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Religious Liberty Issues on Texas Death Row (Update)

“I rejoice that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its creed and conscience to neither kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of one only God is reviving, and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die an Unitarian.”


Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse (June 26, 1822)


The only time that I am able to talk with guys from the other 3 pods on this building that houses Death Row is when we are out at visitation at the same time. Yesterday when I was out there I spoke with some guys from the other pods and they all expressed the same view regarding the Faith Based Sections and Programming: they have no interest in participating in the program because of the ongoing ban on all non-Christian religious services. Other guys expressed the exact same thing the last three times that I was out at visitation.


Their frustration and deep sense of disappointment was evident as they spoke of how this ingoing injustice has affected guys of other faiths on the other pods. They feel demeaned, degraded, ostracised, and discriminated against. One of the guys reminded me of a conversation he and I had over a year ago during the open application submission period for the programming… only 35 guys out of all of the (approximately) 195 guys here even tried to put in a request. Not a single muslim guy submitted an application.


I was attempting to engage him and others to sign up but he would not waver from his position that it was “pointless because it's going to end up being nothing but a Christian Indoctrination Campaign”. I mentioned the fact that all staff kept telling us (including him) that “guys of other (non-Christian) faiths will have the exact same access to all faith-specific services that Christians will have” and they are “working on the details right now”. He responded with a scoffing assertation of “that’s just game and I can’t believe you are falling for it.” I showed him the official TDCJ-CID policy that clearly states that this is required and mandated and said, “Come on man, their own policy is very clear and they know that it exists because non-Christian prisoners have won hundreds of religious liberties lawsuits and there isn't a court in this country that would allow some exclusive, discriminatory ‘Christian Indoctrination Campaign’ to operate in any prison in any state. Besides, they know that there are some good dudes here who are Muslim, Buddhist, Odinist, Jewish, Wiccan and they aren't just going to say ‘F-you’ to them, especially knowing how effective they are in helping improve the behavior of other inmates.”


Expecting another scoffing response, I was a bit caught off guard when he instead sighed sadly, slowly shook his head and said “Mman, you've always tried to see the good in people… but you should know by now how these people are. We’re talking about TDCJ, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and ….(another sigh). I wish you luck but you’ll see, you’ll see…” All said in the manner of an elder addressing a good hearted but overly-adventurous child whose gregarious and free-spirited nature habitually and unwittingly leads him into unexpected situations where solemn lessons are quickly learned through sudden realizations of misplaced faith, broken trust and a naive belief in the good intentions of others.


I half-heartedly mumbled something about intentional living and positive thoughts manifesting positive realities, but I knew further discussion would be futile when I was scolded, yet again, with a sad sigh and solemn and decisive, “you’ll see, you’ll see…” When I spoke to him yesterday at visitation and said that I indeed remember this conversation that we had over a year ago, he responded with “I told you. Now you see. Nothing has changed at all. Now you see.”


This prompted a barrage of dispirited statements and frustrated questions from the other two guys. The only decent response that I could give to the long list of issues that were raised was “I am still working on it and just everyone needs to keep trying.” For a year I have been attempting to give encouraging responses to issues raised during these types of conversations, confidently asserting that positive changes are in the works and would be coming soon. At this point what can I say? A main source of frustration is that for over a year now, on a consistent basis, prison staff, chaplaincy staff and prisoner chaplaincy coordinators have been deliberately indeterminate, willfully obfuscatory and habitually disingenuous in responding (or not responding) to all issues concerning the ongoing complete ban on all non-Christian religious programming. It’s just very sad.


For over a year now I have done nothing but very actively and enthusiastically support the Christian programming here, 100%. I have written plenty about this.


I think that the problem rests within this dynamic: there are many Christian staff members and prisoners who fully support allowing programming for other faith groups. They know that there will only be positive benefits from this, for everyone, and they feel this is the righteous, honorable and Christian thing to do. There are some other Christian staff and prisoners who are generally indifferent but agree that this is the correct course of action to take. They know that for over a year the Faith Based Programming here on Texas Death Row was operated in blatant violation of a long list of state and federal laws and very clear TDCJ-CID policy. They know that this is not sustainable and will eventually have to change. Many of these type of people will, if asked, reluctantly, admit that, yes there are positive beliefs to non-Christian Faith Based Programing.


Then, there are a small number of staff members and prisoners in positions of influence who are inhabited by radical authoritarian, ultra conservative fundamentalist right-wing Republican Christian ideology. Their perspectives and actions are guided by deep inner compulsion towards personal power and control and all things. They do not really care about improving prisoner behavior, staff safety and working conditions, reducing recidivism, preventing crimes and making society better. These are the type of people who will play a thousand manipulative games and engage in all manner of lies, deceit and duplicity in their struggle to maintain the thrilling rush of attacking, oppressing and completely banning all other religions that are not their own. These are also the type of people who will do all they can to try and keep their own colleagues and peers from doing the right thing. Although not anywhere near as prevalent as it used to be, this dynamic – and these type of people – still exist within the system and still have far too much influence.


Someone recently asked me why I am the only person – for over a year now – who has been trying to address and resolve the problematic religious liberty issues concerning Texas Death Row. I do not know the answer to this regarding people, specifically lawyers, on the outside. Attorney involvement is desperately needed and some major progress can be made simply with some phone calls and emails. Concerning here: guys either do not care or they're scared to get involved. They fear retaliation.


I will reiterate this again: I only seek to promote what is righteous, honorable, just and what will support and enhance the positive changes occurring on this unit. To provide a bit more insight into this I'm going to include below the text of two letters/I-60 requests that I wrote and sent to the TDCJ Chaplaincy Director C.F Hazlewood, Polunsky Unit Head Warden Daniel Dickerson and Polunsky Unit Head Chaplain Joaquin Gay. I sent individual copies of these letters to all three of them. There is some extremely important and highly relevant information included in these letters. Here they are:



I-60 Inmate Request to Official

Robert Will- 999402

Polunsky Unit

12-AC Faith BasedD.R



To:Chaplaincy Director- TDCJ-CID June 14th 2022

Mr C. F Hazelwood (Polunsky Head Warden Daniel Dickerson/

Polunsky Head Chaplain Joaquin Gay)

RE: Religious Liberty Issues/



Mr Hazelwood,


As always, I deeply appreciate your efforts and dedication concerning bringing about positive cultural change within the system. This benefits prisoners, staff and society as a whole. There are a number of things of importance that I would like to bring to your attention. The Chaplaincy Manual. (CM [Rev. 6] 2020) gives you wide-ranging authority to make many transformational decisions regarding programming here at the Polunsky Unit, specifically concerning the work that we're doing here on 12 Building.


N CM 02.01 states that Life Changes curriculum is the chaplaincy structure for all religious programming. CM 02.01, sec. I (pg.3) states the following regarding the curriculum:


“This program track includes seminars, programs, classes and support rooms such as Toastmasters, Seven Habits, military veteran groups and crafts that are not faith-based in their curriculum or approach.”


We respectfully request that you allow us to initiate a crafts program for those of us on the Faith Based Sections. We request that we be allowed to make “outside purchases” of art supply orders twice a month. With only a few minutes of your time and a simple IOC you can easily make this happen, and you have full authority to do so. It can be a simple process: we show the Field Ministers and or chaplain the items we want to order in our supply catalogs and write them down and I-60 for approval, then have them sent in. I will personally have ready-made art display hanging equipment sent in so we can display art along the walls of the Sections. You've seen what I can do with art – within one month I will have this side of the pod looking like an art museum.


CM 02.01 Sec VII, preapproved Chaplaincy Programs states that “The following programs have been reviewed and are approved for use in all TDCJ units. It is not necessary to send in a Program Proposal form to begin any programs in this list (Att D.)”

Attachment D. lists the following (in part):

Primary: Eastern Religion Primary Service

Neoagan primary service

Muslim primary service

Programs: Choir/ Choir practice Islamic Studies Mentoring


By November 22, 2021, all 28 participants of the Faith Based Sections – A Pod, A and B section – were moved to the sections. On this day the programming essentially began. Since then all of the above (non-Christian) programming has been zealously banned. This is in violation of TDCJ-CID policy, state and federal law. For over six months all music, services, classes, faith-based movies, all programming, has essentially been 100% Christian. All non-Christian prisoner chaplaincy coordinators and volunteers have been completely banned from the Death Row Faith Based Sections. They are not allowed to even speak to anyone in these Sections. I have personally spoken with at least 14 different Christian Faith Based coordinators right here at my door. All non-Christians have been banned. CM 02.04 clearly states:


“Faith Based Dorms.

Sec. III.F: Offenders in the FBDs shall be allowed to participate in regular chapel worship services or in services of their own chosen faith.

Sec. IV: Faith specific services and religious texts studies may be offered as electives but shall not be mandated.

Sect. V: Programming in the FBDs shall take place at least 3 days a week, with days and times to be determined by the chaplain and warden.”


As you know, my religious belief is what can be called Universalist – more than anything I honor Divine Creation, Sacred Geometry and the Sacred Mysteries of the Great Architect. TDCJ classifies this as “Neo-Pagan/Hindu” and my file has me listed as such (which has been the case for over 10 years). There is a B-side Neo-Pagan coordinator for this unit who conducts classes and services already on 8 and 7 building. I respectfully request that he be allowed to come into this section 3 times a week and that Muslim and Eastern Religions Coordinator be assigned in this capacity also.

TDCJ policy CM 12.07 (Rev &. 1-20) Att. A, Offender Volunteer Assignment Description Form lists 10 types of offender chaplaincy jobs. I respectfully request that you assign me the job of Chapel Crew Member which includes the responsibilities of the “set-up for a diversity of religious program/services”. I would essentially like to be your SSI (inmate worker) and support the mission of the chaplaincy department and work under your direction here in the Faith-Based Sections on 12 Building. I think I am uniquely qualified for this position and I will work with an unwavering and righteous dedication. Thank you for your time in this important matter and I look forward to speaking with you in person soon.


Respectfully submitted,

Rob Will


Also, I request admission into the Field Minister and or Life Coach Peer Mentor Program.


CC:C.F Hazlewood Daniel Dickerson

Joaquin Gay



 



I-60 Inmate Request to Official

Robert Will- 999402

Polunsky Unit

12-AC Faith BasedD.R



To:Chaplaincy Director- TDCJ-CID June 2022

Mr C. F Hazelwood (Polunsky Head Warden Daniel Dickerson/

Polunsky Head Chaplain Joaquin Gay)

RE: Religious Liberty Issues/

Request for Arbitration



Mr. Hazlewood/ Warden Dickerson/Chaplain Gay:


It was good to be able to speak with you in person on 06-15-22 and be able to actually hand you my letter written to you dated 06-14-2022. I have not gotten any response to this letter. I would like to respectfully request a response and bring a number of other issues to your attention.


Benjamin Franklin was the only individual to sign all three of the foundational principle documents of the new nation of the United States of America: the Declaration of Independence, the treaty with Great Britain and the U.S constitution. Like other Founding Fathers of the U.S, Benjamin Franklin was not Christian. Their religious beliefs were essentially “universalist” ( as are mine). However, they worked closely with their Christian colleagues, in unison to found this great nation. Freedom of religion is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S Constitution and a very long list of state and federal laws and TDCJ-CID policies. There have been hundreds of Religious Rights lawsuits that have resulted in rulings that all (basically) say the same thing: prison staff absolutely must give non-Christians all of the things that they give Christians. I would like to make the following request proposals (to coincide with my 06-14-22 letter):


Currently all music programming on “The Tank” Polunsky Radio Station is 100% controlled by biased Christian inmates. The Christian controlled music program Tales From The Pit broadcast from sat 10.30pm to 3am, The Christian controlled music program Smooth Grooves broadcast from Sun 10.30pm to 3am. From 3am to 6am those days there are random programs. We request the following:


  • From 3am to 6am early Sun that the NeoPagan/Odinist Coordinators be allowed to have a music program

  • From 3am to 6am early Sat that the Pagan/Wiccan coordinators be allowed to have a music program

  • From 3am to 6am early Mon morning that the Muslim coordinators be allowed a music program


Furthermore, I request that once a week I be allowed to have a full religious service with the NeoPagan coordinators on the outside rec yard (with all the amenities that Christians are allowed). And I request to be allowed to engage in religious programming 2 other times a week with Neo Pagan coordinators here on the section at my cell door. The Christians are allowed way way more than this. As you know, I fully support the Christian religious programming and participate in it in a very positive and productive way. The main guys here on TX DR who are the leaders of the Christian community are close personal friends of mine. They support these requests I am making and I support all that they do. A problem is, however, the fact that inmates on the radio programs make statements like “this is a Christian unit, so if you are not Christian, what you think and say does not matter” and I was gangbanging for the streets, now I am gangbanging for Christ” – and then they discriminate against prisoners of other faiths and act out on these fanatical statements. The current (now over 7 month) ban on all non-Christian policy-mandated programming supports and upholds and exacerbates this religious discrimination. We are simply asking that you and your colleagues do exactly as Benjamin Franklin and his Founding Father-colleagues would want you to do: honor The Constitution and follow TDCJ-CID policy, state and federal law and grant these respectful requests.


In The Spirit of Positive Culture Change

Rob Will (A-41)


CC:C.F Hazlewood Daniel Dickerson

Joaquin Gay


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