Buenas Nochas, Cocka-Roches

By Mike Powers

In Texas’ prisons, cockroaches aren’t just a pest — they could very well be your pets. Especially if you live in one of the old “red-bricks”, these disgusting insects are simply going to be a part of your life, whether you like it or not. So, just in case you ever find yourself on the wrong side of the law while in our fair state, let me give you a little tutorial.

First of all, you need to know that nothing is safe. Just because you don’t think of something as food, doesn’t mean the roaches don’t want it for something. Take the photo albums TDCJ sells on commissary for instance. One certainly wouldn’t think the bugs would have any particular affinity for a photo album, but the ones we get here have a plastic spiral ring binder. For some reason, roaches love these binders. It seems to me they think of them kind of like those plastic tunnels I used to buy my hamster when I was a kid. They love running up and down inside of it, and as a matter of fact, you’d be amazed just how hard it is to get at a roach when he’s cuddled up inside that binder, all snuggled in next to the pictures of the people you love.

You have to pick up the binder with one hand, shove a pen or pencil into the binder with the other one, and use one foot to stomp whatever falls out. Trouble is, where there’s one, there’s usually ten, and you’ve only got one foot and no can of Raid.

Our hotpots have this little hole in the mouth designed as a pour spout. The roaches think this is the perfect-sized door to their very own giant plastic roach mansions, and it’s pretty close to the truth. So, you have to stuff a rug or some toilet paper (remember, we don’t have paper towels) into the mouth of the pot to keep them out. This makes them mad, so they crap all over the rag so at least you have a mess to clean up.

A staple of our diet in here is peanut butter. It’s tasty, it’s filling, and as long as you haven’t been stuck on some eternal lockdown eating johnny sacks for the last three months, it’s delicious. Roaches like it too, though, so you better watch out. Don’t ever—EVER—leave the peanut butter sitting out without the top, no matter how short the duration of time, because you will turn around and find a whole cockroach family instantly moved into your jar.

One time, on chain through Darrington Unit, I had a package of peanuts. It was a little 25 bag. You had to tear the top open to get at them. I decided I’d eat half the bag before I went to bed and the rest for breakfast when I woke up. Sometime in the night, another poor schmuck moved into the cell as I slept. When I woke up, I went to get my peanuts confident that they’d be safe, because I had folded the bag over on itself repeatedly, put the bag at the bottom of a plastic cup with my padlock on it to hold it down, and then covered that with another plastic cup on top of it upside down as a lid. Do you think it was safe? Well, it sure seemed so. I removed all the deterrents carefully while observing for any sign of the little buggers, and it sure seemed safe. Then I went to pour some of the peanuts in my hand. I felt like I’d just slipped into some “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie. At least a hundred baby cockroaches, no bigger than a ballpoint on a pen went scurrying up my arm, down the bag, and then all over the cell, my body, and poor, poor soul my cellie. He was shocked out of his sleep by my loud sounds of disgust even as he became aware of an army of tiny cockroaches crawling all over him. I know for sure the cells in those clad red-brick buildings can hold two, full-grown men securely, because, brother, we were dead set on getting out of that cell, and we couldn’t do anything but rattle the door. then, it must have appeared we’d decided to have a hoe-down dance-off between the two of us, because we were stomping and slapping like hillbilly music was going out of style. I don’t know if we killed a single one, but we discovered a new way to make peanut butter. You just throw all the peanuts on the floor and dance on them for about five minutes. Of course, transit inmates don’t get any cleaning supplies, so all I could do was feel sorry for the next inmates who had to come and occupy that cell. Not only would there be roaches, they’d have all that food in there attract them. It was awful.

Residents of these units deal with the problem by hoarding any ziplock bag they can get their hand on and placing every single item they own inside of said bags. Items too large for a ziplock are tied in trash bags, which sometimes works.

Others, not satisfied at defensive measures, have set out to hunt down every last roach and exterminate it. This endeavor is aided by the MacGyver like invention of a roach trap. An empty, but not cleaned, peanut butter jar serves as the bait. A thick line of petroleum jelly is smeared around the inner mouth of the jar. Roaches crawl to the  opening of the jar, encounter the jelly and jump into the smell of peanut butter. When they try to get out, they climb to the line of jelly and no further. Apparently, it’s the only stuff they don’t like in the hole world except bug spray. This works great. That is, until there are so many roaches in the jar that they just climb out over the writhing bodies of their comrades, which, I promise you, will happen shortly after you fall asleep. So, even if you use the trap to flush a hundred or two hundred of them down the toilet, you can’t just leave the trap out or it attracts roaches you definitely don’t want in your cell.

Like inmates, the roaches are stuck here. But, one of us likes it, and doesn’t want to go anywhere else.

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