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TDCJ’s ad-seg program is for profit not for rehabilitation: From sensory deprivation to sensory overload – and back

January 28, 2018

by Jason Renard Walker, Deputy Minister of Labor, New African Black Panther Party

Jason Renard Walker

After randomly being awakened in the early morning, boarded onto the TDCJ transportation bus, then shipped to the Ramsey Unit, a prisoner told me that the experience was like “being snatched from a dungeon and sent to a new wave slave plantation.”

The statement he made is a reality that many prisoners housed in close custody units and solitary confinement cells throughout the state of Texas are experiencing, on a whim.

In fact, the majority of prisoners that are sent to the Ramsey Unit claim that they were forced to board the bus with one small bag of property and the rest was left in their cells, as is, with the mere promise that it would be sent later – a situation I’m all too familiar with.

To “middleman” and profit off of tax-, state- and federal government-funded rehabilitation programs, state and prison officials create then embed unproductive and meaningless programs within the many costly pre-existing programs, like the Pamio and CMI psychiatric programs at the Clements Unit and the Ad-Seg Transitional Program (ASTP) here at the Ramsey Unit.

On paper these programs are supposed to help prisoners cope with the physical, mental and psychological stress imposed from countless years of living in solitary confinement-like conditions.

They’ve done everything but that. A special group of “experts” – teachers, therapists and counselors are weaseled onto the state’s payroll as advisors and instructors, but not to help us rehabilitate. No! No! No!

The purpose is to expand the job opportunities for the relatives of past and current TDCJ employees, both in the upper echelons and on the lower rungs. This way everything is kept “in the family,” the capital is concentrated and the exploitative practices and for-profit schemes are perpetually passed from one generation to the next.

This explains why the grievance supervisor, mailroom supervisor and warden all have relatives (with the same last name) working at the prisons, who are corrupt as ever, and get away with it. It’s a repeated cycle.

A special group of “experts” – teachers, therapists and counselors are weaseled onto the state’s payroll as advisors and instructors, but not to help us rehabilitate. No! No! No! The purpose is to expand the job opportunities for the relatives of past and current TDCJ employees.

But this ASTP program is clearly one that is shifting unknowing prisoners from sensory deprivation to sensory overload, then back to sensory deprivation immediately after the prisoner breaks down from being simultaneously bombarded with the contradictions of solitary confinement. I’ll explain later.

In response, this hasn’t been a concern to the transition team (who are mostly related to prison staff), who are using this program to get free paychecks, ride the clock and use the education building to hold banquets and premature Christmas parties and gossip with co-workers all day.

On top of which, the 2017 Texas state budget called for a 4 percent decrease in funding for the state’s prison system. This amounts to a quarter billion in slashed funds for a system that’s already under pressure. With the pressure valve being an understaffed prison system, over-priced commissary vendor, phone services with sky-high prices, and the reduction of limited non-Texas harvested food items, like fish, cheese and coffee, which is part of TDCJ’s budget.

But even though this budget cut was called for, this hasn’t affected the TDCJ’s efforts in using a compromised budget to design unnecessary and ineffective programs that call for expanding the annual state payroll, which has a domino effect on TDCJ’s inability to get a budget increase.

How the scheme works

Originally the ASTP program was designed as a “voluntary” program for ad-seg prisoners only. By their own written policy (which may have changed), prisoners have to be a Line Class I (one) or higher to be eligible.

The chosen are picked during the state classification committee (SCC) hearing that is held every six months. Prisoners aren’t supposed to be sent to the program unless they agree to the terms and conditions. Those that decline to participate are supposed to have an alternative route, like medium custody.

But in any event, refusing the program isn’t supposed to affect our eligibility to be released from ad-seg, as the program is supposedly “voluntary.” After arriving at the Ramsey Unit, I was told that we all “agreed to be here” and could’ve exercised other options.

I also learned that the administration is ignoring its own policy and randomly enrolling close custody prisoners, regardless of their line class, ineligibility or willingness to participate – all to fill up space and keep the program running and the checks coming in. “If you don’t wanna be here, just say the word and I’ll put your ass on the bus,” said Mr. McGowen, an obese bigot who’s obviously eating well from his highly paid, non-laborious position as program manager or Head Negro In Charge (HNIC). “I get paid regardless,” he said while wolfing down snacks in front of the commissary window.

This get-put-on­-the-bus routine only sends the prisoner back to close custody or seg, only to start their stint over, be reconsidered to attend and sent back, over and over until they graduate or go home.

Despite this “volunteer” notion, before they are put on the bus, they receive disciplinary cases for refusing to attend classes or something. Similarly, with this being done, our placement back into the same conditions is justified.

The policy says we can go back to population after being kicked out of the program, but their statistics show that we are being sent back to close custody or ad-seg – a revolving door scam.

This get-put-on­-the-bus routine only sends the prisoner back to close custody or seg, only to start their stint over, be reconsidered to attend and sent back, over and over until they graduate or go home.

Additionally, we attend two separate classes held by two different teachers, one class is Monday-Friday and the other is twice a week. In regards to the latter, on days the teacher feels a need to hang out with her co-workers like McGowen or sleep, she’ll simply cancel the classes for the day and have us forge our names on the roster saying that we attended the days in question. This is sometimes arranged ahead of time and told to us before it takes place, so as to get our agreement to conspire in their money scheme.

This ultimately results in prisoners being forced to stay on the cell block all day while “control freak” guards like O’Moregie spend the entire shift provoking them into confrontations then write them disciplinary cases, resulting in them being kicked out of the program. All the while, those who run the program and are key to our transition, kick back in the education building while inmate bellboys cater to their every want and need.

In retrospect, the five-day-a-week class can only be completed after we do a minimum of 150 classroom hours, which doesn’t include non-school time like unit lockdowns and holidays, which prolong our completion. So essentially this class has its perks for staff too.

Normally these classes are held three hours per group, but due to prison count defaults, we are routinely forced to stay close to an hour over, in which case we get no credit for having to stay late, but the teachers get paid as if class is still being held.

From sensory deprivation to sensory overload

Outside of the money scheme, an abstracted element exists – zero tolerance attitudes from staff who desire to remove us (mainly Blacks and Hispanics) from the program under the slightest pretext.

After an openly racist ranking official, Sgt. Gerrold W. Sharp, replaced Sgt. Hughes as the program sergeant, “zero tolerance” mode was put into effect.

I observed prisoners chatting among themselves about how racist Sharp is but thought it was exaggeration. That’s until, on Dec. 11, 2017, I witnessed him use the words “nigger” and “Black ass,” following a confrontation with a Black prisoner who he denied the right to eat in the chow hall. “You’re not getting shit. What you gonna do about it?” he screamed at the prisoner who was on the other side of the locked cell block door.

What I noticed about Sharp is that he doesn’t show his true colors unless he’s around white co-workers or the prisoner is locked behind a door and is provoked by him to hurl impulsive threats, in which case the prisoner has a lesser chance to be in a position to challenge Sharp’s returned threats. In response, a case can be written and the prisoner can be kicked out of the program.

“Please don’t shut up, so I can write you up,” Sharp taunted another prisoner in the education building, following an officer asking him to be quiet. During that time, Sharp was surrounded by guards.

Outside of the money scheme, an abstracted element exists – zero tolerance attitudes from staff who desire to remove us (mainly Blacks and Hispanics) from the program under the slightest pretext.

A White prisoner told me that Sharp explained that he’d assist the Whites in any way he can to make sure they completed the program, while going out of his way to coax Black and Hispanic prisoners into getting kicked out. A second White prisoner told me that he was approached by Sharp and told, “I got y’all’s back,” but after finding out that the White prisoner embraced Black culture, he started harassing him and threatening to kick him out for minor, everyday things. Eventually, this prisoner was removed from the program for one reason or another.

As I was collecting evidence from prisoners about Sharp’s behavior towards them, one by one they were kicked out of the program for a variety of minor things that were factually baseless. A Black prisoner, D. Bell Jr., No. 1781174, who’d recently been removed from the program by one of Sharp’s running dogs, sent me this message while waiting to be sent back to the dungeon, in hopes that I’d bring awareness to it:

“Being falsely accused is abuse throughout prisons across America. These problems are often veiled by being conveniently grouped together under a category of ‘criminal’ or ‘offender’ and by the automatic attribution of criminal behavior to people of that status. This causes some officials to abuse their authority and keep this corrupt behavior breathing. I am innocent and I only wish to complete this god-given program.”

Given that 80% of prison staff are of African descent, it is strange that Sharp was able to survive the short time he did (due to valid complaints, he is no longer controlling our cell block).

But this still hasn’t solved the problem of prisoners being kicked out of the program on frivolous grounds. Lt. Joe M. Lopez has picked up where Sharp left off; his motive isn’t driven by greed or racism, but pure hate for ASTP prisoners, and his love for absolute authority over them.

During my seven-year stay in solitary, I’d grown accustomed to expecting and predicting the outcome of certain situations that I was powerless over, and other situations where I had some control, e.g.: using the restroom when I want; sleeping when I want; saving my meals to eat when I want.

This long state of extreme sensory deprivation forced me into adjusting to being restricted from things like social and physical contact with staff; the ability to leave the cell without leg and hand restraints; the ability to physically confront staff without them being safely guarded by a cell door, etc.

But the contradictions of this program have exposed us to being bombarded by racist, aggressive, taunting, mentally abusive and verbally threatening guards, guards running up to our faces, screaming, swearing and pointing their fingers at us, challenging us to fight but writing us up when we accept the challenge – that is to say, deliberate sensory overload.

What I’m about to describe exposes this program as being bogus instead of rehabilitative. In the month of November 2017, me and three other prisoners were scheduled to see medical staff and psychiatrist Brandon Heiple.

Immediately after we arrived to the sign-in desk, escorted by Officer Derrick D. Day, an officer who told me that “everyone” is out to get him fired, Officer Misty C. Sam jumped up from the desk and maniacally screamed, “You niggas back the fuck up!” After we tried to explain our reason for being there, she began swearing and hurling insults. This was enough to make us step behind the door connecting the walk-way and the infirmary entrance. Day closed the door.

We fired back insults of our own, but she obviously wasn’t in any mood to have a verbal battle and got straight to the point. “What’s up, what you gonna do?” she said to prisoner Leonard M Brazier Jr, #784079, who told her it didn’t matter.

As Officer Day opened the barred door, inviting one of us to challenge her, she stood with balled-up fists and, as nurses watched, screamed, “What’s up nigga, you ready?” Nobody moved, so Day closed the door and the nurses carried on. “Y’all niggas ain’t ready,” she said to herself as she sat back down, smiling.

I confronted Officer Day about why he didn’t control the situation, but he claimed that prisoners and his co-workers are out to get him fired, so he didn’t want to get involved. But in contradiction to his statement, he opened the door so as to assist with Officer Sam’s attempts to provoke us into hitting her, and didn’t close it back until it was confirmed that we wouldn’t bite. A great example of one way to get fired.

Program employees like Mr. McGowen, Ms.  Dogan, Ms. King, the Smith sisters and ranking staff who oversee the cell block are supposed to respond to and assist us in situations where our position in the program is in jeopardy, but they don’t.

The only time we are given advice is after we’ve lashed out at guards, in which case the advice is useless since being kicked out is inevitable. And other times, we are told to keep sucking it up regardless of how unconstitutional and flagrantly abusive their acts are. “What’s more important?” they often ask, with no thoughts of fixing the dilemma.

On Nov. 27, 2017, I was challenged to act out yet again. As I was standing in line, getting food put on my tray, I was approached by the food service manager, Etta T. Armstead, who first told me to get out of the line for no reason at all.

After I exposed her baseless reason, she grabbed the tray and tried to jerk it out of my hand, spilling food on my shirt. “Give me the tray,” she said. After I asked for an explanation, she claimed that I’d already eaten, which was proven to be a lie. She then claimed that she saw me steal two slices of cheese from behind the service line. Officer De Souza explained that he’d given them to me since I have a medical pass authorizing me to have extra nutrition.

“I run the kitchen. I don’t care what kinda restriction you got,” she said, ignoring this justification. After I wouldn’t give up the tray, she called Sharp and Lopez, and they all huddled up. I went to sit down.

Sharp approached and demanded that I hand him the cheese. I slid the tray to him so he could get it himself, but he stated, “Boy, you gonna hand me the cheese or you going back to seg,” showing me the handcuffs.

I refused to hand it to him but put the tray where he could grab it, which still wasn’t good enough. “Hand him the cheese or I’ll say you stole it,” Armstead said. I refused. I was handcuffed, taken to medical for a pre-seg evaluation, then thrown in solitary confinement.

To justify the theft cast they had pre-wrote so I would get kicked out of the program, character witnesses including medical staff, Armstead and DeSouza were interviewed.

Knowing that the initial statement that staff make is usually adopted by others, they got Armstead’s theft claim and tried to see if DeSouza would agree with it. He and medical staff both admitted that the cheese was given to me and that it can be used to replace items I’m allergic to.

This forced Lopez to release me from solitary and throw the case away, but not before admitting that Armstead may seek revenge on me or write me up on another day.

This is not a unique situation; prisoners are being provoked and set up every day. Due to the average prisoner being unaware of their own constitutional rights and how to challenge bogus disciplinary cases, this program has turned into one that doesn’t seek to help us make the transition to population, but one that is used to provoke us into going back to the dungeon, and which gives the administration data that can be used to keep us there and label us as lost causes.

Prisoners are being provoked and set up every day.

We need the public and journalists to scrutinize the ASTP program and help crack down on the state’s abuse of it as one that’s torturing us by sending us from sensory deprivation to sensory overload and back.

Dare to struggle, dare to win. All power to the people.

Send our brother some love and light: Jason Renard Walker, 1532092, Ramsey Unit, 1100 FM 655, Rosharon, TX 77583.

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