The Fred Cruz Story Part 2

Uncovering The Injustice

By Jay Goodman

As I sit here looking back to 1967, and how the Texas prisons were run, compared to -how they are run today. Truthfully, not a lot has changed, as far as how they think, and act. Because of lawsuits that were won, and because the federal government took total control of all the Texas prisons for ten years, naturally they had to make certain changes. But, the only thing that the Puppetmasters really changed was their tactics.

This is part two of my story, about Fred Cruz and an attorney he met named, Frances Jalet. As she left the Ellis Unit, after her first visit, she must of had a million thoughts running through her mind. As the Director, George Beto, tried to discourage her from helping Fred Cruz, I imagine that might of actually helped her to continue. After all, Jalet was very educated, and as I have learned through the years, people have a built-in instinct when they are around evil. If she felt the director was evil as she left that day? Nothing could of really prepared her for what she was about to learn. Jalet’s meeting with Cruz left an impression on her too. Writing about the experience in a letter. She described Cruz as, “An intelligent young man v/ho has had a hard time. For a poorly educated convict, he had an amazing grasp of legal issues. I find he. has courage also,” wrote Jalet. Jalet and Cruz began corresponding several times a week. They were both prolific writers. Because of the censors, letters would often arrive weeks late, and sometimes in batches. Cruz and Jalet took to numbering their correspondence, so they would know when letters went missing.

On December 11, 1967, the day before Cruz’s twenty-eighth birthday, he was back in solitary. A major named, Savage, had accused Cruz of disobeying an order, not to share his Buddhist religious materials with other inmates. When Cruz was let out, Warden McAdams, came to personally warn Cruz. If he kept writing people about matters that didn’t pertain to his case, he would be put in solitary indefinitely. The warden and major accused him of “agitating” the other prisoners. Cruz couldn’t quite figure out what they were so upset about, but it seemed to have something to do with his new correspondent.

Over the first few months of 1968, Jalet and Cruz started to write each other almost daily, and she drove to visit him as often as she could. They discussed procedural issues, constitutional matters, and the moral underpinnings of justice. Jalet brought Cruz law articles, including one she had published, in the UCLA Law Review titled, “The Quest for the General Principles of Law Recognized Civilized Nations.” Jalet became increasingly incensed by what she was learning from Cruz about his treatment in prison. His punishment for practicing and sharing his Buddhist faith, for one, was a clear violation of his constitutional rights. What was more fundamental, than freedom of religion? The brutality of solitary, and the arbitrary way it was used, to crack down on prisoners for sharing legal advice, also seemed unconstitutional.

Once again allow me to fast forward to 2019. Here I sit, 52 years later, and two of my friends, that I have written about in past chapters, Mario Veleta and Lowrence Bernal, were both called, “devil worshipers”, in their Buddhist class by an officer that works here. The cell block I live in was taken to the gym one morning, while they took drug dogs through our cells. The same guard that called my friends, “devil worshipers”, went into Veleta’ s cell, and tore up pictures of his dead mother, and of his daughters. Was she written up for this? Both of my friends wrote grievances, but what happened? NOTHING!

This is what I want everyone who reads my book to see, nothing has changed in all these years. The thinking of the employees, from the guards, ranking officers, wardens are Still the same. The Texas prison system cannot and will not let go of the past, and because of this. The. prisons in this state have turned into an industry, and a criminal organization. Please realize, that in the United States, we as American Citizens have a constitutional right to practice whatever religion we want, but in the Texas-prisons they violate this right daily.

Moving on, Jalet saw other cases from other states, where prisoners began to petition federal courts for constitutional protections. In the Texas prisons, Cruz and others continued to be punished (for sharing their religious beliefs. Cruz told others about Jalet’s assistance and interests, and soon she was meeting with two other inmates at Ellis. She met with an African-American Muslim named, Bobby Brown. Who had been punished with months of solitary confinement for practicing his faith. The other, a White prisoner named, Ronald Novak. Serving twelve years for robbery, he also requested Jalet’s help. Novak struggled with mental illness and hallucinations. He told Jalet about being repeatedly beaten and starved in solitary, which had exacerbated a kidney ailment.

Based on her interviews, Jalet began to compose a document she called, “The El l is Report. “From the very first sentence of its fifteen typed pages, it was an all-out indictment. “The prisoners confined in the Texas prisons, most especially on the. Ellis Unit… are deprived of their constitutional, rights, and subjected to a pattern of repression, harassment, and even torture that is shocking. Through abusive practices based on brutality and dehumanization, the inmates” live in constant fear.” Jalet documented the stories she had heard from prisoners, of being made to stand on a two-inch wide plank for days at a time, of being hung from cell bars in strait jackets. She wrote of routine beatings with fists, baseball bats, brass knuckles, and blackjacks. Warden McAdams’s himself of ten led the action, she claimed, particularly if an African-American work squad showed signs of malingering or “bucking” She described an instance in which a prisoner was made to shell peanuts for five days straight, until his fingers were so raw that he attempted suicide, by slashing his wrists. She also exposed the role of the “turn keys”. Inmates who were allowed to act as guards, and even carry weapons, so long as they were willing to tune up troublemakers at the request of prison administration. They had re markable power. “Turn Keys, are henchmen of the establishment and have authority to harass, intimidate and even to beat or kill prisoners”, Jalet wrote in her report. This type of power by another inmate would be un-thinkable in other parts of the United States, but of course, Texas was a holdout.

This was one of Beto’s dirty secrets; he could run his prisons cheaply, not just because he had free labor, but because select prisoners acted as his guards and enforcers.

Jalet began to circulate copies of “The Ellis Report”, to state agencies, and civil rights groups. She sent one copy to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where it found its way to a young Harvard-trained staff attorney named, William Bennett Turner. Jalet became increasingly convinced that the abuses in the Texas prisons, particularly the use of solitary confinement, and the ban on prisoners helping each other with legal work, needed to be challenged in court. It couldn’t have taken long before Beto caught wind of the report, which specifically targeted him. The department’s, “mask of respectability”, Jalet wrote, “ is furthered by the status of Dr. George J. Beto, a former Lutheran Minister and college President, who, though he cannot be blind to what goes on, manages to obscure the truth from interested eyes.” The implication would have been obvious to Beto and his wardens. Jalet using Cruz as her key informant, was declaring war on the Texas prison system.

In the spring of 1968, Beto decided to go on the offensive. His first countermove was to lodge a complaint with Jalet’s boss, at the legal aid office in Austin. What right, he wanted to know, did this out-of-state lawyer have stirring up the prison population? Jalet’s boss immediately took all her cases away. She wrote to her home office back in Philadelphia, which managed to find her a new posting at a poverty law center in Dallas. Six months into that job, Beto phoned her new boss, Joshua Taylor, who dutifully instructed Jalet to stop visiting the prisons. Jalet refused. Soon, the bitter fights between the two began. In a memo, Taylor ordered Jalet to no longer assist prisoners, and to stop, “at tacking the policies” of the Texas prison system. When Beto got a copy of Taylor’s directive, he had a pretext to bar her from his prison, he told his wardens to remove Jalet from the approved visiting and correspondence lists. Suddenly, Jalet was completely cut off from her clients.

To someone reading this, it probably comes as a shock, the things I have described that were going on. back then. And to see the director over all of the prison system was not only involved, but went to all of these extremes to keep a lawyer away.

Once again, allow me to flash forward 52 years. Nothing is really any different. Yes, they have all of these new policies on paper. Yes, they have a grievance system. But, everything I’ve written about in these two chapters, are still happening to this very day, July 24th, 2019. Only the tactics have changed. The prison system as a whole thrives on corruption, just as it did 52 years ago when this, “S.O.B.”, Beto was the director.

In response, Jalet filed an injunction and a restraining order against both, Beto and Taylor. On Christmas eve, Taylor called her into his office and told her, he was firing her for “insubordination”. In February 1969, she accepted the post of. Managing Attorney, of the Legal Aid Clinic, a Texas Southern University Law school, in Houston. Weeks went by, with no ability to correspond with or visit her clients, and Jalet worried for Cruz, Novak, and Bobby Brown. Fortunately, she had the prison grapevine. She learned that officials were moving her three clients between solitary and segregated isolation and pressuring at least one of them to sign papers accusing her of inciting violence. She also learned that Beto and McAdams were tracking her. Jalet also began to reach out to powerful lawyers around Texas. Jalet had not been well received by the state’s legal community. But, when her fellow lawyers learned that a state official had barred her from speaking with her own clients, they began to come to her aid. One well connected attorney, in Houston, was so disturbed by Jalet’s reports that he called the Texas Attorney General’s first assistant and convinced him to intercede. The Attorney General’s Office negotiated a cease-fire, Jalet would be allowed to see her clients, if she dropped her restraining order against Beto. By that time, things had gotten desperate. Brown, had for months, been held in a cell without sheets, pillows, or toiletries. Novak, had been beaten savagely by two turn keys, and the weeks he had spent in solitary had further damaged his precarious mental health. As for Cruz, after multiple stints in solitary, he could barely put together a coherent sentence. His voice was weak from disuse, he hadn’t spoken more than a few words, in months.

On July 20, 1969, as Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, Jalet and Cruz were busy pushing their first major lawsuit through the court system. They were going to challenge Beto and the prison system in federal court. Since Jalet had no trial experience, she partnered with William Bennet Turner, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyer, who had become interested in her advocacy, after reading the Ellis Report.

As I bring my second chapter on Fred Cruz and Frances Jalet, to an end. I cannot help but look at everything the director of the Texas prison system did. Not only to the prisoners in his care, but to Frances Jalet, who I might add, is an officer of the court. Rem ember, this story is public record. This one man, George Beto, was an evil man, who violated thousands of men and women’s constitutional rights every day. He ran his prison system with his “gestapo” type tactics that is engraved deep inside the Texas prison system, to this very day. Cruz and Jalet’s battle for justice begins inside the federal court, in my next chapter. I’m sure they both thought they finally won, but little did they know the war had just begun.

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