Law? What Law?

By Mike Powers

           In the Government Code that lays out how the TDCJ’s parole system is supposed to work, there is a law that says that the parole board cannot penalize an inmate who has filed a civil suit or other legal writs, like habeas corpus, against the prison system.

          Isn’t that interesting? A lot of my readers are parents, and I see a parallel here that might make some sense to you. When your kids were little, there were some rules that you just flat out told them right off the bat: don’t touch the stove, look both ways before crossing the street, don’t talk back to your parents. But then there were certain rules that came into being because a situation presented itself to you, and you realized, “Hey, we really never made this clear to our kids, because we didn’t know this would be a problem.” Maybe something like, “No gum in your hair.” Tough lesson to learn, but not something you think about until it’s too late.

          The Texas legislature gave TDCJ some rules like that, toc. Some are obvious, like, “You have to feed the inmates.” (And I’m glad they put that in there because, after 14 years inside, I wonder if they WOULD feed us if there wasn’t a law saying they had to.) Other laws I think they made after they realized there must be a problem. The law about messing up the parole of offenders who litigate against the TDCJ is just such a law.

          Why on earth would they ever put something like that on the books unless there had been a problem with this at some point? I’d really like to know the history behind the law, because I can tell you, the law hasn’t solved the problem.

          I’ve told you before about my friend, Gary Hunter, and his fight for justice. The legal work that he filed, I am convinced, is the reason that he did all but two months of his 25-year sentence. Oh yeah, they gave him parole when they had to, and they tacked on an 18-month-long program before he could get out the door.

          You also remember Cary Wilke. His litigation against the state kept him from getting either his general parole, for which he had long been eligible, or an emergency parole after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Well, I say they kept it from him. His family was notified that he had finally been granted the emergency parole minutes after Cary had already passed away.

          Stories like these are wide-spread. I only use these gentlemen as example s because I’m personally familiar with how they were treated. However, the parole board’s denial of parole to incarcerated citizens who exercise their right to sue the TDCJ is a well-known open secret, and not only by inmates. A dormmate of mine, Bill was involved in a collision while riding a TDCJ bus and severely injured. The bus driver had been driving erratically during the first legs of the trip, but even after the inmates complained to a lieutenant during one of the stops, nothing was done, and the driver ended up crossing over into oncoming traffic. Amazingly, no one was killed, but dozens were hospitalized, and Bill ended up with a broken arm. Bill had already hired a parole attorney to help him get out, and so he called this lawyer to find out what he should do about suing the TDCJ for the driver’s negligence. His parole lawyer told him in no uncertain terms that he would not represent him for parole if he filed any kind of suit against the TDCJ, because “No one who sues them EVER makes parole.”

          Now, if you’re anything like me, you might be thinking, “Well, just show what they are doing in court, and they’ll fix it.” (Sigh.) I’m afraid it’s not that easy.

          For one thing, while everyone knows the reason a litigious inmate is denied parole, there is no way to prove it. After all, the board has dozens of pat answers as to why an inmate CAN be set off, and all of them are at their disposal. They’d be plain stupid to tell someone they were being denied parole for filing lawsuits. Then they’d be subject to the penalties of the law. In fact, it would take a monumental act of stupidity for anyone to be held accountable for breaking this law. (Which is one reason I’m fascinated by the history of it. Someone must have pulled a real dudnder-head move to get the law put on the books in the first place.) I mean, think of it. A board member could walk right up into an inmate’s face and tell him, “We’re setting you off, because you sued Officer Lazy Susan for locking you in the cell with those gang members who beat you up,” and the inmate STILL doesn’t have a shred of proof. It’s not like he can turn the recorder on so his phone can pick up the conversation. I’d venture to say, from what I’ve seen with my own eyes, that the board member could say this in front of a dozen inmate witnesses, and he’d still get away with it, because the courts pretty much don’t believe a word we say anyway.

          But, somehow, someway, the Texas legislature must have Known that there was a problem with the parole board setting off inmates who sue, otherwise, there simply wouldn’t be a law on the books trying to protect them. I’m fascinated, I tell you, simply fascinated. What must have happened to clue them in? Did an honest member of the board find out his or her peers were retaliating against lawsuits with parole denials? Did a judge like William Wayne Justice come across some kind of paperwork that told all? It would make for interesting reading, I’m sure.

          Well, the good news is that I have made parole. But fear not, loyal readers, there’s more good stuff to come, because my parole stipulates a 9-month long program meaning I will do all but about 4 months of my 15-year sentence. Hey, buddy, if you ever get locked up in TDCJ, you better not sue them!

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