By: Keith “Malik” Washington
“As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.” -Clarence Darrow, Attorney
It is July 1st, 2015 we are at the Byrd Unit located in Huntsville, Texas. Byrd Unit is one of the main transit centers for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Texas Prisoners are housed here sometimes for a week, sometimes for eight weeks, many are fresh off the street or coming in from the County Jail awaiting their first taste of Texas justice.
Just like any other unit in Texas, Byrd Unit offers religious services. On this day, July 1st, 2015 at approximately 8:30pm four muslim prisoners break their Ramadan fast in the chow hall area. After they break their fast they assemble in ranks in order to perform the sunset prayer known as Maghrib.
While in the middle of their solemn prayer, all prostrated with their foreheads on the ground facing the Holy City of Mecca, they are interrupted by loud vulgar language. A white male TDCJ employee, Correctional Officer V. Brown, storms in, he steps into the prayer ranks, yanking up prayer rugs as he screams” “Y’all stop that shit! Y’all not allowed to be here praying, if I catch you bumpin’ your head against the ground here again, all of y’all are gonna receive a disciplinary case.” end of quote.
This account was relayed from one of the muslim prisoners present in the chow hall at Byrd Unit. He just arrived here on the Wallace Pack Unit located in Navasota, Texas. For fear of retaliation by TDCJ prison officials, he has asked that we not reveal his name.
The muslim prisoners on Byrd unit notified TDCJ employee Ms. Young of the incident. She gave the prisoner grievance paperwork to fill out. Byrd Unit Lieutenant Ruiz was notified, yet to this date no action has been taken against Correctional Officer V. Brown.
This is not an isolated incident, since the Brown v. Livingston federal ruling by Federal Judge Kenneth Hoyt on May 1st, 2014, saying that the Texas prison system has violated the rights of Muslim inmates with rules that make it all but impossible for them to freely practice their religion, we have seen numerous incidents of “hate crimes” against muslims in TDCJ. The Muslim inmate coordinator who is in charge of Islamic functions in the Huntsville Region is Mr. Akbar Shabazz. Shabazz has defined himself as an avowed enemy of muslim prisoners and a dedicated servant to the system which oppresses us! On many occasions, Shabazz, a long term TDCJ employee, has used his position to stunt the growth of TDCJ’s muslim population and cover-up acts of blatant abuse and discrimination.
Many prisoners in Texas who practice Islam are keenly aware that it was Chaplain Akbar Shabazz testified in open court years ago that muslims should not be allowed to wear a beard. Shabazz being fully aware that our Holy Prophet (saw) instructed us to “grow your beard to its full length and trim the mustache.”
However, the beard issue is a small thing as we consider the harm Shabazz has done in regards to us attracting Islamic volunteers. TDCJ’s entire religious services apparatus is operated in such a manner as to discourage muslim prisoners from propagating and proselytizing the religion of Islam and there are even hate campaigns condoned and sanctioned by the chaplaincy department. I have facts to back up my allegations.
Here on the Wallace Pack Unit there are Christian evangelists invited here to preach. Some make it a point to bash muslims and sow seeds of hate into the hearts of our fellow prisoners. The Chaplain here on the Wallace Pack – Mr. David Nichols oversees a faith-based dorm here, there are a couple of muslims in the program, which is open to all faiths.
When the particular preacher arrives, the one who spews Islamophobic hate, the chaplain instructs the muslim faith dorm participants, “Guys, you don’t have to attend this meeting.” Oh how convenient!! Wouldn’t it be more righteous to instruct this preacher to discontinue his hate rhetoric if he intends to bring the “Word” to prisoners? But, with a wink and a nod, he is allowed to continue because, in actuality, the hatred of muslims is condoned and sanctioned by TDCJ.
On June 23rd, 2015 at the Wallace Pack Unit located in Navasota, Texas the Muslim community was in the midst of praying the Maghrib prayer having just broken their Ramadan fast. Lieutenant Temple and Sergeant Michael Parker relayed a message to Correctional Officer IV Belo to stop us from praying and to order us to exit the education department where we were holding Ramadan services.
Correctional Officer Belo, who happens to be a muslim and immigrant from the continent of Africa, said, “Stop praying and go! This is an order!” One of the best kept secrets within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is the foul treatment of muslim employees, especially African nationals. They are threatened not to reveal their religious orientation nor show any acknowledgment to any muslim prisoner whatsoever.
The environment which has been cultivated within the workplace is extremely hostile and intolerant to muslim employees. Many African nationals in the US on work visas are petrified to say anything about TDCJ’s unwritten policy of hate and intolerance aimed at them. Rather than being respected as the hard working human beings they are, Muslim TDCJ employees are treated like terror suspects and “persons of interest” in domestic terror investigations. With that being said, many African nationals refuse to identify themselves as muslims and some, like CO Belo, act as “straw bosses” and enforcers of TDCJ’s discriminatory policies and practices. At the end of the day, CO Belo comes across as a coward and a friend to those who oppress his brothers!
As we were forced out of the Education Department, Lieutenant Temple and Sergeant Michael Parker had staged many officers in the hallway as a Show of Force, as if they were expecting violence. There were attempts to bait us into physical and verbal confrontations but not one muslim took the bait.
We proceeded to the chow hall, ate our Iftar (evening Ramadan meal), and returned to our housing units. Just before I got to my housing unit, I was stopped by CO Ybarra, he felt as if I was looking at him in a threatening manner, he called me over to him, he began cursing me, took my Quran and prayer rug and threw them on the ground – I did not react – I took it. It hurt, it still hurts!
The Islamic community in Wallace Pack Unit collectively filed “Emergency Religious Grievances”. It is our hope that the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division will finally send investigators to Texas! They have told us they are gainfully collecting information yet the abuse and discrimination continues.
In regards to Brown vs. Livingston we are wondering will the appellate judges in the 5th Circuit continue to allow TDCJ to violate our constitutional rights? Protecting the rights of muslim prisoners probably isn’t on anyone’s priority list in America. The geopolitical climate, and a host of other factors, are against us.
The ultra right wing politics which is embraced in Texas is tearing our nation apart.
I leave you with a quote I’d like you to contemplate on:
“The debate here isn’t only how to protect the country. It’s how to protect our values. If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America—even those designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’ If you make this exception the whole Constitution crumbles.”
-Alberto J. Mora, former Navy General Counsel, February 27, 2006 issue of The New Yorker, entitled “The Memo”
Does anyone hear our cries for help? Does anyone care?
We would appreciate any comments you may have pertaining to this issue. Please feel free to contact Mr. Washington at the address below or visit his friends on facebook, or his website.
Mr. Keith “Malik” Washington TDCJ #: 1487958
Pack Unit One
2400 Wallace Pack Rd.
Navasota, TX 77868