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

by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington

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
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

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 (TDCJ). 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 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 the 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, 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 sixties. In June 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 violates the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution.

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

According to the 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 the extreme heat conditions the TDCJ crafted a “new” Administrative Directive – 10.64, which sets forth policies, procedures, and guidelines to help alleviate the consequences of being exposed to extreme heat conditions.

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

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 the coolers full of ice for the Navasota Fire Department. I believe the 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 Unit 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 of the prison. These fans are situated on the floor about 3 feet from the front of the dayroom seating area and do not meet the intent of AD 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 AD 10.64 these fans should be mounted up high and 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. 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 University of Texas, School of Law Human Rights Clinic, headed by Director Ariel Dulitzky, and has also drawn the attention of the United Nations.

I spoke personally to 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% of the time. Outdoor recreation is extremely rare, and the place is falling apart!” He continued, “It is obvious this transfer was retaliation for me ligating, 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 harms 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.” End of quote.

Our Pleas for Help!

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

  1. On May 6th 2015, at the Terrell Unit located at Rosharon, Texas. TDCJ prison officials thwarted a disabled incarcerated US Army veteran from being able to attend court in Brazuria County on time; the prisoners name is Richard A. Dunsmore TDC#1826868. He needs our help!
  2. For 3 years on the Estelle Unit located at Huntsville, Texas, prisoner Oliver Eshman Lister TDC#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#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 the racist stronghold of Texas?

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 1st 2015 I met Keith Cole at the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas. Cole and I were handcuffed together and placed on a bus headed to the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, Texas.

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

It is our hope that the US 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!

We would appreciate any comments you may have pertaining to this issue. Please feel free to contact me.


[First posted on:
 San Francisco Bay View]
links added: 8/20/15

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

  1. Translation of the letter to the US-ambassador in Austria (sorry for my bad Alpine English)

    Texas Won’t Cool Its Prisons, But It Will Air Condition Its Pigs
    http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/texas-wont-cool-its-prisons-but-it-will-air-condition-its-pigs-7145267
    Translation of the letter to the US-ambassador in Austria (sorry for my bad Alpine English). Solidarity without borders, Heinz
    Vienna, August 21st, 2015
    Re: Deadly Heat in Texas prisons
    Dear Ambassador,
    As a retired official of the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, and Consumer Protection I feel free to contact you as the representative of the United States in Austria in a most disturbing matter. As your mother is of German origin and you speak excellent German I take the liberty of writing in German.
    On June 2nd, 2014, “Texas Monthly” reported that almost 20 prisoners died from extreme heat in Texas prisons. I feel free to enclose some background information:
    The Heated Battle For Cooled Texas Prisons
    http://www.texasmonthly.com/politics/the-heated-battle-for-cooled-texas-prisons/
    Deadly Heat in Texas Prisons A report from the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law April 2014
    https://law.utexas.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2015/05/2014-HRC-USA-DeadlyHeat-Report.pdf
    Farm animal welfare and housing surely is an important matter to you as a biologist. As a Texas entrepreneur and a supporter of human rights with Lifeworks, Breakthrough and GenAustin you are urging compliance of unalienable human rights in prisons as well, I am sure.
    Mr. Keith H. Washington, C.T. Terrell Unit, Rosharone, TX 77583, has asked First Lady Obama and the U.S. Department of Justice for help in this matter recently.
    This matter does not only concern prisoner Mr. Washington but all prisoners in the state of Texas. This is why I am asking you to appeal Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and your government to launch an inquiry concerning this matter, and to take appropriate action to immediately stop the violations of human rights in Texas prisons
    Sincerely,
    Name, address

    Like

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