Got Sleep?

By Mike Powers

Since arriving on the Hightower Unit, I have observed, and been a victim of, the most systematic program of sleep deprivation in my almost 15 years of incarceration. After only several days here, I knew I needed to start documenting it, because it’s bad enough that I’m going to have to do something, and my something starts with telling you what’s going on.

Let me start by documenting three of the worst nights. On the night of August 29 to August 30, 2019, my fellow inmates and I were kept up all night long. At 1836 (I’ll use my military time to facilitate the telling), they conducted a roster count where every inmate is required to be awake and present their identification at the door. At 2040, Officer Ellis “checked our i.d.’s.” At 2245, there was a roster count, and another at 0015. I’ve since learned there are several officers who conduct roster accounts that are not part of the operation schedule, but rank is aware of this, and they do nothing to stop it.

Lights are turn on for counts. The lights finally went out at 0055. At 0103, the cell doors open and toiletries were placed inside the cell. The door slam shut. Three minutes later at 0106, the lights came on again. I was in my cell, by myself, lying in the bottom bunk, my assigned area. At 0107, an officer appeared at my door and asked, are you bottom or top? Referring to my bunk. In stupefied disbelief, I answered, bottom. And then I’m not kidding, at 0125, a second officer asked me, bottom bunk? I just smiled and nodded my head yes. The lights went out at 0130.

At 0149, there was a call out. The officer will come to the deserted day room and wake up any sleepers, in this instance, to call out any kitchen or laundry workers. 35 minutes later 0224, the lights came on again. They went out at 0240.

In just under an hour, there was another call out - “get ready for chow! Get ready for chow!” That was at 0330. Another 39 minutes goes by, and they open the doors for chow at 0409.

As soon as we got back, they ran laundry necessities at 0445. At 0503, the lights came on for a count. They stayed on until 0548. This was a roster count. Get up and show your i.d.

The longest period of time available for uninterrupted sleep in the night of August 29 to August 30 was one hour and 30 minutes from 10:45 PM to 12:15 AM.

There is at least one roster count scheduled in the middle of the night every day, so there should never be a day when you can get eight hours of sleep. If you do, someone is (mercifully) not doing their job by waking you up to present i.d. at midnight or two in the morning, depending on the day of the week. The most sleep you can hope for is six hours, from when the day room closes at 10:30 PM to a late chow call at 3:30 AM.

On August 31, there was a roster count at 0142. The next night it was at 0246. The next, 0209. The next 0109. The next, 0007. I finally had enough and I wrote a Step One grievance. At first, I thought it had worked. For three of the next four days, we were allowed to sleep through the night. We got our first full six hours!

On September 10, 2019, at 0034, our cell door opens. An officer tells me I’m wanted at the line building. For all of you law-abiding souls who don’t know what a line building is, think if your school’s principal’s office. It’s where you mostly go to get in trouble. It turns out, after I stumbled out of bed, dress and make my way 200 yards down the sidewalk to the line building, that Sergeant Yolanda J. Beverly tells me to present my i.d. and stand against the wall with my hands behind my back. Usually this is exactly what happens before you are read a disciplinary case and asked to give a statement. Now, since disciplinary cases are as common as mesquite trees around the Hightower Unit, I was not particularly surprised, except that I couldn’t think of any terrible sin I’d recently committed.

Imagine my surprise when Sergeant Beverly pulls out a copy of my grievance (which she is not supposed to have), and asked me, “what eggs-ack-ly did you mean when you said…” Here she fumbled around a few moments with my grievance and finally proceeded to quote a statement I’ve made about the sleep deprivation being a danger to the unit safety. After stifling a guffaw of unbelief, I asked her, “you mean you called me out at one o’clock in the morning to question me about a sleep deprivation grievance? She said, “you’re damn right I did.” After reflecting a moment, I flat out told her, “don’t know what you’re doing with a copy of a grievance you’re not supposed to have, but I’ve got nothing to say to you about this matter. However, I’ll be more than happy to talk to this unit’s grievance investigator during their regular work hours and answer any questions they have.” Truthfully, folks, I expected that I was going to lock up from there. The last thing I expected was her scowling look and, “well, then, I guess you can go back to your cell and get some sleep.” She did, however, make a nasty comment about sex offenders as I left the building.

Following were multiple days of the same old sleep deprivation routine. In the meantime, it was necessary for me to file another Step One grievance on Sgt. Beverly for harassment and grievance retaliation.

On September 16, there was a roster account at 0009. Between then and 0311 (out for chow) the light stayed on for almost 2 hours.

Two nights later, on September 18, there was a roster count at 0002. When the lights were “turned off” for that count, they were flashed on and off at least seven times after I started counting. They stayed off at exactly 0048, but came back on at 0104. Off at 0148. On at 0218. They stayed on until 0311. They came out again at chow time 0428, and stayed on until 0610.

Did I mention that the afternoon of September 15, shortly after I filed my retaliation grievance, Warden LeBlanc had maintenance replace every single bulb in every cell’s count light? I take that as a pretty clear answer to both of my grievances, even though I have yet to get any sort of written response.

I guess until the TDCJ figures out a way to make money off of this, it will continue to be a problem.

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