Paradise Lost

By Mike Powers

The last time I wrote you, I was still basking in the air-conditioned comfort of the Diboll Unit, and I had many of the creature comforts you take for granted like an ability to enter and exit my “bedroom” at will, cable television I can actually watch/hear instead of read/glimpse, and a mattress that I could sleep on even if it wasn’t any kind of danger to sleep number bed. Since I started my parole program, my quality of life has diminished considerably.

Odd, isn’t it? You would think a successful sex offender rehabilitation program, or any rehab program for that matter, would want to provide the most livable experience possible so that the offender could focus completely on the recovery process. I think that’s why the free world rehabs offer so many amenities and charge so much to attend. I’m not looking for a swimming pool and a sauna tub’s, however, I’d be grateful for the bare necessities.

Let’s start with sleep. That’s pretty basic, isn’t it? Here on the Hightower Unit in Dayton, Texas, they provide the 9-month long program the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles determines I must have before release. I’m not upset about this at all. To the contrary, I wish TDCJ would offer those programs upfront, instead of at the tail end of a sentence. It seems to me that would make a lot more sense as far as reducing behavioral problems within the prisons, as well as letting offenders have the greatest possible time to “think of their sins” and overcome the problems likely to cause relapse. But what do I know?

Let’s see, where I was? Ah, yes… sleep. Forgive me. I haven’t had much of that this week. I “caught chain” from Diboll to “The Walls” in Huntsville last Friday morning. From Thursday night to Monday morning I had a whopping eight hours of sleep. There were a lot of factors: leaving an a/c unit in late August, excitement, noise level on the transit block in Huntsville, bazaar bus schedules. But I didn’t mind, because at all times prior, chain always cost you sleep, but you make it up the first couple of days back in your unit. Not so on the Hightower.

Whether by design or sheer incompetence, there’s absolutely no period of the day for sleep longer than two hours. TWO HOURS. In the PM’s, there is a card check count at about 9:00. At 10:30, there is another. The lights stay on until it clears about an hour later. 1:00 AM, they count with a “welfare check”, which is the press-friendly thing they call waking you up for no good reason. At 3:00 AM, the officers bellow, “get ready for chow!” Our dorm is last to eat every meal, so this “wake up call” occurs an hour and a half before they let us leave the dorm to eat. By the time your door rolls, naturally, you fallen back asleep, so when you wake up to the slamming of doors, you make a mad dash to get out of your cell before it’s too late. There is no pity if you are. The door will be slammed shut in your face.

You return from chow 15 minutes later. Don’t lay down. Within a half hour, they run necessities (clothes, towels, etc.). Now, finally you might have time for another little cat nap, but be on your guard. There’s a 6:00 AM call out for certain work and education programs and another lights-ablazing count time. At 7:00 AM, the day room opens, the blaring tv’s are turned on, and the officers start bellowing all kinds of various call outs.

During the day you are either at work or at school, so there’s no hope for you there. All in all, I’m facing nine months of three, maybe four, naps a day while trying to root out the causes and triggers of my sex crime. I’m pretty sure the Nazis had a similar system of “social adjustment.”

On top of that, this place has the most caustic and hateful treatment of offenders of any prison I’ve been on except the Darrington Unit. Interestingly, this unit also has the most Nigerians of any and I’ve been on – except the Darrington. I assure you that this is no accident. And no wonder. Does anybody in my reading audience think a third-world country would have a progressive attitude about penology? It’s hard enough to find that in the free West.

Finally, I’m having a hard time adjusting to a unit that is laid out almost exactly like the Stevenson unit, where I get 11 years, yet stands in such shabby contrast. We’re Stevenson was white with blue trim; Hightower is entirely baby poop yellow. Hightower is roach infested. All the mattresses (aka giant bags of unprocessed cotton) are ripped and or lumpy beyond repair. The clothes are stained, torn and ill fitting.   

Maybe it’s the luck of the draw or quite possibly this is the TDCJ’s way of giving us nasty sex offenders exactly what they think we deserve. Not a great recipe for rehab, I say.

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