Playing by the Rules

By Mike Powers

“Texas Tech’s all-star junior quarterback from Odessa, Texas rolls back. He’s got a receiver open at the twenty. The umpire sees something though. He makes a fist. And itis strike three for the Techsan Titan. That will bring this half to a close with the score tied 7-7. Join us for the over-time tip-off.”

If you are a little confused, don’t be alarmed. There is nothing wrong with your TV set. It’s simply that the game you are watching is like no other you’ve ever seen. In this game, as in all games, the players are expected to know the rules and abide by them. If they don’t there are penalties and consequences. Unlike most games, however, this is the game of prison, and the rules change all the time.

Any player stuck in this game is at a huge disadvantage. For instance, most of the game’s officials despise the players, and many of them will deliberately try to get the players to trip up on some; rule, even if it means making them up out of thin air. Not only that, but this game, is played 2 hours a day, 7 days a week, and the officials are constantly rotating into and out of the game. The rules that one official plays by might be meaningless a few moments later. As you can imagine, this makes the game a living nightmare for the players, but there’s little chance it will ever stop.

At times, it gets even crazier than that. What would you think about this? A kid is sitting at the dinner table. Mom, at one end of the table tells him, “Son, eat your veggies and you can have dessert.” Then Dad pipes up, “Boy, I told you to leave those veggies alone until after you’d eaten your pie. You can eat vegetables IF you have any room left.” Obviously, any kid would love Dad’s rules and hate Mom’s, but the bigger issue is that the kid now has to choose which parent to listen to. Either way, he knows he’s going to be in trouble with the other. It’s a no-win scenario. So he’ll probably do what most inmates do, which is choose dessert and take the consequences, because, well, at least there was dessert.

Now, if appearances were everything, the TDCJ wouldn’t have a problem. Your first day in, you’re given a nice thick book with all the rules in it, or so they’d have you believe. What they don’t tell you is how many of the rules will never, EVER get enforced, or how some of the rules are enforced just to make life miserable for the inmates.

For example, there is this GREAT rule about talking at a reasonable volume if you are in the dayroom. In theory, this enables others to carry on conversations or to watch TV without yelling or blaring the volume. Now, this rule has been posted in every single dayroom I’ve lived in for my fourteen years of incarceration. Guess how many times I’ve seen it enforced. Go on. Guess. If you guessed a whopping ZERO times, you are the grand prize winner for today. Not once has an officer come in when someone was screaming at a football player on TV, rapping like they were at Madison Square Garden with no microphone, or yelling their trash-talk at their domino opponent. I can tell you with unequivocal confidence that you can make any amount of noise you want to, and the guards will never interfere. Now, you might have to deal with some ticked off fellow inmates if you keep making a bunch of noise, but as far as enforcing the rule, it will never happen.

On the other hand, there’s this rule in the book about hanging a laundry line to dry your clothes. It can be hung at night, but never, EVER, during the day. Don’t ask me why it can’t be hung, you know, when your clothes are wet, which would make the most sense to me. THAT should be the rule. “You may hang a laundry line if you have wet clothes you need to dry.” But, for whatever reason, nighttime is the right time to hang the line. Now, most sane people are not going to get up in the middle of the night to see if their clothes are dry and take them off the line. So, when the officers come in to do the 6 AM count, heaven help you if you still have that line hanging up, and most people DO, because they didn’t get up in the middle of the night, of course. This gives the guards an excuse to scream and holler and wake everyone up by banging on the steel doors with their clipboards.

Also, take the chow hall for example. The same book that tells you not to eat twice also tells you how big your portions are supposed to be. Now hundreds of times, I’ve seen an officer jump a server’s case for putting too much food on an inmate’s tray, but I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve seen them tell an inmate they were making the portions too small, and believe you me, the latter happens a lot more often than the former, because guess who eats the leftovers? That’s right, the same inmates serving the food.

There’s an old lady who works here in the schoolhouse, Ms. Hall. For some reason, she hates the church praise band I’m in. The other day, she came in and said, “Ya’ll playin’ too loud. Turn that mess down.” A few moments later, I went out into the hallway where her desk is, because I was going to the restroom. In the hall, you couldn’t hear a single instrument— not even the drums. So, she’s enforcing an existing rule when it doesn’t apply. At the same time, she refuses to let inmates use the restroom before count has cleared, which is not only a made up rule, it’s a constitutional violation. But even the unit major has backed her on the enforcement of it. It sure makes it easy to see how the game is rigged.

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