By Jay Goodman

Has anyone ever thought about the importance of family? In your minds go back in time to when you were a child, go back as far as you can remember. Think about your entire family structure, your grandparents, mom, dad, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, your cousins. Think about the times you would see your grandparents and how they would tell you stories of times past. Or show you pictures of your mom or dad when they were kids. Think of going to visit your aunts and uncles and being excited because you were going to have the opportunity to play with your cousins. Think about your brothers and sisters or your birthdays when mom and dad would bring in your birthday cake, and everyone would sing happy birthday to you. Think about Thanksgiving Day when everyone would eat until they were stuffed, and still somehow finding room later to eat some pie. And let’s not forget the magic of Christmas day. I think about how the tree would go up the day after Thanksgiving, and over the next month the presence would grow and grow. All the beautiful lights in the nuts and candy and the smell of fresh cookies would fill the air. The anticipation and excitement would grow as it came time for Christmas morning. Think about how beautiful Christmas day was as you get up and one downstairs and your mom and dad would start handing out the gifts. Every year there would be pictures and special moments and memories that would stay in our minds for all of our lives.

Once again, I ask, “has anyone ever thought about the importance of family?” Most people don’t, they get caught up in work in life, and family starts becoming a thing that’s really thought about. 

Everyone should always remember that it’s family that mold us, and it’s the love a family that keeps us grounded as we grow older. This is another area that the Texas prison system has used to not only punish their prisoners, but you separate the prisoner from their family structure.

The Puppetmasters understand the importance of family, they are aware that it’s the love and support a family that’s one of the most important tools for every inmate it’s rehabilitation. While the need to have control of every prison is important. It should be equally important that every prisoner have every tool available to them to stay in contact with their family. The Texas prison system has always done everything in their power to limit the prisoners contact with family. I showed up in 2005, and for my first 4 ½ years really almost 5 years, I had no contact with my elderly mother, other than my letters each week. My mother lived over 1000 miles away, so regular visits were not possible. Also, my children lived out of state. I could never begin to explain the loneliness I experience during those years. When you break the ties a family it is a very deep loss. Even after Texas put in phones it cost almost $10 every time we talked. That was only 15 minutes. Needless to say, the barn with my children would grow distant. It’s not that they stopped loving me, or that I stopped loving them. But years would go by and there was no way to contact anyone.

Imagine, I would almost 5 years, they were tens of thousands who went decades. Please note, I am not seeing these prisoners or I shouldn’t of went to prison. What I’m trying to say is that part of every single man and woman who goes to prison a big part of the rehabilitation starts with family. It wasn’t long after the phones went on that my mother passed away. If you lose your mom and dad while in prison it’s a pain like no other. The regret, sorrow, and loneliness is unbearable. Especially without the love and support of the family. Losing our parents in the free world is painful, but can anyone imagine dealing with it alone?

Not long after my mom passed, Texas started allowing prisoners to receive JPays, which is a form of email. When I first saw this, I thought wow, I wish they would’ve had this when my mom was alive. It would have been so nice to have communicated with her throughout each day. So, I will soon learn though that the Texas prison system only allowed us to receive JPays, we weren’t allowed to send one. 

At first I thought this was crazy, because if we can receive an email why can’t we send one? My son and my daughter would send me emails from time to time, and I’d have to write them a letter back. But if I thought that was crazy, nothing compared me for what was about to happen. My mother passed in July 2015, and for the next three years I was pretty much alone. I did receive a few visits from my son Nicholas, shortly after my mom died, and I would hear from my daughter. But besides that, I was alone. I could never begin to tell you how difficult things were for me during this time. Everyone I grew up with was gone, my only brother had long since passed, then my dad in 2003, my mother was all I had left. She was the one who really helped hold our family together. She talked to my kids all the time and helped hold me together inside this crazy prison system. Then three years after the loss of my mom, around the end of October, I received a JPay.  When I first looked at it I saw it said “Dear Dean,” my heart dropped because the last living person to call me Dean was my mom. I quickly looked at the top of the JPAY and saw the name Debbie, the only Debbie I’ve ever known in my whole life was my cousin who I haven’t seen since I was young. I read the email and I was correct it was my cousin. Even though it hurt my heart to learn that my aunt and uncle had passed away, my cousin went on to tell me how she found me, and that she was looking forward to hearing from me. At the end she said she love me, and attach the stamp so I could write her back. I didn’t understand what she meant by “attached a stamp.” Never sending an email in my life I didn’t understand. So, I called a friend of mine over and asked, he said it so you can send her an email back. I said “but I can’t there’s no JPAY machine here.” My friend said “you’re right.” Then I reread Debbie’s email, she never gave me an address. I laid there that night so happy to hear from her, but going crazy wondering how I’d be able to get a hold of her.

The next day I went to the mail room and explain my situation, they gave me a JPAY form and told me to tell them what had happened. So, I filled out this paper and wrote a little note from my cousin, telling her how happy I was to receive her email, but I needed an address to write back. I felt the window that morning thinking JPAY would help me. A few weeks go by and every night I’m thinking I’ll receive another email from Debbie. But nothing happened. So, now I was getting frustrated. Went back to the mail room and once again ask for their help. They gave me another JPAY form and said to write them. This time I pleaded with them to please just tell her I cannot send emails. But again nothing. Then a few months later I was sitting in my cell late one night, it was Christmas Eve. A guard came by and told me I had mail. It was another email from Debbie. She wished me a Merry Christmas, told me she love me. It hurt so bad not to be able to write back. As I was reading her email, I felt she was disappointed that she had not heard from me.

After almost a year one of my close friends was leaving prison after eight years. He knew how frustrated I was over not being able to write her. He told me he’d find her for me, just give him a little time. And true to his word, a few months later he wrote me, and said “Jay I found Debbie, I am just waiting for her to answer me back.” I could ever begin to explain to everyone reading this how good I felt the first time Debbie and I spoke. We both laughed and cried. And have talked almost every day sense. I learned that the love I always have had for Debbie was still strong as ever. In fact, I believe that we both understand the importance of the love we have missed three years and we love each other now more than we ever have. I have not only thought about the importance of family, but I have felt the power of the love we share for each other and how it’s lifted my spirits.

The Texas prison system does everything in their power to break a prisoner spirit. And they use phone and visitation restriction as a tool to separate them from the love of their family and friends. The Puppetmasters understand that if they can break a man’s spirits, and separate him from the love of his family and friends they’ll have a better chance to institutionalize him forever. Now he’s no longer a human being but a slave for the Texas Department of criminal Justice.

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