The Dirty Darrington

I’ve been promising to write for some time about the way-station all the inmates in this region of the TDCJ must pass through when either coming or going to Huntsville or, more importantly, the hospital at Galveston. If this trip only had to be made for intake and discharge or in the event of a medical emergency, it would be bad. But since all health care interactions that involve a specialist must occur at Galveston, the Dirty Darrington, as its own prisoners call it, sees hundreds of inmates pass through its gates each and every day.

Maybe the only image you’ve ever seen of the Darrington, if you’ve seen any at all, are the encouraging, even inspirational, stories of the graduates of the seminary program that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary started there several years ago, and believe me, Darrington would be MUCH worse off without this program and the window dressing that came with it. A lot of lipstick was put on this pig before those Texas Country Reporter cameras could start rolling. Unfortunately, those cameras never showed the dark, ugly belly of the beast that just might spur real reform in the Texas prison system.

The failings of the unit begin before you even get off the bus, literally. Because of arthritis in my knees that has necessitated several visits to an orthopedic specialist, and problems with- and surgery to- my feet, I’ve been through Darrington transit about a dozen times. At least half of those trips, I’ve waited, handcuffed to another prisoner in an inhumanely crowded prison bus, for up to three hours, right outside the gate, just for the bus to make it to the dock where prisoners offload. The bus experience is a chapter unto itself, and when the wheels aren’t rolling, it’s an especially torturous experience. If it’s hot, there’s no moving air. If it’s cold, there’s no heater because the bus is shut off. The one toilet is stationed at the front of the general population passenger compartment where everyone on the bus gets to watch while you try to take care of business while still cuffed to another prisoner.

By sheer luck (or unluck) of the draw, most of my trips have been in winter months, state-wide prison policy requires that upon entering a unit, a prisoner is given a blanket, two sheets, and a mattress. At Darrington, if you get any one of these, you’re damn lucky. After one particularly bad trip, I’m not kidding here, I was handed one blanket with no mattress or sheets, but still nearly cried in thankfulness because I had a chance to stay warm that night.

Interestingly, the one thing Darrington is good at is making sure you get toilet paper. It is always provided, but I can’t figure this out. Whenever you get it, it has no cardboard roll in the middle, and it’s never a full roll. The only thing I can think of is that they are pulling these rolls out of the officer bathroom after a few uses and getting them ready for offender use. It’s weird stuff, man. I wish that was the worst of the problems.

After a few minutes in a big cage, everyone is herded out to the G-line dayroom- if you’re lucky. G-line is the dayroom of choice because at least it has a urinal. Unlucky bastards get stuck in F-line dayroom where there’s just a jutting pipe end where the urinal used to be. The G-line urinal is less than two feet from the nearest seating, and because the dayroom is so crowded, and also because of the perverts in prison, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be someone sitting there. One side does offer a privacy screen (the side AWAY from the benches), so you take a leak standing at a 45 degree angle.

Now the real circus begins. The bus I always ride on gets to the Darrington at around 10AM. There’s no bus johnny with food for us to eat on the way, so our last meal was at around 4AM on the Stevenson. As soon as we step off the bus, we are supposed to be fed a johnny, but it’s never there. We get sent to the dayroom, and the officers on G-line assume we’ve already been fed, because that’s procedure. In the confusion, no one wants to get us food and this invariably leads to near-riot conditions. On two occasions, I’ve seen prisoners dragged out of the dayroom and restrained because of their anger at being starved while stuck in a dayroom with multiple broken windows and freezing cold air blowing roughly through the place while we had nothing but a sheet to staunch the cold.

After senseless hours of waiting, people will come and write your housing assignment right on your shirt with permanent marker. There are hundreds of shirts at the Stevenson Unit of people who’ve come off the Darrington chain and have these green housing assignments forever written on their shirts. Not once, in all my trips to the Dirty, have I ever seen all the inmates in the dayroom get a housing assignment without a problem. There are ALWAYS inmates who, for whatever reason, don’t get an assignment. If you’re one of these unfortunate souls, you’ll be stuck in the dayroom another three hours, and you can bank on that. After this penalty phase, any number of things can happen in my experience. On better days, the officers just give up waiting and put you in whatever cell is open. Other days, the people come back with more bad housing assignments and all kinds of interesting things happen.

fter my foot surgery last winter, I was given a cell at the end of F-line. After cripping all the way down the run with my property and my ‘linens’ (read that ‘sheet’), I discovered someone already sleeping in my bunk. The vastmajority of officers working the Darrington are Nigerian immigrants, and the language barrier at this point becomes acute. That guy that got put in the open cell earlier is now the one getting rousted up and moved around. His woes aren’t over, yet, as you’ll soon see. The night I made my way to the last cell on F-line, it turned out the poor guy really WAS assigned that cell. Because it was so late already, I ended up just sleeping in the dayroom. Here’s why I chose to do that.

Remember those folks that got put in the open cells? The next morning when the Nigerians come around to get the ones who are supposed to go on to the hospital, they have no idea who is where, and if you get left in a cell andmiss the bus, the hospital shows a no-show for the appointment. This should be impossible, of course. A prison should NEVER loose track of its prisoners, and a transit bus should NEVER leave with an incomplete manifest. At the Dirty Darrington, these are mere technicalities. I guess as long as everybody in white is in a cell- any cell- it’s good. Of course, the dayroom isn’t a cell, and that’s where I spent the night the Monday before Thanksgiving, 2017.

Once you get in the cell, there is no light because there is no light bulb. Many of the cells, especially on F-line, have moderate to severe smoke damage. This is because, with all of the broken windows and cold temperatures, inmates will start a fire and burn whatever they can lay their hands on to stay warm, including their one sheet. Fires are easier to start on F-line, apparently, because they keep segged Darrington inmates on that wing, and they have “tinder”- material to spark up.

Roaches and rodents are ubiquitous, andit’s not uncommon to wake up with bugs crawling on your body, so between the cold, the smoke smell, and the wild life, you don’t sleep a wink.

The next morning, the bus leaves for the hospital at 4AM, and this buys you somewhere between 14 and 19 hours of time. I’ve told you about Galveston already, so not going to get into that here. When the bus rolls back up to the Dirty D, you’ve got an added twist this time. Before going to the dayroom with your sheet to start your second night in the freezer, you get to make an excursion to the Darrington infirmary. This is someone’s idea of a good time. After my foot surgery, I showed up at this hell-hole with the whole bottom of my bandage dripping with blood. The nurse,who asks you if you have any medical problems, utterly refused to change the dressing on my foot. When I struggled to the end of F-line that night, I left behind bloody footprints. After spending nearly an hour in there, waiting for the farce to end, you finally get to go back to the dayroom where the wait for a housing assignment starts again. By the time you actually get put in a cell, you might have two hours of “rest” before the bus runs back to your unit. One things for sure, you could be sleepwalking like a freakin’ zombie, and still rejoice that you’re getting the hell off the Dirty Darrington.

So, let’s review. The laundry doesn’t get you the necessities every prisoner is supposed to have by policy. The chow hall fails to feed the main meal of the day or provide a johnny sack. Housing all too often places you in a cell that’s already occupied by another prisoner while at the same time permanently ruining your clothes. You’re subjected to repeated sexual harrassment just because you need to urinate. In your cell, there’s no light or heat, and outside air flows unimpeeded through the wing through broken windows. It’s not a Question of if, but rather how many, roaches you will kill on any given trip, and there’s no way to communicate your frustration about any of this to the officers because they barely speak the lingua franca. That ALMOST covers it, but not quite.

Since the Dirty D offers 24-hour “medical care” (ha!) and serves as the regional transit hub (which must be somebody’s idea of a sick joke), some genius decided that they would assign this unit the task of administering the new hepatitis- C treatments that have been all over the news and medical journals. Remember that these treatments cost almost $30,000 per person, but basically cure hep-C. They are a God-send, and the treatment could save the lives of the prisoners who receive them. If they ever do.

Some enterprising person or persons at the Darrington have stolen MILLIONS OF DOLLARS WORTH OF THESE HEP-C TREATMENTS! That’s right. For months, treatment will be delayed for those selected to receive it, because all of the drugs bought by YOU, at 30-freakin’-grand a pop, were stolen right out from under the noses of these clowns at the Darrington.

Now watch this. First, the thief HAD to be a staff member. These are highly controlled drugs and are not only locked by doubly so. Since all staff is supposed to be searched on the way in and on the way out, how in the world did these millions of dollars worth of drugs get out the door? Obviously, someone on the inside is getting a piece of the pie to look the other way and keep their mouth shut while the Texas taxpayer is fleeced for another round of drugs.

And of course they would do it. What’s the downside? We’ve already shown you over and over again that there are no consequences for these people when they twist, bend, and finally break the laws. There’s no accountability when they disregard their own rules and regulations. They have proven time and again that they are above the law. So what if they get caught? What’s the worse that can happen? An outraged public will demand that NEVER AGAIN will they spend this kind of money for “needless” medical treatments that cost an arm and a leg. The greedy, heartless monsters running that prison walk away with millions of dollars, and the only consequence is prisoners who didn’t get treatment will die, and who is going to care about that a bit? That, my friends, is the attitude that they have, and that is why I write all these letters to you, praying that someone will wake up and do something to stop all this before another prisoner dies- before another heist takes away millions of the money set aside to help the prisoners.

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