Exhausting Administrative Remedies in Prison

By September 26, 2017 No Comments

One of the first things I want to talk about is the grievance procedure. This is a system set up for the prisoners who have a complaint that needs to be dealt with by the administration. It could be that you’re having trouble with the medical or dental departments, like not getting the treatment that you need for a particular problem. Or maybe an inmate is having trouble with a particular officer or administrator. Whatever the case, the grievance procedure was put into place after Ruiz v. Estelle to protect prisoners from violations of policy and procedure, and to prevent any type of abuse by authorities. In fact, the mandate of judicial law across the U.S. requires the “exhausting of administrative remedies” before any legal action can ensue. This means, that in order to take action in court about abuses or violations, the prisoner must pursue the grievance process first, and then he is free to seek court intervention. Unfortunately, I am here to tell you that the whole grievance process is a joke.

One reason the grievance procedure is worthless is that the person answering the inmates’ complaint is another per- son who is on staff. Because the prtson system is rife with nepotism, the “unit grievance investigator” (UGI) is almost always related by blood or marriage to one or several other people on the staff. If not related, and because former Texas Governor Ann Richards thought it would be a good idea to distribute “the prison economy” throughout the state to small communities everywhere, then the UGI and the complained of staff member are at least friends. Let’me use our last UGI for an example. Her name was Ms. Warwas. I have known her for over eight years. Her mother was working here when I came to this unit, and so was her brother. Even though her mom reeired and her brother quit to work the oil patch, there are still two other Warwases working at this unit. I never heard this name before in my life until I get to this unit, and now I’m surrounded by their. She was a correctional officer when I chained in, but then the UGI position came open, and she applied for it and they put her to work in there. Right from the start, she’s favoring the officer’s side, and is anyone surpsrised by that? Of course mot. If it’s you word, we’d probably be doing the samething, because all these people are our friends or family. If it was your mom, dad, brother, husband, wife, or child working here, and you knew they did something wrong, or it was possible they’d even be fired or go to jail, wouldn’t you fix the situation if you could? Of course! And that is exactly what is going on in every TDCJ unit in Texas, and it’s happening every day of the week.

I also want to be truthful with you as I write this. I want to tell you that prisoners DO write a lot of frivolous grievances. I mean, look at the situation we’ve been put in. Bad food, 100+ degree temperatures in the cells, constantly dehumanized day after day, hour after hour, lack of sleep. There’s a lot to complain, about, and alot of these guys in here do their bitching on paper. And, a lot of these frivolous grievances are put in there by people who have mental problems. I mean, some of these fellows really believe, they didn’t do ANYthing to get put in prison, but here they are, and they are mad at the world, and they are going to file every single piece of paperwork that they can to make as many other people miserable as they can, because they are miserable themselves. However, there are many, many inmates that write legitimate grievances about serious problems in this system, or officers that are doing things that any freeworld boss would fire them for doing (like sleeptng on the job), and these grievances never get investigated, or worse, get “lost”. I’ve seen officers physically hurt inmates, and. there would be dozens of witnesses to testify against the officer, but nothing ever happens. Why not? Because the person reading the grievance has been friends with the officer for years.

Now, every now and then, which, believe me, isn’t much, you will see a grievance have an affept. I’ll use my friend Powers as an example. Some years back, a lady officer named Patterson wrote a case on him, because after his Bible study class, which is in the school building, he went to the library. The library is in the same building as the school, and he went because it was the assigned time for his dorm to go to the library. Well, she doesn’t like him, and when he went to the library without going back to the building first, she tried to write him an out of place case- which means a disciplinary report for not being where an inmate is allowed to be at any given time.

But, she lied, on the case, saying things that weren’t true, like that she had specifically told Powers and his classmates that they couldn’t go directly to the library after class, a pattern of behavior they’d exhibited for years without incident prior to this time. [It is a felony, by the way, in the State of Texas, to falsify a government document with intent to harm, the individual who is the subject of a false statement.] Anyway, mostly because, there was a freeworld volunteer there to back up his story, he was able to get the disciplinary case overturned, but not before having to serve the entire punishment imposed on him as a result of receiving the case in the first place -15 days recreation restriction, and 15 days commissary restriction. You see, it took 30 days to get the grievance back! And, I truly believe one of the reasons it was overturned was that a lot of people working, here don’t like Ms. Patterson.

So the case was overturned, but what happened to Ms. Patterson? She committed a felony (!) but they told him he better shut up about it, and they did nothing to her. She gets grieved all the time. In fact, she loves to say these grievances don’t mean shit. “1 have boxes and boxes of grievances at my house,” she brags. (The grieved staff member receives a copy of the grievance against them. The grieving individual’s information is supposed to be redacted, but either the circumstances make the griever easily identifiable, or the name is accidentally left on the grievance for all to see. Yeah, accidentally.) And this is right out of her own mouth. This lady ALONE is the poster child for how worthless the grievance procedure is.

Another grievance I’ll tell you about is the one my friend and I wrote. I’ve had seizures since I was a kid and had a head injury. The thing is, I know when they’re coming. I get a certain feeling, often accompanied by nausea and dizziness, and everything starts feeling like I’m in a drea instead of reality. In 2012, I told the officers working my building that I was about to have a seizure, and I needed to go to medical. The head nurse, Doss, told them not to let me come down there. She told them I had to send a nurse sick call in the prison mail and wait for an appointment. An appointment…to have a seizure! Well, these officers working there, they’d seen me have these seizures before, so they went over the nurse’s head, and they called the sarge, who escorted me to the nurse. S he completely ignored what I was telling her, even though it was all documented in my medical records. S he performs this perfunctory exam, all the while whining about crybaby inmates who don’t know anything about medicine trying to tell her how to do her job. Then she says, “Noone can tell when they are about to have a seizure. I’ve never heard of anyone who can make that prediction!” [I later actually showed her an article where a doctor at the Mayo Clinic expressly speaks of certain individuals that can prellict their own seizures ahead of time. Doss dismissed it with a shrug.] Over my objections, she told the sarge to order me to go back to my building, that there was nothing wrong with me. I hadn’t been back five minutes when I had a seizure in the middle of the dayroom. When I fell, I cut my head open on the side of a metal trashcan chained to the wall.

I had a black eye for over two weeks from where my, head repeatedly struck tte concrete floor before anyone could help me. (And what if I’d had no help? Every man has enemies in prison. What if-ome of them had used this episode to start kicking me or beating me?) Seargant Corpus shows up, video camera in hand, because policy states he’s supposed to be taking video of the reponse to the medical emergency, but HE DIDN’T EVEN TURN ON THE CAMERA! There were no pictures of my injuries either, which is also required by Administrative Directive 03.47. You can look it up on the Internet for yourself. None of these things should have happened. It was almost a-total failure of every policy designed to protect me from just such an incident. So, I wrote a grievance, and when I didn’t get the response I wanted, I wrote a “Step 2 Grievance”, which is just a joke to another level. The warden replied that his staff had done everything by the book, even though I had convicts AND staff members who wrote statementson my behalf to the contrary. The warden’s “investigation” was an outright cover-up, because if his staff HAD done everything by the book, there’d be pictures to prove it. The people in Huntsville answering my Step 2 said the same shit. I’m sending the grievances with this story so you cam see for yourself.

On the back of the hats that are issued to every officer who comes to work here, it says, “We take care of our own.” So, no matter what happens, how wrong the officers, rank, or wardens are, they will lie for each other. On almost every grievance response I’ve ever seen, it says, “Not enough evidence to substantiate your allegations,” even though there may be multiple witnesses to the incident. It’s not like we can take video or pictures. We can’t have a camera. We can’t have a recorder of any kind. We SURE can’t have a cell phone. What kind of evidence do they think we can muster.up? A signed confession?
NEVER, in the eight years I’ve been in the TDCJ have I seen an inmate with a valid grievance have his witnesses interviewed. At the Estelle Unit, a medical unit with 24- hour nursing staff available, where I’arrived in 2008, I was told of the incident caa blind inmate, being beaten up by a captain.

He was pummeled so brutally that he had to be carried away. I asked what the other officers were doing while this was happening. Everyone of them at the same time said, ”Laughing.” Well, the grievances went in on this captain, but they tried to sweep it all under the table by moving the captain to another unit, hoping—the clamor would die down. But, thank God, the inmate’s family got involved, and the captain was eventually arrested and charged. This is a major point I’m trying to make here. It’s NOT the grievance process that gets things done. It’s the inmate’s family and friends willing to “rock the boat” and DEMAND that their oved one is treated appropriately while incarcertaed.

But not everyone has family, much less family members that are comfortable advocating for their prisoner. So there has to be another solution. First of all, you have to take the grievance procedure out of the hands of the TDCJ altogether. They’ve already shown they WILL NOT do a proper investigation or anything else if they can get away with it
Next, put it in the hands of a federal monitor or an independent, outside agency. That way, they don’t personally know the officers. Everything is on the computers now days. It would be easy for the monitor to see who writes a bunch of frivolous grievances and which ones need to be taken seriously. And it wouldn’t hurt to have the monitors rotated often so they don’t become too familiar with staff on the prison units they are assigned to work.

The simple fact of the matter is that the TDCJ is willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court, screaming and kicking all the way, rather than own up to their responsibility to act as wardens in a modern, civilized society. The whole air-conditioning fiasco is a perfect example. They’d rather huff and puff and pay a million dollars worth of court costs than require their own state prison facilities to follow the same guidelines that are MANDATED by state law for humane temperatures in the county jails. That is some crazy shit, but that’s what it is, and the way it will stay, unless enough of you people out there get sick of seeing your money thrown out the window, and prisoner’s lives valued less than a pig’s. After all, you may not know me, but all’s it takes is one screw up, and I could be YOUR son in here, fighting for my survival.

Francisco Hernandez

Author Francisco Hernandez

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