Bloody bath it was. I was covered in the two inmates’ blood and so was a lot of others. I hated fights, but I really hated knife fights. And there were two kinds-the knifing: to kill and the one just to cut or teach a lesson to someone. But today, it was all about more than respect, it was all about death and dying. And this was it-The Snake Pit, Ellis Unit near Riverside, Texas in 1978. This unit was known then as the deadliest, most evil, most cruel, most barbaric prison house known to mankind. It was not a place where photos were allowed unless you were some freaky freak enjoying it and got away with it. Well, I wasn’t and I hated blood being sprayed all over me. But more than that, I hated being blinded with it in my eyes going into a knife fight. And this one was nearest me and the one closest to the fight had to handle up on it. I was the Correctional Officer closest to it. I had beat the Turnkeys or Floorboys to the fight. It was now my fight to get it stopped without anyone dying.
One quick blow to the head was all the chance an Officer got in either saving a life or watching it be taken. Everyone’s heart was pounding like elephant steps in dry sage brush. But it was again now my fight and I had to act and act instantly without fear, with a solid belief that there was another tomorrow, a heaven, and a God. I did. And it was soon over. But I had grabbed the knife and it had cut my right index finger to the bone. Without that bone, the finger would be now lying on the floor.. I put both of them on the ground. And not a word was being said to anyone — no noise being made anywhere. It was over and now the two had to be taken to the infirmary.
As soon as the floor boys had the two inmates down the hallway and to the infirmary, I sat down in the dayroom with sewing thread and a sewing needle in hand which was brought to me by the turnkey. Why? Because in those days, you were considered weak if you did not sew up your own cuts with no pain meds applied. What happened behind those walls stayed behind those walls. It was always weird to do that but you had to prove you were the Man, you were the one, the one and only original baddest of the bad. You were not weak and weakness was not allowed. Well, I had to sew myself up seven times and three times I had to sew my face back together. If you saw me on the street, you would think I was some kind of freak looking so bad. But with plastic surgery, I look ok now. But sewing yourself up was a funny thing because the inmates would try and make you laugh as you sewed and work on your head some. But it came with the hell of that place. After all, it was the worst in the world and it was. Bitch guy inmates would come and try to offer their assistance but you had to say no — Mommy wasn’t around for you now boy and no Man Mommy was going to touch my war wounds. You know, there should be a patch for combat in the prison but there isn’t.
And there were the freaks that killed anyone and everyone — one killed seven right there at the main hall desk. What a lake of blood that wasyou could even feel their life still there looking at what had just happened to them after they had left the dead body. You can call it their soul, their life-force or whatever you will, but you could feel them traveling in and out of your own living body. I don’t know why but it was a weird tickling feeling to feel them traveling in and out of your body t hem just having been killed so violently. But for Officers, you did not kill, you only protected, or stopped the force and you did your best. But sewing up your eyelids and eyebrows really is painful and worse in real life than Hollywood makes it look in a movie.
God the cuts hurt, and man oh man, it was over. Both men were going to live because I, a stupid Correctional Officer who believed that all mankind had a right to live. Some would have said let ’em die. But that was not possible — why? Lawsuits. And I got my share of them and so did a lot of other Officers. Not a day goes by without thinking about some of the fights and some of the deaths. I have now been at Prison Units in Texas where 27 offenders have died. Did they deserve dying? I am not the judge or the jury, I am the line that says there are no deaths whenever and wherever possible. But they do happen and death comes for Officers too. No matter what you think, plan on dying one day. But I was already sewing myself another scar
This past December, 2004, I quickly entered the Wal-Mart Super Center off Briarcrest Drive in Byran, Texas around 8pm to purchase needed medicine for my one year old granddaughter. Her fever was 102 and rising and I could not waste a minute. As I stood next to a shelf reading the description of the actual contents of the children’s fever medicine and having to mindfully debate the cost differences between different brands, I felt a tap on my right shoulder from someone standing there behind me. I turned expecting to see a friend. Instead, there stood a large, short, black woman that I had never ever met before. And before I could react, I was splattered in the face with the woman’s spit. I was stunned and shocked at the same time. She then said, “You Prison Pig, all of you make me sick”.
I slowly wiped my face and said, “I sure hope you feel better, Ma’am”. And we both left each other’s sight. I smelled that woman’s spit on my face all the way home. How or why had this woman gotten to such a state of affairs toward Correctional Officers? Well, believe it or not, it is the same view that many Texans have anyway. That’s right. A Correctional Officer is viewed today just as he was viewed from as far back as I can remember — something short of being human. And the only thing viewed worse are the Offenders themselves. Whether you care about it or not, today’s Correctional Institution is a direct reflection of today’s society and beyond the holy grail of a balanced legislative budget. The lack of proper funding will regress the Texas Prison system and force it to rapidly return to the horrific days of yesteryears. The low pay is an unwritten Texas Rule 13 that translates to this-let the lowest social classes work the prisons — black and dumb and anyone dumber.. And folks, society isn’t handing out any sympathy cards for anyone anymore. Today, just as yesterday, the indoctrination practices of Willie Lynch of 1772 apply in every single prison in the world. Especially after 9-11-2001. Today, society is more eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth than ever before.
If it is seen on tv, then the viewer automatically believes it happened to them or their kinfolk-society can no longer separate reality with what is being viewed.
My only mistake on that evening was that I was still in my uniform. But before you finish reading this, you will be presented with the most controversial ideas ever presented about the future of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice System. Some will make you smile, but some will fill your guts with blistering nails. Why? Because I am one of thousands who put their lives on the line for the public’s safety and I think you might want to hear it from the other side for once. I have earned that right to share this with you. I have the war scars that I must carry on my body until the day I die.
Now, picking good readable words precisely is something that I am not accustomed to doing and writing about the dreaded correctional industry without creating reader depression is on my own mind too. Why write anything? Because there is somewhere in the neighborhood of a mind boggling 150,000 Offenders in Texas prisons today. If these men and women know at least ten people each, over one million Texans are involved with the system in one way or another. Then add ten times the same number of victims and you have over 11 million Texans involved. I bet the number is closer to 20 million.
So, yes there is a market ready for some new ideas and views. So let me regress for a minute.
Heck, I am pure West Texas Bred and I’m sometimes not sure where I fit into the world of robbers, gangsters, and thieves in today’s Texas Prison System. What a reader might want to know and what I am willing to tell are as much at odds as I am about writing anything about the past or the present. But for sure, you might be better off being drug behind a slow horse through a bunch of prickly pears than reading what I am going to put down on these pages. Why? Because Texas Prisons are society itself. And society has helped stereotype an Offender into the boggie man, a crazed animal, and worse-something less than human. Society has placed the Devil himself as overseer of the prisons(not actually, just in metaphor). With the now coming release of the Texas29 guaranteed killers(29 of them) from Death Row, the Devil himself will be driving the wagon? Offenders have had past lives including football heroes, singers, working class workers, truck drivers, teachers, coaches, doctors, lawyers, nurses, police officers, prison officers, preachers, and just about every position known to society-even pure blood fun killers. But, are you ready to view the unthinkable? If so, here goes-
As I entered Death Row for another assignment there, I could hear the typewriters on the third row buzzing with their never ending letters hitting the paper. It sounded like field mice playing in a barn during winter. But the Governor of Texas was on his way and I got the nod to be at Death Row when he toured the unit to get his super stupid rodeo clown boots. They were not actually that, but they were funny looking to me shaped into a Texas flag emblem. They just did not look right to me. But it was his yearly visit and he had just entered the Unit at the front gate. But, I was on full flow when I looked at this one cell in death’s row. Holy Cow, this one inmate had painted his entire cell in his own blood and it was horrific to look at. NO Hollywood set could have done it any better. What in the world was I going to do? He was begging me to come in and meet my maker and I knew that the media was going to have a field day with the guy.
I called the main hallway desk and spoke to higher up rank. What you want me to do? I asked. Go in there and whup that butt and call me when you bust him (knock him out). I said ok. I knew that I had only one chance but I was under orders. And the adrenaline had my body locked into fight mode where you don’t know much about pain until after the fight. I opened the cell door and busted the man and he went down hard. I then had him taken down to the infirmary so he could be sewed up. And I was ok. But did I take a butt chewing for that one. In an instant, the floorboy took a five gallon spray can of this stuff that made blood foam up. He sprayed the liquid all over the cell and then the blood foamed up like red cherry soap. The guy then used a garden hose with a spray nozzle and it was over — all gone.
The future of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice rests on the ideas of sound realistic judgement from individuals who can envision a future without relying on any dinosauric thought. Following that premise, where do we go from here? Simple, allow Offenders who have served a certain amount of incarcerated time to buy out the remaining time of their incarceration. That’s right. If a non-violent Offender has done at least _ of his or her sentence or a violent Offender has done at least _ of his or her sentence, let the Offender’s family or prospective employer buy out the remaining time of incarceration. By including such a responsibility on a family, the Offender has a better chance of not failing. His family or prospective employer will go to greater lengths to insure that their investment does not faulter. In such approved cases, paroles or probation would then be totally eliminated. No more State Handling of the ex-Offender at all. Texas not only puts Offenders in prison, it tries to “label” them for the rest of their lives like a branded cow in a pasture. If the State can contract with other States to incarcerate their outrageously violent Offenders here in Texas at $41 dollars a day like those from Colorado, then the State can and should allow time remaining to be bought at rate of say $5000 per year or less. This is proactive and a win-win situation. Note: There is a fairness issue right now with the Correctional Officers because of not being paid Overtime for Overtime worked. Officers are having to work with wage discrimination for wages far below the National Average for Correctional Officers. And finally, how can another state agency such as the Texas Department of Transportation pay Overtime wages for Police Officers when Correctional Officers cannot get paid for their worked Overtime at all. The idea of having to work 240 hours of Overtime before being paid for Overtime is a rotten thing to do to employees. Plus Texas bringing in additionally dangerous Offenders from out of state makes the job even more difficult and dangerous.
Why do any of the above? Because the general public is simply not informed to the horrific side of prison and that can and should be stopped and stopped today and not tomorrow. A society can only change the future by changing the present. If I were Governor, I would immediately order a mandatory six month return to society program for all Offenders in Outside Trusty Camps and release all of them upon the completion of that program to mandatory supervised probation. I would also immediately eliminate any and all human involvement in the parole system at the decision making level. There would be no more one year “set-offs”, no more two or three tries before a person made parole. A system that puts out a set method of obtaining parole should be adhered to at all times. If I were Governor, I would cut the prison sentences in half on all Offenders. Why? Because juries have no true concept of prison. Juries think that their duty is to find someone guilty for the state which is the farthest thing from their duty — their duty is to listen and to hear and to make a sound judgement, period. Why are juries not picked for a six month period or longer? Just like the Grand Jury. Then and only then might these jurors learn to “see”. Why do any of this?
Because the cure for the future of all incarceration lies in the communities that sent the convicted individual in the first place. The cure is not TDCJ and not in any prison. It is not with Willie Lynch and his teachings either.
Unfortunately, former Texas Governor George W. Bush, Jr. will most likely be known for his “blood lust” for rat extermination of Death Row Offenders, jump starting Texas into a “let all Texas Citizens do time” mentality. He may also become known as President Dracula, known for his lust for blood. His part in government is the greatest of all, just like the secret printer codes in printers which is not known to most Americans who stupidly print funny stuff only to have law enforcement bring it back to them. How strange or how much like Nazi Germany prior to WWII is all of this becoming? We must move on to a new purpose.
But, the cure is not month after month of animal holding tanks because Offenders are not animals. I openly admit that some crimes committed by some Offenders are absolutely abdominable, perverse, and wicked. But if you simply got into an automobile wreck, crossed words with the other driver, and then threw an object which accidentally hit a small child standing there and watching. Guess what? You’ll see prison and in a big way. Now if that happens to you, wouldn’t you want a chance to go into a less horrific place? You bet you would and so would I. Each community can no longer treat prison as a way of getting rid of its trouble makers. They also need to analyze themselves as to why folks become trouble makers in their community in the first place and correct the realities of findings. Money jobs help eliminate so much. Real money jobs for everyone.family surviving jobs. But there is a huge problem with the way society views Correctional Officers too
Like in the latest Harry Potter movie, the flying sinister prison guards in it is how society sees today’s Correctional Officers. But the hardships placed on both Offender and Correctional Officer is just something that no one wants to talk about. But a person’s self ordained knowledge of both Offender and Correctional Officer is what is helping to turn Texas into the Garden State of Incarceration without a fair trial (jurors are given informations that premeditate them to a guilty verdict, even if unconscious) and spiraling prison costs. And for sure, folks already know about most everything and put some of the dumbest ideas about things in their brains from a fictitious book or movie. But things have got to change. I ,for one, don’t believe that a fair trial has ever taken place in the history of Texas at all. Yea, that’s right and I said it. You can take it to the bank now baby.
I once told an Offender that as things get better for you, things get better for the Correctional Officer. And they do. But nothing will ever change until a more progressive system is put in place and it must take place. A.C.A.(ACA) is a shining bright light in America today(American Correctional Association). This organization uses policies and procedures that ensure the safety and well being of both offender and officer. They are very serious standards and good business.
Anyhow back to my beginning and as I drove home, I wondered what had gotten that woman to that point in her life. Was it me? No, I knew her not. Was it the Prison System? You bet it was. And she was just one of an entire society filled with hatred that I know is not justified. You cannot place all Offenders into a lump sum on the basis of a single rotten fruit. Those rotten fruits are dealt with and the rest are not allowed to rot away as some might wish or might with to think. Society has got to quit saying do as I say, not as I do.
Right now, how many folks do you know that do illegal drugs? Even just occasionally? Well, how is one evil less than the other? There is not a single person that is reading this that has not broken at least one law in his or her life. So why are so many willing to throw the first stones?
One of the worst things that ever took place in Texas is when one of its greatest institutions of Folklore was allowed to whittle away into the dust of uselessness. That was the day that the “Wildest Show Behind Bars” was allowed to end. The Prison Rodeo was a goldmine of fun and the pocketbook, yet the ones with the most smarts decided that it should die and so did the growth of that community with it. When the rodeo dies, the clown is the last one to turn the lights out. The downtown area alone says-hey, don’t look now, but this town is dying or has died for two decades. And it stems from the day they let the devil out of that money bottle and shut the rodeo down for good. But nearly twenty years is long enough and I say let’s let the good times roll again. I can easily envision the Houston Livestock Show connecting the dots to make that money thing happen. Even the Offenders think it would be cool. But I want to take it one step farther. Let’s make it darn interesting and make it-Officers vs Offenders for a year of bragging rights. The whole televised event should net close to $50 million dollars a year on a worldwide closed circuit pay per view channel.
Then the event could be sent to all the separate Prison Units via television. If you never ever saw it, I can only guarantee that it was the most wildly entertaining event Texas ever put on each year. But let’s look at where some things are today in folk’s minds. But this money could do so much for Offenders, their families and the same for Officers as well. It burns my butt when an Offender’s family leaves an Offender to “just rot away” in a prison until he or she gets out. The mail, the phone calls, and the visits are so preciously appreciated that without them, an Offender is given nothing but horrific time to do-he or she is walking a family’s death row.
A dear friend of mine that passed away recently once told me years ago that society’s demand for blood through its penal system is changing from lukewarm to fiery red-hot. Now he was actively involved in politics and a mere 75 years young. And he told me then that the tide was turning towards red hot like a branding iron on a new calf’s bottom against those being incarcerated. He talked in terms to me that I could understand having been brought up country boy and all. He said that that was sad and that public hangings were even a possibility. I did not believe him then, but I can see his words coming to life. The recent Supreme Court’s decision does not change how Texans feel, it just made a lot of Texans more angry and others very happy.
But today, I am unlike most of my fellow Correctional Officers because I saw the Texas Department of Corrections during the Hell Days as Judge William Wayne Justice, Jr., started coming to the Offender’s rescue. After enduring two units then, I left, and 25 years later, I have returned to see a new Texas Department of Criminal Justice with newer problems but still holding onto the reins of some of the most antiquated mental thought that is only reflective of today’s mindset and its plow horse blinders. The Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas is literally collapsing around itself. But actually, Judge William Wayne Justice, Jr., was not only coming to the Offender’s rescue, he was coming like Joan of Arc fighting the worst multi-headed hydra ever created by the days of lost and forever gone Texas Folklore and that infamous searching for the holy grail of a balance budget. That Judge was coming to the Officer’s rescue too. But there would be hell to pay from open gang warfare before a new and less horrific institution arose to replace the older one. David Ruiz proved unequivocally the power of the typewriter and determination. At that very moment, I had no idea of how extremely important his work was. All I knew back then was I was in Hell. No question about it, it was hell for everyone, both Officer and Offender alike.
Having survived the worst that man had to offer, I know where TDC was, I know where the Texas Department of Criminal Justice(TDCJ) is today, and I know where we must go in the future if future is an actual real concept. But there will be no further improvements if everyone places a calling for blood higher than what is right and what is necessary. There will be no more improvement if the Legislators continue to strip needed budget monies and personnel positions.
But let me take a moment to take you back to those hell days-the days when dinosaurs walked the face of the earth. I am told that I am a dinosaur from those days of old, but I do not think like a dinosaur from those days of old and my thought is progressive. The only dinosaurs in today’s prison units are the wardens. That’s right, I wrote it and you read it. Friend, you can take it to the bank. So let’s go back for a moment.
I still remember those days of playing T.Rex’s Bang A Gong loud enough to blow out my ears, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and eating piles of pizza with the newest group of gladiators fresh from TDC’s gladiator school-a two week training school. The school amazed me then at how many instructors were kinfolk of this person, a brother in law of that person, and so on. Man, it was thick as thieves and stunk of the family plan.
Instead of being sent to a minimum security unit in 1978, I was sent to the infamous Snake Pit(Ellis Unit near Riverside, Texas) and the only other farm making earth shaking thunder was the Gladiator Farm( Ferguson Unit). But other units and their colorful names were the House of Pain(Eastham Unit), Rocky D(Darrington Unit), and Burning Hell(Clemons Unit)
But, all of us gladiators were the strong, order following, country boys of Texas. In one month, all of us quickly learned how to become throwed-off fighting gamecocks and ready to do battle at the drop of the word — FIGHT. Like our counterparts, the turnkeys and floorboys, all of us were living c’est la vie, let the devil take his own world of the fight game. We were all pumping iron like there was no tomorrow and I curled 200lbs standing. And each of us was figthting for the head role of the bombdiggity of the group always rushing in to break up the fights like each of us had nine lives. Blood could be spraying twenty feet across a dayroom and we still went in like nothing at all. Then the deaths and the death tolls started to work on all of us. An Offender dies within arms reach of you and there is nothing on earth that you can do to prevent the death. And finally, there was that unanswerable and evil question that talks to a man’s mind whispering — when will it be your turn? When your head got full, you transferred or you quit. I transferred. But you had done more than most would ever have done to actually save the lives of Offenders. It is very weird to have an Offender today come up and say thank you for saving their life back then or not letting anyone shut down those gates of prison hell on them. But I could not believe what I saw-
My God, they were still incarcerated. How incredibly horrific. All these years have passed and they are still here. My dear Lord, had someone totally thrown out the rule book of human decency? They had endured countless days of the worst that man had to ever endure and were still in it. They were still inside and most would die there. At what point does society’s demand for blood end? William Shakespeare did his ever best to reveal to his readers the dangerous side of man’s inherited evil. Did anyone read the Merchant of Venice and anything about a pound of blood or flesh or something like that. But was anyone understanding what he was writing about? I really don’t know. But I do know as a child that when a magnifying glass came across a red ant mound and a horny toad, the ants got fried with the sun’s rays. But today, both ants and horny toad get zapped. Now why is that? I don’t know. I cannot answer it either. But it’s something to ponder.
And, I remember seeing five Offenders living in the same cell — cell after cell after cell. Over one thousand offenders for the Officer who worked B Wing alone and I got B Wing all the time. That’s right. Two on the wall and three on the floor. Sometimes the ones lying on the floor had to face the same direction because there wasn’t enough room for them to face the way they wanted. It was like a scene from a Three Stooges skit visually. But in actuality, it was the setting stage for some of the most unforgettable fights and butt whuppings I ever witnessed in my life. It was the most inhumane thing that I had ever seen for anyone to be dealt. Then the morning chow of the hottest liquid syrup servable and four slices of light bread only aided to the unnatural heat that filled the entire building like a blistering day in August with temperatures busting 110-120 degrees inside. There were no fans, no air conditioning. And most units today are the same way. Just heat and heat and heat. If you learn nothing at all about prisons, learn this — they are hotter than all get out. And everyone sweats like a hound dog fresh out of a pond from a game of hide and seek.
The Lt. and I were feeding breakfast chow one morning and death walked into the chow hall looking for someone. I could tell something was up because the hair on the back of my neck was tingling. Boy oh boy, it was. Two offenders were going each other like jack hammers. Each had so many holes that I could not believe it. The Lt. hit the table first and tossed one of them back to me. The guy was doing a backwards flip when I caught him in midair and took him down hard. So hard the knife busted out of his hand and shot across the hard cement. It was horrific. There were over 21 stab wounds on this guy and each hole was spraying blood out with each pumping heart beat. Now that is something weird to see. With each heartbeat, the blood sprayed out and all over me, but it sprayed out less and less with each beat. I just knew he was going to die, but never say never. Two weeks later, the inmate was back on the unit alive and sore.
I popped up and turned to the Lt. and he was on his back and fighting to keep the other inmate on top of him from driving his shank into his heart. I speared the guy with a driving right cross to his right side ribs. I heard and felt his ribs bust in many places. He instantly drew a quick hard gasp for breath and I had my hand on his right hand(the one holding the knife). It was over and the man on his back and I never ever discussed it. There were no thank you’s because it was not cool to admit anything like close to getting killed was to fall out of you mouth. It was the most Mano y Mano world in existence. And most guys are too afraid to ever experience it unless sent there. But for many offenders today, I saved their lives and they know that they owe and they are still in TDCJ today.
During the first riot, many got hurt and it was ugly. During the second one, we could not get around 800 of them back into the building. So we put up two rows of concertina wire and a WWII machine gun up between them and us. All they had to do was say “boo” or even fart loud and the gunner on that machine gun would have sprayed them all with bullets. It would have been the worst incident in the nation. But would it have been talked about as bad as Kent State where the college students demonstrating against the Vietnam War got mowed down with gunfire? I don’t think most would have remembered it. But I had to take a shift on that machine gun and I was thankful I did not have to pull the trigger. I have seen 27 die, isn’t that enough? Not to mention the deaths overseas that I don’t want to talk about either. But for sure, nothing in the military or Overseas trained me for the hell at the Snake Pit. Nothing in Hollywood has ever come close as to how horrific it was on me and all the other Correctional Officer back then. Also, no woman has ever made love to more of a real man than when she lies down with a Correctional Officer from Texas.
Now once, I hunted rattlesnakes and even toured city sleekers with their fresh store bought country clothes and brand new white Stetsons in Sweetwater, Texas. But the Snake Pit challenged every survival skill I had ever developed Overseas and in the military. Nothing I had ever done before prepared me for what I had to endure in that unit. And the ones, Officer and Offender alike, who had been there the longest were the most unbelievable throwed-offs I had ever witnessed. The longer a person stayed in the old days, the better chance insanity would have to grip them with a new throwed-off the wagon crazed mentality. Losing a wife, a girlfriend and family through divorce was part of the price that an Officer was going to give the Snake Pit’s Fiddler. And the only song that that fiddler knew was the Crossing the River Styx-death’s eerie calling.
I remember one man dying not more than arm’s reach from me and there wasn’t a thing on God’s green earth that I could do to save him and that moment has been burned into my mind like a still photograph for all times. How sad and how sad I feel everytime I see him dying all over again in my mind. And other deaths still burn in my mind. Was I right or was Texas wrong? Was Texas’s seeking the holy grail of a penal system that ran on a balanced budget more important than a mountain of body bags? Will this same philosophy return again? Was GOD anywhere to be found? I think so. His avenging angel was either David Ruiz or Judge William Wayne Justice, Jr. That’s right. Without these two players, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice would never have materialized. Not in the long run.
Unfortunately, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is now more open for rampant abuse than ever before from many directions. TDCJ is taking 3500 positions in three years (2004-07) and dumping them with around 1500 Correctional Officers positions being part of the plan. Will it affect TDCJ? You bet it will. There will be more killings, more deaths, more rapes, more riots, and more hell to pay for everyone-especially for the Offender’s family. But instead of Ruiz and another Class Action Civil Lawsuit from the Offenders, it most likely will come from the Officers. Today, lawsuits rule most legislative decisions and that is not dealing fairly with people period.
Politics have no place in any penal systems, not the basics. Today, the University of Texas Medical Branch(UTMB)’s system of medication compliance by an Offender is a failed system and it is not UTMB’s fault. My present unit in TDCJ is not a mental hospital, yet there are Offenders there that are mentally throwed-off. And because the drug system does not automatically red flag a mentally challenged Offender who has missed his medications, that Offender usually will go off on other Offenders, Officers, or other staff. So how does that get fixed or any other things that have potential for major abuses? It is money and more money and that is what the citizens of Texas are not willing to part with. Or is it that the Legislators are not willing to share it in that direction? By giving the least change of the Lion’s share of State Revenue to TDCJ, society will again get the feeling that things are running ok in Texas. But in fact, they are running amiss. There are some things that just have to get addressed. And it will take money and more money. But is anyone willing to give it? Educators and others are always able to climb the money barrel first and a child is worth saving. I think the educators have always cornered the market when it comes budget time. Well, let me say this-a child not well taken care of will one day be an adult needing endless caring-thus our prison system.
By giving more money elsewhere and all are deserving, Texans automatically feels secure in the future of all children. But who takes it on the chin for the kids that drop out? Who takes it on the chin for the ones not properly taught how to do the simplest of tasks such as balancing a check book or outlining a pay schedule for bills? Who takes it on the chin for passing little Johnnie or Mary year after year in school? Who? The Offenders do and so do their kids, and their families. And ultimately, so do all of us. So what needs to change right now? We do. All of us do. We need to be more open to improvements that will ultimately better society. This is where society has failed and by not providing decent paying jobs for all willing workers, the prison door remains a revolving door. Until society is willing to give the Offender a real chance at a real future, there will be no change in their attitude and their returning is set in granite for them. What choice do we give them? But changes must take place. When everyone sits around the campfire, be sure that the Education System takes its full share of blame for the Offenders being placed in prisons today. When they gave up on that one child, he decided to fully give up on himself too and guess what happened next? He got even. So where else can we change things? I do believe that the Legislators are in a rob Peter now to pay Paul later kind of re-election game. By having state agencies cut budgets now, the legislators will have “new found revenues” for their own election agendas at the next legislative session. I should be Governor and then I would cut the fat off the Texas Calf and TDCJ would get their needed monies. But what changes need to take place?
First, UTMB needs an updated medication system that will identify to security Offenders who have missed their meds and need to take them. Second, TDCJ needs an image upgrading with all of its vehicles, new colors, new uniforms with berets, and better press on an already hard hit industry. TDCJ Correctional Officers need more “understanding training”. Third, the State of Texas needs to quit immediately having Correctional Officers work overtime hours without paying them until they reach 240 hours total Overtime built up on the books and to raise their pay to a level above some of the lowest wages in the Nation. Low pay is directly responsible for sagging unit integrity and jeopardizing the security of the units in Texas and mandating social structuring which is totally unfair to all the communities where prison units reside. Correctional Officers have a very difficult time making ends meet(literally) and I am not sure anyone cares about it. I have seven mouths to feed and you show me who cares and I’ll show you what a false impression you have. Don’t tell me you care because I am not a believer. Dual Jobbing (holding down to jobs at the same time) is dangerous and promotes unit degradation. Some Legislators think of Correctional Officers as glorified babysitters. I promise you that nothing is farther from the truth.
You can have my scars from both index fingers cut to the bone ending knife fights and a knife scar to the gut back. You can also have the stitches to the face back as well. How do you tell an Officer that he or she is just a babysitter when they are undergoing emergency surgery to rebuild a destroyed eye socket? Are you saying that being cussed at and having urine and feces thrown on you is just ok? What is your definition of glorified babysitter? Well, I know that doesn’t fit any Correctional Officer that I know. But back to the Offenders.
The Offenders are real people with real lives with real problems with real dealings with real outcomes with real families in the free world. And it is not my job in any way or fashion to arbitrarily administer hatred or punishment on any of them at any time. I am a professional Correctional Officer and I will not become something that Hollywood dreamed up. I am not the evil thing that stands over greater evil things. I respect the Offenders and they respect me. Opps! Did I say what you just read? Is that so hard to understand? How can I say that?
Again, my job does not expect me to be something less than a professional. In the prison society, R E S P E C T is all that most of us have — this is true for both Offender and Officer. You will not survive in a unit without it. Your life will be more unbearable than hell itself if you don’t have it. Anywhere in Texas, no one really gets along with anyone else without some form of respect. These Offenders, I say again, are human and not animals. But when you put them up like animals and show them no respect, you force them to be hard cases to deal with. Most have been put into positions that gave them little opportunity to make anything but poor decisions. But most of them will return to society’s streets and society needs to help them. Why? Because there is no chance for any society to continue to succeed if the revolving door is not ended. Your pocketbook is not that large. Why must they endure a single day without hope or a real chance? Unfounded, ignorant hatred is the worst form of hatred.
This brings me to another controversial point. Offenders must be paid for work performed. It is their punishment that they are incarcerated. But it should never ever been viewed that they can not make ends meet in the prison too. Some have no funds at all and these indentured Offenders need that pay to succeed. It is not fair to put an Offender into a position where they must hustle as a tattoo artist, a secret dorm launderer that washes and starches fellow Offenders clothes for money, or work as a man or woman whore.
Now, I am not talking to the victims. It sux being a victim and the worse the crime, the more it sux. I have been a victim and I know that level of anger too and I will always remember the crime and the pain. But, that was then and this is today. If you never let it go, it will eat you up inside. If you need help dealing with it, get it. I still remember my Uncle telling me of his watching a hanging of two horse thieves in his youngster days on present day Fort Hood, Texas. He said that sight burned into him like a branding iron.
Now, I am convinced that there are three reasons why most people end up in prison. 1. They are too slow. 2. They are too stupid. or 3. They are too poor. And this goes pretty much for everyone. I sometimes ask myself if that goes for myself too. Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. But I am becoming more convinced that the State is mandating a certain social tier should work the prison. Which one of the reasons fits high profile crooks in the media today? For sure, it sux being poor no matter who you are.
Since I have returned to TDCJ, tattoos reflective of a person’s life story or gang affiliation are abundant on the bodies of most Offenders. You will find everything from girlfriend names, wife, mother names or thousands of pictures to the full blown chest covering Phoenix of the Third Reich. Three dots in the web of the hand reflecting, mi vida loca(my crazy life) to full body covering tattoos that will piece fear or admiration in some viewers minds. But they are just body art.
Now, there are secret tattoos that I will not mention because if I did and you put them on your body and then you come to prison, the gangs would then open your butt up to bad things. You will find drawings that are poorly reflective of a poor artist to work done by some of the finest artists ever. Some are genuinely impressive and they stand out in prison and these will stand out in society when you see them one day. And you will be seeing them. Does that bother you? It should because prison does not last forever for most people. No matter how much you believe that the evil one has been put away forever, it just isn’t true. But what is your definition of the evil one? Is it a gang? Which gang suits you-Tango Blast, Crips, Bloods, Aryan Circle, Aryan Brotherhood, Mexikanemi, Texas Syndicate, Raza Unida, Hermano Pistalero Latino, Texas Chicano Brotherhood, Barrio Azteca, Texas Mafia, Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, or one of some 800,000 gang members nationwide? If a cold steel autopsy table is not in your future in a gang, a hot sweaty Texas Prison will be.
I know this and I will say this — I respect a person who is willing to come straight out with his beliefs and not lie dormant and elusive of who he or she is. And talking about gang affiliations — they are very present everywhere. Hardcore gangs and most have rules or regulations that demand member compliance at all times or severe consequences. Should you join a gang or stay out? I hope that you are never placed in a position to decide.
I know that it is hard to understand that when you are sitting at home and have everything that a person can own or want, you find my words hard to mindfully digest. But an Offender’s life is centered around what can be purchased at the commissary every two weeks which is more reflective of a small poorly equipped convenience store. This is but a glimpse of the horrific. Without your normal world, your life just went from bad to hell behind steel bars under my supervision. But be glad that it is me and I don’t wish to beat you up or punish you day after day and so on. But in prison, everything that you own must fit into a locked locker box smaller than a large plastic garbage bag. You will shower when I say so, you will eat when I say so, you will watch TV when I say so, you will watch what others say, and you will recreate in the recreation yard when I say so. And when we are short of staff, guess what? You will get to eat and shower, but all bets are off on anything else. Is that the life a person wants in life? Not for most folks. Now let me take you back to a time in the past.
Dear Lord, please send more Officers — is an actual prayer I would pray every day as I entered the Snake Pit in 1978. Well, God did just that. He sent more Officers and female Officers too.
For me, having female Officers is a confusing thing. I see good things and bad things with them. But for sure, they see the same things about male Officers. I am not sure if I like this or if I do not like this. But I have to admit that it is more difficult for Officers to go to a gender different unit. Female Officers with rank make it more interesting too. One female Officer told me that the worst thing that she had ever seen was female Officers at a male prison and I am a female-we have no business being here. But that same Officer has now left the Prison and is married to an Offender she met at the unit. I have learned of over ten marriages between female Officers and Offenders in the last year at two units alone. Also, female Officers like male Officers are often times trapped into muling (muling) for offenders. This is trafficking and trading with offenders-bringing in cell phones, food, money, drugs, guns, knifes, tobacco, or alcohol.
My own grandmother was in charge of the laundry at a male unit and I know she had those special manly features that comes with hard times and the Great Depression that made it work for her. So, I can see both sides to this issue. Anytime you put the sexes together in any working environment, there will be gender problems. This is the real world and not the perfect bubblegum view. And for sure, female Officers are here to stay and expect more in the future.
When I was a young youth, I got into some of my first scraps with young Offenders at the Boys State School in Gatesville, Texas. Now whenever my grandfather or grandmother left you unattended in the vehicle for a short time, it never failed that a group of unsupervised youth Offenders would come to where you were. You had a choice, get out of the car or get dragged out of it. So I always got out. Then they would play a game of chicken. But this was the cruelest thing I ever became accustomed to. Back then, nearly all youth went in the summer barefoot. So you would spit to see who went first. The farthest spitter went first. Then you both picked up a rock about three to four inches in diameter and stood about four feet apart. What you were throwing at will make your toes curl-up. Why? Because it was your toes that the other guy was throwing at. And if you flinched, you got hit on your body as hard as any Offender could hit or if you hit toes, you threw again. Now this was quite a toughing-up kind of game. But don’t do it because toes break easily. But that was then and so very long ago.
Today, one of the most misunderstood items by the female Officer is the Offender’s need to masturbate. It is a male thing, but it is a major offense when done on an Officer and you would be upset knowing that your daughter or wife is being masturbated on inside the prisons. This happens almost nightly. But most Offenders do it to relieve the sexual tension that is built up from not being with a person of the opposite sex and not intended for most Officers and an Offender sometimes gets totally involved with their activities and not realize that someone is around. Frankly, sometimes they don’t care if anyone is around because they have a need to relieve that sexual tension. But there are the ones that do it to be against the grain, sort to speak. Would it be easier to provide prostitutes to the Offenders or let them masturbate? Masturbation wins hands down. But only the female Officers find male Offenders masturbating. Offenders will be masturbating until the end of time. For that point, most males masturbate period. For me, I have never found an Offender masturbating and I believe that is from respect from the Offenders and also not being a thing of sexual desire. If I wanted to see this, it would be apparent and it would be found, but I don’t. When a female Officer shows her Offense Report that she has written about an Offender masturbating, some will even cut jokes about it. But it is not funny when you see tears swell up in someone’s eyes from time to time. But there is a difference of masturbating on an Officer and just masturbating period. The latter is what most Offenders do anyway.
Well, I told you that you would have been better off being drug by that horse and it is about to get worse with what I am about to tell you. Well, are you ready? It might be a good time to go and get another beer or two, some tea, another glass of wine, or a warm brandy. I know what you really want to know. How cruel is their cruelty being dealt to Offenders in today’s Texas Prisons? You know, are the Offenders being treated so cruelly that they will never ever commit another crime?
DREAM ON! That’s right, dream on. In the old days, I asked what we were doing to rehabilitate the Offenders. I was told quite ugly with plenty of expletives-our business is incarceration, not rehabilitation. Today, we are engaged in the greatest true challenge of our society-helping the ones that need the help the most. This does not just go to the victims but to the players who created the victims. If there is no learning, there is no future. If there is no future, then what? There are no easy answers, there are no easy fixes, but this involves all of us. Without things set in place to help the released Offender, most will fail. And I am not going to paint a rosy picture for anyone because it just isn’t there. Remember me, I am in charge of society’s hell and let the hell keepers be. But the system is still a failed system overall from when I was there 25 years ago. It will still remain failed until society changes and allows things to progress. Without real progression, the Texas Penal System will absorb more families than any of you understand. TDCJ absorbs not just the Offender, it absorbs his or her entire family too. Expect to be visiting a relative in a State Prison within the next twenty years. I guarantee it. The influences of gangs and so many factors are weighing heavily on all of society. It is no longer the day of do whatever you think that you can get away with. It is now judgment day.
An Offender does not turn into an invisible ghost just because you place him or her in white clothes. We could offer Offenders an early out program through truck driving activities overseas. Remember the movie, The Dirty Dozen. There are many Offenders who could and should be allowed to serve their country overseas in exchange for time served. Although incarcerated, most are proud Texans and Americans(this is the truth). Right now, I guarantee that I can take 1000 Offenders Overseas and accomplish any mission given the group. There are things that could and should be done but so few cannot get beyond the word Offender. And there is the societal chicken factor. And not to mention, society’s finger pointing rule when things don’t work out the way intended.
When will an Offender sit at your dinner table? For the most part never. But never is changing and one day, an ex-Offender may be eating at your table. One day, every family in Texas will have a family member in or out of prison. So why not keep the progression of correctiveness continuing to a point of less horrific. One of the strangest things that I know that took place was the fact that Governor Perry vetoed House Bill 3185 of the 77th Legislative Session. This bill would have held management to some level of accountability and directly pointed to reasons why Officers leave the system.
One of the worst things that a person can do is to ask why someone is inside a prison because that knowledge will change your opinion of that person. A professional Officer must remain neutral in today’s penal system in order not to prejudice against an Offender or group of Offenders. Society must get beyond putting all Offenders inside a prison just because they can. A secondary judicial system must be established to verify that all sentences are acceptable and not unbelievable. A juror is never told of the workings or the goingons inside a prison and if they knew, they would have a better understanding of what is fair and what is not fair in their sentencing of an Offender. Most sentences should be cut in half right now. That’s right and I said it. Once a person has done their time, that’s it folks-no secondary punishments should then be imposed. Are we really on a blood lust? Or are the penal systems like they are because everyone is scared? Well, are you?
Sure, there are Offenders that can stare at you and make your watch stop working and these same ones can make an Officer’s heart skip a beat too. By the same token, years of getting these stares hardens an Officer so there is no skipped beat and nothing to think of at all. But Offenders must endure these kinds of stares as well. It is a showdown stare and nothing else. Don’t ever let it mix with you at all.
Thinking much of anything in a prison is not healthy. Just being a professional and being firm and fair is the most important thing that I learned in the TDCJ Training Academy which is one of the most professionally run aspects of TDCJ today. This training academy is one of the most important improvements that I have seen now that I am back in the system. Folks, I love my job. I love being a Correctional Officer. I enjoyed the human interaction challenges of my job. At any minute, an Officer can be doing a routine shift when a riot breaks out, a suicide attempt takes place, a hospital emergency run happens, or one of many other challenging aspects. This is one of the most challenging jobs a person can do in life. It really is a calling.
One of the things that burns in my innards are trusty camps. If you trust someone to live in a trusty camp, then why don’t you trust them at home in your neighborhood? If I were Governor, I would order all individuals in all trusty camps to undergo an immediate six month pre-release program and after successful completion of that course-RELEASE THEM. Get them off the State’s Payroll of Incarcerated Costs and free up needed Correctional Officers now working at such camps.
Today, TDCJ is swimming in a sea of paperwork which helps prevent the ugly side of lawsuits. It is easier to do more paperwork than not to and get involved in an ugly event. Yesteryear, TDC was swimming in a sea of lawsuits and there was enough to go around for everyone. I even got laced down with two and they stunk to high heaven. They worried my parents to death and my father called every week about them and asked me constantly to quit my job with TDC.
Before a lawsuit was completed back then, the Offender would try to know everything that they could about you down to the size of underwear your mother wore. But I did not do anything back then that was an unsafe or an unjust act and they were put on me because of two blue bags-two one pound bags of coffee and that was all. To think that an Offender back then could tie up the courts because of 2 lbs of coffee was incredible. Today, frivolous lawsuits are not accepted. But there are times when things go amuck and a lawsuit is justified.
Now I know that you want to know how the 29 Death Row Offenders will be dealt with when they come off of Death Row. Simple. Like all the other Offenders. We are not put in a position that we can discriminate against them. But for sure, the now infamous Texas 29 will make it more interesting no matter which unit they are placed. Will they commit more crimes? I guaranteed it.
(Friendly note: Right now, $1.7 to $2.4 trillion dollars will have been spent on Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of the next five years. Will this cause a world wide super depression?)
Well, the ride is over and I hope you got your nickel’s worth. No, I didn’t care to take you through a blood feast of fights of the past or present. Instead, I hope that you will take the time to consider the extremely heartfelt hardships it is to work or live in any prison environment. Being a professional Correctional Officer is a real job with real outcomes. Everyone there are human beings, including you reading this. There are no easy clichés that keeps a person from doing wrong. There are no easy clichés that will guarantee nothing bad will happen to anyone at any prison or in society. I use prayer, but I pray for everyone there. Yes, Offenders and their families too. Until you work or live in a prison, don’t polish off your mind as a know it all, give us little voices a chance to tell our side too. For the most part, Texas has the best prison system in the nation-it is not perfect, but it is miles away from the hell days of yesteryear. There is only one thing that both Correctional Officer and Offender looks forward to in this day and time-their last day in a prison period…God Bless us all!
ELMAS MALLO is a correction officer in the Texas state prison system. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.