By David Van Houten

In the eleven years I’ve been in prison, I’ve seen a lot of things - good things, bad things, happy things, sad things, odd things, and funny things. But nothing fit all of these categories like what happened one day at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville, Texas.

One afternoon, a new guy moved on to our wing whom I’d never seen before on the unit. He was a very thin older gentleman who walked like his legs didn’t quite work properly. I normally keep to myself, so I usually wouldn’t go out of my way to interact with him, but he looked lost, and I felt bad for him. I invited him to have a seat at my table until it was time for us to go up to our cells.

When he sat down, he had his ID card in his hand. I just happened to glance at it, and I was momentarily stunned. All I could see was his first and middle name, which happened to be MY first and middle name, spelled exactly the same way. For a second, I thought he had stolen my ID, so I asked him, “Do you mind if I look at your ID for a second?”

He looked at me warily. Your ID is your lifeline to food and commissary, and everyone knows you shouldn’t hand it over to just anyone. However, I had shown him a small kindness, so he handed it over. When I looked at the last name, I realized it was, in fact, his ID. I apologized and explained why I wanted to see it. We had a good laugh, which broke the ice.

Thinking he must be new on the unit, I said, “So, where are you coming from?”

"I just got out of medium custody.” Generally, only trouble makers go to medium custody, and for a moment, I was taken aback. He didn’t look like trouble, but you can’t always tell in here. Some of these guys are criminals.

"Why were you in medium custody?” “That’s a long story.”

He proceeded to tell me a tale that both amazed and appalled me. He explained that one day, his sister sent him a book, but instead of ever receiving it, he was “arrested” and put in pre-hearing detention. He had no idea why he was taken there, but he eventually found out that the officers had found a large stash of narcotics in the package his sister had sent him.

I don’t do drugs, and my sister would definitely never send me anything like that.”

I thought any books people send in have to be sent by a third party, such as Amazon or the publisher?”

Exactly. My sister bought the books at Office Depot and had them send the package to me, but when they arrived, the drugs were in there.”

"Shouldn’t they have arrested your sister out in the free world? Why would they punish you for something beyond your control?”

”Well, that’s a different story.”

He then told me how he was originally convicted of something he didn’t do. He had discovered something that proved his innocence and hired an attorney to file his writ of habeas corpus for him. However, what he didn’t know was that the lieutenant on the Wynne Unit was from his county and was close to people who worked for the D.A.

When I started getting stuff from my attorney to go over, I noticed that things seemed to be missing that I was expecting to receive.”

I thought that the people here can’t open your mail from an attorney without you present.”

That’s correct. At first, I didn’t realize anything was missing when they opened it in front of me. It seemed like everything was legit, but when my attorney came fora legal visit to discuss the stuff he’d sent me, it turned out that things were missing. He gave me an actual copy of what he’d sent out, and I was surprised to find several pages were missing from the package I got.”

He pulled a legal envelope from a bag he had. Inside were two copies of the same document. One had fifteen pages, the other had only twelve.

So they took a couple of pages out?”

Worse. They retyped the pages in the envelope, leaving out important stuff, and then reprinted it so it looked like it wasn’t missing anything.”

He showed me both copies, and it was amazing that even though several pages were missing, you wouldn’t notice because there was no break point.

They actually took time to type it up and reprint it and then reseal it in your envelope?”

I guess so. My attorney sent a test package, and sure enough, pages were missing thanks to a retyping of the document. He filed charges against the mailroom, which thensold out the lieutenant.”

Wow! That’s crazy. But what does it have to do with the narcotics?”

He shook his head. “I guess the captain didn’t like his lieutenant getting busted. It was later revealed that he was the one who put the drugs in the package when it arrived. We had already gathered security footage from Office Depot showing there was nothing in the package when they closed it. That left either UPS or the unit.”

"How did you figure out which one it was?”

"We got someone to admit they saw the captain do it. He denied it, of course, but it helped us reach a deal to get me out of medium custody.”

"How long were you there?”

A year and a half.

That explained the lean look, and I assumed his walking problems had something to do with that, too, but I didn’t feel it would be polite to ask about it. Instead, I asked, “So what happened to the captain?”


”Nothing? Aren’t you scared he’ll retaliate?”

”I’ve already got lawsuits against the county, the unit, the lieutenant, and the mailroom. I almost hope he gives me a reason to add him on - one that I can prove.”

About that time, the picket boss called an “in” to go into our cells. The man and I went to our respective cells, and both were on the fourth row. We learned that we were only two cells away from each other. We said goodbye and went into our cells, but my head was spinning with what he’d told me.

After the doors closed, I sat down to write some letters, but I was interrupted when I heard someone call out his door number. A few seconds later, I heard his cell door roll open and saw the captain walk by on his way to the man’s cell. What happened next, I only saw part of, but I heard the whole thing as it happened.

The captain told him to get out of the cell, because he was going to search it for contraband. I saw the old man step out onto the walkway just inside my field of vision.

I heard a lot of banging, and it sounded like things were being thrown around in the cell. I heard the captain ask, “Do you have papers for this multi-outlet?”

"No,” the old man replied. Suddenly, I saw a multi-outlet plug go Flying over the run and heard it land hard four floors down. Next, I heard the captain ask, “Do you have papers for this lamp?”

”No,” came the patient reply.

I saw the lamp go flying over the run and heard it crash down below.

There were some more banging sounds from the cell, and then, “Do you have papers for this hot pot?”

Again, “No.”

The hot pot was launched and made a dull thunk as it hit the ground below.

A few seconds later, “Do you have papers for this radio?”


There went the radio, which landed with an ugly crunching sound.

Finally, after a few more minutes of digging, I heard, “Do you have papers for this typewriter?”

"Oh no,” I thought.

Sure enough, the answer came. “No.”

The typewriter flew over the rail and fell like a brick. A second later came a loud smashing sound with several tinklings following as parts of it went everywhere.

After a little more crashing around in the cell, I finally heard the captain ask, “So why don’t you have papers for all that stuff?”

There was a pause and then the man said, “Because that was all my cellie’s stuff.”

After a moment of stunned silence, the captain went storming by my cell. He glared at me as I stifled the laughter. A few hours later, the old man was moved off the wing, and I never saw him again.

However, I’d like to think the captain gave him exactly what he was looking for. I had my own problems with the assistant warden on that unit, and I was moved to another prison a few months later. However, the following year, a guy I’d known from the Wynne Unit moved to my new digs, and all he could talk about was how the captain had suddenly retired for unknown reasons. I can only assume the old man had finally got his own form of retaliation.

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