Telford Unit Prisoners suffer heat exhaustion: Denied medical care, access to cold water, and staff negligence

By Jason Renard Walker
Originaly published on Incarcerated Worker Organizing Committee (IWOC)’s site, July 18, 2018

Since 2011, at least twelve Texas prisoners have died from heat stroke, which was a result of the sweltering temperatures inside buildings, dorms, day rooms and the cells where prisoners live.

Hundreds more have suffered heat-related illnesses, many of whom were among the elderly and disabled inmates housed at the Wallace Pack Unit. This does not include prisoners who didn’t report their injuries or those who attempted to treat themselves.

The Pack Unit is a medical and geriatric prison where the indoor prisoner housing areas are not climate-controlled with air conditioning. Prisons like this cause a spike in heat-related injuries because the apparent temperature routinely exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit inside the housing areas. This is a state-wide problem, not just a Pack Unit one.

In 2011, Prisoner Keith Cole and others filed a 1983 Class Action under the 8th Amendment for cruel and unusual punishment and other heat-related violations. In 2017, Judge Keith Ellison granted Cole a preliminary injunction that ordered TDCJ to move all heat-sensitive prisoners from the Pack Unit to one of the few units that had adequate air conditioning to accommodate them. When the heat cooled, they would be moved back – over and over, until the problem is resolved.

But, like the lawsuit explained, all prisoners are likely to suffer heat-related injuries and deaths from these particular conditions, which opens up a Pandora’s Box for subsequent lawsuits.

Now TDCJ has a state-wide policy called Respite Training and Education. It is supposed to alert staff to how prisoners can access respite areas. In part, it says:

* inmates are allowed to access respite 24/7;
* inmates DO NOT need to be sick, injured or feeling bad to access respite, rather they may do so to cool down whenever they wish;
* to access respite, inmates can make the request to any correctional officer;
* if there are problems, ask to talk to a ranking correctional officer.

In fact, officials aren’t complying with this order, and have implemented a very crafty punishment program for prisoners who insist on protesting about being denied access to respite.

Most notably, on May 27th 2018, Officer Phillips, a black female who often brags about being the administration’s lapdog, made several prisoners strip out of their clothing and stand in the 3 Building’s hallway. She was the desk officer for that day. The reason was that these prisoners had complained of being hot, and others didn’t have their shirts tucked in. This was being done while prisoners were passing by going to dinner, and as another officer watched with a smile. I was a victim of this at one point myself.

A so-called legal eagle prisoner pretended to help the victims of this, but he turned out to be a servant of Phillips. I heard him tell Phillips to watch out, that plans be were being made to get her disciplined. She admitted to the lackey that her actions were retaliatory, and because “they wouldn’t shut the hell up.”

Such efforts to coerce prisoners who request respite are widespread, and prisoners are often prevented from actually getting access to respite areas. Denied commissary purchases, threats of cell shakedowns, and disciplinary cases are the usual scare tactics. These methods have been very effective: prisoners are willing to sweat in the day room and suffer heat exhaustion rather than face cruel and unusual punishment. Indeed, this situation alone is cruel and unusual punishment.

On July 24th, 2015, Deputy Director Robert Erison authorized a TDCJ state-wide memo to all TDCJ wardens and regional directors, ordering all wardens to make air-conditioned respite areas available. This included posting notices saying where these areas are located, and allowing staff and prisoners to use them as needed.

But, like at the Telford Unit, Pack Unit prisoners feel threatened just asking for a place to cool down. “I’ve only ever tried to use an area listed on TDCJ’s ‘notice to offenders’ once, and that was a bad experience”, said plaintiff Fred Wallace, in a declaration he wrote to the courts.

The Pack Unit’s warden, Roberto Herrera, investigated prisoners’ claims of being denied access to respite areas, and learned that many were denied for no reason at all, and others were handled unprofessionally.

These acts towards heat-exhausted prisoners in search of respite are devoid of logic or reason. No legitimate penological or institutional objective is furthered by this deliberate indifference. Since most prisoners don’t grieve this, these acts are seen as normal by staff and other prisoners, and so these practices remain ongoing.

On July 2nd 2018, during one of the hottest days thus far, Officer Jessica N. Castro not only denied prisoners who asked for respite; she doubled back and wrote disciplinary cases on prisoners for taking their sweat-saturated shirts off, and standing by the open window on the dayroom stairwell. The rule book says we can’t take our shirts off in the dayroom or stand on the stairwell; it also says we can access respite 24/7. Who was wrong in this instance?

Castro spent her entire shift going from one pod section to the next, writing prisoners up for the exact same thing. She showed little regard for her own health and safety, constantly entering the cellblocks, which caused her entire uniform and face to be drenched in sweat after just a few minutes.

Most officers minimize the frequency and length of their visits to the cellblocks due to the humidity. They are most often seen when they come to retrieve a sweaty shirtless prisoner’s ID card to write them a case. They enter the cellblock dry and leave looking like they’ve had water thrown on them. The smarter guards won’t enter the cellblock, but have the prisoners slide their ID under the door.

Since it’s summer vacation, and the warden closed down the craft shop for political reasons, prisoners aren’t in school where there’s air conditioning, and the craft shop can’t be used as a respite area.

Inside the dayrooms, heat pours in from the open windows, while the exhaust vent pumps out the stale heat, so hot air is perpetually circulating. The dayroom water fountain doesn’t work, the bathroom sink’s cold water is broken, only giving us access to lukewarm water. The water cooler, which is supposed to have ice water in it 24/7, is normally empty, and only gets refilled two or three times a day. This is to support forty-eight prisoners. Debris is frequently found in it.

TDCJ standards require that each prisoner drink at least two gallons of water per day, but the water cooler couldn’t possibly be filled up enough to meet this standard. To top this off, we are only allowed to purchase twelve 16.9 ounce bottles of water from commissary every two weeks. These bottles only hold enough for two days, three at the most. They are considered emergency items. Readers, please demand that we get multiple special water purchases.

Dropping like flies in the summer heat

To avoid public scrutiny and accountability, officers and medical staff devise ways to misdiagnose heat-related injuries, so that their severity is hidden before they are documented in medical records.

On July 3rd, 2018, two prisoners were hauled to the infirmary for what were called “heat strokes”. At 2:20 PM, a call over the officer radio to all stations stated that a prisoner on 4 Building, F-Pod, had passed out from a “heat stroke”, and was unresponsive. Five minutes later, the same caller stated the the prisoner was responsive with a wet towel on his neck, and that it wasn’t a heat stroke; she didn’t state what the new diagnosis was.

Despite having no competent medical judgement, she or someone else diagnosed the injuries, changed the diagnosis, then had the prisoner walk to the infirmary in the heat, even though medical had said they were en route with a gurney. At 2:31PM, I watched from the law library as an old red-headed female nurse and a heavy-set old male nurse met with the prisoner, who was being escorted by a black female officer named “Garner” or “Garland”. This black prisoner was walked into the infirmary an hour after a white- or hispanic-looking prisoner was sent there on a gurney. Both had sweaty bodies and clothing. Both had the same initial diagnosis.

A prisoner living in 4 Building who wants to remain anonymous stated that “rank said medical can’t put the word ‘heat’ or ‘stroke’ on paper cause they gonna get sued.” This coincides with me hearing the guard on the radio change the diagnosis. And why they had the obviously heat-exhausted prisoner walk to the infirmary. The institution’s Rule #1 is that if it isn’t on paper, it didn’t happen. On July 6th, 2018, another prisoner dropped.

There are other cases of inappropriate denial of medical care and respite. On July 3rd, 2018, I returned from the law library, and was denied the opportunity to go into my cell, even though the pod officer was letting other prisoners do so. The white female guard told me that she wasn’t going to go to the third tier, where I stay, because it makes her “sweaty and dizzy”.

I was forced to sit the in the dayroom for over two hours. During the first thirty minutes, I became heat-exhausted, so I tried to contact the pod officer. I was told to shut up and sit down. I contacted Officer Michelle R. Lafayette, who was working in the guard tower that watched over the three pod section and controlling the doors. I’m in A-Pod, 2 Section.

I asked if I could access a respite area to cool down and get some water, since the water cooler was empty. “A re-what?” she laughed over the intercom. “We don’t do that here”, she said, before cutting off the intercom.

I spent over an hour trying to get her and the other pod guard to notify medical staff or ranking staff, because I began to feel dizzy. Efforts to go in my cell, which has a fan, were maliciously denied. Lafayette told me that she was giving me a direct order to get away from the door and the intercom. If I didn’t, I would receive three cases, she said, for failing to obey a direct order; for being out of place (we can’t loiter by the door or intercom); and the third for asking for water – which she claimed is the same as begging her to bring in drugs. No respite or medical care was provided.

Heaven and hell’s kitchen

During lunch and dinner in the dining rooms is no different than in the living areas. These “chow halls” are twice as small as the day room, but hold a lot more people, often being at full capacity thirty minutes at a time. They contain no air conditioning, and the hot air circulates just like in the dayrooms.

More often than not, the soupy flavorless meals are piping hot, coupled with a complete lack of anything to drink. When drinks are there, they are lukewarm, and rarely contain ice.

After prisoners are done eating, they are forced to wait in a single-file or double-file line, sometimes for twenty minutes, until the exit door is opened by Sgt. Huff. This lifeless control freak closes the exit and entrance doors, so that comers and goers are at his mercy entering and exiting the chow halls. When he’s not around, they remain open or are closed briefly. If any prisoners that dare to beat on the door or beg him to open it, he subjects us to a longer wait. “Keep beating on the door and I won’t open it”, he says. Even officers in the chow hall suffer, and are only bowing down to their supervisor. Sweaty shirts and faces gleam everywhere.

The Officers’ Dining Room (ODR), which is built and looks like the chow halls, is a complete contrast. This ODR has top-of-the line air-conditioning, table cloths, chairs, ice-cold beverages, a wide variety of “solid food” choices, adequate lighting, and is always swept and cleaned by prisoners.

Such conditions in the chow hall don’t exist, and one would be lucky to be assigned to a table that is at least half-wiped. In fact, the ODR is one of the places TDCJ lists as a respite area.

Experts and the courts say this is unconstitutional

Even thought the Cole v. Collier class action suit focuses on the Pack Unit, many of the conditions that create heat stroke-threatening temperatures inside the cell blocks are the same everywhere, if not worse.

Dr McGeehin, a lead scientist for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with other expert witnesses, testifies that the most proven effective method for reducing heat exhaustion is adequate air conditioning.

In fact, ice water, cold showers, breeze fans, and industrial blow fans in the day room, have proven ineffective in temperatures over 95 degrees, and serve as a short term measure only, according to expert witnesses.

Fans are proven to only circulate the heat that’s drawn in from open windows and ventilation, which can increase heat exhaustion by drying out the skin.

TDCJ claims that providing adequate air conditioning to prisoners is costly and would compromise an already decreased budget. But experts calculated that TDCJ can provide enough air conditioning, not only to the Pack Unit, but other units. It is TDCJ who installed air conditioning units in the slaughter hog barns because they wanted the pigs to live comfortably. It had nothing to do with its meat being less nutritious.

TDCJ also tried to claim that the respite areas can offset the need for air conditioning units, but it’s already been proven in the Cole v. Collier suit that respite areas aren’t always accessible; can accommodate all prisoners; and that many times prisoners are denied access.

They even had Dr Means, a defendant in related prisoner wrongful-death cases, get on the stand and try to persuade the judge that air conditioning isn’t effective. She was viewed as incredible by the judge, who commented “on the stand, she was unable to directly answer most of the questions by Plaintiffs’ counsel, and was even nonresponsive to questions posed by this Court.” (See Document 473, Memorandum Order).

It was exposed by the courts that TDCJ failed to provide each unit living area with air conditioning, and that this was done for “political and financial reasons”. And that by doing this, they were deliberately indifferent, and subjecting prisoners to unnecessary “cruel and unusual punishment”. The State of Texas requires county jails to keep indoor temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees (see Title 37 Texas Administrative Code, 259.160). This is because, when it’s 98 degrees outside, it can easily get up to 110 degrees inside places that lack adequate air conditioning.

The Telford Unit is one of those places. Unit Warden Garth Parker is responsible for ensuring that constitutional conditions of confinement exist at the Telford Unit. He won’t move to change these conditions until he’s faced with public scrutiny, enquiries, and protest. Something that he doesn’t expect to happen, something that needs to happen.

Readers, please call Warden Parker at the Telford Unit (903-628-3171), and demand that he investigate and remedy the situation where prisoners are denied access to respite, medical care, and the lack of oversight that Cpt. Beard, Warden Townsend, Warden Aisebrook, and Medical Supervisor R. Burreson are providing to ensure these needs are met.

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

Jason Renard Walker, #1532092
Telford Unit
3899 Hwy 98
New Boston, TX 75570

Note:
All references from the Pack Unit, the Cole v. Collier suit, and any mention of expert witnesses are drawn from 14-1698 – Cole et al v. Collier et al, Court Documents #38, #174, #473, #629.

Note:
This article was originally censored by the mailroom, on the grounds that the original version of the article mentioned Jason’s affiliation with the New Afrikan Black Panther Party in the byline. Telford mailroom staff claim that any mention of the words “Black Panther” counts as gang activity, and this censorship comes in the context of what seems to be a co-ordinated clampdown on NABPP members across Texas.
Readers are encouraged to contact the TDCJ Ombudsman at ombudsman@tdcj.texas.gov, as well as the Telford Unit’s management at 903-628-3171 and garth.parker@tdcj.texas.gov, to request that they cease the campaign of harassment and retaliation against Jason, and provide all inmates with adequate relief from the extreme heat. Let them know that we’re looking out for Jason and will hold the prison accountable if anything happens to him!

Letters to Jason at Jason Renard Walker, #1532092, Telford Unit, 3899 Hwy 98, New Boston, TX 75570, will also help to break down his sense of isolation and show the administration that there are people watching out for him, but as mentioned above, be aware that his mail is undergoing heavy censorship.

Summer Heat Kills Inmates in Prisons, and That Needs to Change

From: University of Texas – Austin

June 26, 2014

By Ariel Dulitzky, Director of the Human Rights Clinic; Alex Goeman & Samantha Chen, Students of the Human Rights Clinic

Searing heat and suffocating humidity levels are upon us here in the Southern states. In Texas, residents know that summers are brutal, but while we may be proud of our ability to withstand such extreme conditions, that cold blast of air conditioning when we walk indoors is a welcome respite from the heat outside. In fact, prolonged exposure to temperatures as low as 90 degrees Fahrenheit, when combined with high humidity levels, can put even the healthiest individuals in extreme danger. Despite knowing of these dangers, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has declined to provide air conditioners in most inmate housing areas, or even to set maximum temperature standards in these areas. This needs to change.

Every summer, the TDCJ subjects its prisoners to deadly temperature and humidity levels, and violates prisoners’ human and constitutional rights and their rights to health, life and dignity. Some note that many law abiding Texans do not have air conditioning in their homes. However, these individuals have the freedom and capability to escape deadly summer heat by entering air-conditioned buildings such as libraries or movie theaters. They can take showers and drink water as many times as they want. TDCJ inmates, on the other hand, spend much of their time locked in enclosed concrete and metal structures, where temperatures often exceed 100 degrees during the summer months.

As we noted in our report “Deadly Heat in Texas Prisons,” at least 14 heat-related deaths have been documented at TDCJ facilities since 2007. Many of these inmates had pre-existing health conditions or were taking medications that rendered them heat-sensitive, yet the TDCJ did not properly provide cooled living areas. While the TDCJ uses ventilation and fans indoors, these measures do not protect against heat illnesses in high temperatures and humidity. To the contrary, fans can accelerate heat-related illnesses in such conditions.

Read more at: http://www.utexas.edu/know/2014/06/26/summer-heat-kills-inmates-in-prisons-and-that-needs-to-change/

The Texas Department of Cowboy Justice: A case of lawless law enforcement

by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson

September 7, 2013, SF Bay View

Introduction

As I sit writing this, Lt. Deward Demoss passes my cell making segregation rounds. Further down the tier he exchanges words with another prisoner, then yells down to two unit guards, “Make sure Cell 118 doesn’t eat today.” “Yessir,” they both chime in. Such is the abusive impunity here in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s (TDCJ) Estelle 2 Unit (E2U). In fact, guards’ summarily denying prisoners meals in this manner is so routine, there’s a nickname for it here. It’s called “jacking trays.” And that’s the least of it.

'Texas' by Kevin Rashid Johnson, web

“Texas” by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

I’ve not seen conditions such as exist here in E2U in a long while. The level of abuse is on a par with conditions I described in the autobiographical section of my book that once existed in the segregation unit of Virginia’s Greensville Correctional Center, where guards had a literal license to brutalize and abuse prisoners in the most extreme ways. And these conditions are not accidental.

In fact it’s been made quite clear that I’m here in Texas in direct response to my having brought undesired public scrutiny to Oregon’s and Virginia’s prisons through a series of critical articles and reports about conditions in their prison systems and having sued Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) officials in a recently initiated federal lawsuit.

Indeed, one of my claims in that case was based in part on ODOC officials threatening that if I began litigating against and circulating critical writings about them, I’d find myself permanently in the hole and/or sent to another prison system where I’d be made to suffer much worse than in Oregon. And true to those threats, and only six days before the date on which the federal court had ordered ODOC officials, including its director, to appear and answer in my lawsuit, I was hustled off to the TDJC.

This is an account of what I’ve experienced and witnessed in just a couple of weeks here, which can only be described as Cowboy Justice – as lawless as the Wild West. It is also an appeal to public support and activism.

Welcome to Texas

The above mentioned threats were initially made when I first arrived in Oregon from Virginia in February 2012. Then on May 22, 2013, I was told by ODOC Lt. Kenneth Neff, one of the defendants in my lawsuit, that plans were indeed in motion to transfer me to another prison system where things would definitely be worse. I documented his statement.

On June 14, 2013, I was awakened early in the morning, chained up, and put on a plane bound for Texas. With the exception of only a tiny box of items I was allowed to hurriedly select, all my belongings were left behind in Oregon.

The entire transfer was a setup.

The TDCJ was chosen not in spite – but because – of the fact that I had long dreadlocks and their rule of allowing no exceptions for them, not for religious reasons or otherwise. I was told as much by TDCJ Lt. L. Evans, who presided over the premeditated scheme to shave my head by force, which they knew I’d resist and came prepared.

On arriving in Texas on that June afternoon, I was taken by prison van from the airfield to the Byrd Unit (BU), which is the TDCJ’s intake and orientation prison, where all new admissions to TDCJ are received for orientation, testing, processing etc., which takes about 60 days. I didn’t last five hours.

When I arrived in Oregon in 2012, I went through a similar institution but was given an exception to their haircut requirements upon an ODOC chaplain’s confirmation that my hair was grown for spiritual reasons. No such consideration was given at BU.

On entering the BU I went through the routine procedure of a strip search and was then handcuffed to a thick belt secured at my waist, rendering my arms and hands immobile. I was also leg shackled. This was done in preparation for forcibly cutting my hair and neutralizing my ability to physically resist, of which I was then oblivious.

Then came the ultimatum: My hair had to be cut, either by consent or force. They presented it as though my submission under threat of force was actually an exercise of free choice on my part. Yet when powerless people do the same, it’s a crime: robbery, rape, extortion etc. I protested my spiritual rights.

Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson Self Portrait 2013, web

Rashid in a recent self-portrait

I had none, they replied. Then appeared a group of riot armored guards from hiding around a corner. By choice or by force, they repeated. Although it was a futile gesture, I was resigned to resist. So, against my limited struggles, I was strapped down to a gurney, held down by the armed mob, and had my head and face shaved completely bald.

This constituted the first act of lawless law-enforcement I was to experience or witness in the TDJC. I was outraged, violated in the extreme. Even more so when I found later that the TDJC does in fact allow exceptions to their haircut rule, specifically for Native Americans – which, where other spiritual orientations are not afforded the same consideration, is unlawful discrimination.

My resistance and outrage against the physical attack and forced haircut was then used to justify transferring me from BU – without undergoing the required 60 days processing and orientation process – to the filthy solitary confinement E2U prison. I’d only remained at BU for about four hours.

The welcoming ain’t over

When I arrived at E2U, I was met at the van by yet another mob of riot-armored guards. This group was primed for a more straightforward violent attack, which I verbally noted for the record. A female guard, Mildred Dickie, was initially filming my E2U entry on a portable audio-video camera.

A notoriously abusive E2U guard. Carlos Applewhite, physically moved a smaller guard who was originally standing beside me holding my right arm, took up his position, and repeatedly told me to shut up. Which I ignored and pointed out was both hostile and unprofessional.

I was taken to a holding cell and strip searched by Applewhite with Dickie filming and observing, which I protested as an unconstitutional cross-gender strip search. Applewhite then applied handcuffs – behind my back – and shackles, the latter so tightly I could barely stand or walk, which I also protested. The camera was deactivated at that point and Applewhite barked that I’d either walk or be dragged.

I was limped along by the mob to an office where I was instructed to sit in a chair. The door was closed and the armored group stood just outside of it.

Inside the office with me were B2U Assistant Warden Wayne Brewer, Major David Forrest and Capt. James A. McKee. Brewer was the only one dressed in civilian street clothes, so I inquired of him who he was. He responded, “You shut up, motherfucker, I’m doing the talking!” Then, as if on cue, Forrest and McKee rushed me and proceeded to manually choke and repeatedly hit me in the head and face while Brewer ran a stream of threats and verbal abuse past me, promising he’d break me or kill me. I was told then and repeatedly since that I am now in Texas where prison officials do simply as they please – and get away with it. Period. I replied, when I could breathe, that I wasn’t impressed nor intimidated, and to get on with whatever they had in mind.

When they got tired and saw they were getting nowhere, I was kicked out of the office and taken by the armored group to a filthy cell, which was to be my new TDCJ abode.

The cell I was put into is situated directly in front of another prisoner’s cell, Edward Long, 579657, who was just the day before viciously beaten by Applewhite while he was handcuffed behind his back. The evidence of the attack was blatant: a black ring around his left eye, a laceration along the side of his right eye held closed with sutures tape, a badly bruised face and back, and a grotesquely swollen mouth.

Furthermore, Applewhite routinely goes to Long’s cell to boast and taunt him, admitting how he “beat the shit out of” Long until he lay in a puddle of blood. Under the peculiar conditions of prison, guards actually convince themselves that beating handcuffed prisoners and mob attacking individual prisoners in groups of five or more using gas, body armor and other weapons, are accomplished acts of bravery to boast about and take pride in, instead of pure cowardice on a par with mob rape and large adults who beat small children who by nature and circumstance are at a decided disadvantage.

Applewhite also frequently threatens others with the same, and he and other E2U guards constantly act to provoke situations to speciously justify uses of force in general and cell extractions in particular, which consist of a group of guards with weapons and body armor invading the cell of an individual prisoner by force, whom they invariably beat once restrained.

Here in E2U multitudes of prisoners attest to being victims of beatings by guards. Although there are surveillance cameras throughout the unit, guards typically take prisoners into “blind spots” like offices, closets, elevators etc. where cameras are absent and beat them. During cell extractions they simply turn off or don’t train the audio-video cameras on the prisoner, while kicks and punches are thrown and his head is slammed onto the concrete floor or steel fixtures in the cells, and guards use their bodies to block the cameras.

But in many cases, as with Long, guards beat prisoners openly in video-surveilled areas and video footage is either “lost,” recorded over, ignored, or it’s claimed the use of force wasn’t captured on film.

E2U’s primitive conditions

On top of the rampant physical abuse, living conditions in E2U are barbaric. The unit is infested with roaches which are routinely found in our food or crawling on one while he is sleeping or just sitting still. And guards serve and handle our meals in the most unsanitary manner. Thermoses of juice and stacks of trays are served on the lids of wheeled trashcans. The trays are also routinely set on the filthy unit floor during service.

Guards never wash their hands, never wear head coverings and almost never wear gloves. Trays and beverages are set inside of roach-infested and contaminated metal boxes that are affixed to the outside of the cell doors, in which flies and roaches nest and rush to get at the food served and spilled inside the boxes.

Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson

Rashid in an older self-portrait

Guards also go cell to cell handling the filthy locks, chains and latches to open and close the boxes as they handle and serve the food, trays and beverages. The boxes are never cleaned, and we must also put all items passed into and out of the cells into them, including shoes, dirty linen, worn clothing, such as during searches performed each time we leave the cell.

Should one protest these conditions, he’s almost certain to get “jacked” for his tray.

The cells each have internal showers which frequently leak, causing standing water to remain on the cell floors. The shower drain frequently stops or backs up, and smells of raw sewage. There is no air conditioning, no windows at all. The vents are clogged with debris.

And in addition to the intense Texas summer heat and humidity, the cells remain damp due to lack of air circulation and steam from the shower, which never completely evaporates from the cells. The floor and walls are covered with mildew, and black mold spots the ceilings. The cells reek of mildew.

We are never given cleaning supplies such as toilet brushes, sponges, cloths, brooms, mops, disinfectants etc. The only cleaning supply we receive is a tiny bit of scouring powder once a week.

Prisoners with obvious mental and emotional illnesses scream, rant, bang and argue at fever pitch day and night. Many obviously suffering the effects of living under E2U’s solitary confinement conditions for years on end.

Guards at their whim destroy and trash prisoners’ personal property. Often when they are out of the cell, guards simply enter them and throw items out as trash, especially that of prisoners who challenge them through complaints or in the courts.

This is also done as routine summary retaliation against prisoners who dare speak out against or otherwise challenge abusive guards and conditions. My own address book, a number of pre-posted mailing envelopes and other items I brought with me from Oregon that were inventoried by ODOC officials when I left on June 14 were stolen by TDCJ Officials, evidenced by their exclusion from the inventory made of the same sealed box of property when I got here to Texas.

Meals are grossly inadequate nutritionally, with only half the prescribed meal portions served and entire courses not provided at all at nearly every meal. One literally receives one third the amount of food on the trays at E2U compared with what I received in the ODOC. And the ODOC strictly calculated meal portions and calorie counts to ensure that prisoners receive exactly or just above 2,500 calories per day, which is the legal minimum daily calorie intake for a sedentary adult.

No desserts are served – neither pastries nor fruits – although they factor into calculating daily minimum calorie intake. No condiments are given with the unseasoned meals – neither salt, sugar etc. – which also denies basic minerals. All prisoners whom I’ve spoken to on the subject in E2U suffer the continuous torture of constant hunger pangs.

Many who’ve been confined here for some time explain that food portions and quality have been cut to the extreme by the TDCJ to save money in the face of budget cuts, because of mismanagement of food supplies – prisoner workers in E2U contend that officials steal supplies of food – and to induce prisoners to conform their behavior to officials’ will to achieve privileged statuses in E2U on which they can purchase food and condiments from the commissary. Food is thus used as punishment, behavior modification and a scheme to generate money through commissary sales.

Due no process of law

Although I was never oriented into nor notified of the TDCJ’s rules and procedures, I received three disciplinary charges stemming from my resisting the forced haircut of June 14. On June 18 E2U counselor Staci Crowley came to my assigned cell to notify me of the charges and determine if I wanted to attend the hearings, which I told her I did. I only later found after she’d left that she lied, indicating I refused to attend the hearing. McKee presided as the hearings officer and found me guilty in my absence and without the benefit of my being able to present any defense.

McKee then turned around and presided over deciding my security housing committee hearing and had me assigned to administrative segregation based on his own corrupt guilty findings on the three charges. At the next committee hearing, Forrest, my other assailant, followed suit.

And as I said, guards flaunt their abusive impunity. When I was taken out to my first committee hearing on June 19, Sgt. Bret Wuellner and guard Venson Williams Jr. held me facing a wall standing outside the office where the hearing was to be conducted – the very same office in which I was attacked on June 14.

Another prisoner was in the office being “heard.” As he was being “escorted” from the office by several guards, Wuellner remarked, “Damn, what happened to his face?” The prisoner’s face was swollen and bruised – the obvious result of a recent beating.

California prisoner hunger strike solidarity drawing by Rashid Johnson, Red Onion Prison, Va

Rashid is the artist who drew this symbol of California prisoner hunger strike solidarity when he was still incarcerated at Red Onion Prison in Virginia. The drawing is now recognized around the world by people who care about prisoners.

Also, as I’d stood waiting for his hearing to conclude, another prisoner was “held” awaiting a hearing, sitting in a wheelchair approximately 10 feet from me. He too showed obvious facial injuries resulting from a beating. Concerning this prisoner, Wuellner remarked to Williams that he’d suffered his injuries – including being wheelchair-bound – in a “cell entry.”

Wuellner took this as an opportunity to tell me that here in Texas I was in for a “rude awakening.” He asked if in Virginia I’d ever had guards “put hands” on me. When I only gave him a blank look in response, Williams added, “Take it from a Black man: They do what they want here,” speaking of the ranking white TDCJ officials, “and get away with it.” Williams is a Black guard; Wuellner is white.

To Williams’ remark I couldn’t resist responding that the pathetic thing about him and others like him is he recognizes yet goes along with it. He replied, almost apologetically, “It’s just a job and I’m not going to be here long anyway.” He proved, however, on June 28 in his participation in the brutal assault of another Black prisoner in conspiracy with Wuellner, that he is as much party to the abuse as the most racist of TDCJ officials.

Since being at E2U, I’ve been confronted repeatedly with such obvious ploys as Wuellner’s and Williams’, calculated to intimidate me on the one hand and provoke me on the other. Indeed, this has been the basis of this entire TDCJ experience: to intimidate and provoke.

Indeed, since June 14, and on Brewer’s instructions, I’ve been subjected to frequent strip and cell searches every 30 minutes to two hours every day, around the clock, even during sleeping hours. This began as soon as I was assigned to E2U, following the office assault.

On the second occasion that I was confronted for such a search on that evening, by Sgt. Kyle Nash and two other guards, I questioned the basis and legality of the searches. Their response was to tell me they were frequently searching me “because we can” and used my questioning them as an excuse to attempt to escalate the situation to where force would be justified.

Nash summoned Lt. Patrick Eady to the cell, who stated outright that they were going to “do this the hard way,” and I’m “not going to like it.” He told the guards to “go suit up,” i.e., put on riot armor, and that he wanted them to take me into the back of the cell and “beat on” me. I’d never refused to submit to the search, only questioned it, so when they returned in riot armor, I went through the strip search, was handcuffed behind and brought out of the cell.

At that point, I narrated all that had occurred and Eady’s stated intentions for an audio-video camera that was present and presumably recording. I also stated my need to see medical staff for injuries to my face and throat resulting from the assault on me in the office. Following the search, I was taken inside the cell – out of view of the camera – laid on the floor in back of the cell and hit and kicked in the face and head, which I narrated for the camera to pick up.

On June 15, 2013, I hand delivered a sick call request to a nurse Kathy Burrow to be seen for my injuries which was logged in on June 16 but not acted on within 72 hours as required by TDCJ policy – obviously to cover up my injuries and allow a passage of time for them to heal. I was not seen until two weeks later and only because of outside protest of my situation after I’d managed to get word out.

Damage control

In obvious response to outside pressure, an investigation was staged, beginning long after the fact of the June 14 assaults and my complaints. First, I was seen by a nurse on June 27, who merely looked into my mouth and ears with a light, and gave me several aspirin. The following day I was brought out to see TDCJ Dr. Bobby Vincent, then TDCJ investigator D. Morris.

Just before being brought out of the cell, E2U Lt. Ashley Anderson came to my cell to tell me, in friendly tones, that Brewer had just informed him that he’d decided to end the frequent strip and cell searches he’d had me on since June 14. How convenient – just when I was about to be brought out to see a doctor and speak to an investigator about abuses, including the office assault which he’d arranged.

The doctor, himself a TDCJ employee, seemed more inclined to minimize the remnants of my injuries than to treat me. He admitted the only reason he was seeing me was because of complaints about my being assaulted. He claimed to find only “the slightest swelling” to my left jaw and not to feel a prominent bony protrusion on the right side of my throat, which even a layman can feel right now and recognize it to be abnormal and not present on the left side. No care was given.

'Defying the Tomb' cover by Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson

Order Rashid’s book, “Defying the Tomb,” from Kerspebedeb Left-Wing Books, at https://secure.leftwingbooks.net/index.php?l=product_detail&p=893.

I was then taken into an office to speak with the investigator Morris – again, the same office where I was assaulted. The “interview” was also attended by Capt. Lawrence L. Dawson, Sgt. Tracy D. Puckett and guard Carlos Amaya Jr. under the guise of providing security but obviously to pick up and pass on what all was said.

I provided a statement about the abuses I’d experienced and the conditions in E2U and emphasized several times that I requested a polygraph examination concerning the abuses and that those who’d assaulted me should be asked to submit to the same – which I know they’d decline – since whatever they said in reply to my complaints would obviously be given preferential consideration by any TDCJ “investigator,” not only because they’re officials and coworkers, but because they are among the highest ranking in the prison.
And this was a case that would prove quite embarrassing to TDCJ’s highest officials, since it would show the abuses are not mere deviant misbehaviors of low-level rogue guards but rather permissive abuse that runs to the highest administrative levels.

The entire force of an “investigation,” however, is as always staged for damage control and seldom provides any meaningful outcome, except only in cases where there is sustained and broad public outrage. And again, only enough is done to pacify that protest. It’s then back to business as usual. In fact, what Morris seemed most concerned about was whether I intend to sue the TDCJ over the abuses.

Still outta control

On that very same day that I spoke to Morris, yet another brutal assault was staged on a prisoner in E2U, involving Wuellner, Williams and the guard Amaya, who’d sat in on and listened attentively to my statement about the assaults on me, from which they obviously took pointers. The assaulted prisoner remains in the hospital as I write this.

I personally witnessed the setup.

The victim, Joe Laws, 553289, is one of the few E2U prisoners who’s refused to be terrorized by E2U guards. As a result of his resistance to their abuses, the guards both fear and hate him. Given this dynamic, an attack of the sort staged on June 28 was inevitable.

Laws allegedly had a run-in with guards earlier that morning. No immediate response followed, obviously because the investigator from the TDCJ director’s office, D. Morris, was at the prison. Also, the guards who attacked Laws used the exact same tactic to assault Laws as I’d explained to Morris that Eady had guards use on me on June 14 inside the cell. Only in Laws’ case they went to the extreme.

The guards who participated in the Laws assault were Amaya, a guard named Smith (believably Nathaniel Smith), Cody Gonzalez, Williams and one other – either Gregory Shipman or Michael Lewis – all of whom were “suited up” in riot armor. They were supervised by Wuellner, and guard Jalisa R. Jackson was operating the portable audio-video camera. When force is used, the guard with the camera is to film the prisoner at all times. However, as the guard did with me on June 14, Jackson stood far off to the side of the cell so the camera would not film activity inside the cell once the guards took Laws into the back of it.

Just 30 minutes before their shift was set to go off at 6 p.m., these guards confronted Laws in body armor for a staged cell search, in pretended response to the altercation that happened almost 12 hours earlier. Following a strip search, Laws was brought out and stood against the wall outside the cell while the cell search was enacted. Jackson “alerted” Wuellner the video camera was not working.

The riot armored guards then took Laws into the back of the cell and laid him face down on the floor, whereupon they acted to remove the handcuffs and back out of the cell in an orderly retreat. At that point Wuellner announced loudly that should Laws try to rise from the floor, force would be used.

Laws never tried to get up. Wuellner told the guards to “get him,” then announced with feigned excitement that Laws tried to rise, was “resisting.” On Wuellner’s cue, the guards rushed back into the cell and began beating and kicking Laws in the head and face. Smith was doing so with steel-toed boots.
The entire wing of prisoners witnessed the attack by sight and/or sound, and many began in outrage to kick their cell doors and yell at the guards in protest. Laws was beaten at length, following which the guards then retreated from the cell and hastily shut the door.

Wuellner then pretended to try and take photographs of Laws on a digital camera as TDCJ policy requires whenever force is used on a prisoner. However he quickly announced the battery was dead so the required still photos couldn’t be taken. Laws was left in the cell bleeding profusely from the head and face.
Their dirty work done, the group of guards left the wing to go home, it being the end of their shift and they being set to have the next four days off.

No nurses nor other medical staff are present in E2U from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. – a gross legal violation – so their attack was also timed to occur when no medical staff would be on hand to examine Laws, as is also required whenever force is used. The next shift was left to pick up the pieces.

Laws suffered a large gash in back of his head, the result of being kicked by Smith with steel-toed boots, several of his teeth were knocked out while others were driven up into his gums, a gash inside his mouth, a fractured jaw, his eye swollen closed, and other injuries.

GÇÿCollective StruggleGÇÖ by Kevin GÇÿRashidGÇÖ Johnson, web

As the drums of war beat against Syria, Rashid has given us a lot to ponder in this drawing he calls “Collective Struggle.”

As I collected the facts on everything, it took numerous prisoners kicking and banging on their cell doors and becoming primed to create havoc to get unit Sgts. Shelby Rayfield and Dustin Harkness to the wing and Laws taken to the hospital, where he has remained for several days. Guards who took him out confirmed he’d lost teeth and others were disfigured, he had over a dozen staples put in back of his head, his jaw was broken etc.

The attack on Laws was obvious retaliation and timed and conducted so as to minimize on-the-spot evidence of a beating and the extent of his consequent injuries. This entire “cover-up” was so amateurish as to be pointless, which only reflects how little these guards worry about consequences for abuse and how free they are of any sort of meaningful administrative oversight, beyond mere formalities.

In fact, as my own case demonstrates, E2U administrators themselves engage in just the same abuses. That couldn’t occur unless that clearance is given all the way up to the level of TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, which is exactly where the lawless executives of Texas take their cues.

Conclusion

In footnotes to this article I will cite the multitude of federal laws – the highest law of the land – violated by the conditions and abuses described throughout this article, demonstrating the genuinely “lawless” character of the Texas officials behind them, whose duty is foremost to defend, apply and “enforce” those very laws, so one cannot mistake the authority of these people or their institutions as anything but illegal and illegitimate.
And it reveals the hypocrisy of U.S. officials when they denounce other governments as dictatorial and terroristic for doing much the same and even less than what’s been done on U.S. soil to U.S. citizens by the U.S. government. Prisoners in Texas’ E2U need as much public support as possible. And it must be broad-based and sustained. Because what’s happening to us on the inside is fated for those on the outside as Amerika becomes more and more overtly a police state and laws become less and less a restraint on official impunity.

Dare to struggle! Dare to win!
All power to the people!

Rashid Johnson, a longtime prisoner in Virginia who was transferred last year to Oregon and recently to Texas, has been held in segregation since 1993. While in prison he founded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter. As a writer, Rashid has been compared to George Jackson, and he is also the artist who drew the image that became the icon of the California hunger strikes. His book, “Defying the Tomb,” with a foreword by Russell “Maroon” Shoats and afterword by Sundiata Acoli, can be ordered at leftwingbooks.net, by writing to Kersplebedeb, CP 63560, CCCP Van Horne, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3W 3H8, or by emailing info@kersplebedeb.com. Send our brother some love and light: Kevin Johnson, 1859887, Clements Unit, 9601 Spur 591, Amarillo, TX 79107.

Action call

by Karl Kerspebedeb
Since his article “The Texas Department of Cowboy Justice: A case of lawless law enforcement” was written, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson has been transferred yet again, this time to the Clements Unit in Amarillo, Texas.

Supporters had been calling on Texas officials to remove Rashid from Estelle, a unit with a documented history of staff violence and impunity. (Besides Rashid’s aforementioned article, see the recent piece on Truthout: “Beatings and Threats: Odyssey of a Prisoner-Advocate, From Virginia to Texas” at http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/18167-beatings-and-threats-odyssey-of-a-prisoner-advocate-from-virginia-to-texas.)

Yet while Rashid is now out of reach of the guards who abused him at Estelle, any impression that this is a “victory” will likely prove illusory. Rashid himself has written in a recent letter to supporters, “To the extent that you all’s hassling them prompted this transfer, I’m thankful – although from what I’m told, conditions here are no better than at the Estelle Unit.”

While we wait to see what happens at Clements, our priority at this point is that Rashid regain access to his personal belongings.

When he was transferred from Oregon to Texas in June, some 41 boxes of personal belongings were supposed to follow. Any property that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was unwilling to allow Rashid to have was supposed to be transferred to the Virginia Department of Corrections.
Furthermore, Rashid was supposed to receive his legal documents that he requires for his lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Corrections. So far none of this has been done, and Rashid is increasingly concerned about what has happened to his property – literally, everything he owns in the world.

Please telephone Virginia Interstate Compact Coordinator Terry Glenn at (804) 887-7866 and ask why Kevin Johnson, VDOC No. 1007485, has not yet received any of his property. It has been two months since Rashid was transferred from Oregon, and if he does not get his property soon, this will directly impact his ability to conduct his lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Corrections.

For more information, see the website rashidmod.com.

Write Rashid at his new address: Kevin Johnson, 1859887, Clements Unit, 9601 Spur 591, Amarillo, TX 79107. Make sure a first and last name are clearly printed in the return address section of the envelope or your mail will be returned.

Karl Kerspebedeb is Rashid’s friend, publisher and webmaster for http://rashidmod.com/. He can be reached at info@kersplebedeb.com.