A brief history of administrative segregation in Texas
A Brief History of Administrative Segregation in Texas
By: Joe Feijoo
“Ad. Seg.” Is short for Administrative Segregation. (ad-seg). The commonly held understanding of solitary conﬁnement deﬁnes ad-seg. It is, at best, the most grim form of incarceration and is reserved for offenders who exhibit behavior that is harmful to themselves, other offenders, staff or prison facilities. It is an enhanced method of punishment within the institution of punishment.
The guidelines for putting an offender into ad-seg are flexible so as to deal with offenders who are or may become violent or dangerous. The length of time an offender is kept in ad-seg is a matter of various policy directives within an institution. A generally held rule is that an offender is not held in ad-seg longer than two years. However, in Texas, prison gang members can be held indefinitely pending completion of the GRAD program (Gang Renouncement and Disassociation). This a process whereby an offender officially renounces gang membership/affiliations.
My name is Joe Feijoo. I am a fifty-seven year old “Nuyorican,” a person of Puerto Rican heritage born and raised in New York City. Of the thirty-five years I have been in prison in Texas, I did twenty-seven years in ad-seg. This was nine thousand six hundred and fifty-five says of mind-numbing loneliness and despair, bracketed by events of gut-wrenching, mindless fear. This was fear of being a victim of ruthless, brutal guards, or terror from being at the mercy of sick and violent offenders. The fear of becoming sick and violent without reason or provocation was equally overwhelming. In ad-seg, a man’s soul is on the table, and constantly at risk. Sometimes self-destruction seemed to be a peaceful way out for many.
During my time in ad-seg, I found God and was saved. I gave myself to Him and was given the strength to endure. He restored my sanity and gave me the courage and determination to live to His will.
Ms. Pam asked me to write this by saying, “Who better could tell this story than a man who lived it and survived it for such a devastatingly long time?” The details of my experience are shocking and disturbing. For one, experts generally agree that long-term solitary confinement is a time frame of six weeks. I was in ad-seg for twenty-seven years.
During my incarceration, I saw how the state developed ad-seg to be a brutal method of inmate control, using myriad techniques and procedures. Before 1979, Texas prisons used what was called the building tender system (BTS). This was the practice of allowing the inmates to “run the system.” The inmates “tended” the building. Inmates were the turnkeys and authority of the housing. All movement was directed and controlled by inmates. These inmates given this authority were allowed to use crude, homemade weapons (knives, shanks, clubs) fashioned in the shops from tools, equipment, and supplies. Inmates used these tools and weapons to terrorize and brutalize the population in the name of control. This was a major proponent of unchecked sexual abuse and extortion which was, at the time, rampant in the system.
In 1979, the Federal Court stepped in to stop the BTS, which was ruled unconstitutional. However, mismanagement and confusion held fast in Texas’ prison system as there was a vacuum in the operation. The system was forced to perform a function they were ill-prepared and disinclined to do. The officials and staff floundered. The authority control void was filled by gangs, specifically the Texas Syndicate (TS) and the Mexican Maﬁa (MM). The TS came in during the BTS to combat the brutal excesses of that system. Under the impotent authority of the prison system, in the absence of good policy and intelligent, caring direction, many other gangs came to be. There seemed to be a tacit “hands-off” approval of this development. This with the lack of direction or care empowered the gangs and provoked antagonism between the gangs which was also fostered by the administration, which in turn, led to “war.” The first “war” was between the TS and the MM. That was an eight year bloodbath in which hundreds of inmates were slaughtered because of the incompetent and careless state prison. Pitting gang against gang was an inhuman strategy to “divide and conquer,” solving the problem by bloody attrition.
These problems drew the attention of the national press. It was disclosed in investigative reports that Texas prisons were barbaric, uncivilized and brutal. They were a travesty of justice and a national embarrassment.
Illogically, perhaps stupidly, the State of Texas refocused effort and action to enhance the use of ad-seg. Men were “ad-segged” without apparent cause and without any legal process for rebuttal or relief. This practice could easily have been seen as racist as initially mostly Latinos were persecuted on the assumption, by the system, for gang membership or affiliation. Once in ad-seg, tenuous sometimes non-existent “access to courts” blocked recourse and legal relief from wrongful placement into ad-seg and abuse. The system in place to protect the human rights and civil rights of prisoners, human beings, did not do its job.
Ironically at one point the state adopted a practice of putting opposing gang members together in one ad-seg cell: two men serving solitary together. This was tantamount to torture. The epitome of a sick, twisted make-it-up-as-you-go policy, with the apparent objective of mutual destruction. It was an attempt to control the population by having the trouble makers eliminate themselves.
Countless men were physically, mentally, and emotionally damaged. Many died from murder and/or neglect. The impact on the thousands of relatives and friends of these men was horrible in that they were helpless to positively affect the welfare of their incarcerated son, father, brother, husband, or friend. Countless numbers of these people shared the suffering of shame and indignity surpassing the punishment judged by the court.
It has been said that the class of a society is revealed by how they treat their prisoners. By allowing and fostering the development of a system that provoked and promoted mindless violence in a population for which is had a moral and ethical responsibility to take care of. The State of Texas aptly revealed itself to be immoral dregs, a society devoid of decency.
In ad-seg, I have seen and felt my mind and body suffer the ravages of self-destruction. My physical body withered and consumed itself for lack of physical exercise, outside recreation/fresh air and sunlight, and substandard nutrition. I have felt the madness is worsened by all-consuming fear. I could feel the entropy of a life embracing failure because of the absence of hope. I learned to live with excruciating pain and bottomless despair. At times I could see my death as a pathway to peace and comfort.
A practice that tortures and terrorizes is inhuman and fundamentally evil. To be treated thusly without justifiable cause is a failure of the system.
Will answer all letters I receive.
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