The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 43      December 1, 2014

Rally protests abuse of
inmates in Texas prisons
AUSTIN, Texas — “Our loved ones are human beings, not numbers, and should not be treated like animals,” Olga Torres, whose son is incarcerated in the Eastham Unit prison in Lovelady, told the Militant at a rally of some 300 on the steps of the Capitol here Nov. 7 to protest abusive treatment of prisoners in the state.

“We want decent medical care for all prisoners; an end to beatings, torturous heat in summer, and cold in winter; and training and education to prepare for lives outside prison,” said Yolanda Dryden, who like Torres came from Corpus Christi with the Texas Inmate Families Association.

“Buses, vans and cars came from Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Hood, Fort Worth, Houston, Killeen and San Antonio. At least 200 people in prison are fasting in solidarity today,” said Josh Gravens of Texas Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants.

Many at the rally pointed to the denial of education, housing, and jobs to former prisoners. At the same time, unpaid work is mandatory for prisoners in the state. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website, prisoners who “refuse to work lose their privileges and are placed in ‘special cell restriction,’ … remaining in the cell 24 hours a day, with no trips to the day room, commissary, or recreation yard. Meals are also eaten in the cell, and personal property is taken away.”

Most of the protesters carried handwritten signs highlighting prison conditions, such as “Texas prison heat = death sentence” and “solitary confinement is torture.”

“Since 2007, at least fourteen inmates incarcerated in various TDCJ facilities across the state of Texas have died from extreme heat exposure while imprisoned,” said a report published in April by the University of Texas Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, which characterizes state prison conditions as a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution barring cruel and unusual punishment, and a violation of international human rights standards.

One rally participant, who asked that her name not be disclosed for fear of retaliation against her imprisoned son, said that he regularly sleeps on the floor in the summer because of the extreme heat and is forced to shower in cold water during frigid winters.

“If you’re labeled a gang member, you get administrative segregation,” said Louise Elzner. “My son spent 10 and a half years in ad seg., which has the same cells and conditions as solitary — 24-hour lockup, except one hour in a room with a chin-up bar and you go anywhere else in shackles with two guards. But solitary is for infractions and the maximum is 30 days.”

“I want them to end or reduce ad seg. My husband is wasting away. I thank God he still has his mind, probably because he wants to better himself,” said Emily Hanebuth of Houston.

“The rally was the best idea we’ve had in a long time,” David Collingsworth, chair of the Texas Inmate Families Association in Houston at a meeting of the group a few days after the rally. “We feel we’re not alone.”

Deborah Liatos contributed to this article.  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home