‘TDCJ placed me in harm’s way because I spoke out in reference to the extreme heat’

Reckless-Indifference-Deadly-Heat-in-Texas-Prisons’-report-by-University-of-Texas-School-of-Law-Human-Rights-Clinic-cover-0315-photo-by-Lauren-Schneider-233x300, ‘TDCJ placed me in harm’s way because I spoke out in reference to the extreme heat’, Behind Enemy Lines
From the report: “The TDCJ also fails to provide effective medical care for its inmates. … The TDCJ neither monitors these inmates nor provides them with adequate living conditions to prevent suffering and death during the summer months. Indeed, all 14 inmates who have died since 2007 under the care of the TDCJ suffered from pre-existing medical conditions exacerbated by the heat … Five of the deceased spent less than a single week in custody before succumbing to the dangerously high temperatures in Texas facilities. … Even where the TDCJ has issued specific standards to protect heat-sensitive inmates, such as in work or recreation areas, the TDCJ fails to actually implement these standards.” – Photo: Lauren Schneider

by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington

Greetings, brothers and sisters. This year in Texas we have seen a marked increase in the exposure of heinous acts of abuse and mis­treatment perpetrated by state employees who work for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Behind the scenes, the prisoners responsible for this massive movement to combat injustice have be­come victims of retaliation and harassment at the hands of prison officials and, elected state government officials.

You must understand that a sinister relationship has developed between the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the agency which operates Texas prisons, TDCJ.

When a prisoner or prisoners file a federal civil complaint against the prison agency, the Texas State Attorney General’s Office sends a state attorney to defend the prison agency and their employees.

What we are seeing is a coordinated effort between the state and prison agency to harm prison litigators. This practice must be stopped.

The retaliation and abuse has been manifesting itself in numerous ways – from cell assignments with violent prisoners and transfers to units in far flung, isolated rural areas known for racism and abuse to collusive efforts to sabotage a prisoner’s access to courts and due process.

The case of Keith Cole

Keith Cole is a Black male prisoner in his 60s. In June of 2014, Mr. Cole and three other prisoners filed suit in federal court alleging that the extreme heat conditions on the Wallace Pack Unit located in Navasota, Texas, violate the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

These four prisoners emphatically emphasized that their federal lawsuit was not about seeking some minimal level of comfort. Each one of these prisoners, to include Mr. Cole, have been diagnosed with serious, life threatening, chronic and heat sensitive medical issues.

Danny-Lyon-dies-of-heat-exhaustion-Ellis-Prison-Texas-1942-300x204, ‘TDCJ placed me in harm’s way because I spoke out in reference to the extreme heat’, Behind Enemy Lines
The photo is of Danny Lyon, who died of heat exhaustion in Ellis Prison, Texas, in 1942. Albert Hinojosa, 44, whose headstone is on the UT report, one of 14 Texas prisoners killed by intolerable heat since 2007, died Aug. 29, 2012, in the Garza West Unit in Beeville. He fell out of bed in convulsions at night, but the prison had no 24-hour medical staff and the ambulance took an hour and a half to arrive. The warden’s office and the swine barn are air-conditioned but not the prisoners’ quarters.

According to TDCJ’s own internal documents, due to the medical conditions of these four prisoners and the medications prescribed to treat them, exposure to extreme heat conditions could in fact cause irreparable injury or even death.

Despite these undisputed facts, TDCJ prison officials have re­fused or failed to reduce the extreme temperatures that currently exist on the Wallace Pack Unit.

In response to extreme heat conditions the Texas Department of Criminal Justice crafted a “new” rule. Administrative Directive 10.64 sets forth policies, procedures and guidelines to help alle­viate the consequences of being exposed to extreme heat conditions.

Officials on the Wallace Pack Unit have made superficial changes to give the “appearance” that they are complying with the directive. For example, according to A.D. 10.64, during extreme heat conditions prisoners should be provided ice and cold water. To comply with this, Pack Unit officials installed 10 gallon plastic coolers in all liv­ing areas.

TDCJ-fan-installed-0614-Holliday-Unit-Huntsville-TX-by-Fox-News, ‘TDCJ placed me in harm’s way because I spoke out in reference to the extreme heat’, Behind Enemy Lines
This is a cooling fan installed in early summer 2014 at the TDCJ Holliday Unit near Huntsville, Texas. “The nation’s most populous prison system, facing legal actions and criticism about inmates having to endure oppressive Texas summer heat, is looking to make conditions a bit more bearable at seven state prisons,” reports AP. – Photo: Michael Graczyk, AP

However, during the hottest parts of the day at the pinnacle of the summer heat, these coolers on the Wallace Pack Unit are full of ice with no water or water with no ice at all! In fact, some pri­soners have reported that they have been ordered to fill up coolers full of ice for the Navasota Fire Department.

I believe Pack Unit should support the local fire department, but this practice depletes the ice meant for prisoners housed at Pack Unit. And please under­stand that most prisoners at Pack One are elderly, disabled and in poor physical health.

Another issue of contention has to do with the placement of barrel fans in each dayroom area in the prison. These fans are situated on the floor about 3 feet from the front dayroom seating area and do not meet the intent of A.D. 10.64. Due to the improper positioning of these fans, they only benefit prisoners who sit on the front bench in the dayroom.

In addition, these fans are powered by high velo­city motors that emit noise which is so loud it can damage a pri­soner’s ability to hear. These types of fans, which are positioned less than 3 feet from prisoners, are a clear violation of OSHA stan­dards.

According to A.D. 10.64 these fans should be mounted up high, angled in such a way as to circulate air in the living areas where prisoners sleep in cubicles.

As a result of his peaceful and legal activities, Mr. Keith Cole was transferred away from Pack One Unit to the notoriously under­staffed and dilapidated McConnell Unit located in Beeville, Texas. This transfer was orchestrated by the administration on the Pack Unit on or around October 2014.

The chief executive officer and senior warden on the Wallace Pack Unit is Mr. Robert Herrera. It is hard to believe that he lacked any know­ledge of this transfer because of the high profile nature of this particular lawsuit.

Extreme heat in Texas prisons has drawn the attention of the Human Rights Clinic, headed by Director Ariel Dulitzky, at the University of Texas School of Law and also of the United Nations.

Texas-Law-School-Human-Rights-Clinic-heat-in-prisons-report-Freddie-Fountain-quote-300x88, ‘TDCJ placed me in harm’s way because I spoke out in reference to the extreme heat’, Behind Enemy Lines
This is a quotation from prisoner Freddie Fountain featured in the UT Law School Human Rights Clinic’s March 2015 report.

I spoke personally with Mr. Keith Cole about his experience on the McConnell Unit. He said: “The living conditions on McConnell Unit are horrible. They are grossly understaffed, we are forced to eat bag lunches 50 percent of the time, outside recreation is extremely rare and the place is falling apart!”

He continued: “It is obv­ious this transfer was retaliation for me litigating, but it is much deeper than that. In one instance, they housed me with a mentally ill prisoner known as Machete! I had to convince him I was as “crazy” as he was.

“TDCJ placed me in harm’s way because I spoke out in reference to the extreme heat. The public should know how dirty and unethical these people are. They must be held account­able.”

Texas-heat-sensitive-prisoner-grieves-prison-heat-091114-300x155, ‘TDCJ placed me in harm’s way because I spoke out in reference to the extreme heat’, Behind Enemy Lines
A heat-sensitive prisoner filed this grievance Sept. 11, 2014. Note the prison’s response.

Our plea for help

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Texas Attorney General’s Office have established a clear pattern of conduct in which they retaliate against, abuse and mistreat prisoners who have engaged in peace­ful, legal activities:

  1. On May 6, 2015, at the Terrell Unit located at Rosharon, Texas, TDCJ prison officials thwarted a disabled incarcerated U.S. Army veteran from being able to attend court in Brazuria County on time; the prisoner’s name is Richard A. Dunsmore, TDC No. 1826868. He needs our help.
  2. For three years on the Estelle Unit located at Huntsville, Texas, prisoner Oliver Eshman Lister, TDC No. 1279183 fought to expose the abuse of elderly and disabled prisoners. Lister has been the victim of racist and bigoted retalia­tion tactics. He needs our help!
  3. Keith Cole, TDC No. 728749, continues to be harassed and re­taliated against on the Wallace Pack Unit. What will it take to get the Department of Justice down here in this racist stronghold of Texas?
Texas-Law-School-Human-Rights-Clinic-heat-in-prisons-report-Keith-Malik-Washington-quote-300x94, ‘TDCJ placed me in harm’s way because I spoke out in reference to the extreme heat’, Behind Enemy Lines
This featured quotation from Malik comes from the UT Law School Human Rights Clinic’s March 2015 report.

Please come interview these men. Interview me and I will shed light on the deceptions and lies being fed to the public at large. This is no fantasy. This is our reality. Come see for yourself.

Keith Cole filed legal claims of retaliation against TDCJ for transferring him to the McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas. On June 1, 2015, I met Keith Cole at the Walls Unit located in Hunts­ville, Texas. Cole and I were handcuffed together and placed on a bus headed to the Wallace Pack Unit located in Navasota, Texas.

TDCJ actually has strict policies which forbid retaliating against prisoners engaging in legal activities or participating in formal investigations or inquiries. They’re all smoke and mirrors – deceptions and lies for a blind public.

Keith-Malik-Washington-184x184, ‘TDCJ placed me in harm’s way because I spoke out in reference to the extreme heat’, Behind Enemy Lines
Keith “Malik” Washington

It is our hope that the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Section will finally come down here to Texas and at the very least interview us. Many of us are Black and Hispanic men and women who are trying to better the conditions for all human beings trapped in Texas prisons.

By the way, Texas prison guards suffer from the heat also. They are people too.

Please help me in my quest for justice and humane conditions in Texas prisons. Tell Texas to stop retaliating against us!

Contact TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston at Texas Department of Criminal Justice, P.O. Box 13084-Capitol Station, Austin, TX 78711-3084, 512-463-9988.

Send our brother some love and light: Keith “Malik” Washington, 1487958, Pack 1 Unit, 2400 Wallace Pack Rd, Navasota TX 77868.