Normalizing death inside Texas prisons

Comrade Malik has dedicated this essay to the memory of Atatiana Jefferson, a beautiful, loving and intelligent Black woman who was murdered in cold blood in her home by a white police officer in Fort Worth, Texas. The neighbor who called the police to check on her safety deeply regrets making the call. And both her parents, first her father and recently her mother, have died of broken hearts since she was killed for no reason whatsoever in October.

by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington, Chief Spokesperson, End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement

“The media’s double standards about showing corpses is a clear illustration of the brutal necropolitics to which so many black, Muslim, indigenous, colonized and refugee lives are subjugated – that is, under the threat of, and in proximity to, death and disposal. As the first scholar to use the term, Achille Mbembe stressed that necropolitics does not reside only in the exercise of sovereignty via the power to kill, but the power to organize others’ lives so that they are perpetually exposed to death, or experience a living death of slavery, imprisonment and segregation.” – from Natasha Lennard, “Being Numerous: Essays on Non-Fascist Life,” pg. 102

The intentional murder, suicide or even “accidental” death of Texas prisoners has now reached the point of an out-of-control epidemic.

Long-held Texas prisoner and highly respected jailhouse lawyer Michael “Basir” Lane states that in the year of 2019, approximately 15 human beings died at the H.H. Coffield Unit in Tennessee Colony, the largest state prison in Texas.

It is ironic that in the year of 2019, Texas Rep. Jarvis Johnson, a Democrat from Houston, Texas, fought passionately for a piece of legislation which would have created independent oversight for this morally bankrupt agency known as the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

I began this essay with a remarkable quote from scholar, activist and author Natasha Lennard. Ms. Lennard uses the term “necropolitics.” In the state of Texas, necropolitics, the politics of death, has been perfected and organized by a cadre of willing conspirators.

It is important for you to know that the necropolitics, the normalization of death inside Texas prisons, is not something that has just recently happened. On the contrary, this is how Texas does business.

This is not an attack on party affiliation, because both the Democrats and Republicans in Texas have been willing participants in this organized scheme to liquidate and exterminate those who have been deemed unworthy of our compassion.

As I said, this scheme is very organized, and it has “actors.” People who hold the most respected and highest stations in Texas have aided in the proliferation and cover-up of these horrible violations of human rights.

Exposing the actors

I arrived in the H.H. Coffield Unit in September of 2015, and I had already rung the alarm that prisoner deaths were being orchestrated and covered up inside Texas prisons. It was actually the work and activism of Kevin “Rashid” Johnson which got my attention and made me realize that this normalization of death inside Texas prisons was being condoned, protected and promoted at the highest level of the Texas state government.

In 2013, the Texas attorney general was Gregg Abbott, who has since become the governor. Rashid had been purposely brought to Texas by Abbott’s office, and Abbott then conspired with TDCJ and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to have Rashid housed at the Bill Clements High Security Unit in Amarillo, Texas.

Right away, Rashid discovered that placing him at Bill Clements was an attempt by Abbott and then-TDCJ Director Brad Livingston, to kill Rashid and finally silence his revolutionary voice. Rather than become a willing victim, Rashid became a champion of those housed at this death trap, the infamous Clements Unit, located in the “Klan-handle” of Texas.

I remember the names of all the prisoners who died or who were killed by TDCJ employees at the Bill Clements High Security Unit: Theodore Schmerber, Chistopher Woolverton, Arcade Joseph Comeaux, Alton Rodgers and more!

In the state of Texas, necropolitics, the politics of death, has been perfected and organized by a cadre of willing conspirators

Attorney Jesse Quackenbush tried to get some justice for the families of these deceased Texas prisoners, but Jesse was up against the entire corrupt criminal justice system in Texas! We are talking about the judges, district attorneys, and even the coroners and medical examiners – all doing their utmost to downplay and cover up the loss of life at the notorious Bill Clements Unit.

Many people don’t realize how corrupt and sinister this fraternity and sorority of murderous public servants is – they don’t realize how far the tentacles reach. Attorney Jesse Quackenbush would find out.

In 2017, a homeless drunk attacked Jesse Quackenbush’s daughter in the state of Tennessee. Jesse’s daughter was trying to get to her vehicle, but she was blocked by this man who was very angry and obviously deranged. Jesse’s daughter had a gun, she used it in self-defense.

Now, normally white women in the United States of America are given a pass when they use a firearm in self-defense – especially “well-to-do” white women like Jesse Quackenbush’s daughter. However, for some strange reason the Tennessee state attorney sought to charge Jesse’s daughter with attempted murder. Think I’m lying? I highly recommend you do your own research (see for instance https://www.amarillo.com/local-news/news/crime-and-courts/2017-09-12/daughter-local-attorney-jesse-quackenbush-charged).

Texas and Tennessee are part of the Good Ol’ Boys’ network. What we are dealing with here in Amerika is wickedness in high places.

Now, let’s go back to the H.H. Coffield Unit and the Eastern District of Texas. In 2016, while I was housed at the H.H. Coffield Unit, I began a civil lawsuit which alleged that I had become the victim of retaliation for engaging in what the U.S. Supreme Court refers to as protected conduct. The defendants in my civil complaint were all employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

I remember their names: Senior Warden Jeffrey Catue, Mailroom Supervisor Schylece Dorsey, Safe Prisons Sgt. Rhonda Smith, Law Library Supervisor Gaye Karriker, Security Threat Group Sgt. Robert Walker etc.

There were 17 defendants in total. The complaint was assigned to U.S. Magistrate K. Nicole Mitchell. Remember when I said that necropolitics is organized? In 2016, I raised the alarm about deaths at the H.H. Coffield Unit, and the “good” and “honorable” K. Nicole Mitchell ignored everything I said!

It is not just U.S. Magistrate Judge K. Nicole Mitchell who is culpable; now we have a “who’s who” of state employees, as well as members of the media, activist community and legislators who are all willing participants in the normalization of death inside Texas prisons.

Remember Jennifer Erschabek from TIFA (Texas Inmate Families Association)? For years Jennifer had the wool pulled over our eyes! Jennifer was figuratively “in bed” with high-ranking TDCJ prison officials like Bryan Collier. The first time ever that a TDCJ executive director appeared on the iconic Prison Show on KPFT 90.1 FM, Jennifer performed like a well-trained seal at Sea World.

I listened while Jennifer told Bryan Collier how wonderful he was, while refusing to hold him and his murderous colleagues accountable for the numerous prisoner deaths inside Texas prisons! Our “good friend” Jennifer, who charges us an arm and a leg for parole packets. A schemer and violator of the public’s trust. Shame on you!

I have always been critical of TDCJ Correctional Institution Division (CID) Director Lorie Davis. Davis specializes in targeting any prisoner who attempts to exercise their U.S. constitutional right to access the court. The pressure has been mounting for the ouster of Lorie Davis as the director of the TDCJ CID. In 2019, she took a special interest in the H.H. Coffield Unit, where prisoner deaths have become commonplace.

[P]rison in Texas is a microcosm of the “free” society outside

Senior Warden Jeffrey Catoe was relieved of his post. The numerous deaths and suicides on “Catoe’s watch” were cited as the main reason he was relieved.

Ms. Schylece Dorsey, mailroom supervisor, was fired by a federal marshall who found Dorsey had been tampering with, as well as obstructing, the legal mail of prisoners housed at Coffield Unit. Most of the security captains who were at Coffield Unit when I was housed there have been demoted or fired.

Nonetheless, the normalization of death at Coffield Unit continues unabated. Sen. John Whitmire, a Democrat from Houston, Texas, as well as his colleague and buddy Sen. Joan Huffman, engage in this ongoing conspiracy to ignore the humanity of Texas prisoners.

All those years of serving on the Texas Senate, and John Whitmire will be leaving soon as a disgraced fool and puppet of the far-right ruling party! That will be your legacy, John! At one time you had me fooled, too, but now I am no longer blind to your hatred of oppressed people.

You folks shouldn’t have sent me to the feds. You should have shipped me to the moon! That way you may have escaped this scathing critique.

Prison slavery in Texas still exists, but one day it will be abolished!

Dare to struggle, dare to win, all power to the people!

Comrade Malik also recognizes the heroism of Black lawyers with the courage to represent Blacks against police and prison systems. Lee Merritt, who represents Atatiana Jefferson, was charged with practicing law in Texas without a license. The frivolous charges, brought by a Texas Supreme Court committee, were dismissed in December 2018. – Photo: Fox 4 News

Addendum

There are many salient and relevant topics and facts that I did not explore in this essay, yet they deserve mentioning. For instance, the police, the DAs, judges and jails have made death an accepted consequence of being a young Black man in Amerikan society. Many Black males have a nihilistic outlook on life, something in the back of our minds constantly reminds us that “death is lurking around the corner” every day we wake up. I can tell you from experience that prison does not keep you safe, nor does it insulate you from this reality.

At any given moment in this environment, your next moment could very well be your last. Death by baton, concussion grenade, bullet or shank! Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Certainly, in Texas prisons, white prisoners are dying and being killed by TDCJ employees. However, a white life does not have the same devalued existence that a Black life has.

Personally, I value all lives and that resonates in my work, but I put more emphasis on Black lives, because it is our lives which get taken with little to no accountability from the law enforcement entities that continually take our lives – FACT.

I have been inspired by, and very interested in, the work of Attorney Brittany K. Barnett and her client Kim Kardashian-West. Kim K. is saving lives. I often wonder, can someone who has a “dirty” background, such as myself, can work closely with someone like Brittany or Kim?

As I nudge closer to the door of freedom, I wonder what I can do for those I leave behind? I wonder.

And finally, I must mention the death that is one’s existence inside administrative segregation, solitary confinement and those places known as “control units.”

In the past, I’ve spoken about my personal experience with social death inside Texas prisons. I spoke of how I was thrown away by the judge, the prosecutor and by society. Texas holds people in ad-seg for literally decades with no opportunity for education or programming unless you agree to debrief, become an informant and attend a Gang Renunciation Program. If you refuse, they bury you for the length of your sentence.

The only reason that Texas paroled me is because I would not stop exposing them! There were no programs or certificates I earned – nothing!

When Ken Paxton, Greg Abbott and Bryan Collier came to the realization that they couldn’t break me, they gave me to the feds, with the hope I’d be a casualty of the super-violent and barbaric federal system. Thus far I’ve survived.

Or perhaps Abbott and Paxton hoped for the Jeffrey Epstein or Whitey Bulger “treatment.” On that note, a last word from writer, activist, and scholar Natasha Lennard (pg. 123 of “Being Numerous”):

“Some suicides are akin to manslaughter. I don’t mean they are criminal. I mean simply that some suicide belongs in that liminal category between the accidental and the intentional. An attempt is made on a life without premeditation – messy and un-meticulous. It is impossible to answer definitively: ‘Did they mean to do it?’”

Inside Texas prisons, “they” do mean it!

Dare to struggle, dare to win, all power to the people!

Dedication

This essay is dedicated to the memory of Atatiana Jefferson. Atatiana was a beautiful, loving and intelligent Black woman who was murdered in cold blood in her home by a white police officer in Fort Worth, Texas.

On Oct. 12, 2019, white police officer Aaron Dean responded to a call from a neighbor about doors at Atatiana’s home being open.

According to the attorney who is representing Atatiana’s family, she heard a noise while playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew. Body camera footage shows two officers using flashlights to check the perimeter of the house. The police officer Aaron Dean appears to see a figure through a dark window. He quickly turns to his left and shouts, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” Aaron Dean then immediately fires a single shot through the window, killing our beautiful Black Queen Atatiana Jefferson!

I want all of you to clearly understand that prison in Texas is a microcosm of the “free” society outside!

Allow me to clarify what I mean. The lives of poor people, LGBTQ people and Black people have no value to those commissioned to protect and serve! Know this!

We have committed servants of the people like Civil Rights Attorney S. Lee Merritt, who fights hard for the rights of citizens like Atatiana. We should support Lee Merritt!

Instead of supporting the work of S. Lee Merritt, these bigots and racists who sit behind the bench in these U.S. courts do their utmost to ridicule, ostracize and sabotage Merritt’s pursuit of justice for people like us.

There is a hideous culture that exists in Texas, and until we finally recognize and hold men like Aaron Dean accountable, these horrible tragedies will continue to happen! I won’t be silent!

If I sound angry, sisters and brothers – I am!

In 2020, I’m not just calling for an end to prison slavery – I am demanding justice for all Black and oppressed people who reside within the United States of Amerika!

Keith “Malik” Washington is assistant editor of the Bay View, studying and preparing to serve as editor after his release in 2021. He is also 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. Visit his website at ComradeMalik.com. Send our brother some love and light: Keith “Malik” Washington, 34481-037, USP Pollock, P.O. Box 2099, Pollock LA 71467.