Ruiz’s Achilles Heel

By Jay Goodman

As much as I admire and appreciate the amazing things that David Ruiz accomplished for Texas inmates, the settlement that was eventually agreed to by both the class-action litigants and the old Texas Department of Corrections had a weakness that ultimately caused it to fail as an agent of change in the state prison system.

I’ve recently written several times about the quality of officers that started coming into the system in the 2000s. It affected the whole prison system as phones, drugs, and many forms of illegal contraband started flooding the place. The Puppetmasters were blazing a trail of corruption and manipulation, and sadly, everything that the federal lawsuit won by David Ruiz accomplished was a distant memory.

Through my life, I have seen state and federal agencies fall due to corruption. We see on TV or read the papers about state and federal politicians that get into trouble or abuse their positions, positions that were given to them by the people. And when these types of instances occur, it gives opportunity for the culprits to admit they did wrong. They not only have a chance to come clean, but it gives them a chance to make changes to prevent similar occurrences in the future. And one would think that after everything the Texas prison system was caught doing, someone like our state senators, state representatives or governor would be furious over the treatment of all the prisoners in their home state.

Now you’ve seen how there were inmates acting like guards, and people slaving in the Fields when it was way over the century mark on the thermometer. I wrote about how they would stick naked prisoners in little tin sheds often suffocating or killing them. I wrote about beatings, murders, and all the other abuses. So when the David Ruiz suit came out, you would have thought that all of our politicians would have done everything in their power to ensure that nothing like it could ever happen again. You would also think that our politicians would have looked at the Ruiz suit and seen how the things described were not isolated incidents, but went on at every single unit in the system. Consequently, it would’ve been a great idea to go ahead and get rid of those who were the CAUSE of all these problems - every warden every assistant warden, every ranking officer, and especially every single field boss should have been terminated on the spot. And then they should have taken a good, long look at each CO that was going to remain in service. Then, they should have drawn up a completely new training program for any TDCJ employees that were staying in the system, making damn sure that no one Fell through the cracks.

Doesn’t this sound like the logical thing to do? I mean who in their right mind would have allowed these people who had permitted all of these abuses and perpetrated all these abuses to continue to hang around these units and run things. It’s just nuts! And getting rid of all these bad apples would have been so much easier back when the suit was first settled and the TDCJ was still relatively small. What a grave error on the part of Texas and her law-makers to have allowed this to continue, because they left the people who believed in that old slave-labor, plantation-mentality system to keep right on working in the same jobs they had’s all along. And that is exactly why the Texas prison system is today polluted with the kinds of abuses, cover-ups, and criminal activity that has ALWAYS been allowed or accepted as if it was okay.

TDCJ officers truly believe it’s all right to lie and write false reports. In our prison system, it doesn’t make any difference if you show them a disciplinary case was Falsely written. It doesn’t make any difference whatsoever. You will still be found guilty. See, by not eliminating the corrupt officials from the old days, they allowed bad officers to stay here and breed more of the same old hatred, lies, and abuses. Also, remember that the TDCJ is a professional, criminal organization, and it has prospered for so long that it will be completely impossible to clean it up on a state level. It will never change.

To prove my point, remember what I’ve written about just since Ruiz won his lawsuit. Yes, we have a grievance system. Yes, we have a substitute counsel for offenders. But what good are any of these “improvements” if they are just window-dressing offices run by the family members of the officers accused of wrong-doing? Even the officers will openly tell you that the Unit Grievance Investigator won’t do anything but put the grievance in a stack of papers. What good is HAVING a grievance system if nothing is accomplished from it? It’s just a waste of our time and your money.

The same goes for the substitute counsel for offenders. They go to “court” with prisoners, yes. But, they never listen to them or really fight for them. The grievance system and the substitute counsel are fairy tales, nothing more. They were instituted to make the courts think that we were being protected, and they might even have had some teeth when there were federal monitors in place to police things, but not anymore.

By leaving the same officials in place, you can see why more than 20 years of federal control did Texas no good in regards to the prison system. You can see now why there are cell phones, tobacco, drugs, and the new synthetic stuff, “K-2”, on all the units. You can see why almost all the food sent to the units for inmate consumption is interdicted by these thieving officials and disappears. You can more easily understand about guards and rank abusing the elderly and the sick. It’s obvious why prisoners are being cooked to death in cells reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit every summer. It’s easy to believe how a warden with thirty years in the system can steal from the kitchen and steal from the charity food bank that is trying to send something special in to the inmate population can not only get away with it for almost three years but then retire with all his benefits and no criminal charges. Why was this man not charged with a crime? The TDCJ will press charges on an inmate for a single joint of K-2 and give him five more years on his sentence, but here is this warden with FIVE FREEZERS full of high-quality meat, and he just waltzes right out the door. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because by not getting rid of those people running the system back during the Ruiz days, this is where we stand today.

I’ll tell you without a doubt in my mind that Texas harbors the most corrupt prison system in our nation. Of course, they will tell us how they have put all these wonderful sounding policies into effect so that those terrible things that happened back then won’t ever reoccur. Oh, and they will have you thinking they have everything in order, now, and are working tirelessly to do all they can for the prisoners. Believe me, they work hard all right. They work hard at shoveling this horse manure to the public.

Every year, the TDCJ has these people come to each one of the units in the system. They do a security audit and a safety inspection. They also look at the cleanliness of the facilities and the treatment of the prisoners. In fact, these inspectors are supposed to ASK us how we are being treated to find out if there are any problems. Well, I have 13 years in these Texas prisons, and in that whole time, I don’t remember seeing more than two inmates that have ever had the opportunity of talking with these people. Everything put into place since Ruiz is nothing but a smokescreen, so they could get their prison system back. There will never be any true change in the TDCJ until someone looks at all these things we’ve written about and starts working to fix the system from the inside out.

Remember, everyone that’s been a part of running this corrupt system will have to leave. They’ve proven over and over again that they will never do the right thing under any circumstances. Their only concern is access to keep lying, stealing, abusing, mistreating and using their position for material gain through illegal activities. The TDCJ is nothing more than a veneer of legitimacy for a criminal organization, and it’s been allowed to exist far too long.

If somebody really wanted to make changes in this insane prison system, I’d beg them to come and sit down with me, because I have over ten years worth of ideas that would help pave the way for great changes. Let me tell you one thing for damn sure, the people that have been running these prisons certainly haven’t been able to take the system in a new direction. It’s only gotten worse. And it will continue to get even worse. That is why I call these people the “Puppetmasters”. Everything that they have set up is designed to work just so, and so it does. They’re fully aware of all the bad things that go on in here. They know about the physical and the mental abuse. They certainly know the grievance system is garbage. They know the officers lie on their paperwork. They know inmates are getting bogus cases that cost them years of additional time away from their loved ones and away from being society producers instead of society consumers. They know that we have these counsel substitutes that better never win a case, or they’ll be looking for another line of work. They know much of the food coming here to feed the inmates is being eaten in the Officer Dining Room or stolen and sold out the back door. They know there are many officers working in this system that aren’t fit for duty. That people are being cooked to death in hot cells. That prisoners are being locked down and fed for weeks or months on nothing but peanut butter and bologna. That the cell phones and drugs are everywhere. And the list of what the Puppetmasters know is endless. They not only know, but they are right in the middle of it all; pulling the strings.

It would be different if these people were ignorant to what was happening, but they are a part of it. They are the true reason why everything that’s put in place has been allowed to continue. There have been a lot of people tell me through the years, “Jay, nothing will ever change the people controlling this prison system.” I always respond in the same way. How odd they would say that when that’s exactly how so many people think of us, too - that we’ll never change. Then I might point out how he’s done over 20 years in prison, but he left his gang 15 years ago. I point out how he’s completed those two years of college and taken a trade. I point to all the people in the cell block that are going to school, holding down prison jobs, attending church and religious education classes. These men are ever changing, and many of them for the better despite every reason in the world to go the opposite direction.

I certainly believe that if the right person took over this prison system, great things would happen. I look at the amazing changes in Colorado’s state prison system, or I think of Warden Cain at Angola in Louisiana. It will only take one man of true grit, and this whole Texas prison system can start moving forward.

I’ve often wondered why Texas cannot let go of the past, and it’s because of, that old style of thinking that grips the system. It’s because of the money being made through illicit activities. Yes, it’s sad that no one has put a stop to this, but the stage is set for radical change. It is the birth of a new era, and we will not be caught clinging to old, failed ideas. Nothing great will come if we fail to try.

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