by Jason Chase
Early morning I’m awakend and informed I’m on chain. After what seemed like forever waiting to start a prison sentence experience, up until now, I could only imagine in my head and piece together information given from inmates who have been down before. Even with almost two years of preparation, nothing prepared me for this. I’m going to prison.
I’m shuttled to another, bigger, county to catch the “Blue bird” prison bus. There’s nothing blue about this bus except the blue feeling sickness of this experience. I’m stripped down to naked and given a button up sleeveless jumper. With no shoes, I’m hand cuffed then chained together with annother man for the bus ride. I’m given my chain bag that contains my Bible, five pictures, and some letters I’ve kept. The rest of my property, bowl, cup, spoon, food, shower shoes, long underwear, and clothes are put in a safe place for me and will be discarded after forty five days because I will not be back in time to claim as my property.
It’s the cold time of the year and I’m trying not to shiver as the bus rolls out and enters the highway south east. I’m nervous because I haveint rode in a vehicle for two years, except to court and to another county. The bus is jerky, on and off the gas. Braking hard. Bouncing and swaying. I try to hold on tight. The seat doesn’t really fit two passengers chained together. The muscles in my legs are cramping. I squint my eyes to see out little holes to look at the free world traffic. Life goes on. The smell of diesel and the droning hum overide my senses. I look to the front of the bus. There’s a separate cage for segregated inmates. There’s an open toilet. The ride’s long but not long enough to have to use the toilet. Although some struggle and go in front of us all. In the back rides a guard in a cage with a shot gun. He’s on a cell phone talking.
We arrive at a intake unit known by inmates as “BUTT NAKED”. Named because you always Will get out of your clothes and are searched at random often.
For the next three days I’ll be busy with lay-ins to get my picture taken for an ID card, tatoos documented, medical, classification and job assignment, and peer education.
Count time is every three to six hours and I must be at my bunk. If I’m away from my wing I line up in housing order. If I’m asleep they wake me up usually by banging their clipboard on my metal bunk or yelling, I don’t sleep well.
Chow times are 3:30 am, 11:30 am, and 4:30 pm plus or minus an hour or so. On the weekends, at this unit, we only eat twice a day. I’m often tired and hungry, I’m lucky if I get five minutes to eat. I learn to eat fast and not pick at my food. I break two teeth biting rocks in the food.The flies are so thick in the chow hall, I swallow at least five that I know of.
Violence and disrespect abound both inmate to inmate and guards to inmates. Fights are ignited over televisions, seats, fans, hot water, and just about any situation where someone feels disrespected Within clicks beatdowns are administered for birthdays, catching chain, or initiation. Gang violence send some to the hospital via helicopter. I’ve seen guards slap inmates, and a few violent beatings where multiple guards attack one inmate. A team of guards from regional show up from time to time and harass us. They tear apart everything we have and throw all our property into one pile in the middle of the floor. Fights often result when claiming whose property is whose.
I work in the fields through the summer and winter. My squad turns out every day. My boss sits on a horse drinking cold Dr. Peppers and yelling at us, “you don’t need a water break!” He makes fun of guys who fall out in the heat. Mid-summer my boss falls out from the heat and goes to the hospital. It’s hot in the wing when we come in after noon chow. No airconditioning in prison. I heard thirteen men died this summer on this unit. The guards come in and measure the temperature, It’s one hundred thirty degrees in the middle of the day room. Winter comes and we still turn out. Freezing cold. We strip naked outside everytime we come in from the fields.
I finally get to go to commissary, although at an intake unit I cannot purchase a fan, radio, or electronics. Going can be very stressful. I don’t know of any family
inmates who work with the public and have specified sets with their names on them, and it works great.
Finally, simple diligence would eliminate the rest of the problems. Just this week, the captain waited until the last minute to try and get jackets and blankets passed out. With little or no heat, 1,385 inmates slept with 5O° temps and nothing to cover up with. That’s just lack of planning or laziness. The best solution of all, as usual with the TDCJ, would be accountability, not only for the department heads on the unit, but for those who hire and retain them when they aren’t getting the job done.