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  • Rob Will

Changing Prison Condition From The Outside

“We realize that the fascist regime that operates the prisons throughout America would like to do their treachery in the dark. But if we get the relatives, parents and friends in the prisons they can expose the treachery of the fascists. This too is a survival program.”

Huey P. Newton, from a speech delivered at Boston College, 1970

You have the power to create. Do you realize that you have the power to create positive change within one of the most absolute most oppressive environments in the modern Western World? Yes you do. One this system fears more than anything is outside scrutiny, it does indeed like to commit its treachery in veiled secrecy. If the general public really understands the manner in which this system functions they would be outraged and wouldn’t support it. Even political people and right-wing types want generally support such things as the execution of a severely mentally retarded prisoner who has never ever even actually committed murder  (like the recent execution of Michael Hall) or the beating to death of a blind mentally ill prisoner by prison guards (as reported in February 2011 in Prison Legal News). Of course, political people, people who feel compelled to change any and all injustice are concerned with all forms of oppression regardless of how great or small.

I’m doing my daily strength training, but I wanted to scribe out a few thoughts on how can change prison conditions from the outside—specifically concerning Texas Death Row- and try to get this out before mail call. People on the outside who want to help just really don’t understand this system and know how to get this done effectively. My experience has showed me that it’s very hard for people to understand this environment especially people in Europe. How can something so unfathomable and macabre be properly understood? Let me try to clarify some common misconceptions and offer some insight. Also, it should be noted that the vast majority of guys here aren’t really capable of helping outside supporters address issues or capable of doing so themselves.

First of all, let me reiterate this: you do have power. I’m a stalwart empiricist, a dedicated rationalist—this is a very true statement. I’ve seen it proven many, many times. One example when I was engaged in a particular intense direct action campaign one officer –a ranking officer was being exceedingly oppressive. A guy on the outside who was from Canada but living and teaching in South Korea, wrote a letter about this to several administrative bodies, including the Office of Inspector General (the T.D.C. “police”). O. I. G. can bring actual criminal charges against T.D.C staff members so they are regarded with fear amongst officers and even ranking staff. An O.I.G. official spoke to me and this not only quickly ended the oppression of the one ranking officer but also changed the attitudes of all the others. A single letter sent from South Korea did this.

Here are some important things to keep in mind:

All TCDJ policy is based on actual law. The officials know this even though they like to pretend they can do whatever they want with impunity- they present this façade as a deferent. These are stacks and stacks and stacks of policies. Let me give a quick example:

OK Administrative Directive (A.D.) 372 is the “offender property” directive, 41 pages of rules regarding everything concerning prisoner’s property. On the front page of the policy the laws that forced TDC to make written policies (because of past prisoners lawsuits and resistance) are listed

AUTHORITY: Sections 493-006 (b), 494.002 (a) 500.002, 500.006, 501-007, 500-008, 500-013. 500.014(a) and 500.016 Texas Government Code…References: American Association (ACA) Standards 4-4037, 4-4164, 4-4184, 4-4294, 4-4339, 4-43424, 4-4446, 4-4494.'

Now, because of the Ruiz lawsuit the Federal Courts had oversight over TDC operations essentially acting as the supervisory entity ensuring policy was being properly enforced. Seven years back when the Ruiz lawsuit finally ended –as part of the settlement agreement- TDC agreed to allow N.G.O. (Non-governmental Organizations) oversight and inspection. This is done by A.C.A., which is really nothing more than a national dummy organization staffed by ultra right-wing prisoncrats. They do inspect TDC facilities but it’s really a farce, although, I think putting pressure on the A.C.A. might be an effective tactic. There are some policies already on the DRIVE site under the Drive Resources Section and we are working on getting many more up. It’s good to know policy when addressing issues.

But you can present moral or rational arguments but remember you will be dealing with irrational and morally corrupt individuals. They don’t care about human rights and have absolutely no compassion or capacity of empathy. Rationalism doesn’t work. For example, if an officer is committing oppressive acts you can say “I have been informed that office ‘Y’ has been doing ‘this’ and several inmates have been pushed to the point where they’ve been getting gassed behind officer ‘Y’s’ unjust actions. It doesn’t make any sense to allow problems for inmates and staff”. But is also good to add something like “I have been informed that officer ‘Y’ has been doing ‘this’ and these actions are in direct violation of TDCJ policy, state and federal law and ACA standards. I would like to respectfully request that you address these concerns and rectify the situation. Thank you for your time in this important matter”.

Always be cordial and, no, TDCJ staff won’t be antagonistic or hostile. They are trained to be as nice as possible to the public and they almost always are.

By law they only have to officially respond to actual snail-mail letters and keep records of the complaints. Most officials will respond to phone calls and emails, however, but in many cases an actual physical letter is absolutely necessary I’d recommend faxes, calls, letters and emails.

If you are a member of a group with some standing in society mention that. For example, if you are a member of Amnesty International, an international organization that campaigns against human rights violations including harsh, prison conditions. “I am contacting you concerning…” or write as “…a concerned member of the [name] Church or whatever”.

It is absolutely essential to use specifics (days, times, dates, names). Have all of this prepared beforehand and ready for when you call, fax, email, send a letter or speak with someone in prison.

Addressing a problem is of course excellent but also remember to ask why this was allowed to happen and what will be done to keep it from happening again. For example, if an officer has engaged in misconduct, address what happened using specifics and ask what will be done to prevent this from happening again in the future. A list of the contact information for TDCJ officials and staff members is up on the DRIVE site (or should be up soon) and the information can be fund online. The Ombudsman’s office handles many complaints and issues but is also extremely good for us many people as possible contact as many relevant staff members as possible.

DO NOT GIVE UP. I cannot stress this enough. TDCJ staff is trained to try to dissuade a person at first. For example, if you call the wardens office to address an issue they may say “he is not available” hoping you’ll say “alright” and never call back. Don’t be discouraged call back later and if the warden ‘isn’t available’ again then ask his secretary to take a message; explain the issue to her and reschedule a time to call back. Keep doing this if necessary, repetition is very important and do not be dissuaded if the first response you receive is nonsense.

Huey P. Newton understood the depth of the awesome power of outside support so very well that he linked it to a survival program. Outside support, active solidarity from the outside does work and I cannot stress this enough. And with us engaging in direct actions and other forms of action in here we can achieve much. It has already been happening. Since we have been protesting we’ve been assaulted with riot control weapons, beaten, had our property taken, visitation privileges cut and they’ve been using every tactic available to attempt to break us. We haven’t stopped protesting and we will not stop protesting. I have cuts and bruises on my arms, shoulders and hands from engaging in yesterday’s demonstration. My respiratory system still hasn’t recovered from me being assaulted with a CS Crowd Control Team gas grenade on Wednesday. My body is still extremely sore where I was assaulted with 9 projectile rounds from the OC Crowd dispersant assault rifle the same day.

We are more than willing to suffer for what we believe in, to suffer fighting against oppression. We stand and live in the tradition of the Satyagraha movement that liberated India from imperialist oppression, in the tradition of the US civil rights movement but our efforts on the inside can only go so for without outside support. We need your solidarity. The time to act is now. Please stand with us and get involved. Stand with us in Solidarity and help us fight the injustices of this system. And remember that you do possess the power to make change happen.

From the depths of the Texas Gulag, with love and solidarity,

Rob Will

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