Sergeant Garcia Screws Up Your Life

My buddy Jay wanted me to tell you all about my first case, and I’ve been wanting to do that for a while, anyway. I hope it gives you a better understanding of how the internal “justice” department of the Texas Department of Criminal injustice works, and how the prison system turns into a pit of quicksand that can swallow up the best-behaved inmates.

Prior to this incident, I was a model inmate. On my transfer facility, which only had around 600 people, my character was well-known by the officers and administrators. I enjoyed a great deal of favor, and I never abused it by taking advantage of these positions to get illicit gain like free-world contraband or special housing. I was a clerk to the laundry captain, and after I’d been on the unit about six months, I was made one of two volunteer workers for the chaplain. He even wrote me a letter of recommendation to carry with me to my next unit, which is, I discovered later, a rare honor.

When I got to my I.D. unit, the Stevenson, it was a much bigger pond. Here, there were 1380 inmates, and the attitude of the officers was very different. Whereas at the Tulia Transfer Facility it seemed like each officer made an earnest attempt to do his job with diligence and get to know the prisoners in their care, on the Stevenson, it seemed like they pretty much could care less what happened to you as long as they got their paycheck at the end of the day. There certainly wasn’t any attempt to sort out the “bad seeds”. We were all just lumped together as a bunch of lying cry babies in their eyes.

To an extent, I can see how they could become jaded over time. No doubt about it, there’re guys in here who care less about changing their ways, and they make it their life’s mission to “get down” on the officers any way they can- stealing an extra food tray, sneaking into the commissary line, making a batch of hootch without getting caught. They lie as easy as breathing, so it might take effort to sort out the cons from the ex-cons, but I would think it would be worth the effort. After all, sooner or later, the system will be spitting most of us back out on the street, and wouldn’t it be nice to know what kind of character that person has when he gets out?

Anyway, I’d been on the unit a little over a year. The first few days in prison, while I was still at intake, I’d made a point to read the Offender Handbook cover to cover. I knew the rules, and I followed them to the best of my ability. Up to the day I ran into Sergeant Garcia, that is.

You guys already know that every six months, we have to pack up all of our stuff and head to the gym to be shaken down. I’d already had one knee surgery since coming to the TDCJ, and was facing problems with my other one. This made carrying all my junk down to the gym a real chore. If you’ve ever seen the images of refugees fleeing their homes with all their worldly goods thrown into some tied up sheets and slung over their backs, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what it looks like as we head down to the gym. Now, the TDCJ provides a cart for inmates with medical conditions that preclude them being able to carry all this stuff to the gym. I didn’t have a lifting restriction, but I had several other restrictions because of my surgery including walking distances, standing for long periods of time, and traveling over wet or uneven surfaces. As the cell door rolled, the cart was right outside my door. There was a field boss standing next to the cart, and I asked him if I could use it for my stuff. He said, “What’s your problem?” I told him I’d had knee surgery, and he told me to go ahead and put my stuff in the cart.

I had three large bags and a tied up sheet. I put two bags in the cart and went back into my cell to get the other stuff. I came back out with the sheet. There was a different officer standing next to the cart. He was a very short, dark-complected Texanista with a “Wyatt Earp” mustache. With a thick, Spanish accent, he said, “What are you doing?” I responded, “The other officer said I could use the cart, sir.” I added sir, because this man had sergeant bars, and I didn’t want to disrespect him. “You can’t use this cart. Now pack your shit down to the gym.” (Forgive my use of profanity, but that’s just the way some of these folks talk in here.) I said, “Sarge, I have restrictions.” He responded by saying, “Show me your pass.” I didn’t know if this was a trick or what. Medical doesn’t give “passes” for restrictions. All medical restrictions are listed next to your name on the roster they provide the building every day. “Sir, I don’t have a pass-”“Well then, you don’t use the cart.” I admit I was getting a little aggravated at this point. “They don’t give passes for restrictions. You have to check the roster. It’s right there in the picket, if you need to see it.”“I don’t need to see shit, punk. Now get out of my face and get your ass down to the gym.

Okay. I was fuming mad, but I could see I wasn’t going to get anywhere with this jerk, so I went to the cart to get my first two bags out of the cart. “What the hell are you doing?”“I’m getting my bags out of the cart so I can get my ass down to the gym’!” The little man turned purple so fast I thought I’d fallen into an episode of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. “What the fuck did you say to me?”

Before I could answer he screamed, “Give me your I.D.!” There was a square table in between us. I whipped the I.D. off of my collar where I had it clipped, and tossed it on the table. He took the I.D., sat down, carefully copiedthe name and number, and then stood back up. What happened next really took me by surprise.

Face that wall, right there!”““What? What for?”“Put your face on that wall, or I’ll put it there for you. “Mad as I was, I’d already seen for myself the brutality that TDCJ field bosses are capable of. They believe they have a license to kill with little or no provocation, so I did as I was told. Sergeant Garcia started putting hand cuffs on me

What am I being detained for?”“Because you threw your I.D. at me. That’s assault on an officer.”“Every inmate in this dorm saw the whole thing. You’llnever make that stick.” Little did I know, I had a lot to learn about the “Justice”part of Criminal justice.

I was cuffed and taken to the deep space. Garcia handed me over to another field boss, Dudley, and I was escorted to the line building where the seg cells are located in the back. These cells are the only ones with air conditioning on the whole unit, and they use it. It’s freezing back there. I spent the next four hours sitting there and waiting for the shoe to drop. I’d never been through this routine before, so I had no idea what to expect. I’ve since learned that often times, this is all that will happen. They will arrest an inmate and let him “cool his heels” back there for a few hours before they return him to population with no charges filed. I was not to be so lucky. It seems like the made up assault charge was the only card in Garcia’s deck, so he played it to the hilt.

Eventually, Dudley came back and escorted me to the gym. This was unusual, but because of the shakedown, it was where all the ranking officers were. I was taken before Lieutenant Moorman. I would later come to learn that he was one of the dirtiest bosses on the farm, an old “convict boss”inall the worst senses of the expression. He sat behind a desk while I stood by a door, surrounded by several field bosses. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

At first I thought, Finally, I can explain this and it will all go away. As rationally and calmly as I could, I told Moorman what had transpired. When I finished, he sat silent for a moment, and then all of a sudden, his face turned cherry red, and he screamed, “Do you think, this is a fucking Hilton or something? I guess nobody remembered to tell you that you are a piece of shit in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice!” I was stunned, and I didn’t make any response. He asked, “Cat got your tongue, boy?” I didn’t say anything.

He pulled out a form and said, “I need to take your statement. Why did you assault this officer?” I’d seen and heard enough. I wasn’t about to give them anymore ammo, so I didn’t say anything. “Get this offender out of my sight,”Moorman told one of his field officers, and I was escorted out ofthe office.

As I walked out, I noticed two bags sitting up against the wall. They were the two bags I’d had to leave in the cart when Garcia had decided I’d assaulted him. I told the guard, “Those are my bags.” He said, “I have to search them.” He dumped them out on the ground without even looking at the contents and said, “Well, get your shit together and get out of here.” I did. As I walked back to my dorm, the thoughts of the day jumbled through my mind. How had I got myself in this mess?

When I got back in the dorm, a building officer who knew me and was friendly towards me said, “Powers, you got yourself in a real mess there. They left all your stuff in the closet.”“The closet” was the janitor’s closet. It was always dirty, the floor covered with gunk, dirty water, and the bodies of dead or dying roaches. Sure enough, all my stuff was still in the sheet or in the bag, but it was soaking wet and sitting in the gunk - all my pictures, papers, electronic appliances. I retrieved my property and went to my cell, trying to clean up and dry off as much as I could.

The next day, the Offender Advocate came to my cell to tell me she was representing me in the major case I’d received. This was my first information that I even HAD a major case. She read me the charge. “Offender did cause a major disruption of unit operations during shakedown by throwing his I.D. at Sergeant Garcia.” I told her what had happened, and I told her that there were at least twenty witnesses who saw exactly what happened, and I sure hadn’t thrown my I.D. at him. She asked me for the names of the witnesses. Here’s the deal. Hardly anybody in prison goes by their name. I know it’s weird, but everyone has “street names” or nicknames, and so it’s hard to identify people the way they want you to identify them. I gave her the names I knew and their cell numbers. One witness in particular was very good for me, my ex-cellie, Roydell Thomas. He was an old, black fellow built like a wood-burning stove. He worked the railroad all his life before getting locked up. We ended up getting ten witness statements that all said that I was telling the truth about what happened. I’ve since learned just how extraordinary this was, but at the time I took it for granted that all these guys would tell the truth. Even though they were many nations and backgrounds, we all had a common “enemy”. The sum total of Garcia’s evidence was his own statement.

Ten days after the incident, three days past the day the hearing was deadlined per policy, we had my hearing. I was not allowed to talk to the “witnesses” directly. That was the job of my “advocate”. Her name was Ms. Gomez, anda stranger person I’ve never seen working for the TDCJ. She was always more skittish than a cat in a rocking chair factory, like she was balanced on the edge, and if anyone so much as dropped a glass dish around her, she’d be on the moon. I had to trust her to do the work, but I’d prepared as much as possible. I’d written a two-page statement and organized a list of twenty questions that I felt would lead Garcia to having to tell the truth about what happened. There is no doubt in my mind that I would have been better represented had I been able to represent myself. She was terrible. As she stuttered and sputtered through the preliminaries of my hearing, I could tell Captain Jackson had no patience for her or the whole process. As the Disciplinary Hearing Officer, I could tell he believed far less in the system than I did. On top of that, I’d already had a run in with Jackson. I’d been one of several inmates to write him up when we witnessed him calling out a group of inmates with, “I’m old school. I will take this shirt off and whip every single one of you child molesters. Do you hear me?” Of course, the grievances had been dismissed with “no evidence to substantiate the allegations” even though there had been three grievances and multiple witnesses.

Eventually, we got to the part of the hearing where I got to offer my defense. Jackson asked me, “Well, what do you have say?” First, I offered the list of witnesses. Each of them had provided a written statement. Jackson took the whole batch and threw them in the wastebasket. He said, ”I stipulate that you have a bunch of inmates that all say that you didn’t do it.” I was stunned. I mean, he’d just took some of my best evidence and thrown it in the trash. “Don’t you need those statements in the record?”“No. I said I stipulated to what they said, didn’t I?” Well, yes. He had.

Next I said, “I’d like to ask Sergeant Garcia some questions.”“I will call Sergeant Garcia. You are to understand that you may not question or talk to the officer. You may provide the questions to your advocate, who will question the officer. Do you understand?” I did. He picked up the phone, got an outside line, and called Garcia. He told him why he was calling and kind of swore him in. Ms. Gomez had my list of questions, and they were in order, numbered one to twenty. The train started coming off the rails when Jackson told her she could begin her questions. She stared at the list like she’d been dropping acid and all the colors of the rainbow were playing music on the page. Finally, after several long minutes and a look of anger from Jackson, she asked question number 3. I said, “That’s not right. I need you to ask the questions in order.” She looked at me like I’d grown a third eye, and looked back at the list with a look of confusion. I thought, “Where did they get this lady?” To my amazement (and, I think, Jackson’s), she read question number one. Garcia said, “I can’t understand her.” Jackson told her to speak up and try again. Again, she mumbled the question, and Garcia said he couldn’t hear her. Jackson was exasperated, and he grabbed the list. He looked at the questions and handed me the paper. “Read the first question, good and loud, to your Offender Advocate!” And this became the way I questioned Garcia without asking him any questions.

Did I at any time touch you?” He answered no. “Did the I.D. that was allegedly thrown at you strike you or even touch you?” Again, Garcia answered in the negative. I was thrown off, because I’d expected him to fight a little harder than this, and I certainly wasn’t expecting him to just come out and tell the truth, since he’d lied on the disciplinary forms from the get go. I asked the question that I hoped would make the whole case go away. “If you had to describe what happened to the I.D., which would you say better characterizes what happened that day- that the I.D. was thrown at you, or that the I.D. was tossed onto the table?” To my happy unbelief, the sarge answered, “It was tossed on the table.”I thought, Praise God! I’ve won.

Captain Jackson thanked Garcia for his time when I told him I didn’t have any more questions. The others were irrelevant, I believed, since Garcia had admitted no I.D. was thrown at him in no uncertain terms. After hanging up the phone, Jackson looked over some of the papers in front of him, many of which I’d never seen.

Without looking at me, he started writing on the paper, and said,“I’m finding you guilty. You get 45 days cell restriction, 45 days rec restriction and 45 days commissary restriction. I’m also dropping you two line classes.”

For the first time since I’d received the case, the Offender Advocate looked like she was actually working for me. The look on her face was one of utter shock. She spit out, “He just said Powers never threw his I.D. at him!”Jackson looked at her contemptuously, like she’d just broken ‘the code, and said, “He may not have thrown his I.D., but he DID disrupt unit operations during a shakedown.” And that was it.

I appealed the case with a Step 1 and Step 2 Grievance, which is standard operating procedure. The disciplinary hearings for major cases are recorded, so I cited Garcia’s admissions on the tape as my evidence. Both grievances came back denied. Whoever was reading these grievancesapparently thought Jackson’s logic was unassailable.

Soon after receiving this case, I came up for my first parole. It was denied. The unit parole officer told me that this disciplinary case had nothing to do with it, but I find that hard to believe. (Although, I’ve seen dudes with a lot worse cases make parole even while on restriction for them!) Still, in my heart of hearts, it’s hard not to believe that I might be a free man right now if it wasn’t for this little man’s lies, and a system that would back his play even when they find out he made the whole thing up.

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