The legal statute which governs the Department of Corrections states that the Department’s objective, in part, is “restoring the offender to useful citizenship.” The mission statement at the bottom of all official memorandums from the Department reads: “To serve justice . . . and increase public safety by promoting positive change in offender behavior, operating successful reentry programs and reducing victimization.” I just spent over sixteen years incarcerated and can testify from firsthand experience that the Department of Corrections is falling woefully short of these stated purposes.
The most recent statistics available to me puts the entire inmate population of the state at 43,075. The prison I was just released from, after my final seven years of imprisonment there, had a population of 2,300 inmates. Nearly a full two thirds of those were just sitting around being warehoused without a job or access to rehabilitative programs like college level courses or vocational training. The waiting list for school to earn one’s GED or high school equivalency is a minimum of six months. Even those who want to gain an education and potentially earn some time off their sentence by taking advantage of these programs are often unable to because there simply are not enough programs available. So the warehouses remain filled past capacity, and men have no avenue by which to better themselves or improve their condition,
The simple fact is that the vast majority of individuals sentenced to a prison term will be going home someday, and without proper programs and resources available to promote and assist in positive change, then it is nearly impossible for positive change to occur. The same mindset yields the same results. This is a danger to the individual and society at large, as well as a failure of both.
Legal mandate requires that inmates be provided access to not only a law library with legal materials to assist them in researching and preparing their appeals, but also a general library with reading materials including current newspapers and periodicals so that they can both educate and entertain themselves. The general library doesn’t always happen. During my entire tenure in the Department of Corrections the library facilities were only available for just under four years. This consisted of one long stretch of nearly two years with a few shorter sporadic stints making the remainder. When a request or complaint was made the answer was always there was a lack of staff to run the library. The Department’s inability, or outright refusal, to properly staff their prisons isn’t a valid excuse to not abide by the law. This isn’t the only law that DOC doesn’t bother to follow.
In January 2018 a sweeping landmark law went into effect in the state which gave the Director of Prisons discretion to credit up to six months “good time” to an offender’s sentence. This was done in conjunction with a revamped statute specifically concerning the earning of “good time”, or time off of one’s sentence, through participation in rehabilitative programs such as school or a fulltime substance abuse program. The discretionary portion seems to be designed as a catch-all for those who do not fit exact criteria but who have an exemplary disciplinary record.
For instance, since the law wasn’t written to be applied retroactively, no classes or degrees earned before January 1st 2018 could be directly applied for the earned good time, however, with the Director’s discretion, these could be considered. This discretionary portion appeared to be an avenue through which overcrowding could be reduced thereby alleviating taxpayers burden. A new list of inmates who are eligible for this good time is sent out to the prisons each month, yet every individual is summarily denied. The labor union which represents Department of Corrections employees has a contract which requires that the number of DOC staff is commensurate with the number of prison inmates.
Simply put, this would mean that if the good time was credited as designed there could be a reduction in the overall prison population by potentially several thousands over the course of approximately one year’s time. While alleviating taxpayer’s burden as intended, this would also likely necessitate a reduction in the number of DOC employees. Essentially these same union members who are tasked with deciding who is to be awarded good time could potentially be amongst those who are laid off from their job if good time is properly awarded to eligible inmates. It is no wonder then that, as of the date of this posting, not a single day of discretionary good time has been awarded anywhere in the state. Withholding this good time is not in accordance with the intent of the statute, nor does doing so promote positive change in offender behavior or serve to restore offenders to useful citizenship.
August 20, 2015 a law went into effect that required the Department of Corrections to provide an avenue by which an offender can complete and file the appropriate paperwork for Medicaid and/or health insurance forty-five days to the inmate’s scheduled release date. The legislature seemed to pass this part of the statute into law in conjunction with a study which detailed how having access to proper medical care and mental health care tended to reduce recidivism. Anything that can be done to help give a newly released individual a higher chance for success in their reentry into society would surely be a good thing and a step toward restoring the offender to useful citizenship. In the months leading to my release I wrote numerous letters and requests to various counselors and DOC officials, including the Director of Prisons, and was summarily ignored by all but one of them. The response I did receive was that the Department of Corrections doesn’t do that and never has.
Where’s the accountability?
For nearly four years, according to the law of the land, this has been required of the Department of Corrections, yet they DON’T do it. When the DOC is allowed to govern itself and its employees with zero accountability or outside oversight it can do whatever it wants. Rather than reducing victimization, this tends to turn inmates into victims.
The prison I was just released from has buildings that were erected long before John F. Kennedy ever took his fateful car ride in Texas. Spending money on upkeep is low on the Department’s priority list. In one housing unit several inmates banded together to complain about the black mold growing in the ceiling. They attributed their respiratory issues to the black mold. Their complaints went largely ignored or brushed aside until the health and sanitation coordinator, a lieutenant, finally addressed them directly. This lieutenant told them that if they had an issue, they could file an official complaint or grievance but if they did that they would simply be moved to another building, or even an entirely different penitentiary. The lieutenant knew what he was doing. By saying this he was using these men’s own fears against them. Fear of dislocation, fear of the unknown. These men had lived in the same building, even the same cell, for many years. Some for over a decade. They had grown accustomed to it so that in all practical senses it was their home. Their vocal complaints quieted to sour mumblings. As of this posting the black mold contamination has never been dealt with.
Another lieutenant accused me and the men around me of throwing food wrappers on the ground. She said if we didn’t stop, she would withhold our food from us. She often threatens to deny us our recreation time and says she’ll come tear our cells apart. Instead of having the clothing room issue the proper items, this lieutenant makes her rounds through cellhouses collecting “donations” for inmates housed in the mental health portion of the facility. If people don’t give her shoes or clothes—items that they purchased from commissary with their own money—this lieutenant fabricates excuses to confiscate these items. Threats and intimidations are what this lieutenant routinely traffics in, though she isn’t the only one. It is widely known among inmate and staff alike that she is a bully. The tickets for infractions of the rules that she writes against inmates are often thrown out or reduced to a simple verbal warning by the hearing committee because they are so petty or have no merit. Men have been taken to segregation by her only to be let out after a day or two because her claims against them were baseless. This harassment and abuse of authority doesn’t tend to restore an offender to useful citizenship or promote positive change in offender behavior. Instead it reinforces mistrust and animosity toward authority figures.
Despite her consummate unprofessionalism and continual lies, this lieutenant isn’t reprimanded nor is her behavior discouraged by her peers or supervisors. Men are fearful of filing any grievance against her because these grievances are almost always summarily dismissed. The DOC employee hearing the complaint is a subordinate of this lieutenant, so all a grievance does is put the lieutenant on notice that the inmate is complaining about her. At that point, retaliation on the part of the lieutenant is guaranteed. Rather that invite more attention and undue punishment from the lieutenant, men remain silent. There is zero accountability. Without some kind of oversight there is no restraint. However, as I said, she isn’t the only one who acts with impunity regarding inmate’s well-being and basic rights.
The contents of this website and a book of essays largely culled from this website was called into question. An ambitious counselor (he plainly let it be known that he intends to do whatever it takes to be warden when the current one retires) reported the book and website to the warden. This warden then claimed I wasn’t allowed to write a book without his prior approval and permission, and he wanted me to stop having my work posted on this website because he said: “It cast certain officers and staff in a negative light.” I was placed in Segregation for my words.
The lieutenant from Internal Affairs who interviewed me made it clear he was only following the warden’s orders. He charged me with a number of infractions of the rules, none of which applied to what I’d done with the book or had been doing through a proxy for six years on this website. (In case there’s any confusion—I have zero computer or Internet access.) The lieutenant who headed the committee tasked with investigating and adjudicating the claims against me performed no measured or impartial investigation. At one point he told me that he was just waiting to see what the warden wanted to do with me. I was found guilty of all charges. Several disciplinary measures were levied against me, the most serious one being that I’d be transferred to a different prison. Without oversight this injustice would have been the final word on the subject for me.
Thankfully my family brought attention to my situation. An individual from the governor’s office became involved as well as representatives of DOC administration. Their investigation of the matter yielded different results. The day after I was found guilty and sentenced by the warden and his cronies to be sent away, a new disposition was entered. Per DOC Administration direction all accusations, charges, findings, the entire report concerning the incident was to be expunged.
Logic would indicate that if I were guilty of any offenses of which I was accused—all serious infractions—then the report wouldn’t be expunged. I maintain that the four individuals I mentioned all lied and colluded to ensure that I was found guilty at the behest of the warden. There was never a proper investigation. Officially, I escaped penalty in this instance.
However, further falsehoods were levied against my writing and I was punished for being in possession of a copy of Candy & Blood, the book that I wrote. I was also refused reinstatement to my job assignment in the Law Library and barred from being hired to perform even the most menial of tasks for the remainder of my prison term despite my exemplary work record. I contacted numerous people with my story and supporting documentation. This included the Director of Prisons, several State Senators and Representatives, numerous prisoner rights groups and civil rights organizations including the ACLU. I received no response. No one cared. With no outside oversight to hold the Department and its employees accountable all manner of injustice becomes allowed—not only allowed but expected. The notion that prison inmates are all degenerates who are getting what they deserve, opens the door to not only allow but also justify all manner of illegalities on the part of the Department of Corrections.
At last count there are approximately 4000 inmates across the state who are being held in prison post their scheduled release dates. They have served the sentence ordered by the judge, and they’re not be kept as punishment for something they did while incarcerated. They’re not even being denied their freedom because of the crime for which they were imprisoned, though the vast majority of them are sex offenders, or have a sex offense somewhere in their prior criminal history. No, these men and women are being kept in prison for the most heinous offense of all: The crime of being poor. Since they have no financial resources to afford a place to stay, and have no family left who are alive and/or willing and able to help, they remain in custody. The Department of Corrections has a policy in place that they don’t find placement for these individuals. Some have spent as many as eight years past the time to which the judge sentenced them. This policy has had the effect of making the Department into its own judge, jury and executioner. This policy has recently been found by the State Supreme Court to unconstitutional. As of yet the Department of Corrections hasn’t changed its policy or released anyone.
Governor, if you feel that the mission statement that I quoted at the beginning is still reflective of the intent of the Department of Corrections, then I urge you to take action. I have outlined here merely a handful of incidents or scenarios which are indicative of how the Department of Corrections treats those in their custody. This is to say nothing of the numerous claims by inmates alleging medical malfeasance and deliberate indifference to patient care, or the donations of food items to the prison from businesses in the community which are being misappropriated or stolen by Prison Staff. OR, the fact that the current system of Mandatory Supervised Release (MSR) is faulty by design and leaves no avenue for incentivizing rehabilitation or dozens of other issues I could’ve raised.
Dear Governor, PLEASE provide some oversight. PLEASE take a closer look.
Dear Readers, I pray that all this doesn’t fall on deaf ears. If any of the issues that I’ve raised have resonated with you, or if you feel prison reform is an important and valid issue that should be addressed, I humbly request that you forward this to:
So the governor will know that I am not just some lone voice crying out in the darkness.
These specific issues that I’ve raised tend to have a universal quality to them as abuse of authority and injustice behind prison walls isn’t unique to me or my particular state.
Maybe the governor of your state should read this too.