Suicide epidemic and deadly extreme heat continue to be downplayed and ignored inside Texas prisons

This photo illustrates a story headlined “Inmate families advocate for cooler prisons at Texas Capitol”: “From left, Casey Phillips, founder and president of Texas Prisons Air-Conditioning Advocates; Robert Lilly, who was incarcerated in the Wallace Unit; attorney Tamika J. Solomon; and Savannah Eldrige, whose brother and step-son are both incarcerated at the Allred Unit, step in to a heated, mock prison cell outside the state capitol on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in Austin. Texas Prisons Air-Conditioning Advocates set up the cell and challenged people to spend three minutes inside.” Not a single legislator took up the challenge. – Photo: Ashley Landis, Dallas Morning News

by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington, chief spokesperson for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement

“We have a responsibility to do what’s right so no one else has to suffer and die in our custody. That’s our responsibility … We should look at this as a ministry – that they (Texas prisoners) are rehabilitated, not annihilated.” – Texas Rep. Carl Sherman Sr., D-DeSoto

The death toll inside Texas State Prisons continues to rise with no relief in sight. There is such a thing as perception management and “controlling the narrative.”

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice employs a public information officer named Jeremy Desel. Mr. Desel’s job is to misinform and mislead the public in regard to the conditions inside Texas prisons. Managing the public’s perception of this unscrupulous state agency is a very important job.

Texas Rep. Carl Sherman, shown here at the March 12 hearing, along with Sen. José Menéndez, Sen. Carol Alvarado and Rep. Terry Canales, have authored bills requiring prison and jail temperatures be kept 65-85 degrees. – Photo: Ashley Landis, Dallas Morning News

For literally decades, journalist Mike Ward co-operated with the state of Texas. Mike Ward used his platform to keep our loved ones blind, deaf and dumb to the truth. [Accused of faking his sources, he abruptly quit the Houston Chronicle last September after investigations by both the Houston and Austin Chronicle newspapers. – ed.]  The arrival of journalist Keri Blakinger at the Houston Chronicle balanced things out slightly, but even Ms. Blakinger has her limitations.

A close friend of mine who is currently housed at the H.H. Coffield Unit which is located in Tennessee Colony, Texas, informed me that in the past two months there have been more than six successful suicide deaths.

These deaths prompted a visit to Coffield unit from TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier and other so called high ranking officials. It was only a couple months ago that Keri Blakinger reported in the Houston Chronicle that TDCJ was experiencing a 20 year high in prisoner suicides.

My friend, who has been incarcerated for over 30 years, blames the recent spike in deaths on a combination of deadly extreme heat and an uncontrollable K-2 epidemic. Synthetic marijuana is routinely brought into Texas prisons by TDCJ employees looking to benefit from the illegal sale of the item among prisoners.

I have no influence or status among prison guards nor do I ever wish to have any among this portion of the Texas workforce, which co-operates enthusiastically and willingly with those who enslave us.

Sen. John Whitmire – Photo: Jane Birchum

However, I do have some influence among our fellow prisoners. So I have a question I’d like to pose to Texas prisoners as well as their loved ones in the free world:

“Would you choose the profits from your K-2 sales over the lives of your homeboys? Will you provide their families with comfort and financial stability now that they have died?”

For some it is easy to remain silent on this topic. I will not be silent! Synthetic marijuana use affects the body’s thermo-regulation mechanism. Can you imagine a 120℉ cell temperature feeling like 150℉?

Sen. John Whitmire, a Democrat from Houston, Texas, is the chairman of the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Sen. Whitmire refused to support or acknowledge pieces of legislation filed this past session that would have mandated state jails and prisons be kept between 65 and 85 degrees.

The bill that would have alleviated the inhumanely hot conditions inside Texas prisons was authored by Texas Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Texas Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburgh. I actually sent Rep. Canales a thank you card for his part in filing this bill. You should know that Terry Canales also tried to deliver hygiene items, food and water to children trapped in facilities operated by Customs and Border Patrol.

For years Sen. John Whitmire has ignored his colleagues’ attempts to address injustice, abuse and inhumane conditions inside Texas prisons. If Sen. Whitmire won’t listen to his own fellow legislators, why should anyone expect him or his staff to listen to an imprisoned activist like me?

I think it is time the public at large send Sen. Whitmire a clear message during the next election cycle!

There is a very good reason why I support the people’s right to vote. Your vote is your voice! In 2020 oppressed people in Amerika must literally and figuratively SCREAM!

There is some “House cleaning” and “Senate cleaning” that must be done in Texas. I’m ready. Are you?

End Prison Slavery! Prison Lives Matter! No pay, No work! Freedom over Everything! Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win! All Power to the People! Free Jason Renard Walker!

Keith “Malik” Washington is co-founder and chief spokesperson for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement, a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and an activist in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign. Read Malik’s work at ComradeMalik.com. Send our brother some love and light: Keith “Malik” Washington, 34481-037, USP Beaumont, P.O. Box 26030, Beaumont, TX 77720. This story was written just before Malik’s transfer from the Texas to the federal prison system.