Gears and Cogs
Texas is the second largest state in the U.S.A., boasting 268,596 square miles of land and water area. Texas is also the second-most-populous state, with over 26 million people that call it home. If we're talking sheer size or population, then Texas holds the rank of second place. Which is very impressive, considering there are 49 other states in the equation. However, I would prefer to discuss with you where Texas comes in at first place: Prison Population. Scattered across the Lone Star State are more than 100 units and facilities that hold approximately 160,000 inmates. (These figures include SAFPF, ISF, State Jail, and Prison). This network of prisons dwarf the penal system of any other state in the U.S.A. To house and transport thousands of prisoners requires a massive and coordinated effort on the part of the Institutional Division. T.D.C.J. is akin to a giant machine, with many gears and cogs in motion just to keep things running smoothly. (T.D.C.J. stands for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.) Perhaps the most important issue I could call attention to, it would be the lack of energy and resources being committed to recidivism prevention. The main focus of T.D.C.J. appears to be "Incarceration" rather than "Rehabilitation". For all of the uninitiated out there reading this, recidivism is the return rate of released prisoners coming back into the penal system. But I get ahead of myself. After all, this is only the introduction paragraph.
Into the Machine
Until you've had your head shaved, been stripped naked, then instructed to squat & cough, and assigned an identification number... Well, you'll just never know how it feels to be lost in the machine. Rest assured, I'm here to tell you all about it. A person will wait between 3-6 weeks to be transported to prison after being sentenced in state court. Out of those +100 units/facilities I mentioned earlier, only a handful are used for Intake & Diagnostic purposes. If you were sentenced in a courtroom anywhere in south Texas, then you will go to Garza West for intake. Where I went. (Beeville, Texas.) After stepping off of the prison transport bus you will be lined up along a fenceline with everyone else and stripped naked. (At this point you've been awake since 2 a.m., handcuffed at the wrist to a random/potentially-psychotic felon, and endured a long uncomfortable bus ride. You're actually grateful to be standing up naked on the fenceline with no felon attached to your wrist.) Squat, cough, then walk inside to sit down on a metal detector/chair/device. I guess they think we've got some metal hidden somewhere. Oh, a pair of boxers was issued right before sitting on the strange chair that beeps. Get in line to have your head shaven by a less-than-qualified inmate barber. And now we arrive at my first grievance with the Texas prison system. You are ordered to walk into a community shower and rinse all the hair from your body. Most people have spent months in county jail, sometimes years, fighting their case before finally signing for time. They arrive at T.D.C.J. with a head full of hair. Needless to say, the inmate barber station is a mess, hair everywhere. Back to the grievance; so you're herded into the shower and you realize that no pair of shower shoes has been issued. As an incarcerated individual, you know that the worst possible thing you could ever do is walk into a shower barefoot. Like every inmate that came before me, I too asked for a pair of shower shoes. And was informed that T.D.C.J. does not have to provide shower shoes, only canvas shoes. (Jackie Chan's) Allow me to shed some light on this issue. Every county jail issues out a pair of crocs or shower shoes to new inmates. Every federal facility does the same. There's a reason that every county jail and federal facility does this. For the sake of keeping this essay rated PG, I will be vague and just say that all sorts of bodily fluids end up on the floor of the shower. No one, I repeat, no one would ever voluntarily shower barefoot. The fact that T.D.C.J. forces this on us is astonishing. Here's the kicker: If you are fortunate enough to have your family put money on your trust fund account, then you can purchase shower shoes from the commissary. Printed on the bottom of the shower shoes are three letters, T.C.I. Texas Correctional Industries. Out of those +100 units, a few of them manufacture items such as cups, our T-shirts, gym shorts, and last but not least, shower shoes. Who works at these factories, doing the labor? Inmates. Refusing to do your job assignment results in disciplinary action that affects your chances of parole and could place restrictions on visitation and commissary privileges. In short, you have to work. Just to be clear, T.D.C.J. does not provide shower shoes for its prisoners. Yet it assigns jobs to the prisoners to work at factories manufacturing shower shoes that we then must purchase on commissary with our own money. Have I unearthed a conspiracy? Probably not. What I'm writing in this essay is common knowledge to prisoners. Believe me, the factory workers know it all too well. But I've always wondered if the general public knows about it. Moving on.
The heat. And perhaps I should have led with this. For it is surely the worse sort of torture a person could feel in prison. Right now, I'm in my cubicle at my desk writing this essay and I am sweating. Like, the sort of sweat you generate from crossfit training. Yet I'm only sitting, only moving my wrist to move the pencil while my headphones blare Christian rock from KGNZ. If I'm sweating this much and it's only June, can you imagine how it will be in late July or August. A very small percentage of facilities have air conditioning or climate-controlled-tempered-air. Very few. At any other unit only administrative segregation/lockdown cells get to experience air conditioning. It is common for inmates to start a fight with someone just for the excuse to get taken to lockdown. How sad is that? Engaging in violence, hoping to get dragged off to a lockdown cell and experience some air conditioning. There are many documented cases of inmates suffering from heatstroke. Some of them perish. I'm serious. They die. Type that into a Google search engine. Keywords - T.D.C.J./Death/Heatstroke. You'll see. Yes, there are some efforts to prevent that from happening. I've seen firsthand some progress being made. Ice coolers & ice water readily available in the dorms, swamp coolers and extra fans being installed. But it is still not enough. More could be done, especially considering the danger.
Eating with Your I.D.
Time to roast Garza West once more, for good measure. When you walk into the chow hall at any unit, there is a rack/shelf for cups and spoons. Seems like a very basic requirement to provide. Cups to drink out of. Utensils to eat your food with. Yet it is very common to see inmates chopping up their food using an I.D. card. And pouring the tea into corners of the tray and sipping it at an angle. It is a mystery, that maybe only the warden of that unit can answer. Why does every unit except Garza West provide the inmates with cups and spoons in the chow hall? This was my first essay to be submitted to the A.P.W.A., with possibly more to follow in the future. My full contact information is:
Kyle Peacock TDCJ [ID]
Price Daniel Unit
938 S. FM 1673
Snyder, Texas 79549
If anybody would like to know more about the horrors of going on medical chain, enduring an institutional lockdown, or What To Do On the Rec Yard When Everything Goes Wrong... Then hit me up. I've still get some time to kill. Not too much, thankfully.
In summary, we may be convicted felons but we're still human. Help us protect our feet T.D.C.J., stop trying to profit from it. The heat is unbearable, surely more could be done to prevent the many cases of heatstroke. And Garza West, how long will you keep up this farce? No cups or spoons in your chow hall. Are you serious? How have you gotten away with this for so long?
The goal here was to craft and weave a compelling prose to capture the interest of readers on the web and call attention to Texas prison conditions based on firsthand experience. To be fair, this is the first time I've attempted to write something like this since 2005, when I was in high school. I sincerely hope this essay hit the mark and meets the criteria for acceptance with the A.P.W.A. Or it could qualify more as a failed memoir and fade into obscurity. Only time will tell.
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