Kangaroo Court

In the Texas prison system, if an inmate breaks a prison rule of some type, no matter how small or how big their infraction my be, the prisoner will recieve what is called a disciplinary report. Neither the inmates nor the staff use this fancy verbage, however. We just call it a case. If I get into a fight, the ranking officers will call me to their office and say, “You have a case for fighting.”

Now, there are two types of cases in here: minor, like a misdemeanor, and major, like a felony. You might get a minor case for leaving a book in your cell window or being late for school. You might get a major for something more serious like fighting or getting caught with drugs or a cell phone.

When you receive either kind of case, there is a process you will go through. First, the officer will ask you for your I.D. and say, “I’m writing you a case,” for whatever reason. Then, usually within a day or two, the inmate will be called to the administration building and speak with a sergeant. He or she will tell you have a case and give you the reason. After they read it to you, they’ll ask you if you want to make a statement telling your side of the story. Finally, they’ll ask if you want a full hearing in disciplinary court. If you say yes, then usually within the next seven days, you will be called out to court.

All cases can be changed, meaning the major, who grades the cases, can take it upon him or herself to change the status of your case. For instance, there is a case for being out of place. That means a prisoner is somewhere in the prison he is not supposed to be. Now, an out of place case can go either way. The major can decide to make whatever case a prisoner receives better or worse.

Let me give you some examples. I have seen prisoners who have gotten caught with homemade wine. Naturally, this is a serious case, and almost all prisoners with this case will be put in lock up and later changed to medium custody after their court hearing. Their punishment will probably be something like the maximum of 45 days cell restriction, 45 days of commissary restriction, and 45 days of no visitation. On top of this, any major case results in 90 days of loss of phone priveleges. They might throw in loss of good time or a change in line class. While this happens to MOST of them, I’ve seen where some of their “pets” will get this kind of case, and if anything happens at all, they will get minor punishment of 10-10-10, with no loss of visits or good time or anything like that. And, I’ve seen the opposite. Someone they don’t like will get major punishment for the minor case of having some extra socks in their cell. A lot depends on whether the officer knows the inmate, how long they’ve been on the unit and the way they conduct themselves, and whether they’re just having a good day or not. And as for the guy who is doing 45 days for those socks, well, it could be that he is disliked for whatever reason. Maybe he’s a smartass or a writ-writer who keeps filing on the prison’s problems.

Now, hopefully, I’ve given everyone reading this a better understanding ofthe different types of cases. Next, I want to show you how this court system we have is abused, just like the grievance system. There are rules and regulations for the guards, rank, and even the wardens. They are put into effect to make sure prisoners are not abused, set up by employees, or taken advantage of just because they are unliked for whatever reason. For instance, the officer who wrote the case cannot be the officer who acts as the disciplinary hearing officer (judge) in the case.

However, as with the grievance system, most everythingput in place as a safeguard is ignored at will. Let’s say you get a minor case for something. Your DHO will be the shift lieutenant. It’s has tobe a lieu who dosn’t work the shift on which you received the case, but this is universally ignored. Remember, the TDCJ is rife with nepotism, so the lieutenant/DHO is either the cousin or the best friend of the officer who wrote you the case.

Let me give you some examples of how easy it is to wind up with a case for assault on an officer in the Texas prison system. My friend and fellow writer, Mike Powers, was in his cell block getting ready to go to the gym for one of our semi-annual shakedowns. He ended up having some words with a sergeant who, anyone will tell you, stays in a pissy mood all the time. The sarge ended up telling my friend to give him his I.D. Standing across a table, Mike, who was also pissed off by this time, took out his I.D. from his shirt pocket and tossed it on the table. The sarge wrote him a case for assaulting an officer, saying that Mike had “thrown the I.D. at him”. When he went to disciplinary court toargue his innocence of the charge, he was allowed, through the offender advocate, to question the sergeant as a witness. Mike asked him, “Did I at anytime touch you?” The answer was no. Next, Mike asked, “Did the I.D. that was allegedly thrown at you strike you or even touch you?” Again, the sarge answered no. Mike was surpised he was telling the truth here in court, since he’d lied on the disciplinary forms, but here it was, so he decided to go for the question that would end it all. “If you had to describe what happened to the I.D., which would you say better characterizes what happened that day - that the I.D. was thrown at you, orthat the I.D. was tossed onto the table?” The sarge came right out and said, “It was tossed on the table.” Now, Mike was thinking, “Thank God this dude finally told the truth,” because he’d never been in trouble before, and here he was about to get slammed with an assault case, a case that could get you moved to a “rock and roll” farm. The captain who was hearing the case, DHO Jackson, thanked the sergeant for his time and hung up the phone. He then asked Mike, “Do you have anything else?” Thinking he’d already slam-dunked the case with the questions the sarge answered, he told the DHO, “No, sir.” Then, Jackson proceeded to tell him,“I find you did not throw your I.D. at Sergeant Garcia, but you DID disrupt unit operations during a shakedown justifying the case that was written. I find you guilty.” He gave Mike 45-45-45 and a two level drop in line class. I’ve asked Mike to give a full account of what happened in his chapter, “Sergeant Garcia Screws Up Your Life”.

Another example comes from a prisoner who had an “altered” t-shirt. Remember that the TDCJ’s definition of contraband is an item that has been altered from its original condition AND prsents a threat to the safety or security of the unit. Especially in the hot summer months, many prisoners will cut off the sleeves of their t-shirts so it will be cooler. Most of the time, no officer will say anything about this, because they know it’s so hot, but on this particular day,a guard told Jay to hand over the t-shirt he was wearing, even though Jay was in his cubicle, not in any of the common areas of the dorm. Come to find out, the officer had kind of picked this “rule” at random and decided to enforce it with a vengeance that day. He took many shirts. Well, you can imagine that Jay was aggravated at having to hand over his $7 t-shirt just because this officer was having a bad day, so he says, “Don’t you have anything better to do than go around taking people’s t-shirts on a 104 degree day?” After saying this, Jay tossed his t-shirt to the officer. Even though the officer saw Jay take off the shirt, watched him toss it, and reached out and caught the shirt in mid-air, the officer wrote Jay a case for assault writing on the disciplinary forms that the inmate had thrown it at him during an altercation. Jay was coming up for parole after doing 22 ½ years in the pen for a crime in which he proclaims his innocence. Knowing the disciplinary case was b.s., he decided to take it to court, but was found guilty. He, too, received the strictest punishment possible, but worse still, he was denied parole. He appealed his guilty verdict” by filing a grievance, which is the procedure. The unit grievance investigator (UGI) at that time was an ex-officer. In commenting on her investigative prowess to another officer one day, she said, “All I do is stick these grievances in a box.” In any event, both of Jay’s Step 1 and Step 2 grievances to appeal were denied, but in a stroke of great luck, the charging officer was soon after caught setting up inmates with trumped up disciplinary cases and got into some serious trouble. Do you think all of this officers cases were reviewed for similar behavior and thrown out as bogus? Of course not. The TDCJ did what it always does. It circled the wagons around the officer like they do when anyone of their own gets caught lying, assaulting or stealing. They first tried to cover it up, and then they let the officer resign. Indeed, if he’d had twenty years in the system, they would have let him waltz right out the front door with full retirement benefits just like they did our late, great, thieving-ass warden, Beard. Thank God the persistence of this inmate’s saint of a mother paid off. She kept calling the head of the TDCJ and even the governor. They eventually forced the warden here to overturn the bogus case the officer had written on her son.

As I keep showing you over and over again, the Texas prison system will not do what’s right under any circumstances. By letting this man resign instead of firing his ass, guess what happens! Later, down the road, after the dust has settled a little bit, he can come back to work at this prison or a different one. Look at old Beard. He stole and stole from the state and from the food bank. Remember they caught him red-handed with hundreds of pounds of meat and other stolen goods, but he gets to retire into a golden sunset instead of getting to come sit in here with us where he belongs.

I’ll admit that a lot of prisoners who catch a case are guilty, but the inmates who take their cases to court instead of pleading guilty are many times completely innocent. In fact, I’ve seen those who were actually innocent go ahead and plead guilty, because if you try and fight your case one little bit at any level, you can rest assured that the DHO will pick up the heaviest book he or she can find and hurl it right at your “trouble-making” head when (not if) you are found guilty.

Here’s another example to illustrate a point. Let’s say a prisoner breaks a rule, like a guy in my dorm last week was a few minutes late for class, because, when the officer called education classes, he was on the commode. While seated on the inglorious throne, he’s trying to speak to the officer to hold on. The officer says, “It’s too late. I already wrote you a case.” He went to court and tried to tell the lieutenant what happened, but she said, “Just save your breath.” The man got 20-20-20, missing out on a rare opportunity to visit his family, all because he needed to go to the bathroom. Does this sound reasonable? I could understandif this inmate was always playing hookey, but he never missed before and went as soon as the officer would let him out when he got off the toilet. You’d think someone had enough sense to realize that mother nature sometimes calls and throw out the case. Why couldn’t they just give him a warning, for crying out loud? It sounds crazy, I know, but in the TDCJ, it happens every day.

Let me show you how insane the people running this prison truly are. Thousands of prisoners appear before the disciplinary courts every year, and time after time, you will hear the DHO say soemthing like, “I know this case is bogus, but you know I still have to find you guilty of something.” And the reaction is always, “But why? You said yourself they’re lying.” And they’ll answer, “Because I have to back my officer. That’s why.”So, even though they know, without a doubt the prisoner is innocent of the infraction, they are still given punishment. Again, this happens every day.

When inmates get a major case, they get an advocate to represent them at disciplinary court. As usual, I have to laugh at this state. They spend millions of dollars each year to pay these advocates to “represent” prisoners going to court at these 109 prisons, but you never hear they won a case. Our last offender advocate, Ms. Gomez, worked in that position for over 10 years. I asked half a dozen people, and none of these men had ever heard of her winning one single case. So why are they even there? Because the TDCJ pays these millions of dollars every year to keep these “advocates” here for a show! They eat the free food. They drink the free coffee. They pick up their free laundry. And it’s all so the TDCJ can blow a smoke screen. Just like our grievance system, it doesn’t mean shit. It’s all here to make them look good.

As I keep saying, this is the Puppetmasters’ prison system, and they do whatever they please. They don’t give a damn if a prisoner gets denied parole due to some officer’s lie. In fact, they love it, because, down the line, it meansa few more months or even years of free labor from that inmate.

Let me ask you something, if these offender advocates, who put on such a great show, were really serious about it, then don’t you think when they clearly made their case and the DHO still finds the offender guilty, they’d take the problem over the DHO’s head? Surely they have someone they could appeal to to find justice when a sarge admits, in recorded testimony, that the things he wrote in a case for assault are simply not true, right? But, like I said, they are all just another part of the game, and I’m left wondering how long will all of this go on before the federal government steps in to stop this criminal organization dancing to the tune of the Puppetmasters.

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