TX: Lead and Copper in Eastham Unit Water: A Potential Silent Killer

by Keith “Malik” Washington, Deputy Chairman, New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter)

Published originally in : Incarcerated Workers

“…We’re reaching a point where capitalism’s rapaciousness threatens the collapse of entire ecosystems and has us catapulting toward irreversible climate change catastrophe.” – Political prisoner David Gilbert, from an interview with Bob Feldman

Revolutionary Greetings Sisters & Brothers!
Right now, many of you are obtaining a clearer perspective of what actually is going on inside Texas prisons: deadly extreme heat, toxic water, and the “mysterious” deaths of prisoners at the Bill Clements Unit have recently been exposed by journalists who are not imprisoned. I am very glad to see this.

More than ever, now is the time for “the chickens to come home and roost” for the actions perpetrated by the ultra-corrupt prison officials of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Like Brother Malcolm X, I say “chickens coming home to roost never made me sad, they only made me glad.”

The focus of this brief essay is the purposeful poisoning of prisoners housed at the Eastham Unit in Lovelady, Texas. Once again, we are seeing a collusive and co-ordinated effort by the state of Texas and its prison agency, TDCJ, to cover up the poisoning of prisoners.

I say once again, because TDCJ has done this before. Candice Bernd of Truth-Out just recently reported on the problem in her article “Cruel and Unusual: Texas Prisoners Face Deadly Heat and Contaminated Water.” I highly recommend you read Ms Bernd’s article and follow the series she is working on with her colleagues from Earth Island Journal, Maureen Nandini Mitra and Zoe Loftus-Farren, “America’s Toxic Prisons: The Environmental Injustices of Mass Incarceration”.

I met Candice Bernd in July 2017 right here in the Eastham Unit. I was impressed by her intelligence and also by her commitment to unearthing the truth and reporting it. Like me, Candice is not just a journalist, she is an activist.

In 2015, I began raising the alarm about arsenic contaminated water at the Wallace Pack Unit (Pack I) located in Navasota, Texas. Panagioti Tsolkas, the co-founder of the Prison Ecology Project, raised the alarm also. In November 2015, I asked Professor Victor Wallis PhD of Berklee College (School of Music) in Boston, MA, to submit a complaint to the the TDCJ Ombudsman Office concerning the arsenic-tainted water at Pack I Unit. In the response we received, everybody lied! TDCJ lied, the Texas Commission on Environmental Justice lied, Emma Guerra the Ombudspersyn lied too!

A lot of people don’t realize that I am a communist and I subscribe to a very strict process when I am confronted with a problem. I apply historical dialectical materialism. I perform a concrete analysis of the conditions around me.
So I decided to provide for you the actual response we received from the TDCJ Ombudsman when we complained about arsenic contamination at the Pack I Unit in November 2015.

TDCJ Ombudsman to Dr Wallis-re arsenic water and extreme heat

TDCJ Ombudsman to Dr Wallis-re arsenic water and extreme heat: TDCJ officials deny the poisoned water.

In June 2016, Federal Judge Keith P Ellison ordered TDCJ to provide arsenic-free water to prisoners at Pack I because a finding of fact proved that Pack I’s water supply contained 2.5-4 times the EPA approved level of arsenic. So we learned a valuable lesson from that experience.
The State of Texas and its Prison Agency will lie about serious violations of humyn rights – FACT!

Through my research here on the Eastham Unit located in Lovelady, Texas, I have discovered that there has been a high frequency of lead and free copper found in the water system which serves Eastham Unit. Free copper and lead reveal a problem with the lines and service lines at the Eastham Unit. Corroded pipes are present here! The lead is exceptionally problematic because one of the detrimental health effects is high blood pressure or hyper-tension.

New Afrikan/Black men have a predisposition for high blood pressure! So now we are looking at a disproportionate number of New Afrikans incarcerated here at the former slave planation of Eastham. We factor in the deadly extreme heat and the heightened risk of heat injury and death; couple that with the consumption of toxic water, and this is a textbook example of an 8th Amendment US constitutional violation (cruel and unusual punishment).

Now, the first thing the professional liar Jason Clark will say is: “There are no traces of lead or copper in the Eastham water supply.” Jason Clark is the spokespersyn for TDCJ, he is paid big bucks to lie! If I had listened to Clark and the rest of the TDCJ liars in 2015, I would have ceased my exposure and investigation, but I know better. I continued to press the issue, and in June 2016 I was vindicated.

Right now, as I speak to you through this essay, my anarchist comrades at the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons are beginning to pore over data contained on the website operated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. I have asked Panagioti Tsolkas to ask college-educated toxicologists to study the data so that we can come up with a respected and authoritative opinion about the toxins present inside the Eastham water system.

I am requesting more free-world citizens help me force TDCJ to allow an objective and independent water quality testing organization to be allowed to enter Eastham and test our water from the taps in our cells! Oh yes! I’ve been doing my homework and TDCJ has been fraudulently manipulating the sample point so inaccurate lead and copper readings are recorded!

I am a New Afrikan Black Panther, so of course I have a vested interest in protecting the health and lives of black people – but my commitment doesn’t stop there! Some of you may be aware that I have been training a white man named Comrade Kado to be an effective jailhouse lawyer and human rights activist. Comrade Kado has fiery red hair, blue eyes and has been diagnosed with chronically high blood pressure!

This lead-contaminated water leads to kidney problems and high blood pressure. High blood pressure leads to strokes and strokes lead to death!
There are white, black and latin men at Eastham who can easily succumb to the “silent killer” which exists in the water we are forced to consume. We have no other water source!

The reason why these types of environmental problems are so very pervasive inside Texas prisons is that prisoner lives are not valued. Society is constantly bombarded with negative images of the violent, belligerent and manipulative convict.

No-one wants to talk about the Marissa Alexanders, or my comrade Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, who exposed the abuse of prisoners in Texas and was banished to a hole inside a Florida prison. Rashid’s “crime”? Having more concern for his fellow prisoners than he has for himself! And these are the types of stories the mainstream media ignores because they don’t fit the narrative the “powers that be” want to be in the fore-front of society’s collective mind. I humbly request that you start to question the oppressors in Texas and Florida.

I have a final word to offer on the topic of white supremacism and the rampant spread of neo-nazism in Amerika: Sisters and brothers, if we are extremely passionate about taking confederate statues down because they represent the vestiges of and legacy of white supremacy in Amerika, then we must become doubly committed to dismantling and abolishing the institution of legalized slavery in Amerika!

The United States leads the world in the proliferation of slave kamps and deadly gulags. President Donald Trump is a true reflection of Amerikan values and morals, he represents the cruel and harsh reality that we have been ignoring and unwilling to confront – until now! Dare to struggle, dare to win, all power to the people!

This essay is dedicated to the memory of the comedian, writer and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, October 12, 1932 – August 19, 2017.

Keith “Malik” Washington is a humyn rights activist currently incarcerated in Texas. He is a co-founder and chief spokespersyn for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement. Malik is a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and he is the Deputy Chairman of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter). Malik has been instrumental in calling for the abolition of legalized slavery in Amerika and he is very active in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign. You can view his work at comrademalik.com or write him directly at
Keith ‘Comrade Malik’ Washington TDC# 1487958
Eastham Unit,
2665 Prison Road 1
Lovelady, Texas 75851

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Reject Suicide — Choose Life! And Change the World!

Keith ‘Malik’ Washington is a co-founder and chief spokespersyn for the End Prison Slavery in Texas movement, a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and the Deputy Chairman of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (prison chapter). Malik has been instrumental in calling for the abolition of legalized slavery in Amerika and is very active in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign.  You can view his work at comrademalik.com and write to him directly at:

Keith ‘Comrade Malik’ Washington
TDC#: 1487958
Eastham Unit
2665 Prison Road #1
Lovelady, TX 75851

Reject Suicide — Choose Life! And Change the World!
(We Must Not Be Silent – Series)

By Keith Malik Washington

Peace and blessings sisters and brothers!

A couple of months ago, Net-Flix had a series which shed light on the topic of teenage suicide — “13 Reasons” or something to that effect.  I read about teenagers in Florida being influenced in a negative manner after watching this Net-Flix series.  Around the same time I was working on the content of Justin and my You-Tube video concerning the genocide in Chicago.  The word that popped into my head was nihilism.

It really hurts me to see young people choose death over life.  I just can’t explain to you the feeling of euphoria I feel when I fight for humyn or civil rights–and win!!  It’s awesome when you sacrifice your time, energy and resources for a cause you believe in and you become the change!!

If anyone should be contemplating suicide it should be me!  I’m in a maximum security prison in one of the most abusive and unjust prison systems in the United States.  Texas prison is horrible!  I’m not just in prison. I’m in solitary confinement for a trumped up and fabricated riot charge.  My cell is infested with roaches, and the heat index regularly reaches 105 degrees fahrenheit plus!  There is no airconditioning!  The water is contaminated and toxic!  I have been the constant target of religious discrimination.  I have been denied parole 5 times in a row–and the prison administration hates my guts!!

Wouldn’t suicide be the easy way out of this screwed-up existence?  But I choose life!  Not only do I choose life, I choose to fight!  And I fight hard as hell!!  Want to know why?

Britney Gulley is a female prisoner in Texas.  She is housed in Ad-Seg, which is solitary confinement in Texas prisons.  A few months ago when Britney was housed at the Lane Murray Unit in Gatesville, TX, she wrote a passionate piece which appeared in the San Francisco Bay View, a National Black Newspaper.  The article she wrote was about the horrible living conditions and treatment of wimmin at the Lane Murray Unit, especially those held in Administrative Segregation.

Britney sent out a plea for a help.  I heard her cry for help and I immediately took action.  There are many strong, intelligent, and influential wimmin who aid me in fighting the ultra-corrupt Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  I know a few successful media correspondents and I even contacted my friend Ollie Jefferson, a humyn rights lawyer who has volunteered to help Texas prisoners like Britney who have become victims of this cruel and inhumane solitary confinement environment Texas maintains.

I asked my friends and comrades to reach out and help Britney!!  But somehow Britney was forgotten about–there just is not enough help for wimmin in Texas prisons!!  Their voices are ignored and sometimes silenced!!

A few weeks ago, Britney attempted suicide!! She was not successful and she has been sent to a mental health treatment facility called Sky View Unit, located in Rusk, TX.  From Sky View Unit Britney wrote another impassioned article that was published in the July 2017 edition of the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper.  The article is entitled “Why So Many Suicides at Lane Murray Unit, A Texas Women’s Prison?”

Sisters and brothers, something is very wrong at the Lane Murray Unit located in Gatesville, Texas.  I don’t know about you, but those wimmin’s lives matter to Comrade Malik!!

Sisters and brothers, the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March, which is scheduled for August 19th, 2017 in Washington D.C., provides an excellent opportunity for us to shed a national spotlight on Texas and Lane Murray Unit.  I highly recommend you consider attending this historic event.

In the meantime, I am sending out a call to action for all female media correspondents, activists, and female legislators to contact Lori Davis, the TDCJ-CID Director and demand that Director Davis launch a thorough and fact-finding investigation at the Lane Murray Unit.  I am sending out a plea for help from the United States Department of Justice – Civil Rights Division.  Something is very wrong down here in Texas prisons!!

I am sending out a personal plea to the National Lawyers Guild, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and every feminist in Amerika with a conscience!!  Help me contact Texas legislators!!  We have a special session scheduled for the 85th Texas Legislature to begin July 18th, 2017.

Sisters and brothers, this is an exciting time to live and fight for humyn rights.  Without young people and young voices along with your passion and energy and gifts, the revolution dies!!  Please choose life!!  And as Jesse Jackson would say:  “Keep hope alive!”

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

What You Can Do

Sisters and brothers, if you want to help solve this ongoing problem, please call the following Texas legislators and voice your concerns. Thank you!!

Senator Royce West – (512) 463 0123
Senator John Whitmere – (512) 463 0115
Rep Dr. Alma Allen – (512) 463 0744
Rep Garnet Coleman – (512) 463 0524
Rep Rafael Anchia – (512) 463 0746
Rep Marisa Marquez – (512) 463 0638
Rep Trey Martinez Fischer – (512) 463 0616
Rep Harold Dutton Jr. – (512) 463 0510

 

This text was also recorded for Malik’s YouTube Channel.

Texas prisoner suffering stroke denied medical care, left for dead on cell floor for over 12 hours

July 8, 2017
by Jason Renard Walker, Deputy Minister of Labor, NABPP

Published originally in: SF Bayview

Many courts have held that a serious medical need is “one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity of a doctor’s attention.” See Brown v. Johnson, 387 F.3d 516, 522 (7th Circuit, 2008).

Being denied medical care at the Clements Unit Maximum Security Prison in remote Amarillo, Texas, is so common that the average prisoner here can expect to be denied some form of medical care during his stay. False claims of prisoners being disruptive during the visit or in disagreement with negligent care are some of the excuses medical staff use to deny needed assistance.

In other cases, we are outright denied care and not seen at all, but the returned sick call request will state that we were seen and our problem addressed. This happened to me when I tried to seek follow-up care for a food poisoning event on May 6, 2017, that affected around 50 of us. King and Grantham denied me care.

In a returned sick call I submitted on May 9, 2017, LVN Tammy Williams replied, “Reply addressed today.” The received date was May 11, 2017. In a second sick call I wrote on May 22, 2017, explaining that I hadn’t been seen, during the visit with RN Maria Carrizales, I was told to drink sips of water.

Many prisoners have suffered permanent damage and have even died due to this systemic indifference.

I’ve been writing articles on such things for several years and it wasn’t until June 21, 2017, that I would be a direct witness to denied medical care, comparable to the death of Christopher Woolverton, who was gassed, seen by medical staff, denied care, placed in a cell on the floor, only to be left to die in 2013.

Another prisoner suffers from denied medical care

A 30-something-year-old Black prisoner by the name of Anthony “Lil Ant” Chambers, 1340564, was in obvious medical distress, immobilized and cognitively impaired and denied medical care for a worsening serious medical need despite me protesting his condition to every officer who passed our cells during count time, walk through and cell checks.

His last 12 hours of being housed next door to me was done lying on the cold cell floor only wearing a pair of boxers and tennis shoes. On June 21, 2017, around 5:00 pm, Chambers knocked on the wall separating our cells. It sounded like he was trying to muffle out, “Help me,” so I knocked back only to received muffled cries.

Several minutes later I heard a loud thump, the noise sounding like he fell out. I then heard faint knocks on my wall and his cell door. I looked out of my cell window and saw a coax cable from his radio sticking out underneath his door, waving side to side, like a distress signal. At this point he was still cognitive and seeking help.

This is when I realized something was wrong. I contacted the pod officer, Courtney N. Jarman, around 5:45 p.m. She brushed off my concern and never once did she check on him or try to get him to respond during count time or any other time. Those cross counting – counting an adjacent pod, then ours, and vice versa – ignored him as well, despite me telling them something was wrong.

One after the other – Sgt. Dwayne Grantham, Sgt. Timothy King, Lt. Jeffrey W. Compson and Capt. Franklin Briant – simultaneously did their walk-throughs, which was all they did. I explained what was going on with Chambers, but they all showed little regard and never checked on him.

Prior to the death of a former Clements Unit prisoner, Alton Rodgers[i], these checks – which require them to check each prisoner and make sure he is alive and well – were avoided entirely by ranking staff, and it wasn’t odd for weeks to go by without seeing any of them. The checks are now being done as a corner-cutting damage control tool.

I stated to King that I thought Chambers may have had a stroke and needed help. King responded by telling me to give him a sick call. I told him it sounded like he’s fallen and couldn’t get up. King stated, “I guess he won’t need one then.”

Around 1:30 a.m., Officer Gary L. Linton was counting. He never really looked in any of the cells, only checked the list off as if the occupant was OK. I asked him if he could at least get Chambers to say something because I felt he’d had a stroke. He denied my request and carried on.

As Officer Austin G. Hodges cross counted, I explained to him what I explained to the others. He said that the cell was dark, so he used his flashlight to see. He looked back at me in shock and said “Man [stuff] is everywhere and he’s laying on the ground fucked up.” He asked Chambers what was wrong. He said Chambers didn’t reply, but tried to point to his head. Hodges wrote his cell number down then proceeded to finish counting. I demanded that he call for help right then, which he did.

The wheels of indifference go round and round

In response to the call, Grantham, King, Compson, Officer John N. Lewallen and a fat white officer showed up. After I explained to Grantham that I believed Chambers had a stroke and he’d been lying on the ground since 5 p.m., a cover-up began.

Grantham claimed that Chambers’ eyes were “glazed over,” which meant he’d overdosed on pills. I debunked this claim. Then Grantham claimed that he’d tried to hang himself, but no hanging device was in the cell. He refused to elaborate on the possibility of a stroke since he and the others who did the walk-through would be held responsible, as well as the counters. “You still ain’t learned how to mind your business,” King said.

They kind of hung around outside the cell for about five minutes, their interest seeming to be if Chambers would heal himself, coupled with jokes. When it became clear that Chambers needed serious medical attention, medical staff were called and LVN Rosanne Armijo responded.

It took roughly 15 minutes before they opened the cell door and carried Chambers out on a gurney. He had a droopy face and slobber hung out of his mouth, not to mention that he seemed paralyzed in one arm and leg. His medical condition became obvious – a stroke.

He was escorted to the medical unit, located in the building where – according to one of the escorts, Officer Strohl – he was seen by a short white doctor with glasses. King stated that LVN Mary Ellis and LVN Jeff Harvell were also present.

According to Strohl, the entire medical staff’s initial response (before they ran a single test) was that Chambers was faking. King stated that medical staff didn’t document that Chambers was seen.

When they did initiate a stroke test, since he didn’t respond to any of the doctor’s orders, he failed and the escorts were told to take him back. “He could barely talk and it looked like the whole left side of his body was paralyzed,” Strohl said. “They said he’ll make a full recovery, but he has brain damage,” he further suggested.

After being gone for nearly 10 minutes, Chambers was brought back to his cell in a wheelchair. I’m no medical specialist, but he looked like he had severe brain damage – very little cognitive brain activity with eyes darting around. He wasn’t able to walk, so officers lifted him from the wheelchair and practically dragged him into the cell. A witness (who I will keep anonymous) stated that they left him on the cell floor.

Chambers is left for dead on his cell floor by prison guards

From around midnight until 5:30 a.m., a newly hired officer, Leslie B. Martin, worked the pod. I asked her more than once if she could get Chambers some real medical assistance. She claimed that Briant told her that he was faking and to simply ignore him. She confirmed that he was lying on the ground by the door, eyes moving “everywhere, but looking at nothing.”

After passing him up during breakfast and observing him several hours later, she commented to me about his worsening condition. “I don’t know about that,” she told me in response to her last observation. She said she knew something wasn’t right but didn’t want to risk getting fired for disobeying Briant’s invented orders.

Martin even went as far as to falsify the meal log at Lewallen’s request, claiming Chambers verbally refused. “Just say he verbally refused,” Lewallen told Martin after she told him Chambers wouldn’t acknowledge her.

Around 5:30 a.m., Martin went home without letting her relief, Officer Morales and Timothy A. Linnville, know about Chambers’ condition, just as everyone else refused to do.

During bed book count around 6:45 a.m., I told Linnville about Chambers but he refused to check on him. Officer Morales came by and I told him. He immediately recognized something was wrong and called for help. Sgt. Chance J. Hayes, Officer Andres X. Diaz, Sgt. Victorio R. Gallegos Jr. and LVN Tammy Williams responded.

“He looks dead,” Hayes said while peering inside the cell. Despite this comment, he requested “non emergency” response assistance. Chambers was carried out of the cell, laid on a gurney, and sent to medical. I explained to everyone present that Chambers had been in that state since 5:00 p.m. the previous day.

Diaz stated that the nurses were laughing at Chambers and lollygagging because he was such a terrible actor. According to him they deliberately provided repugnant care because they knew he’d respond the same no matter how absurd the question.

King said that once Chambers went back to the building, different medical staff ran a test and realized that he needed emergency care. He was rushed to the hospital and sent to the intensive care unit. The 13 hour delay may have caused some permanent damage, including facial and body paralysis.[ii]

What caused Chambers’ injury?

A number of things could have caused Chambers’ injury. The most logical scenario is that he overheated while working out. Since we only get recreation two or three times a month, prisoners who work out have to do it in their cells. The Administrative Segregation cells here aren’t very cardio-vascular friendly.

In some cells, the air conditioning and exhaust vents don’t work or are so low that no cool air circulates. Any excess body heat, steam from the in-cell shower and humidity can cause the door windows to fog and walls to sweat. In a matter of minutes, a cell can turn into a hot box if the venting isn’t working properly and steam builds up.

I’ve almost passed out myself several times while cleaning water off my floor, following a shower. In fact, Chambers has complained about this very same ordeal in the past. In a Step 1 grievance (Grievance No. 2016205175) he filed on Aug. 31, 2016, he stated that maintenance knocked off the ventilation tube, making it impossible for air to blow in his cell.

He stated that after complaining to Officer Diaz on Aug. 30, 2016, about his in-cell ventilation not working, instead of this problem being fixed (since maintenance were on the pod), he was punished and denied commissary items he’d already paid for but was waiting to get.

Diaz was the culprit behind this and, due to his retaliatory tactics towards complainers being documented on a variety of prisoners’ grievances, Chambers told me he avoided writing anything that would compel Diaz to do something else. This is what his Step 1 did say:

“On 8-29-16 I talk [sic] to the Black [lieutenant] that work the night shift. I don’t know his name but I talk to him when he did his walk through on the cell block about my air conditioning vent in my cell because the week prior the [maintenance] had come inside my pipe chase for some unknown reason. They knock the ventilation tube off to where no air is blowing inside my cell … my cell sweat because of no air circulation.

“On 8-30-16 … I tried to get the [maintenance] officer’s attention numerous times but he continued to blow me off … I waited and when commissary made it to my door and seeing that [maintenance] was still right across the runway, I tried to tell Officer Diaz about my problem … but things didn’t go as expected. I was denied commissary and my vent is still off. I been trying to go about the situation the right way but nothing has been working for me.”

Since Chambers did note that the hose connecting to his vent was obstructed this could have occurred again. And due to staff retaliating when he complained in the past he may have chosen not to complain to avoid retribution.

Chambers did have a portable fan but the electrical outlets the fan plugs in to are routinely blown out by defective appliances, excess moisture from shower steam and deliberately turned off by vindictive guards. Normally, it takes many hours before it is turned back on.

One or many of these issues could have contributed to his injury and, if treated as soon as it was brought to staff’s attention, the outcome wouldn’t have been as bad.

To those reading this article, please help launch an internal investigation into systemic medical neglect and deliberate indifference Chambers was forced to bear. The unit is trying to whitewash the crime scene, scapegoat a few quackish medical staff, and protect the responsible ranking staff.

On June 22, 2017, during the initial investigation, Capt. Patricia Flowers had me and two others pulled out to write witness statements. Apparently, our facts were outweighed by the guilty. King approached me on his next shift and said he was glad that security staff were cleared. But several nurses may be fired.

If you’d like to help, please send all complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office: ombudsman@tdcj.texas.gov and health.services@tdcj.state.tx.us. Ombudsman tends to be in collusion with TDCJ, but this is a start!

Dare to struggle, Dare to Win. All Power to the People!

Send our brother some love and light: Jason Renard Walker, 1532092, Clements Unit, 9601 Spur 591, Amarillo, TX 79107.

[i] “Killing Time: Lawsuit Reveals Officials Killed Prisoner, Framed Cellmate, and Lied to Media (2016),” rashidmod.com/?p:2232. Also see “How the Mysterious Death of One Prisoner Results in a Course of Action to Torture Others,” rashidmod.com/?p:2076.

[ii] Immediately after Chambers was hospitalized, guards began circulating rumors. Some say he died; some say he suffered a serious stroke and is still alive. But the facts are clear: Security and medical staff are responsible for any subsequent damage resulting from the initial injury.

Please help launch an internal investigation into systemic medical neglect and deliberate indifference Chambers was forced to bear. The unit is trying to whitewash the crime scene, scapegoat a few quackish medical staff, and protect the responsible ranking staff.

In order to abolish slavery in Amerika we must acknowledge that it still exists!

By Keith “Malik” Washington, Chief Spokespersyn of End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement
[we received this via email from an outside supporter]

Peace and blessings sisters and brothers!

We cannot continue to make conscious decisions that ignore our past because those thoughts make us feel uncomfortable. Slavery happened here in Amerika and it is still happening, especially in Amerika’s numerous slave kamps and gulags which most call prisons.

I studied the Presidency of Barack Obama very closely and I noticed he constantly embraced an elitist or exceptionalist narrative when speaking of the United States. Former President Obama would give “the world” the impression that the US was a bastion of humyn and civil rights protections. When in reality the opposite is true – Amerika is just better than most at covering up the abuse and mistreatment of its citizens.

In an interview conducted by journalist Kamala Kelkar of the PBS Newshour Weekend, my friend and humyn rights attorney Ollie Jefferson said: “We have human rights violations here as much as in other countries”. Attorney Jefferson has spent most of her legal career working with immigrants so it goes without saying that she is very familiar with the criminal justice system in Amerika.

When we speak of prison slavery in Amerika, we think of forced labor and involuntary servitude and no-one says that this is not happening. However, there are other elements of slavery – the unsavory and despicable elements present in and out of Amerika’s prisons.

The torture, the sex slaves, the indentured servants, the political prisoners, the so-called eco-terrorists and the framed-up Muslims right here in Amerika.

The state of Texas hates it when I get to beating my ‘drum’ because the oppressors know there is nothing they can do to silence me. The tactic they have embraced is censorship claiming my words represent security threat information. I expose human and civil rights abuses, I engage in political and legal discourse in hopes of raising the public’s awareness.

The State sees nothing wrong with the current system, in their eyes all is well – but is it?

Let’s take a look behind the iron curtain and allow me to introduce to you Texas prisoner Omar Valdez. Omar has served approximately 24 years and 6 months on a 25 year sentence! Omar has spent approximately 22 years in solitary confinement right here on the Eastham Unit in Lovelady, Texas. Omar has been denied parole over 11 times! Omar has spent years not incurring disciplinary infractions with the hope that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles would give him a chance to rebuild his life. They didn’t!

The Prison Legal News had a front page article in February 2017 entitled “TRAPPED: California wastes tens of millions of dollars a year keeping people in prison long after they’ve been rehabilitated – denying parole for arbitrary reasons and destroying lives in the process” by Sam Levin of the East Bay Express.

Now I want you to replace California with Texas and I want you to listen to Omar’s words and ask yourself “can’t we do better”? Without further ado I present to you Omar Valdez!

“Mr Malik, greetings, it is a pleasure to meet you. I appreciate you and folks like you who get out there on the ‘front lines’ fighting the good fight.

My name is Omar B. Valdez, TDC# 726686. I reside on the Eastham Unit located in Lovelady, Texas. I’ve resided here for the past 2 ½ decades! I’m serving a 25 year aggravated sentence for the charge of murder. I’ve been locked up since October 3rd, 1992. I arrived here on Eastham Unit on March 4th, 1996, and I’ve been here ever since! I have never left this unit.

I am in Administrative Segregation due to my previous gang affiliation. I have been a non-active ex-gang member since 2002. I made this choice in order to better my life and increase my chances of making parole. This did not help. TDCJ ignored my communications, my pleas fell on deaf ears!

I came to the realization long ago that no matter how good I did, it would have absolutely no bearing on my freedom. Nevertheless, I’ve continued to keep a very low profile and follow the rules. I’ve gone years at a time without incurring any disciplinary infractions. Sometimes 5, 6, even 10 years with not one infraction, to no avail. I received denial after denial after denial.

On January 30th 2017, I came up for parole for the 12th and final time. On March 10th 2017, I received my answer – parole denied – serve all! Well, now it’s June 2017 and I discharge my 25 year sentence on October 7th 2017, just a few months away.

TDCJ has given me no education, no job skills, nothing except solitary confinement and torture for over 22 years here on Eastham Unit.

There are limited resources we have back here in Ad-Seg. Unless you have money to pay for outside college courses, you are out of there. I would have thought that by now, after all these years, TDCJ and the State of Texas would have come up with some really incredible in-cell programming for us – they haven’t!

Many in free-world society are not aware of what we endure in these places. Brother Malik has only been here a few months, but I’ve been here for over 20 years to please allow me to enlighten you.

I understand this is prison and I’ve paid my dues for my crime, but does that justify me being subjected to live in unsanitary conditions? Rats and roaches all over the place, having to drink this contaminated water. At one point a couple of years back we were told TDCJ didn’t monitor or test the water properly for over a year.

Eastham Administrators put together an Inter-Office Communication which said “if you are experiencing a negative reaction of some type, put in a sick call, etc etc” Imagine that I said – they wait a whole year before informing us? Then they frequently post “boil notices” – how do we do that? We have no means to do that. So what are we to do? Go without drinking water? Thus far God has blessed me not to have had any serious problems, but I’ve experienced problems in my throat, like I lose my voice from time to time or I can’t talk too loud or I start choking and coughing. I don’t know if it is from the contaminated water or these chemical gas agents they keep using on us!

I do all I can to avoid the infirmary because they’ve shown me nothing but carelessness and negligence time and time again. UTMB don’t care about us – period. (UTMB is the University of Texas Medical Branch.)

I’ve seen a lot here at Easham. I’ve seen inmates get infected with TB, and I’ve seen folks get prescribed the wrong medication and it turn fatal. One time I saw a female sergeant coax a guy into committing suicide. Sad to say, but he was successful! Now that same sergeant is a Lieutenant right here at Eastham. Boy, if these walls could talk…

It has been hard to maintain my sanity all these years. Truth is one has to have a strong mind and strong will, otherwise it easy to be consumed by these walls. I’ve lost so many loved ones during this stretch. I lost both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, I lost my son and my sister! It hurts, you know? I’m paying for my crimes dearly.

So very soon I’ll be spit out into society at the age of 50. I have minimal job skills and education. I must ask all of you “what does this say about the Texas system? About their administrative segregation units? About the parole system? Thank you for your time and concern.

Respectfully, Omar Valdez TDC #726686”

Well, sisters and brothers, I really don’t have a lot to add to Omar’s story. It took some courage for him to come forward and speak out. I think a lot of us are tired of hearing people like Jason Clark and Robert Hurst, the spokespersyns for TDCJ, feed the public a bunch of deceptions and lies. As another session of the Texas Legislature comes to an end, the slavery continues inside Texas prisons.

Dare to struggle, dare to win.

All power to the people.

P.S. Breaking News! – Update

On May 18th 2017, 3 hours after Malik put the finishing touches on this essay, Omar B Valdez was notified by TDCJ staff that he is going to a pre-release program at the Estelle High Security unit in Huntsville, Texas! Omar vows to never return to prison. Let’s hope he can honor his words. After 24 years and 8 months in a Texas prison, the deck is unfairly stacked against him! Although he is elated to be leaving a couple of months early, he says the system is still very dysfunctional and broken.

In solidarity, Comrade Malik

Bio

Keith “Malik” Washington is a humyn rights activist currently incarcerated in Texas. He is a co-founder and chief spokespersyn for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement. Malik is a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and he is the Deputy Chairman of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter). Malik has been instrumental in calling for the abolition of legalized slavery in Amerika and he is very active in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign.
You can view his work at comrademalik.com or write him directly at Keith ‘Comrade Malik’ Washington TDC# 1487958 Eastham Unit, 2665 Prison Road 1 Lovelady, Texas 75851 (936) 636-7321 ext. (**009)

Horrific Conditions for Live-Stock Animals in Texas Prisons Exposed

by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington
(we received this report by email via a supporter)

https://comrademalik.com/

“Instead of supporting the hidden cruelties of factory farms and slaughterhouses, each of us can choose to act with compassion by boycotting animal agriculture.”

–Vegan Outreach

[The film, Cowspiracy, documents the enormous impact the meat and dairy industry has on the environment and climate change. One really should eat vegan to really be an environmentalist. –Mark M Giese, typist]

My name is Keith ‘Malik’ Washington. I am an investigative journalist, an environmentalist, and human and civil rights activist. I am one of the most outspoken critics of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. What sets me apart from many criminal justice reporters is my status.

I have been incarcerated in Texas for 10 years. I have been housed on 18 prison units operated by the State of Texas and TDCJ.

I am intimately familiar with the day-to-day operations at the agency.

For years I have written essay after essay which exposes the inhumane conditions forced upon prisoners who find themselves trapped in a Texas prison. However, as an activist, my perspective has expanded significantly.

In 2017, I now see the detrimental impact the sprawling prison system in Texas has on the immediate environment. There is an ecological dynamic here which has been ignored.

Texas prisons (TDCJ) operate an extremely lucrative agriculture business which includes vegetable crops, cattle, hogs, and chickens. I have written extensively about Texas Correctional Industries and the exploitation of free prison labor in Texas. I have drawn the connection between profits and the corrupt parole system in Texas.

We all know good time and work time credits mean nothing to Texas prisoners–we are slaves and forced into a life of perpetual involuntary servitude.

But what if I told you the state of Texas and TDCJ have established a multi-million dollar agribusiness which subjects animals to horrific and cruel conditions which would shock the world? Would you remain silent? Allow me to give you a glimpse of hell.

Welcome to Wynne Farm!

In February 2014, I was released from long-term solitary confinement (ad-seg). I did 22 months in a very small cage. I was released to the general population on the Wynne Unit, aka the Wynne Farm which is located in Huntsville, Texas.

Wynne Unit is the headquarters of numerous TCI light industrial factories and it has a large agriculture element which is maintained by prisoners.

The crops, which include corn, peas, watermelon, squash, and green beans, to name a few, are cultivated by prisoners on medium custody.

I was assigned to medium custody for 6 months at the Wynne Farm in 2014. I went into those fields to work outside the gate 3-5 days a week.

In close proximity to the fields at Wynne Farm is a large egg-laying operation. And this is where I caught my first glimpse of modern-day animal cruelty in Texas prisons.

I smelled the large hen (chicken) warehouse before we actually got right up on it.

It was May 2014, a beautiful day outside. The building was made of grey metal and aluminum. It was an old building. As I looked inside, I saw numerous cages. Hens were packed like sardines. Underneath the cages were virtual mountains of bird feces.
The egg-laying hens were packed in these feces-filled cages. I saw dead birds in the cages–some were green–obviously very sick and shaking badly.

The cages are so small, hens cannot turn around or spread their wings. Our job was to remove the fecal matter. The smell of ammonia was very strong. Some birds I noticed had burns on their feet and legs, this from being housed in filth.

TDCJ benefits greatly from being immune to any oversight of any regulatory agency.

This lack of oversight is not just relegated to TDCJ’s agriculture business. Prisoner rights activists have cried out for years for an independent oversight committee which has the authority to enter these prison plantations. Transparency and accountability have not been a part of the TDCJ business or management model. Hopefully, this essay will provoke a much-needed conversation.

After doing a vast amount of research, I learned that the cages TDCJ uses on Wynne Farm are called “battery” cages. They are typically less than half a square foot of floor space per bird but TDCJ goes far beyond any industry standard and stuffs in 2 or 3.

Many birds at Wynne die of asphyxiation and dehydration. Decomposing corpses are found in cages with live birds every day at Wynne.

One hideous presence I saw at Wynne Farm were large well-fed vultures. These carrion-eaters sit in large groups on top of the hen building at Wynne. It’s hard to miss them and it is a telltale sign that something is very wrong there.

Recently, I learned Eastham Unit has a similar egg-laying operation and I received details. The operation produces approximately 80 000 eggs per week. It is a 24-hour-a-day operation, the lights never go out.

TDCJ makes approximately $100 000 a week just from the eggs here at Eastham.

Eastham also has 3000 hogs, 600 sows, and it ships for sale 21 piglets a week. I have a word about accuracy in reporting. I cannot tell you what the conditions are like for the birds at Eastham Unit nor can I tell you how the hogs are treated. I do recommend that we demand to be allowed on the Wynn Farm immediately.

I spent some time on Coffield Unit last year which is located in Tennessee Colony, Texas. There are 3 large units in the area which raise hogs. I can tell you that the pigs on Coffield, Michaels, and Beto Unit are subjected to abuse.

I have gathered firsthand reports of pigs being kept on concrete slabs which create deformities of pigs’ legs. Pigs like to root and dig in the dirt and mud and this staging on concrete obviously prevents that.

But I discovered something quite shocking about TDCJ’s various hog and cattle operations.

While housed at Coffield Unit, I discovered large quantities of coliform bacteria were regularly found to be present in the water system. I’ve discovered raising animals for food causes more water pollution in the US than any other industry because animals raised for food produce 130 times the excrement of the entire human population. 87 000  pounds of fecal matter per second.

Much of the waste from factory farms like those TDCJ operates as well as pig slaughterhouses like the one on Michaels Unit produces toxic runoff which contaminates streams, rivers and ground water.

Toxic water is a pervasive and systemic problem in the entire state of Texas. So not only is TDCJ abusing animals, it continues to be a major polluter of our environment. The time to act is now.

No matter how much evidence we produce or how many thought-provoking questions we ask, the Agency of TDCJ will continue to misinform the public and violate the public’s trust.

We must seek out the companies doing business with TDCJ’s agribusiness and then expose them and boycott them.

First, we contact the Freedom of Information Foundation for Texas and request their help in finding out who us buying eggs and hogs from TDCJ. Then we respectfully ask these companies to stop doing business with TDCJ until the agency cleans up their act.

Texas will not listen until we start affecting their bottom-line profits; that’s the language the system understands.

Our cries for humane conditions for humans have been routinely ignored–here is and example:

Prisoners housed in Ad-Seg don’t work and it costs a lot to house us in solitary. Many prisoners have died on account of the deadly extreme heat in Texas prisons.

Young pigs are vulnerable to extreme heat. Young piglets generate profits for TDCJ.

A couple years ago, TDCJ invested $175 000 for a cooling system for the pigs. The pigs are being preserved for slaughter so TDCJ can benefit. TDCJ does not have any concern for animal rights or human rights. Its main focus is profits by any means.

It is time we take a closer look at what is really going on inside Texas prisons. As activists who are on the “front lines,” we have a duty to confront those entities who abuse and mistreat animals as well as pollute our precious water supplies.

I can only ask that you amplify my voice so that it is heard beyond these walls. I will continue to struggle.

P.S. Visit www.10billionlives.com

A Letter From Ray Jasper, Who Is About to Be Executed

Ray Jasper, who is detained on Texas’ death row, was given an execution date of March 19th. We sincerely hope that those who hold worldly power in the state of Texas will stop this senseless murder of a fellow human being. 

Ray’s letters to Gawker were published recently in their magazine, we are posting links to them here to remind everyone of the unethical, horrible issue of the death penalty and executions, the unreligious system of killing people rather than rehabilitating them and caring for the victims of crime, by instating revenge as punishment. When is Texas (and other States too) going to start preventing crimes by education and mental and economic care? 

From: Gawker, March 4, 2014

Edited and written by Hamilton Nolan.

Letters by Ray Jasper

Second letter

Mr. Nolan,

When I first responded to you, I didn’t think that it would cause people to reach out to me and voice their opinions. I’ve never been on the internet in my life and I’m not fully aware of the social circles on the internet, so it was a surprise to receive reactions so quickly.

I learned that some of the responses on your website were positive and some negative. I can only appreciate the conversation. Osho once said that one person considered him like an angel and another person considered him like a devil, he didn’t attempt to refute neither perspective because he said that man does not judge based on the truth of who you are, but on the truth of who they are.

Your words struck a chord with me. You said that my perspective is different and therefore my words have a sort of value. Yet, you’re talking to a young man that’s been judged unworthy to breathe the same air you breathe. That’s like a hobo on the street walking up to you and you ask him for spare change.

Without any questions, you’ve given me a blank canvas. I’ll only address what’s on my heart. Next month, the State of Texas has resolved to kill me like some kind of rabid dog, so indirectly, I guess my intention is to use this as some type of platform because this could be my final statement on earth.

I think ’empathy’ is one of the most powerful words in this world that is expressed in all cultures. This is my underlining theme. I do not own a dictionary, so I can’t give you the Oxford or Webster definition of the word, but in my own words, empathy means ‘putting the shoe on the other foot.’

Empathy. A rich man would look at a poor man, not with sympathy, feeling sorrow for the unfortunate poverty, but also not with contempt, feeling disdain for the man’s poverish state, but with empathy, which means the rich man would put himself in the poor man’s shoes, feel what the poor man is feeling, and understand what it is to be the poor man.

Empathy breeds proper judgement. Sympathy breeds sorrow. Contempt breeds arrogance. Neither are proper judgements because they’re based on emotions. That’s why two people can look at the same situation and have totally different views. We all feel differently about a lot of things. Empathy gives you an inside view. It doesn’t say ‘If that was me…’, empathy says, ‘That is me.’

What that does is it takes the emotions out of situations and forces us to be honest with ourselves. Honesty has no hidden agenda. Thoreau proposed that ‘one honest man’ could morally regenerate an entire society.

Looking through the eyes of empathy & honesty, I’ll address some of the topics you mentioned. It’s only my perspective.

The Justice system is truly broken beyond repair and the sad part is there is no way to start over. Improvements can be made. If honest people stand up, I think they will be made over time. I know the average person isn’t paying attention to all the laws constantly being passed by state & federal legislation. People are more focused on their jobs, raising kids and trying to find entertainment in between time. The thing is, laws are being changed right and left.

A man once said that revolution comes when you inform people of their rights. Martin Luther King said a revolution comes by social action and legal action working hand in hand. I’m not presenting any radical revolutionary view, the word revolution just means change. America changes as the law changes.

Under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution all prisoners in America are considered slaves. We look at slavery like its a thing of the past, but you can go to any penitentiary in this nation and you will see slavery. That was the reason for the protests by prisoners in Georgia in 2010. They said they were tired of being treated like slaves. People need to know that when they sit on trial juries and sentence people to prison time that they are sentencing them to slavery.

If a prisoner refuses to work and be a slave, they will do their time in isolation as a punishment. You have thousands of people with a lot of prison time that have no choice but to make money for the government or live in isolation. The affects of prison isolation literally drive people crazy. Who can be isolated from human contact and not lose their mind? That was the reason California had an uproar last year behind Pelican Bay. 33,000 inmates across California protested refusing to work or refusing to eat on hunger-strikes because of those being tortured in isolation in Pelican Bay.

I think prison sentences have gotten way out of hand. People are getting life sentences for aggravated crimes where no violence had occurred. I know a man who was 24 years old and received 160 years in prison for two aggravated robberies where less that $500 was stole and no violence took place. There are guys walking around with 200 year sentences and they’re not even 30 years old. Its outrageous. Giving a first time felon a sentence beyond their life span is pure oppression. Multitudes of young people have been thrown away in this generation.

The other side of the coin is there are those in the corporate world making money off prisoners, so the longer they’re in prison, the more money is being made. It’s not about crime & punishment, it’s about crime & profit. Prison is a billion dollar industry. In 1996, there were 122 prisons opened across America. Companies were holding expos in small towns showing how more prisons would boost the economy by providing more jobs.

How can those that invest in prisons make money if people have sentences that will allow them to return to free society? If people were being rehabilitated and sent back into the cities, who would work for these corporations? That would be a bad investment. In order for them to make money, people have to stay in prison and keep working. So the political move is to tell the people they’re tough on crime and give people longer sentences.

Chuck Colson, former advisor to the President once said that they were passing laws to be tough on crime, but they didn’t even know who the laws were affecting. It wasn’t until the Watergate scandal and Colson himself going to prison that he learned who the laws were affecting. Colson ended up forming the largest prison ministry in America. He also foreseen in his book THE GOD OF SPIDERS & STONES that America was forming a new society within its prisons. Basically, that prison would become a nation inside this nation. He predicted that over a million people would be locked up by the year 2000. The book was written in the 8O’s. Now, its 2014 and almost two million people are locked up. It’s not that crime is the issue. Crime still goes on daily. It’s that the politics surrounding crime have changed and it has become a numbers game. Dollars & Cents. You have people like Michael Jordan who invest millions of dollars in the prison system. Any shrewed businessman would if you have no empathy for people locked up and you just want to make some money.

I don’t agree with the death penalty. It’s a very Southern practice from that old lynching mentality. Almost all executions take place in the South with a few exceptions here and there. Texas is the leading State by far. I’m not from Texas. I was raised in California. Coming from the West Coast to the South was like going back in time. I didn’t even think real cowboys existed. Texas is a very ‘country’ state, aside a few major cities. There are still small towns that a black person would not be welcomed. California is more of a melting pot. I grew up in the Bay Area where its very diverse.

The death penalty needs to be abolished. Life without parole is still a death sentence. The only difference is time. To say you need to kill a person in a shorter amount of time is just seeking revenge on that person.

If the death penalty must exist, I think it should only be for cases where more than one person is killed like these rampant shootings that have taken place around the country the last few years. Also, in a situation of terrorism.

If you’re not giving the death penalty for murder, then the government is already saying that the taking of one’s life is not worth the death penalty. Capital murder is if you take someone’s life and commit another felony at the same time. That’s Texas law. That makes a person eligible for the death penalty The problem is, you’re not getting the death penalty for murder, you’re actually getting it for the other felony. That doesn’t make common sense. You can kill a man but you will not get the death penalty……if you kill a man and take money out his wallet, now you can get the death penalty.

I’m on death row and yet I didn’t commit the act of murder. I was convicted under the law of parties. When people read about the case, they assume I killed the victim, but the facts are undisputed that I did not kill the victim. The one who killed him plead guilty to capital murder for a life sentence. He admitted to the murder and has never denied it. Under the Texas law of parties, they say it doesn’t matter whether I killed the victim or not, I’m criminally responsible for someone else’s conduct. But I was the only one given the death penalty.

The law of parties is a very controversial law in Texas. Most Democrats stand against it. It allows the state to execute someone who did not commit the actual act of murder. There are around 50 guys on death row in Texas who didn’t kill anybody, but were convicted as a party.

The lethal injection has become a real controversial issue here of late because states are using drugs that they’re not authorize to use to execute people. The lethal injection is an old Nazi practice deriving from the Jewish Holocaust. To use that method to kill people today, when it’s unconstitutional to use it on dogs, is saying something very cruel and inhumane. People don’t care because they think they’re killing horrible people. No empathy. Just contempt.

I understand that it’s not popular to talk about race issues these days, but I speak on the subject of race because I hold a burden in my heart for all the young blacks who are locked up or who see the street life as the only means to make something of themselves. When I walked into prison at 19 years old, I said to myself ‘Damn, I have never seen so many black dudes in my life’. I mean, it looked like I went to Africa. I couldn’t believe it. The lyrics of 2Pac echoed in my head, ‘The penitentiary is packed/ and its filled with blacks’.

It’s really an epidemic, the number of blacks locked up in this country. That’s why I look, not only at my own situation, but why all of us young blacks are in prison. I’ve come to see, it’s largely due to an indentity crisis. We don t know our history. We don’t know how to really indentify with white people. We are really of a different culture, but by being slaves, we lost ourselves.

When you have a black man name John Williams and a white man name John Williams, the black man got his name from the white man. Within that lies a lost of identity. There are blacks in this country that don’t even consider themselves African. Well, what are we? When did we stop being African? If you ask a young black person if they’re African, they will say ‘No, I’m American’. They’ve lost their roots. They think slavery is their roots. Again, its a strong identity crisis.

You take the identity crisis, mix it with capitalism, where money comes before empathy, and you’ll have a lot of young blacks trying to get money by any means because they’re trying to get out of poverty or stay out of poverty. Now, money is what they try to find an identity in. They feel like if they get rich, legal or illegal, they’ve become somebody. Which in America is partly true because superficially we hail the rich and despise the poor. We give Jay-Z more credit than we do Al Sharpton. What has Jay-Z done besides get rich? Yet we see dollar signs and somehow give more respect to the man with the money.

A French woman who moved to America asked me one day, ‘Why don’t black kids want to learn?’ Her husband was a high school teacher. She said the white and asian kids excel in school, but the black and hispanic kids don’t. I said that all kids want to learn, it’s just a matter of what you’re trying to teach them. Cutting a frog open is not helping a black kid in the ghetto who has to listen to police sirens all night and worry about getting shot. Those kids need life lessons. They need direction. When you have black kids learning more about the Boston Tea Party than the Black Panther Party, I guarantee you won’t keep their attention. But it was the Black Panther Party that got them free lunch.

People point their fingers at young blacks, call them thugs and say they need to pull up their pants. That’s fine, but you’re not feeding them any knowledge. You’re not giving them a vision. All you’re saying is be a square like me. They’re not going to listen to you because you have guys like Jay-Z and Rick Ross who are millionaires and sag their pants. Changing the way they dress isn’t changing the way they think. As the Bible says, ‘Where there’s no vision the people perish’. Young blacks need to learn their identity so they can have more respect for the blacks that suffered for their liberties than they have for someone talking about selling drugs over a rap beat who really isn’t selling drugs.

They have to be exposed to something new. Their minds have to be challenged, not dulled. They know the history of the Crips & Bloods, but they can’t tell you who Garvey or Robeson is. They can quote Drake & Lil Wayne but they can’t tell you what Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton has done. Across the nation, they gravitate to Crips & Bloods. I tell those I know the same thing, not to put blue & red before black. They were black first. It’s senseless, but they are trying to find a purpose to live for and if a gang gives them a sense of purpose that’s what they will gravitate to. They aren’t being taught to live and die for something greater. They’re not being challenged to do better.

Black history shouldn’t be a month, it should be a course, an elective taught year around. I guarantee black kids would take that course if it was available to them. How many black kids would change their outlook if they knew that they were only considered 3/5’s of a human being according to the U.S Constitution? That black people were considered part animal in this country. They don’t know that. When you learn that, you carry yourself with a different level of dignity for all we’ve overcome.

Before Martin Luther King was killed he drafted a bill called ‘The Bill for the Disadvantaged’. It was for blacks and poor whites. King understood that in order to have a successful life, you have to decrease the odds of failure. You have to change the playing field. I’m not saying there’s no personal responsibility for success, that goes without saying, but there’s also a corporate responsibility. As the saying goes, when you see someone who has failed, you see someone who was failed.

Neither am I saying that advantages are always circumstancial. Sometimes its knowledge or opportunity that gives an advantage. A lot of times it is the circumstances. Flowers grow in gardens, not in hard places. Using myself as an example, I was 15 when my first love got shot 9 times in Oakland. Do you think I m going to care about book reports when my girlfriend was shot in the face? I understand Barack Obama saying there is no excuse for blacks or anyone else because generations past had it harder than us. That’s true. However, success is based on probabilities and the odds. Everyone is not on a level playing field. For some, the odds are really stacked against them. I’m not saying they can’t be overcome, but it’s not likely.

I’m not trying to play the race card, I’m looking at the roots of why so many young blacks are locked up. The odds are stacked against us, we suffer from an identity crisis, and we’re being targeted more, instead of taught better. Ask any young black person their views on the Police, I assure you their response will not be positive. Yet if you have something against the Police, who represent the government, you cannot sit on a trial jury. A young black woman was struck from the jury in my case because she said she sees the Police as ‘intimidators’. She never had a good experience with the Police like most young blacks, but even though she’s just being true to her experience, she’s not worthy to take part as a juror in a trial.

White people really don’t understand how it extreme it is to be judged by others outside your race. In the book TRIAL & ERROR: THE TEXAS DEATH PENALTY Lisa Maxwell paints this picture to get the point across and if any white person reading this is honest with themselves, they will clearly understand the point. I cannot quote it word for word, but this was the gist of it…

Imagine you’re a young white guy facing capital murder charges where you can receive the death penalty… the victim in the case is a black man… when you go to trial and step into the courtroom… the judge is a black man… the two State prosecutors seeking the death penalty on you… are also black men… you couldn’t afford an attorney, so the Judge appointed you two defense lawyers who are also black men… you look in the jury box… there’s 8 more black people and 4 hispanics… the only white person in the courtroom is you… How would you feel facing the death penalty? Do you believe you’ll receive justice?

As outside of the box as that scene is, those were the exact circumstances of my trial. I was the only black person in the courtroom.

Again, I’m not playing the race card, but empathy is putting the shoe on the other foot.

The last thing on my heart is about religion and the death penalty. There are several well-known preachers in Texas and across the South that teach their congregations that the death penalty is right by God and backed by the Bible. The death penalty is a governmental issue not a spiritual issue. Southern preachers who advocate the death penalty are condoning evil. They need to learn the legalities of capital punishment. The State may have the power to put people to death, but don’t preach to the public that it’s God’s will. It’s the State’s will.

If God wanted me to die for anything, I would be dead already. I talk to God everday. He’s not telling me I’m some kind of menace that He can’t wait to see executed. God is blessing me daily. God is showing me His favor & grace on my life. Like Paul said, I was the chief of sinners, but God had mercy on me because He knew I was ignorant. The blood of Abel cryed vengeance, the blood of Jesus cryed mercy.

There are preachers like John Hagee in San Antonio who have influence over thousands of people, who not only attend his church, but also watch his TV program, and hear him condoning the death penalty. Hagee doesn’t see his Southern mentality condones the death penalty, not the scriptures. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that condones the way Texas executes people today.

Southern preachers use scriptures like God telling Noah, ‘Whoever shed’s man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed’. ‘That’s murder. Under Texas law, you cannot receive the death penalty for murder. There is no such thing as capital murder in the Bible, where murder must be in the course of another felony. Yet, they preach capital punishment is God’s will. Even if you’re guilty of capital murder in Texas, it doesn’t mean you’ll receive the death penalty. People get the death penalty when a jury has judged them to be a ‘continuing threat to society’. ‘That means they are deemed so bad that they have no hope of redemption or change in their behavior. That is the only reason a person gets the death penalty. They are suppose to be the absolute worse of the worse, so terrible that they cannot live in prison with other murderers.

That in itself is contrary to the whole Christian faith that believes no one is beyond redemption if they repent for their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ. For a Christian to advocate the death penalty is a complete contradiction.

As easy as it is for a preacher to stand up in the pulpit with a Bible and tell thousands of people the death penalty is right, I challenge any preacher in Texas, John Hagee or any others to come visit me and tell me that God wants me to die. Martin Luther King said, ‘Capital punishment shows that America is a merciless nation that will not forgive.’

Again, Mr. Nolan, this is only my perspective. I’m just the hobo on the street giving away my pennies. A doctor can’t look at a person and see cancer, they have to look beyond the surface. When you look at the Justice system, the Death Penalty, or anything else, it takes one to go beyond the surface. Proper diagnosis is half the cure.

I’m a father. My daughter was six weeks old when I got locked up and now she’s 15 in high school. Despite the circumstances, I’ve tryed to be the best father in the world. But I knew that her course in life is largely determine by what I teach her. It’s the same with any young person, their course is determined by what we are teaching them. In the words of Aristotle, ‘All improvement in society begins with the education of the young.’

Sincerely,

Ray L. Jasper

Ps: Forgive me for being longwinded, but I was speaking from the heart. Thanks for the opportunity.

First letter:

Last month (as we did last year), we sent letters to all of the U.S. death row inmates who have execution dates in the upcoming year. Today, we have our first reply: Ray Jasper, who is scheduled to be put to death in Texas in March.

Jasper was convicted of the 1998 murder of a recording studio owner. Jasper was 18 years old at the time. He has been in prison for the past 15 years.

The purpose of publishing these letters is to hear directly from people whose voices are not often heard. This is not a referendum on the guilt or innocence of any inmate. Ray Jasper responded to our questions numerically, so we will briefly list them here:

  1. What do you think the chances are of your execution occurring as scheduled?
  2. Can you describe daily life on Death Row?
  3. Can you talk a bit about your own past and upbringing?
  4. Has your time in jail changed your political or religious beliefs?
  5. Do you have any thoughts on how the media and the public view the death penalty?

 

  1. What else would you like to say to the public about your life, your situation, and what you think it means for our country?

Mr. Nolan,

I hope you’re genuine in your endeavor and I hope you achieve your goal with your writing. I numbered your questions to match my answers. I’m sure you can take it from there. Can I receive a copy of how you publish this or the name of the website?

1) I think any execution has a 50/50 chance of taking place. It comes down to the legalities of the case. The controversial issue in my case has been narrowed down to racial discrimination concerning the State of Texas purposely striking Black people from the jury panel. Racial discrimination on trial juries has a long-standing history in Texas. It was really made known in the Thomas Miller-el case where Dallas had a guide for their prosecutors to strike all minorities from the jury panel. So it’s about whether the Courts will consider the issue worth halting the execution.

2) Daily life on death row is like living in a black & white TV, while the rest of the world is [in] a full color high definition plasma TV. I’ve done my best to live above the circumstances by studying self-help and spiritual books. Ghandi once said that prison is not a punishment for an enlightened person, it only gives them more time to deepen their divinity. I agree. I was a teenager when I came to death row and over the last 15 years I’ve written several books & screenplays. I’ve turned a negative into a positive, while others around have lost their mind, dropped their appeals or committed suicide. I think who you are matters more than where you are.

3) I grew up like most young blacks at a disadvantage, susceptible to the street life out of the environment and a lack of education. For most young blacks we rebel out of subtle racism and being targeted by the police. For young blacks, cops are the enemies. I’ve been falsely arrested and beat by the police before the age of 18. It’s like how can society expect young blacks to be [compliant] with the same law that poses a threat to their life. You never hear of black cops beating or killing young whites, but its so common to hear about white cops beating and killing young blacks.

  1. My time in jail introduced me to politics. I was too young and uneducated to understand politics before I got locked up. Now, I see everyone has their own agenda and ideology of how society should function and those in political offices enforce their own agenda upon others. I think politics is a shark’s pool. There’s not much empathy involved.

I am a deeply religious person. I respect all religions, especially those who sacrifice for the service of God. I have a strong faith in Christ, but I do see  religion is often misused and Americans are too intellectual to be truly religious spiritually. Many people are only outwardly religious. I was religious people who wanted Christ to be executed. It was religious clergy who persecuted Martin Luther King as an extremist. One has to be careful of those who choose the letter of the Spirit. Paul said, “The letter kills, the Spirit gives life.” Jesus said only those the Spirit understand the kingdom of God.

5) The way the media covers the death penalty depends of the agenda of that media outlet. The media is not neutral. I think whether a person is pro or anti-death penalty, we should all be against injustice. Those who do not see the death penalty as unjust should do their homework. Every major newspaper in Texas has taken a stance against the death penalty due to their investigative journalism. They know what’s going on behind the scenes. The average person in Texas cannot explain the difference between murder and capital murder. The public is under the impression the people receive the death penalty for murder and murder, in Texas, is not punishable by the death penalty. There are thousands of people who committed murder and capital murder who are not on death row, but in regular prison. To say one person guilty of capital murder should live and another person guilty of capital murder should die is an injustice in [and] of itself.

I suggest reading the book TRIAL & ERROR: THE TEXAS DEATH PENALTY by Lisa Maxwell. It just came out this year and it highlights all the injustices of the Texas death penalty that many people never knew or forgot about over the years.

6) My life is a testament of what it is to be young & black in America. Black [people] are incarcerated at a higher rate than any other race because we are ignorant to the laws that govern society. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon on which you can use to change the world.” I gave up in school after a friend died when I was 11 years old. I didn’t officially dropout until 16. By 18, I was facing the death penalty. I had no idea what capital murder was by definition or the law of parties. The Bible says that understanding makes a person depart from wrongdoing. People must be taught, even if its not in a school. We are all interdependent and we can educate each other. Adults need to have the courage to talk to teenagers and teach them how to make a smoother transition into adulthood. Over a million teenagers are arrested every year in America. 5 out of 6 black teenagers will drop out of high school. When you’re young it’s hard to see the road up ahead and many teens lack a long term vision for their life. They must be taught in the school of life by adults who cross their path.

Note: I apologize for all the mistakes, but I’m stuck in the 80’s with a E-typewriter, not a laptop. Any other questions let me know. I wish you success on your endeavor. Enjoy the season.

Peacefully, Ray

Kantar: The Ballad of Alvaro Luna Hernandez

Excellent guest post today from Max Kantar (originally published at Counterpunch): Max is a Michigan-based independent writer and the Midwest representative for the Committee to Free Alvaro Luna Hernandez. For more information on Alvaro’s case, visit www.freealvaro.net. Max can be reached at maxkantar@gmail.com.



——————–

May 16, 2011

Without Fear

The Ballad of Alvaro Luna Hernandez

By MAX B. KANTAR

“I will never surrender my pride and dignity nor allow the system to ‘cut my tongue’ and I will always, without fear, speak out against these war crimes and crimes against humanity, no matter if I spend the rest of my life in a prison cage, and draw my last breath of air laying down in this steel bed surrounded by razor-wire fences and cages, and its prison policies that are designed to destroy one’s humanity….”

—Alvaro Luna Hernandez, October 18, 2010, Hughes Unit Prison, Gatesville, Texas.


Locked in solitary confinement in a tiny cage inside one of the most notorious control units in the Texas state prison system, Alvaro Luna Hernandez is immersed in a stack of old law texts, his eyes glancing back and forth between court transcripts and a thick legal book every few moments. The streaks of gray in his full, and otherwise dark, beard betray his age in spite of his healthy, powerful frame as he reaches towards the ledge of the sink for a lone Styrofoam cup to take a sip of the stale, lukewarm commissary-bought coffee he drinks every morning, when he can afford it.

Just fifteen months shy of 60 years old, Alvaro has a remarkable amount of energy and routinely gets more work done before noon than most attorneys do in an entire day. Today he’s putting together the documents to get a new trial on a writ of habeas corpus proceeding for another prisoner who is both indigent and illiterate and feels he has been wrongly imprisoned. After that, it’s on to the cases of two other inmates Alvaro is helping out who are each facing several decades behind bars if their appeals fall through before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin. Other prisoners know to go to Alvaro for legal help; he has a well-known reputation throughout the state—indeed nationwide, as highlighted in the recent book Jailhouse Lawyers (City Lights: 2009) by Mumia Abu-Jamal—as a tenacious and effective “jailhouse lawyer” who has filed and won no small number of civil rights suits over the past four decades.

* * *

Alvaro Luna Hernandez is a political prisoner of the State of Texas and the U.S. government. He is nearly 15 years into a 50 year prison sentence for an “aggravated assault” conviction stemming from a July 1996 incident in which he disarmed a Brewster County Sheriff attempting to shoot him. Alvaro vehemently denies the charge that he assaulted the Sheriff. To Mexican-Americans in the cities, slums, plains, deserts, and prison cages of the Southwest, he is a civil rights hero, a Chicano freedom fighter true to his barrio roots and eternally fearless in the face of injustice. For years, he has been internationally recognized by amnesty movements and human rights lawyers and experts as a U.S. political prisoner, yet inside the United States, the name Alvaro Luna Hernandez remains largely elusive on the lips of progressives and social justice advocates.

* * *

A high-school dropout with no formal education, Alvaro hasn’t always been such a capable, and indeed, brilliant, litigator. It was during the late 1970s that he transformed himself from a rebellious, zoot suit-wearing “pachuco” hustler in his youth into a prominent leader in the struggle for racial justice and human rights in the Southwest United States. While serving hard time for a crime he didn’t commit, Alvaro educated himself about Chicano history, the prison system, and revolutionary political theory. He founded and headed up prisoners’ study groups designed to rehabilitate and politicize other inmates.

With Alvaro in the lead, a powerful prison reform movement swept across Texas’ criminal justice system and through the state’s federal courthouses in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Alvaro diligently studied the law and used his newly found skills to file an impressive array of constitutional and civil rights lawsuits against Texas police, judges, and prison officials. He and other prisoners utilized hunger strikes, work stoppages, yard takeovers, and federal civil rights lawsuits in a concerted effort to compel the brutal Texas prison machine to respect the human rights of its exploding prison population, made up almost entirely of poor men of color. Along with a handful of other prisoner-plaintiffs, Alvaro won a landmark federal civil rights lawsuit against the Texas Department of Corrections (TDC) after a trial that lasted 159 days in 1978 and ’79 (Ruiz v. Estelle). The court ruled, in a scathing denunciation of the widespread abuse of inmates by the prison system, that the practices of the TDC constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” and ordered a number of substantial reforms.

“Unfortunately,” Alvaro says, “most of these ‘reforms’ were merely cosmetic….Despite these ‘prisoner victories’ in reforming the system, the federal-nation-state will only go so far because in Texas, the super profits of the state policy of mass incarceration has replaced oil, cotton, and cattle [as the biggest industry in the state].”

Alvaro’s principled work to rehabilitate prisoners and enforce human rights standards in Texas prisons earned him the disdain and contempt of prison officials who locked him in administrative segregation, forcing Alvaro to spend almost the entire decade of the 1980s in solitary confinement as part of a campaign of repression aimed at political prisoners and jailhouse lawyers who threatened to expose abuses in U.S. prisons—including torture, killings, and beatings at the hands, or directions, of prison guards and administrators—and unite inmates under a banner of revolutionary change.

* * *

In March 1991, one year after he was moved out of solitary and back into the general prison population, Alvaro was freed from prison, having served over 15 years, after an investigative journalist for the Houston Post, Paul Harasim, uncovered a gross pattern of systematic prosecutorial misconduct and abuse (which included paying off the lead witness and suppressing physical evidence) in the murder case in which Alvaro was wrongfully convicted, narrowly escaping the electric chair. Certainly no bleeding heart liberal, Harasim nonetheless told readers that “What I learned about the prosecutorial behavior in the trial of Alvaro Hernandez in West Texas made my stomach turn….I wonder if I can support state sanctioned executions any longer.”

Settling in Houston with his wife following his release, Alvaro wasted no time throwing himself into community organizing and political activism. He founded, and became National Executive Director of, the National Movement of La Raza, a civil and human rights group dedicated to empowering Mexican-Americans and struggling for social justice. Alvaro also helped organize and form committees to support the families of prisoners and bring about “truces” between Chicano street gangs in Pasadena, Texas following a number of tragic shootings. Spearheading the campaign to stop the execution of Mexican national, Ricardo Aldape Guerra, Alvaro founded and headed up Guerra’s defense committee. Following years of tireless campaigning and legal battles, his frame-up conviction for killing a Houston cop in 1982 was overturned and Guerra was freed from Texas’ Death Row in 1997.

Alvaro’s impassioned and successful activism in the Houston area earned him international recognition. In the spring of 1993, serving as a delegate for an NGO, Alvaro addressed the United Nations General Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, criticizing the U.S. government for its record of human rights abuses of political prisoners and Mexicans in the Southwest. Alvaro’s delegation was headed by Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her courageous human rights activism during the U.S.-backed genocide against Mayan peasants in Guatemala during the 1980s. Upon returning from Europe, Alvaro was invited to speak on national television in connection with the Ricardo Aldape Guerra defense case and began hosting Houston-area radio talk shows to spread a message of racial equality and Chicano empowerment. In the following years, Alvaro worked to inspire and educate young people across the United States, speaking not only at universities and conferences, but also at elementary and high schools, lecturing on an array of social and political issues ranging from human rights and grassroots activism, to American history, the criminal justice system, and the death penalty.

* * *

Following his divorce in August 1995, Alvaro moved back to his hometown of Alpine, Texas, located just 80 miles from the Mexican border. In spite of the fact that Alvaro had virtually zero interactions or confrontations with police in the five and a half years that he lived in Houston, almost immediately the local police forces in Alpine were all over him—arbitrary searches day and night, K-9 drug dogs, and frequent “traffic violation” vehicle stops resulting in no citations.

The police hatred of Alvaro in West Texas, especially in Alpine, is fierce, both personal and political, and decades old. Alvaro has always refused to submit to police authority and abuse; sort of like a rebellious slave in the spirit of Fredrick Douglas, but more like a modern-day Gregorio Cortez. When he was 17 he smashed up some police squad cars as well as the personal vehicle of a racist Sheriff following a police confrontation, a stunt which landed him three years in prison. Years later, in 1976 following an escape from county jail—at which he was awaiting transfer to state prison for the wrongful murder conviction—and subsequent shootout with law enforcement, Alvaro was taken to a windowless “conference room” in the jail where he was beaten within an inch of his life by several on-duty police officers. The cops took turns beating and stomping their handcuffed captive, causing him to lose consciousness, his face, eyes, and lips swollen and bloodied beyond recognition, his scalp ripped open with blood pouring from his head onto the cold concrete floor. Once the police were finished, they dragged a bloodied and unconscious Alvaro across the jail and threw him in a cell, leaving him for dead. The near fatal beating meted out to Alvaro resulted in federal criminal civil rights indictments of Pecos County Chief Deputy Sheriff Mike Hill and Deputy Sheriff Bill Mabe, culminating in misdemeanor convictions and probation for the officers. For his part, Alvaro was awarded substantial monetary compensation for damages following a civil suit. The convictions of the officers, however mild, ultimately destroyed their careers as policemen, thus earning Alvaro a special animosity in local law enforcement circles for daring to fight back against police on their own terms, both in the streets and in the courts.

Alvaro’s persistent defiance against oppression has always stemmed from a deep-rooted thirst for the freedom so cruelly denied to him and millions of other Chicanos in the Southwest United States since the colonization and annexation of the Mexican territories north of the Rio Grande following what is commonly known as the U.S.-Mexico War (1846-1848). In a very real sense, the rural West Texas community of Alpine is like a microcosm of race-relations in the region. Like all of Alpine’s Chicano residents, Alvaro grew up on the south side of the Southern Pacific railroad tracks which served as the de facto racial dividing line between Mexican-Americans and whites. Much like the Jim Crow South at the time, the parallel social universe of rural West Texas manifested harsh economic and political means of control to ensure the subordinate position of Mexicans in an Anglo-dominated society. The town’s Mexican population was largely impoverished, locked into a near-permanent state of economic subservience to white business interests while the gross disparity in social services and infrastructure served as a very visible reminder of the prevailing racial hierarchy, not only in Alpine, but in the American Southwest in general.

The Alpine police and the Brewster County Sheriff’s office were, of course, all white and patrolled the Chicano barrio south of the tracks daily and nightly with a brutality usually reserved only for the town’s “meskins.”

“People were scared of them,” Alvaro writes in a letter from his prison cell, recalling how as a young boy he would go looking for his father or grandfather in the local bars, the Sheriff would often barge in, gun on his hip, to intimidate, arrest, and humiliate Chicano men and elders simply as a means of letting them know “who was boss.”

Whether at the pool hall or walking the streets, Chicano youth were routinely singled out for arbitrary beatings and harassment by the cops. Alvaro was a tough kid, a self-proclaimed “vato loco” and product of the “pachuco” subculture. He was often getting into trouble for drinking beer or fighting, and had many violent confrontations with police as a teenager. Once at a high school football game some policemen were trying to arrest another Mexican kid and started beating the young man; Alvaro intervened to stop the assault and the cops turned their attention, and rage, to him, beating and pistol whipping young Alvaro as a hostile crowd gathered around, throwing garbage at the officers. The police busted open his skull, requiring several stitches, but not before taking him to jail, charging Alvaro with “assault on a peace officer.” Alvaro’s run-ins with the police landed him, at the age of 15, in a juvenile prison run by the Texas Youth Council (TYC) for a year. The juvenile detention centers in Texas had reputations for being extremely brutal and abusive—so much so that the Texas Youth Council was ultimately shut down by federal courts in 1983 following over a decade of lawsuits.

* * *

Just months after getting released from the custody of the TYC, something happened that would change Alvaro’s life forever. It was June 12, 1968. Alvaro was hanging out with his best friend, Ervay Ramos. The two buddies were cruising around Alpine in Ervay’s brother’s car when red police lights started flashing in the rear view mirror. Ervay was, like Alvaro, 16 years old, but didn’t have a valid driver’s license. He sped off and the police car gave chase. Fishtailing through a back alley with the wail of the siren growing louder in the distance, Ervay quickly stopped and told Alvaro to jump out of the car. He drove off and struck a nearby fence next to the football practice fields and landed in a ditch. With the cop car getting closer, Ramos jumped out of the car and ran down the alleyway hoping to escape. Alvaro was just feet away and saw with his own eyes what transpired next.

“The police car, driven by Bud Powers, a well-known cop with a reputation in the barrio for being racist and brutal, pulled up and stopped [behind] the Ramos car,” Alvaro vividly recalls. “[Powers] stepped outside, pulled his revolver and shot the fleeing Ramos in the back with his .357 magnum pistol killing him instantly.”

The murder of Ervay Ramos was one of a number of similar killings of Chicano youth by police in the Southwest at the time. Officer Bud Powers received a proverbial slap on the wrist—five years’ probation—and never served a day in jail. The killing of Ervay Ramos was cited by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in their 1970 report to the President entitled “Mexican Americans and the Administration of Justice in the Southwest” as one of several examples of what the Commission referred to as a pattern of “serious police brutality” and “widespread discrimination” suffered by Mexican-Americans at the hands of law enforcement officers and the U.S. judicial system in the Southwest United States.

* * *

So when Alvaro moved back to Alpine in 1995 with political struggle and courtroom justice for his slain childhood friend on his mind, he was met with considerable police opposition. He was working as a freelance paralegal for attorneys throughout the state when Alpine community members began approaching him for help regarding police brutality and other injustices in town. They had seen Alvaro on television when he was in Houston, working against the death penalty and police oppression. They knew about his impressive record of civil rights activism and how he had litigated a number of successful federal and state civil rights lawsuits against Texas police, judges, and prison officials. Moreover, citizens sought out Alvaro for help because, in addition to being a prominent public critic of racial and social inequalities in Alpine, it was well known—both by the general public, as well as by law enforcement—that he was working on re-opening the 1968 Ervay Ramos murder case with the intention of bringing his killer, policeman Bud Powers, into federal court on murder charges.

The response of the Alpine police to all of this was to organize and carry out a sophisticated campaign, in the spirit of the F.B.I.’s “counter intelligence program” (COINTELPRO) of the 1960s and ’70s, of surveillance, harassment, and repression against Alvaro. They hired a local heroin addict, Mary Valencia, to work as a police informant, ransacking his legal files and personal belongings while working as a maid at the motel he was staying at. Police followed him around, subjecting him to unjustified searches and harassment.

Worse yet, the police convinced the father-in-law of an Alpine Police Sergeant—a man who was known around Alpine as a local town drunk—to falsely accuse Alvaro of armed robbery—a ridiculous frame-up charge which Alvaro ultimately ended up getting dismissed in court while acting as his own attorney. In the meantime, however, Alvaro bonded out of jail by selling his car to the bail bondsman, but just weeks later the bondsman “withdrew” from the bond, unbeknownst to Alvaro at the time.

* * *

On July 18, 1996 Sheriff Jack McDaniel showed up on Alvaro’s doorstep looking to re-arrest him. Brewster County’s new sheriff was far from an anonymous cop just “doing his job.” McDaniel had been cited in a victorious civil rights lawsuit filed by Alvaro against then-Sheriff Jim Skinner a few years back. Moreover, it was no secret around town that Alvaro was investigating Sheriff McDaniel for corruption and embezzlement of funds from the county treasury—funds that Alvaro alleged were being used at McDaniel’s private ranch in West Alpine. Coupled with his work on re-opening the Ramos case and his long history of resistance to local police power, Alvaro argues that the prerogative of the cops was clear: “The police all knew what I was up to and they were determined to stop me at all costs.”

When questioned on the legality of the arrest—for which no warrant was presented—an enraged McDaniel pulled his gun on Alvaro. Fearing quite literally for his life, Alvaro disarmed the Sheriff in self-defense before he could shoot, told McDaniel to leave, and then fled the scene. Nobody was injured. For three days Alvaro was able to evade law enforcement in the rugged countryside of Brewster County during the course of what was one of the most massive manhunts in recent West Texas history. Following a shootout with police at his mother’s house, Alvaro was captured and charged with two counts of aggravated assault; one for allegedly pointing the gun at Sheriff McDaniel after disarming him, and another count for allegedly shooting an officer, Curtis Hines, in the hand during the shootout.

At the trial, witnesses testified that Alvaro never pointed the gun at McDaniel. McDaniel accused Alvaro of pointing the gun at his chest—threatening him with a deadly weapon—but Alvaro swears this is a lie. In a live interview on local television on July 18th following the confrontation at Alvaro’s house, McDaniel told viewers that Alvaro had only disarmed him and neither threatened nor shot him.

“Days later,” Alvaro explains, “when the Sheriff met with the District Attorney he changed his story to say that I had not only disarmed him but had pointed the gun at him—the difference between a minor misdemeanor and a first degree felony offense.” The videotape was ultimately kept out of court proceedings; Alvaro’s lawyer Tony Chavez is rumored to have potentially struck a backdoor deal with the prosecution. At the time, Chavez was under investigation himself for drug trafficking and was facing many years in prison under a plethora of forthcoming RICO charges. In fact, just months after Alvaro’s trial, Chavez immediately took a plea bargain and was sent to federal prison for 30 months and disbarred from the practice of law.

Throughout the trial numerous witnesses, including former law enforcement officers, also testified to the intense, longstanding police hatred of Alvaro. Alvaro was found not guilty on the second count of shooting Officer Hines in the hand (it was determined that Hines was hit by a ricocheting police bullet). Despite considerable public protest, however, the nearly-all-white jury found Alvaro guilty of “aggravated assault” for allegedly pointing the gun at McDaniel’s chest—an accusation which Alvaro vociferously and consistently denies to this day.

Alvaro Luna Hernandez was sentenced to 50 years in state prison in the summer of 1997. He will not be officially “eligible” for parole until 2021.

* * *

Though his appeals have all been exhausted, options still remain within the legal system to bring about Alvaro’s release. The KOSA TV videotape interview with McDaniel may still exist, and a full review of federal, state, and local files pertaining to Alvaro, and his ex-lawyer Chavez, is likely to shed light on Alvaro’s conviction and political imprisonment. Obtaining the pro bono assistance of one or more bright legal minds to help pursue other existing, and very promising, legal avenues to reenter the courts continues to be a top priority and a potential source of hope.

There is one thing, however, that remains clear and undisputed: absent a substantial popular mobilization and grassroots campaign pushing for his freedom, Alvaro faces a virtual life sentence of incarceration in the brutal control units of Texas’ state prisons. Yet in the meantime, although buried deep beneath the razor-wire fences, uncounted tons of cold steel, and the rows of soul-destroying concrete cages of Hughes Unit Prison, Alvaro Luna Hernandez remains among America’s most fearless political prisoners, incessantly struggling for freedom, locked up but never defeated.

Max Kantar is a Michigan-based independent writer and the Midwest representative for the Committee to Free Alvaro Luna Hernandez. For more information on Alvaro’s case, visit www.freealvaro.net. Max can be reached at maxkantar@gmail.com.