas prison system elevated to turnkey? “You are not recognizing”, Beto said with a smirk, “that people can change?” Asked about Cruz, Beto testified that he had an “insolent attitude”, and that he “refused to conform to the rules.” He claimed that he’d tried to help him and “tried to counsel him to avail himself of the opportunities of education.” Sadly, Beto said, Cruz had ignored his advice. Kiligarlin saved one crucial question for the end. Did Beto have any evidence or knowledge that Frances Jalet had ever committed an illegal activity? “One that I could prove?” Beto asked. “No.” Addressing the courtroom at the end of the proceedings, Judge Rue struggled to articulate the overall impact of the testimony. The trial had lasted six weeks, and more than 60 witnesses-47 of them inmates-had testified. “Frankly,” Bue told the court. “I’ve never seen a case like this before. For the past six weeks, I have felt that I have lived on another planet, literally.” “There was the free world”, he noted, and then another that existed behind the walls of the Texas prisons. It was a world with rules and values that were so different, as to be almost incomprehensible. In his ruling, Bue stated that he found no evidence of conspiracy on the part of Jalet, or any of her clients. There had been no compelling evidence that Jalet was any psychoactive drugs like Thorazine and Librium, to the eight hoe workers. From Beto’s perspective, collecting these inmates together in one place may have seemed like a good idea, to keep them from spreading seditious activities. But, by grouping all the “writ writers” in the, same cellblock, however, would turn out to be a major miscalculation. Jalet hadn’t just represented these convicts, she had taken the time to educate them about the law. Her clients began to share their knowledge, and work together. “In effect”, wrote one historian, “the eight hoe squad would become one of the most successful prisoners right law firms in the country”. Beto had inadvertently created a jailhouse lawyer dream team. These men were intensely loyal to Jalet. They knew the suffering she had experienced in order to represent them. Within two weeks of being confined together at the Wynne Unit, the two dozen members of the Eight Hoe Squad, had joined with Jalet, and begun drafting a lawsuit. They were suing Beto personally for denying them their constitutional rights, by barring Jalet from the prison, and for punishing their attempts to access the court system, through her. This time, Jalet would be named as a plaintiff, alongside her prisoner clients.  

Christmas time in Texas, always seemed to bring bad news for Jalet and Cruz. This was the season when Jalet had gotten fired from jobs, and when Novak had died. But as 1971 ended, there were good tidings. The Novak case, which had wound its way through the appeals process, following Judge Seals’ ruling, had been heard by a panel of three judges, in the Fifth Circuit. Their ruling proved to be a remarkable outcome for Cruz. Disagreeing with Judge Seals, they declared that the Department of Corrections had abjectly failed to provide prisoners with adequate access to legal services, and because of that, inmates shouldn’t be punished for helping one another. “The Texas prison ban against inmates [Legal] assistance cannot stand.” Wrote one of the ruling judges. Another circuit court judge would later write, that the Novak decision was “the first hint, that change was in the wind.” No longer would the practices in state prisons be “beyond the pale of [federal courts] scrutiny and intervention.” In the Novak ruling, the Fifth Circuit judges also added, that any loss of good time suffered for violating that unlawful regulation had to be restored. This was transformative for Cruz. He had lost years of good-time for helping his fellow inmates. Now Cruz was overdue for release.

On March 9, 1972, Cruz walked out of the Walls Unit, in Huntsville. Since they met in the fall of 1967, Jalet and Cruz kept their relationship strictly professional. But now, Cruz was free, they could admit that the relationship was something more. A month later just days before the start of the trial, that would determine the fate of Jalet’s career they drove across the Mexican border into the little town of Colombia, Nuevo Leon, and got married. Their marriage was big news, when the suit against Jalet commenced, the following Tuesday.

As I have studied this story, I thought about how it was then, and how it is today. And for the life of me, I cannot understand, how this prison system could want to be stuck in a time, where men like the Director, George Beto, and wardens like McAdams had control over human beings’ lives. But, in all actuality, the Texas prison system is more corrupt today, than it was then. As I have said, over and over, the only thing that’s changed, is their tactics. Everything everyone has read throughout my book, or in this, Fred Cruz story, still exist here inside the Texas prisons. In my next and final chapter, on Cruz and Jalet, all of the evil finally comes to light.

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