Exposing toxic work conditions inside Texas Prisons

by Keith “Malik” Washington and David “Chino” Martinez

“Our current form of capitalism has no concept of right and wrong. It only recognizes what is profitable and what you can get away with. And when you have the government, the media, the military and the police on your payroll, you can get away with pretty much anything.” – Modern American Proverb, Socialist Viewpoint Magazine, Volume 16, No. 1

Revolutionary greetings, comrades, friends and free world allies.

David-Chino-Martinez-left-Keith-Malik-Washington-front-w-End-Prison-Slavery-comrades-Coffield-Unit-TX-0416-300x192, Exposing toxic work conditions inside Texas Prisons, Abolition Now!
Organizing to End Prison Slavery in Texas at the Coffield Unit are David “Chino” Martinez, far left, Keith “Malik” Washington in front and other comrades.

Environmental injustices are forced upon people of color and disadvantaged minorities. This is a fact and not a subjective feeling or statement. Recently, throughout Amerika I have noticed an increase in the exposure of what politicized prisoner Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall calls environmental racism.

I don’t have to expend a ton of energy attempting to explain this term; all I have to do is quote Comrade Shakaboona in his recent short essay that appeared in Socialist Viewpoint Magazine, Volume 16, No. 2. The essay is entitled, “Environmental Racism in Michigan,” and Shakaboona started it like this:

“Let’s begin with the premise that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder must be charged with federal and state criminal violations of criminal negligence and a hate crime, for he knowingly forced the majority Black populated city of Flint, Michigan, to use contaminated Flint River water, which inflicted immeasurable and irreparable injury on the populace.”

Exposing the enemy of the people

I mention and reference Comrade Shakaboona because his journa­lism and revolutionary practice intersects with my work and my revolutionary practice as I strive to shed a discerning light on the corrupt practices of the state of Texas and its prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. For those of you who have followed my work in the Bay View, an article appeared in their Novem­ber 2015 issue which highlighted a problem we are facing in which prison officials and ACA inspectors attempt to cover up and downplay the fact that numerous Texas prisons have contaminated water supplies.

The state of Texas brought in a state agency to test the water at the Wallace Pack Unit, located in Navasota, Texas. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality conducted tests for ARSENIC at the Wallace Pack Unit shortly after the release of my expose.

This state agency stated that the levels of arsenic present in the Wallace Pack Unit water supply were “acceptable” and the water was good for human consumption. However, it is my assertion that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is a corrupt agency rife with cronyistic practices, and they will say anything the state tells them to say in order to cover up the scandal.

Prison officials and ACA inspectors attempt to cover up and downplay the fact that numerous Texas prisons have contaminated water supplies.

The TCEQ is not the only state agency that works in concert with the prison agency, TDCJ, in order to downplay or cover up instances of human rights and civil rights violations which take place inside Texas prison facilities. For the past year or so, many respectable friends of mine who have a history of being citizens committed to protecting the rights of disadvantaged minorities have filed numerous complaints with the TDCJ Ombudsman Office in an attempt to address the many instances of cruel and unusual punishment I and many other pri­soners encounter while being housed within these modern day slave camps and gulags.

Time and time again we have found that these ombudsman employees who are supposed to act as a liaison between the public and the prison agency are actually covert “agents” of the state who continue to lie and misinform the public, the media and state legislators about conditions inside TDCJ.

In respect to the tainted water at the Wallace Pack Unit, Professor Victor Wallis, Ph.D., and Mr. John Dolley of Central Texas ABC in Austin, Texas, as well as Dr. Heinz Leitner of Austria sub­mitted many complaints on my behalf and on behalf of other prison­ers who questioned the quality of the water at Pack Unit. The Om­budsman Office had numerous employees answer our complaints: Yolanda Crawford, Emma Guerra, Rosie Norman and Jane Cockerham.

They all stated that the arsenic tainted water was safe to drink. We discovered that Ombudsman employee Jane Cockerham used to be a TDCJ prison warden and a regional director. Many of us want to know whose interests Ms. Cockerham is protecting. Can anyone say “cronyism”?

Time and time again we have found that these ombudsman employees who are supposed to act as a liaison between the public and the prison agency are actually covert “agents” of the state who continue to lie and misinform the public, the media and state legislators about conditions inside TDCJ.

The responses we received were lackluster and down­played the toxic contamination. These responses were in stark contradiction to an article written in the September 2015 edition of the Prison Legal News. Panagioti Tsolka, the director of the Prison Ecology Project, gathered credible information from a Navasota, Texas, public official who stated clearly that the well which provides water for Wallace Pack Unit is contaminated with arsenic and TDCJ and the state of Texas refused to pay the $2 million needed to replace the well so that the prisoners and guards at the Wallace Pack Unit can have access to clean and safe drinking water.

When will the public and investigative journalists start questioning the integrity and the motives of these corrupt employees of the TDCJ Ombudsman Office? Many prisoner rights organizations in Texas have been pleading with Texas state legislators to create an independent ombudsman made up of indivi­duals with no connections to the TDCJ prison agency, but the legislators continue to ignore the cries for transparency, fairness and accountability of the largest state prison system in Amerika! How long will the mainstream media in Texas and across the U.S. ignore this blatant violation of the public’s trust.

Kill the slaves!

Approximately two months ago I met a Latino prisoner named David “Chino” Martinez. Chino has served 23 years on a 25 year sentence and has been denied parole numerous times despite an excellent disciplinary record and working as a slave industrial painter in the Metal Fabrication Plant at the Coffield Unit, which is located in Tennessee Colony, Texas.

Comrade Chino Martinez shared with me how Texas Correctional Industries employees such as James C. Fields, an industrial specialist at the plant, would force pri­soners to work in toxic environments. Fields would poke fun at prisoners who complained too much about their inability to breathe in the toxic environment produced by too many welding and painting projects in a poorly ventilated area.

Comrade Chino Martinez shared with me how Texas Correctional Industries employees such as James C. Fields, an industrial specialist at the plant, would force pri­soners to work in toxic environments.

Chino relayed to me how the prison administration at the Coffield Unit retaliated against him when he requested a job change away from the toxic work environment. Chino’s hands started to tremble as a result of breathing in the toxic and cancer-causing fumes of the paint he was given to use by TCI, employees who knew the risk and poten­tial for harm but hid this from Chino.

Chino is now awaiting a medical trip to the University of Texas Medical Branch hospital in Galveston, Texas, as he fears he may have contracted some form of cancer from the toxins.

Fighting back against the slave masters!

With the help of Professor Victor Wallis, Ph.D., of Berklee College School of Music, former Austrian government official Dr. Heinz Leitner and Jamani Montague of RootsAction.org, Chino and I were able to distribute a media release that we had crafted together which was able to shed a discerning light on the Coffield Metal Fabrication Plant. However, we took things one step further and had our friends contact Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.

Sen. Ellis contacted the TDCJ Ombudsman Office, and that was the biggest mistake he made! The new senior warden at the Coffield Unit, Jeffery Cato, interviewed Comrade Chino on March 9, 2016. A couple days later a choreographed, pre-orchestrated and staged inspection was conducted by TDCJ prison officials and TCI employees at the Metal Fabrication Plant.

A day or two later, the fire marshal showed up and Plant Manager Anthony S. Carlile made the decision to suspend operations so that the inspectors would not get a true understanding of what exactly is going on there. So the TDCJ Ombudsman Office reported to Sen. Ellis that everything was fine: There were no problems whatsoever with the ventilation system, and the environment was safe.

Chino and I have seen this type of cover-up for years and years but we found information that would expose all the state employees as deceptive liars. Trinity Valley Community College operates a welding school at the Coffield Metal Fabrication Plant, and the welding school instructor, named Mr. Ellis, has complained about the lack of quality ventilation for a year and a half! Mr. Ellis turned in major work order requests to the Safety Department at the Coffield Unit, but his pleas for improved ventilation were totally ignored!

In his most recent complaint to the Ombudsman submitted in April 2016, David “Chino” Martinez stated that he went many months without being issued the proper filtered safety mask while he painted inside the plant. He reported that the ventilation was so poor that his mouth would taste like paint after a day of work. David said the unfiltered fumes caused a build-up of toxic black residue, which was evident when he blew his nose after putting in 10 1/2 hours of work.

David said the welding depart­ments have a faulty ventilation system which causes everyone to breathe in toxic fumes. However, one of the most glaring deficiencies, which smacks of an elaborate cover-up, is the lack of surveillance cameras inside this extremely sensitive work area located at a maximum security prison in Texas.

David reports that a couple of years ago TDCJ spent thousands of dollars to install a state of the art surveillance camera system at the Coffield Unit. He says these cameras are everywhere. There are cameras in the shower area, where prisoners are routinely crammed in the showers like barn animals. There are cameras in the hallways and cameras in the day room areas. These sophisticated cameras can even see in prisoners’ cells! But in the Metal Fabrication Plant, where sensitive metal cutting and metal sharpening tools are present, there is NOT ONE CAMERA!

The question I’d like to pose to TDCJ, TCI and our legislators who sit on the House Corrections Committee and the Senate Criminal Justice Committee is, “What do these prison profi­teers have to HIDE?” Could it be they are trying to cover up the many safety violations, environmental hazards and unsafe practices which David has reported?

Or could it be the deceptive busi­ness practices of TCI and TDCJ employees who continue to exploit prison laborers who work for nothing? David reports that TDCJ and TCI employees are constantly bringing in per­sonal “special projects” for the prisoners to work on. I thought TDCJ had rules and policies which prohibit employees from personally benefitting from inmate labor?

Paint-can-warning-label-Metal-Fabrication-Plant-Coffield-Unit-TDCJ-Texas-web-300x204, Exposing toxic work conditions inside Texas Prisons, Abolition Now!
This is the label given to Chino and Malik by a state employee working for Texas Correctional Industries (TCI) taken from a can of paint used in the Coffield Unit’s Metal Fabrication Plant. Malik mailed the actual label to the Bay View.

We are awaiting a response to this complaint and we should have it by the time that this exposé goes to print. A TCI employee heard about the report that Chino and I were putting together and this state employee actually gave us a label from the toxic paint that Chino used for months and months as he slaved in the Metal Fabrication Plant. The label reads: “VAPOR HARMFUL. Use only with adequate ventilation. … If you experience eye watering, headaches or dizziness, increase fresh air or wear respiratory protection (NIOSH approved) or leave the area. … DELAYED EFFECTS FROM LONG TERM OVER­EXPOSURE. Contains solvents which can cause permanent brain and nervous system damage. … WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”

Paint-can-warning-label-Metal-Fabrication-Plant-Coffield-Unit-TDCJ-Texas-cropped-web-300x198, Exposing toxic work conditions inside Texas Prisons, Abolition Now!
Here’s a better look at the warning.

Brothers and sisters, do you realize how explosive this evidence is? This means that if it is actually proven that the ventilation is inadequate at this Metal Fabrication Plant, it will open the door for million dollar civil lawsuits. But do you realize that the state of Texas has crafted laws which keep federal occupational safety agencies like OSHA from setting foot in this toxic work place? The prisoners have to rely on corrupt prison agents to keep them safe. Don’t you see the problem that exists here?

We are not slaves! We are workers!

Comrades, no one cares about the health, welfare or safety of prisoners who work for free in the state of Texas. This exposé is just another facet of our multi-faceted campaign to END PRISON SLAVERY IN TEXAS! We are not slaves; we are workers and we are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.

We deserve to be paid for our labor. Do you realize that Texas prisons are the only prison system that is represented on the stock exchange? Prisoners are viewed and treated as commodities in Texas, not human beings.

Do you think that any reporter will bring this up to Sen. Ted Cruz as he attempts to represent himself as an integrity filled servant of the people? He is nothing more than a racist, capitalist liar, a person who enjoys exploiting the poor masses who toil away in the slave camps and gulags in Texas. Does anyone think the U.S. government will intercede on our behalf? Will they come down here and perform a thorough fact finding investigation? Who will protect the workers?

Comrades, there is no help coming from the oppressor! And for this reason I have decided to join my Minister of Defense Kevin “Rashid” Johnson by officially joining the Industrial Workers of the World and the Incarcerated Workers Organization Committee. The state of Texas and the corrupt agency TCI won’t protect prison workers. They have classified us as slaves! We must get with organizations that promote and protect the rights and lives of the WORKERS!

For those of you in the free world who are concerned about the toxic environments prisoners in Texas are forced to work in, I urge you to visit RootsAction.org view some of the petitions their intern Ms. Jamani Montague has created. If you want to really help us, contact Sen. Rodney Ellis via email, at rodney.ellis@rodneyellis.com. Ask the senator to visit Coffield Unit and ask him to interview David “Chino” Martinez, Mr. Ellis, the Trinity Valley Community College welding instructor, and me, Comrade Malik.

Comrades, the End Prison Slavery in Texas Campaign is real! Please visit us on Facebook at Support Keith ‘Comrade Malik’ Washington and support us as we prepare to face off with the state of Texas in federal court challenging this modern day slave empire. In the year 2016, don’t you think that the United States of Amerika should Amend the 13th Amendment to finally ABOLISH ALL FORMS OF SLAVERY? Dare to struggle. Dare to win. All power to the people!

Send our brother some love and light: Keith “Malik” Washington, 1487958, Coffield Unit, 2661 FM 2054, Tennessee Colony TX 95884. Write David “Chino” Martinez, 613186, at the same address.