A Plot Twist

By Mike Powers

Being in prison is a lot like living out the script of a daytime soap opera, often times, in that while the characters come and go, the plot never really changes. Yeah, Jonathan might be in the hospital this week, while Nancy and Carlos are having marital problems, but next week, Nancy will be in the hospital, and in an attempt to show daring against network censors and solidarity with the LGBT movement, Carlos and Jonathan will be having the marital problems Ultimately, though, it seems like the writers just plug new names into the same scripts and regurgitate them. (Just for full disclosure, I personally loathe soap operas, but several times in my incarceration, I've been forcibly subjected to either the ubiquitous "Young and the Restless" or the lesser-watched "General Hospital". It's torture, say. Cruel and unusual punishment in the most brutal sense.)

Every day you wake up behind bars, you can expect the same old plot to be played out on the screen of life. There will always be shouting matches between grumpy guards and grumpier inmates. There will always be fistfights over wounded pride or violated territory. There will even be the scorned same-sex lovers looking for a new tryst. (I guess the prisons were very progressive on this issue, after all.) But, just like the soap operas, you just can't help watching it all

play out, because the characters involved change daily, and one of the characters just might be someone you care about.

That is why I've been so fascinated these last couple of months to watch a whole new thing play out before my very eyes. Certainly, there may be some old timers that have memories of prison life that span beyond my mere fifteen, but even the old schools admit that they can't remember anything like the effects the Wuhan Flu is having on the Texas prison system.

For one thing, the routine has been completely upended in ways we've never seen before. For example, attendance to Windham ISD classes has been suspended, because all the teachers are not permitted to come on the unit. However, the principal, assisted by inmate volunteers, assembles packets of work for those in program-mandated classes, and the inmates are completing them as homework. It's actually pretty creative.

The dayrooms are only one quarter full at any given time, since a limited number of inmates are allowed in for the purposes of facilitating social distancing. And, there can only be one inmate at each table or seated at each bench.

That same rule about tables applies in the chow hall, where we sit at a table all by ourselves and eat our food. Why, people aren't even "knocking" the table before they get up to leave anymore, because there is no one else to knock for. This has, of course, greatly slowed the progress of meal times. They sometimes take three or four hours now.

Even the Sex Offender Treatment Program and Parole have been affected. Keep in mind, at $90,000 a head, I don't think the rapture would even slow down the implementation and graduation rate of the SOTP. They'd just bus in a bunch

of left-behinders as soon as some of us got to go to Gloryland. But, class sizes have been halved and the desks and chairs spread apart. We are still expected to graduate on time, because any program work is to be done in our cells, and

believe you me, we are not upset about that at all. We are all ready to scoot on out of here.

For some, that scooting has been made a great deal easier than in times past. Usually, inmates that have completed the program go first to the Goree Unit and then to the Walls in Huntsville to complete all the necessary paperwork to finally get out, but the chain busses have not been running. (Good thing, too. You could probably catch HIV on a chain bus, as close as all the inmates are expected to sit on there.) This has caused the prison officials to process the paperwork right here on the Hightower Unit and release the inmates from no other than the very front door the visitors and officers get to use. Those who don't have a ride

from a loved one are taken by van to the local Greyhound Bus station and given a ticket to the necessary locale. This has been the most unexpected and welcome development of any of them, especially because it seems like it has shaved a week or more off of the exit date we are given.

Since I complete the program on May 26th, there is a very good chance that one of the inmates walking out the front door of freedom might be none other than this author, and, gee-whiz BANG, is he ever excited about that prospect. He is, of course, conflicted about it as well. After all, these positive changes in the daily routine of the prison, and especially to the parole procedures, have come at a great expense to society as a whole. It's very sad to me that it takes a tragedy of such immense proportions to get the TDCJ to implement such common-sense measures. I would be wildly curious to know exactly how much money the state prisons have saved on diesel fuel in the last two months. As a taxpayer, I imagine you ought to be a little curious yourself.

The wise writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is nothing new under the sun that what is now has been before and will be again. No doubt, this is true. But it must also be acknowledged that just because something was doesn't mean that I was around to see it before, and the deep, dark truth of the matter is that the way things have shaken out for most of us prisoners around this unit works mightily to our advantage. And, since we are cooped up in ways the general public never, I hope, will be, chances are the consequences of Chinese negligence will linger here longer than in most places. Dare I hope it to last until May 26th?

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