I’ve written about how TDCJ used to be run. I have talked about the worthless grievance system. And, I told you a little about how the kitchens are being run. About that, I’m trying to get some good documentation for you to look at to prove some of what I’m saying, to prove that there is stealing going on, and that the “good guys”, not the convicts, are the ones stealing it. So, count on some more kitchen information.
Right now, I want to talk about the prison system and its chaotic, day to day function… or should I say dysfunction. For more than a decade, I’ve been working on a book about the Texas prison system, and I call it The Puppmentmasters. Some of what I’ve shared with you in these essays is part of my book.
What I’ve always said about the TDCJ is that it was built by geniuses, the whole system, because only a genius could figure out a way to implement a modern-day slave system with over 200,000 men and women that work “the plantation” for free. Now, the prison officials will tell yod that Texas is the only state in the U.S. that does not pay any type of wage for innate labor, because instead of money, Texas inmates are supposed to be getting work time credit. There are several kinds of “time” on your sentence. Everyone gets “flat time”. That’s the actual, day for day, amount of time you’ve been in prison. There is also “good time”. This is time that is supposedly credited for good behavior. For every day of flat time, an inmate is supposed to receive credit for another day of good time, if he is behaved. Then there is “work time”. For every three days served of flat time, a Texas inmate is entitled to 2 days of work time. And on paper, they do give you all this time, and, oh, it just looks wonderful. If someone from the freeworld was to look at this time sheet, they would think, “Well, if a person goes to prison, stays out of trouble, does good, works hard, why, he’ll be getting out early, and good for him.” But this is one of the biggest bunch of bullshit cons these powers that run the prison system ever came up with, and that’s why I call them Puppetmasters.
To explain it all to you, I have to go back in time for a bit, so I can bring you into the 21st century with the TDCJ. You’ll recall that I told you the prison system was once run mostly, not by officers, but by turnkeys, the inmates who were given authority to act as officers, and did every thing a prison guard is hired to do. They opened and shut cell doors. They’d break up (or NOT break up) prison fights. They’d count inmates. And you’ve seen this character in the movies, like in The Longest Yard, where this prisoner even might carry a club, maybe even a gun, and that’s a turnkey. And these turnkeys were basically, a state-created gang inside the prison which was allowed to steal, extort, assault, rape and murder with impunity. Those were the days when people were abused so bad down here, you wouldn’t believe it, and they made a bunch of movies that really showed how bad it was out in Hollywood. Think of Robert Redford in Brubaker, or Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. The only difference was that this was happening in Texas right up into the 1980’s. Can you believe it? I ask you, Mr. or Ms. Reader, to think about this. It was right on the edge of the 21st century, and Texas was still running the prison system like the Civil War had just wound up. Can you imagine for one moment, what it must have been, like to have the worst of the worst criminals in total control of the prison system- deciding who’d eat, who’d sleep, who could shower? And if you got crossways with the wrong rank or the wrong officer, this gang would come and have their way with you, do anything they wanted to you. And with some little changes in nuance, they prettiy much still can to this day, only they’ve traded the turnkeys for an army of minimum wage workers who don’t have the necessary social or job skills to make it any other way but to become dependents on the state.
Before the Ruiz civil rights suit, inmates were being murdered all the time. At the Eastham Unit, there was an incident where a warden and a major took an inmate outside. the fence behind the prison and walked him down to a river* that runs next to the unit. They were going to kill him, and the prisoner knew it, because he’d seen it happen to many others before him. They’d take them down there, and claim they’d try to escape from them, and they’d shoot them in cold blood, knowing that nobody would be the wiser, and’ they’d sure never get in trouble.
But this time was different. This time, the inmate was able to overpower the major and kill him. I don’t know if he killed the warden, too, but I’m trying to find out for you. But anyway, after this was over, this inmate was found not guilty of murder, because they found out what had been happening down there. And the inmate was transferred to federal custody to do the remainder of his sentence so there wouldn’t be any retalitation. Now picture this, you’re in this situation, and there aren’t any telephones to try and call your family before they kill you. There’s no 911 to try and get help. Back then, not even a worthless grievance procedure. There’s nothing and nobody to get youo u t of this situation, and they’re taking you down to the river to kill you. And when you’re dead, they tell everybody that you tried to escape, even if you only had a few months left on your sentence, and everybody thinks, “Now that was stupid! Why’d he do something stupid like that?”
They didn’t always kill you. Often, the turnkeys or the guards would beat you almost to death. When they did, they’d make, sure no one saw you all marked up. The inmate’s family would come to visit him just like they did EVERY week, but all of a sudden, he’d “refuse the visit”, even if they’d drove hundreds of miles. Maybe a lawyer would show up for a visit with his client. He’d be told that the prisoner had been shipped to another unit. They’d make sure no one got
to see you. Also, there’s the mailroom where they sit there reading all your mail, every piece going out and coming
in. So,if you start writing anything about what is happening inside the prison, guess what? That letter never leaves the prison. It would get “lost”.
After awhile, you’d finally heal up, and of course, you look fine, now, and you get a visit from your mom or your lawyer. You try to tell them you’d been beat to a pulp, and they just look at you like you’re crazy. Your mom thinks you’re making up this cock and bull story, because you probably feel guilty about “refusing” her visit. You’re lawyer simply can’t believe that TDCJ officials would blatantly disregard your civil rights like that right under his nose. This means it’s your word against theirs, and who would you believe?
Back then, each prisoner was allowed one 5-minute phone call every 90 days. You’d put in for the call, and IF they honored your request, you’d be taken down and there’d be two phones sitting there. The lawman gets on one phone, and you sit at the other. The lawman dials your number and makes sure that whoever you say that number belongs to is the one talking on the other end of the phone. You know the rules: don’t talk about anything that has to do with the way the prison operates, because that is a “threat to security”; don’t discuss money, or ask for funds; don’t try to get personal information about any other inmate. So, if you were beat up, or even worse, stabbed or raped, and you try to tell your family so they can get help, the officer hangs up the phone immediately. Sound crazy? Let me tell you something. This went on all the way up to 2009! Right up to the 21st century. TDCJ was the last state in the U.S. to install an offender telephone system. They fought it tooth and nail until they were forced to do it by law. Why? Because they didn’t want any prisoner talking to their family about what’s really happening in here, especially without a guard sitting there ready to hang up at any moment.
Other states and the feds have always done their best to encourage family and friends of the prisoner to stay in touch, realizing that the rehabilitation depends on love and support. Texas, on the other hand, will make up any kind of B.S. excuse: “We can’t have them contacting their victims,” or “We don’t want them arranging criminal activities on the phone.” I mean, this is such bullshit. Every number we’re allowed to dial is pre-approved and checked by the phone company to be a bona fide number registered to the person we’re trying to call. Every call is digitally recorded for immediate monitoring or future playback. Others had this 30 years ago, but the real reason Texas hated putting the phones in was that it finally gave us contact with our family and friends. Now, if the guards or rank try to hurt us, or we have a serious medical problem, we can call and get help right away.
The Puppetmasters have been running this secret, criminal organization down here for so long that they truly believe this is “their” prison system to run however they see fit, and they ran it by brute force in those days. You either did what they wanted, or you got killed. The turnkeys, meanwhile, would actually be helping the Puppetmasters steal state property like cattle, horses, meat, and anything they could lay their hands on.
However, in the late 1970’s to early 80’s, this one man named David Ruiz, along with a few other brave souls, finally took a stand against all this. They filed a lawsuit against the Texas prison system, submitting his first papers on toilet paper, because he had nothing else to write it on. There is no stating what a bold step this was. I still wonder today how they managed to let these men live, but after much considering, I believe that the good ol’ boys sincerely thought that no court or judge would EVER take any prisoner’s cormplaints seriously, much less believe them. And then, when this Federal Judge,William Wayne Justice, ruled that the prisoners’ case had merit, I am telling you the Puppetmasters were in utter shock. It was all out in the open now, right there in court- the beating, the turnkeys, the medical deprivations, the inhumane working conditions. I mean, they worked from sunup to sundown, even in temperatures over 100 degrees, until they collapsed or died. If a prisoner could not keep up with the line, he’d get beat up by the turnkeys. If he fell back again, they’d throw him in a tin shed where he was basically cooked to death. If you read the old stories about Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame, you’ll read how members of his gang would help each other out by chopping off each other’s toes with an “aggie” (a big hoe) while slaving away in the prison fields. The loss of a toe meant they could get a different kind of work and assignment to a different unit. This stuff is public record, now.
I want you to see the TDCJ for what it truly is. This is only the beginning of so many horror stories of abuse, mental and physical. And these prisoners would finally get to the end of their sentence, and what kind of man do you think was being unleashed on society? What kind of woman were they sending back into the community? Just look at the little boys or little girls that grow up in a home where Dad is always hitting them, cussing them, telling them they’re no good and won’t ever be anything. Well, what happens to these kids. That little boy grows up, and he finds a wife or girlfriend, and then they get in an argument, and what does he do? Well, the same thing he’s seen happening all around all his life. He hits her, he cusses her, threatens her if she even thinks about leaving.
I ask you this. If after years of this kind of abuse, that poor child thinks it’s okay to be like this, what about these men left in the prison system back then for 10 years or twenty years or even longer? Do you honestly think these men were going to be better people when they left? You think they were going to have a new-found respect for authority when those CO’s and turnkeys were abusing and raping them? When they were making them steal, cheat, and betray, just to survive? Let me assure you this. These men didn’t leave the TDC rehabilitated. In fact, they were a thousand times worse than when they first came to prison. And that is the secret I need you to understand. That is exactly what the Puppetmasters want. Why? Because they know THAT man has no chance of staying out there and living free. They WANT that man to come back to the prison. For one thing, naturally, it’s good job security. What happens when they start closing all these prisons due to lack of crime and criminals? Well, they start cutting the jobs that go with the prisons, of course. And furthermore, the prison system in Texas has become an industry unto itself, even breaking into various areas of manufacturing. More about that it my next chapter.