Unit Craft Shops, Are Illegal Sweat Shops

By Jay Goodman

Throughout my book I have written about the abundance of stealing that goes on inside the Texas prison system, but there’s another type of stealing that has been going on forever and that I want to bring to light. At every prison there is what is called, “the Craft Shop”. The Craft Shop is an isolated spot inside each prison that prisoners can go to work on their specific craft. Most prisons allow prisoners to work on art, leather, jewelry, and wood, just to name a few. To get into the Craft Shop each inmate has to be case free from any major disciplinary cases for one year. The inmate also has to maintain a certain amount of money on his Inmate Trust Fund for so many months. The reason for this is to make sure whoever they let into the Craft Shop can afford to buy the things they will need to get started. If a person wants to get into the Craft Shop, he has to send a request to the prison warden and get his name put on a waiting list. This waiting list could take years depending on what prison you are at. Naturally the maximum-security units where all of the prisoners have a lot of years, and there’s hardly anyone going home, a person might wait anywhere between five to ten years. Also, each prison has a different number of prisoners allowed in the Craft Shop, a lot of that has to do with the size of the area.

Here at the Stevenson Unit, I believe around 30 to 35 people are allowed in the Craft Shop. The sad thing is there are over one thousand three hundred inmates here, and only 30 to 35 people can get into the Craft Shop. Could the Craft Shop be bigger? Of course, it could be. Will they make it bigger? I would say never. Years ago, prisoners could also get what was called, “In Cell Art Supply Card”. That allowed- prisoners to order supplies such as colored pencils, pens, water colors, paints, illustration boards, and other art supplies, to help the inmates to stay busy and to help them to master their craft. People in the free world would be shocked to see the artistic ability that’s in every prison I’ve been to. But they stopped this, In Cell Art Supply Card, I am not exactly sure why? They, I’m assuming didn’t like the inmates tapping into something that might keep them out of prison. Of course, they hate our money going anywhere else but in their pocket. So, they of course started selling illustration boards and colored pencils in the commissary. The bad thing is, the supplies they sell us are cheap and they don’t work or last as good. Anyway, once a person does finally make it into the Craft Shop, there are books the prisoners can order out of.

Allow me to give everyone an idea of what happens to the in mates that make it in there. Usually the prisoners have some type of skill in whatever he signed up to do. Let me use the artist. If a person likes to draw, can you imagine how good someone is going to get sitting in a cell and drawing every day for hours and hours for years or decades? Trust me when I say there are some artist in here that are incredible. Something goes for the prisoners that work with leather, there are men making belts, wallets, purses, boots, and even horse saddles. The men working with wood are building gun racks, rocking chairs, tables, and stands. The jewelry men are designing rings, necklaces, and bracelets. I’m talking about designing jewelry themselves, people in the free world would be amazed at what prisoners are doing inside the Craft Shops across Texas. I’m talking about people with no or very little training have taught themselves to do all of these things, and everything they’re doing and making is from scratch. Meaning, if someone wants some kind of special designed horse saddle for their son or daughter, with the kids name or other design, the inmate will make this saddle all by hand. If someone wants a special piece of jewelry, the inmate will sketch it out on paper, until the design is what they want and then they make the ring. If someone wants a portrait of their children, wife, Mom or Dad, there are prisoners that can do it with pencils, pens, paints, and or air brush. When I say these men are good at what they do, it’s an understatement. Remember, these prisoners have nothing else to do, but to work on their craft, until it becomes a part of who they are. All of the prison employees, guards, ranking officers, wardens, medical department, secretaries, teachers, factory employees, and even the police departments, go to the Craft Shops to get things made by prisoners. While the Craft Shop is a wonderful thing for prisoners, it gives the men and women a chance to tap into their artistic or hidden talents, that they never realized they had. And maybe change the entire course of their lives. So many people in prison could be molded into great people, but unfortunately that’s not what the Puppetmasters want.

For the few that do make it into the Craft Shop, sit back and allow me to show you how they get used and abused. Let’s say an employee goes to the Craft Shop and decides to buy something. The first thing that’s talked about is the price the inmate wants, to make whatever it is the employee wants. Almost always, the staff will try to talk the inmate down on his price. I don’t care how much work is involved, if an employee wants a portrait of her two kids done, and let’s say the inmate says, “I’ll do it for $75.00”, they’ll still say that’s a lot, and try to get the inmate to come down on the price. The staff doesn’t take into account the prisoner had to buy the illustration board, or canvas, plus the art pencils or paints, or that he will be working on their drawing for weeks. All that’s important is they do their damndest to get it done for practically nothing. And if it’s the ranking officers they expect it to be done for free. When an inmate quotes a price, a lot of the rank will look shocked, and then look like they’re mad, hoping to scare the prisoners. When they do reach a price the staff member has to fill out a contract and turn it in, then the inmate can begin working on whatever project it is. Now, if it’s the warden, they really try to push their weight around and get whatever they want for nothing. They will make comments l like you are lucky to be in here, or the Craft Shop is a privilege.

While there is some truth to that, what all of the wardens seem to forget is, it’s a privilege that every single one of the prisoners in the Craft Shop has earned. It’s not like these wardens U have given them some special favor, and they owe them something for it. Remember, the inmates in the Craft Shops have had to go without any major cases (disciplinary reports) for at least a year. And if it’s taken the inmates five years, they have had to maintain a clean disciplinary report this entire time. So, once again, it is a privilege, but every one of them has earned that privilege. Now I do want to point out, that there are some guards who understand how much work the prisoners put into their work. Plus, they real ize if they went to someone out in the free world, who has the talent to do this kind of work, they would be paying through their, you know what. The sad thing is, is most of the employees don’t feel this way. A lot of them will take advantage of the prisoner’s vulnerability, and try their damndest to get them to make something for nothing. Which leads me to show how these prisoners in the Craft Shop get used. In 2006 or 2007, there was an inmate at the Goree Unit named Frost, I believe. He made jewelry and was really known for designing special types of belt buckles. This guy was so good at what he did that it spread out into the free world, and the actor Chuck Norris, had him designing his belt buckles. Different players on the Cowboys NFL team had him making theirs as well. Well the warden that was at the Goree Unit at that time, started telling the local police department about inmate Frost, and the warden started having Frost make belt buckles for the DPS officers, and next he started having Frost designing and making pistol grips, for all of the local DPS, and before long the word spread and police from all over were bringing their pistols to this warden. But, the police were not going to the prison making contracts with inmate Frost. Instead they were giving the warden their money and he would just go to Frost and have him design and make their pistol grips. The warden would pocket all of the money, and eventually Frost quest ioned the warden about this. Now this is where this control and power they feel they have over prisoners in Texas. How dare this piece of shit prisoner question me. Even though I am using my position as a warden to steal and use this inmate, even though I am nothing but a criminal myself. Who does this inmate think he is?

This is exactly the kind of thinking I’ve written about throughout my book. The Puppetmasters believe in their hearts it’s OK to mistreat us, to steal from us, to beat us. and even to kill us. Naturally the warden threatens Frost with, I’ll take your Craft Shop card, I’ll do this and that and make your life a living hell. Frost knew he had to do something. So the next pistol the warden brought in, Frost made a photo copy of it, and got it out to his Dad. Naturally it’s illegal to bring a pistol inside the prison. So Frost’s Dad contacted the feds and explained how the warden was extorting his son, and showed them the photo copy of the pistol. After an investigation, the feds went to the prison and arrested the warden and had Frost shipped to another prison.

Please know this is not just one out of control warden, this type of abuse goes on at all of the Craft Shops around Texas. Maybe not at the magnitude as this story, but in one form or another. Even at a small prison like the Stevenson Unit. Our former Warden Beard, told the inmates in the Craft Shop to bring their prices down. That it’s a privilege to be in the Craft Shop. He would also tell the prisoners he wanted them to donate something to him for charity. Come to find out, that our former warden would take these donated items for charity to parties he had for the police departments and would auction them off. And of course, would pocket the thousands of dollars.

They steal from the state, they steal from our families, they steal from us, and they steal from the tax payers. Nothing is sacred to the Puppetmasters, this is a, “Criminal Organization”, that has been allowed to survive since the beginning of this prison system. Nothing has changed, and nothing will ever change until it’s taken away from Texas. Every day I wonder when the feds will say enough and finally put these criminals in jail, and save the lives of the one hundred and sixty thousand man and women who get abused and taken advantage of every day.

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