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Wynne Unit, Huntsville, Texas

20 years in solitary / ad seg



May 22, 2023


Photography by TEXAS LETTERS​​

    Why on Earth would anyone want to return to solitary confinement? Especially someone who spent nearly 21 years trying to get out of solitary confinement?


    It's not that I "want" to return to solitary confinement; I would actually prefer not to return to solitary if I actually had better options.  The problem is; I don't have better options or opportunities and solitary would be preferrable to my current circumstances.


    In previous letters I described how TDCJ's asinine SPD Codz policy and officials’ indifference to its effects or fixing it, or even simply adhering to it, resulted in my two decades of solitary confinement as a ''gang member" simply because I was not eligible for the GRAD Program due to SPD Codes which restrict me from the G2/minimum custody status required for Phase-3 of the program...even though I was on minimum custody prior to solitary and after the incident resulting in the SPD Codes occurred.


    In January 2022, as part of our 14-day hunger strike, TDCJ officials finally agreed to fix the GRAD/SPD Code conflict.  It resulted in approximately 30 other inmates finally having an opportunity to be released from solitary.  (Several of them arrived at the program in classes after mine; one guy had been in solitary for 37 years and had accepted that that was where he would spend the remainder of his life.)


    In the immediate aftermath of that hunger strike, when we had the attention of officials, when these officials expressed their objective of institutional culture change, a willingness to be more receptive to solving problems and listening to inmates' problems a bit more, I was cautiously optimistic {a significant leap of faith for me)that things were finally starting to change. much for that.


    When I arrived at Ellis unit for the GRAD program, I asked unit officials about my SPD Codes and if, or how, they would affect my participation in Phase-3, and if any determination had been made to remove these SPD Codes? “Oh, we'll resolve that before you get to Phase-3.  for now, just focus on Phase~1."


    Fine.  I passed through Phase-1.  Toward the end of Phase-2 I reminded the program director about it.  "We will deal with that , just focus on finishing the program." 


    During the last week of classes on Phase-2 they gave us a list of all the educational and vocational programs available in TDCJ.  I asked if my SPD Codes would affect my ability to get an education and they told me that I could receive a special exception from State Classification.  I applied for the recently added Master's in Sociology and Behavioral Therapy, or as an alternative, the Associate's for Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor.  Just in case I wasn't accepted into those, my backup plan was to apply for vocational training in diesel mechanics, welding, industrial design, or automotive repair.


    Days before my class was due to be promoted to Phase-3, I was in the commissary line when people started telling me that the GRAD sergeant was looking for me.  I just knew it had to be bad news.  Sergeant McCullough found me, "I'm looking for an artist and everyone says:you're the best on the unit.  I need someone to paint murals on the GRADwings and classrooms."


    Uhhhh...ok.  Cool. Looks like I'll have a decent job on the unit artist crew doing something productive that I enjoy when I get to Phase-3 next week.  Maybe things are going to work out?


    At Unit Classification Committee, when we were promoted to Phase-3, one of the GRADofficers accompanied me into the hearing to request that I receive a job on the unit artist crew.  Meanwhile, the Major conducting the hearing was reading something on her computer with raised eyebrows and an expression of dismay.  I already knew what it was.


    "It's the SPD Codes, isn't it?"

    “Yes, " she nodded.


    Before she could go further I began pleading my case:  It was 24 years ago, I was 18 years old, I haven't had any serious incidents since then, I spent 20 years in solitary because of it, I haven't had a disciplinary case in almost 7 years, I'm 5 years from parole eligibility and all I want to do is get an education and go home. They told me they were going to fix this SPD code problem. The policy says it's supposed to be removed or downgraded after ten years.  The policy says decisions are to be made based on our entire record, not just that one event.


    As I pled my case, the major sat there slowly shaking her head.  When I was finished, she said, "I'm sorry.  If it was up to me I would give you any job and any housing assignment on the unit.  But I can't. Policy says you must be assigned to G4 custody."


    I muttered my frustration, "You've got to be kidding me."

    "Don't give up.  You're one step closer to where you want to be."


    Back on the wing,  my 15 classmates were anxious and excited, talking about what job and housing assignemnt they received.  They asked where I was going and why did I look so pissed off?  I told them.  All were in disbelief.


    When the move slips arrived, the GRAD officer handed mine over with an apology, "I'm sorry. This is really messed up.  I can't believe they're doing this to you.”


    Multiple GRADgroups are staggered so that there are 3 or 4 groups on the wing together.  Other SPD coded inmates who arrived in groups after mine were in disbelief, confused and angry.  In the following weeks they all continued to question the GRAD program director about it.  I questioned him about it.  His response was, "Just finish Phase-3 and we'll get it fixed."


    I knew that was a lie, just based on personal past experience when he was an assistant warden while I was at Estelle High Security (aka: Super Seg); he has always been good at feeding inmates aline of bullshit to string them along until he can push the problem onto someone else--the typical example of "leadership" in TDCJ, where problematic CID/Security administrators can retire then return under the Rehab Programs Division in a "new role" with the same mentality, but call it "culture change.”  Hooray for culture change!




  TDCJ, like most prisons, has a tiered classification system based on an immate's behavior, crime, criminal history, sentence length, and other factors.  In TDCJ, G1 is outside trustys who need little or no direct supervision;  these are people with short sentences for non-violent offenses.


    Custody level G2 is the avergae, well-behaved minimum custody inmate with a slave-labor job to earn work-time credit on their sentence and to procduce a profit for TDCJ and Texas Correctional Industries. They have access to educational, vocational, and rehabilitation programs; all day out-of-cell time (dayrooms and outside recreation); privileges such as e-comm/care packages sent by loved ones, and media content on jpay tablets (movies, tv shows, games, etc. for purchase).  G3 is basically the same as G2, except with a few restrictions on what jobs they are allowed to have and increased security or supervision because G3 inmates are serving life-without-parole or certain sexual predators serving sentences without parole.  G3 is also for anyone just starting sentences of 50 years or more who haven't served at least ten years, then they are eligible for G2.


    Then there is G4, what used to be called "medium custody." It is the most dysfunctional, chaotic, toxic, violent custody level in any TDCJ facility. It is full of people who are chronic disciplinary problems but haven't yet done anything violent enough (or been caught at it) to be placed into long-term solitary...err, I mean administrative segrega...err, I mean, (*enthusiastic voice of culture change*) "to become a contented resident of Restrictive Housing!" They are just sneaky enough to avoid getting caught at enough serious misbehavior to be sent to G5/Close Custody. (G5 is tightly controlled.  It's almost like solitary except with a cellmate but with fewer privileges.  And after 6 months they get promoted back to G4.)  Consider that prison is where fuckups go; now imagine a wing where all the worst fuckups among fuckups in prison end up...yeah....Now consider that they are denied access to all programs or education or rehab and have nothing to occupy their time.  Yeah.  That sounds like a wonderful idea!  And TDCJ has been doing that for decades.  Because... well...hooray for culture change!


    G4 is prohibited from education and vocational training and nearly all rehab programs (the only one available is a 6 week "Life skills" program).  They do not have jobs (thus, not allowed to earn work time credits).  No ecomm/care-packages even for the ones who behave.  No media content on tabléts.  We are lucky to receive a couple hours of outside recreation every week or two, adn although we are supposed to receive two hours of dayroom time per day, they often cancel that with the excuse of "staff shortage."  When the doors do open for meals or pill-window (to receive medications because, well, no surprise that many of these guys are on psych meds), it turns into a chaotic madhouse of officers chasing, cajoling, threatening, and playing hide-and-seek looking for inmates and trying to get everyone back into their cells.


    Officers are so frustrated and burned out and overworked that they don't even bother writing disciplinary reports because most of these inmates don't care about that; they are already maxed out on restrictions.  The result of that is that we are constantly on "23:59 lockdown,” i.e., 23 hours and 59 minutes, because after 24 hours the unit needs approval from the regional director's office to continue it.  So, to conceal the problems from upper-level administration, we do 23:59 on lockdown, get a couple meals, then start another 23:59.  We go three or four days without showers or out-of-cell time.


    THAT is the environment I was assigned to after more than 20 years in solitary; after helping obtain positive changes and opportunities for others; after completing their highly touted GRAD Program; after decades of good behavior...all because I escaped from a county jail 25 years ago as a teenager?  Because the same old cultural mentality of perpetual punishment remains in TDCJ: when all you have is a hammer, and the only tool you select is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.  The same old institutional culture of ignoring or concealing problems, of refusing to even admit that a problem exists, or refusing to do anything that might jeopardize their next promotion if they try to fix a problem at the ire of their superiors.


    Ponder this: Under TDCJ's Classification guidelines, someone can be released from prison today, become a serial sexual predator and rape a dozen children then kill a police officer during arrest; but when they arrive in TDCJ they are classified as a G3 inmate with the same privileges as minimum custody.  But, under the SPD code policy, someone who escaped from jail or assaulted a guard decades ago, with decades of good behavior since then, is indefinitely punished and restricted to the punitive confinement G4 and prohibited from rehabilitation or educational programs.


    Yeah....that makes complete sense.  Completely rational.  And the fact that I am making this argument, they are more likely to place more restrictions on G3 rather than fix the SPD Code policy. Hooray for culture change!




    So, on October 10, 2022, while the rest of my GRAD classmates went to the relatively civilized and structured environment of G2, I went to the dysfunctional and chaotic madhouse of readjust to being around people again after two decades in solitary confinement.  Because...yeah, that sounds like a wonderful recipe for successful resocialization and reintegration.  Whoever thought of that idea deserves a promotion!


    While my classmates passed by in the hallway on their way to Phase-3 programs, I watched from the windows of G4...because I was now no longer eligible for any of those programs due to assignment to G4.  Because...well..yeah, ok.  Sure, that makes sense.  One day you're eligible for programs, the next day you aren't.  No, you didn't do anything, we're just a bunch of lazy idiots who are incapable of acting rationally or fixing a problem even when it is staring us in the face.  Are they really that dumb?  That spineless?  Or simply just that brainwashed into the intitutional culture of irrational idiocy in pursuit of absolute authority and punishment?


    Once I was on G4, it was extremely difficult--to say the least--to adjust to being around people again.  Phase-1 GRAD is essentially the same as solitary except there is a TV in the cell that comes on a few hours a day to watch program-related videos and you're allowed to go to the dayroom with one other person in the same cage with you.  Phase-2 of GRAD has its own wing and everyone is coming out of seg or returning to TDCJ on new sentences and trying to avoid returning to seg.  We're all trying to adjust and nearly everyone is "old school," with old school codes of conduct and respect from the days when disrespect had serious and immediate consequences.  Something as seemingly insignificant as stepping on someone's shoes or bumping into them without saying "excuse me" was enough to get your head split open. For the most part, Phase-2 is an easy adjustment because almost everyone is respectful, courteous, and has a lot to lose if they fail.  Nobody wants to return to the box. The difference between moving from Phase-2 GRADto Phase-3 on G4 is the equivalent of moving from the suburbs of Topeka, Kansas to South Central Los Angeles circa 1988 at the apex of gang and crack-epidemic violence...except in here it is ''paper crack." (Various unknown chemicals sprayed on paper that is mailed in then smoked.)


    It took weeks before I could tolerate the dayroom for more than an hour or two without feeling mentally and physically exhausted from the stress of constant hyper-vigilance and sensory overload.  Every little annoyance began to pile up: people bumping into me without apology, stepping on my shoes, a filthy dopefiend cellmate, officers yelling and cussing at everyone, and a whole host of other annoyances.  I was on the verge of exploding on someone until a guy I made friends with explained that this was not the same prison I remembered; the culture has changed.  Now, inmates are so oblivious {or strung out on psych meds or papercrack) that they don't even realize what they are doing, that they are being disrespectful, and if you do anything to them then you are getting slam dunked to G5 or back to seg.  It's not worth it...but I'm beginning to wonder if maybe it is worth it to return to seg?  Yeah...hooray for culture change.


    A week or so after moving to G4 I received denial forms from the Rehab and Programs Division informing me that I am not eligible for any of the college or vocational programs I applied for:  due to custody level restrictions.  So much for that "special exception from State Classification.”  Then again, TDCJ has always been adept at feeding inmates lies and false hope.  Hooray for culture change.


    I met approximately a dozen other inmates stuck on G4 due to SPD Codes that made no sense or should have been removed years ago according to policy.  Some didn't even know a policy existed or what it said or had never even received a review hearing for it.  Brent assaulted a guard 16 years ago after the guard was cussing at him and spit in his face.  By policy his SPD Code should have expired after ten years.  Now, he is a few months away from release with no education, no job skills, no rehabilitation, and no idea what he is going to do.  Adan assaulted a guard in a juvenile facility when he was 15 years old.  He discharged that sentence, returned 5 years later at 31 years old with a 4 year sentence for drug possession...and the SPD codes were resumed: straight to G4.  Ernesto walked away from a trusty camp at a prison in North Dakota years ago, discharged that sentence and moved to Texas for work.  He has a 2 year sentence for drug possession.  Upon entering TDCJ he was assigned an SPD code and sent to G4.  When he was granted parole and required to attend a parole-voted mandatory pre-release program, the assistant warden at Ellis unit said, "I don't care about your parole.  I'm not lifting your SPD code.  You're not going to that program."  So, instead of spending holidays with his family, Ernesto spent the holidays in prison, on G4.


    Wow...I had no idea that a warden, or assistant warden, has the authority to override the Parole Board?! turns out, that after a little research, THEY DON'T!  Texas Government Code §493.026 states that "the department may not prohibit a parole panel from requiring an inmate to participate in and complete a treatment program operated by the department before the inmate is released on parole."  Soooo...apparently, either TDCJ officials don't know the law or they don't care about the law.  But, hey, what else is new?  TDCJ has a long sordid history of ignoring laws or trampling even the basic limited rights of inmates.  Culture change?  yeah.. rah-rah.  Whatever.


    Not being one to simply accept it and do nothing, but still foolishly clinging to faint-but-fading optimism (or maybe just stubborn defiance?), I helped others write grievances to challenge the problem.  Of course, the TDCJ inmate grievance system is a ridiculous, hollow charade but it is a perfunctory formality we must exhaust.  I wrote and organized a petition to executive level officials clearly explaining the problem.  I included the SPD Code problem in a GRAD Program evaluation that STGMO officials requested me to write as a way to suggest improvements to the program for other inmates.  Nada.


    The constant questioning by my classmates, other classes, and other SPD inmates in GRAD--some of whom threatened to quit the program and return to seg rather than go to G4--prompted the unit GRAD program director to call his boss and tell her that I was instigating problems.


    "Instigating problems?"  yeah...because that's the way TDCJ has ALWAYS been: identifying a problem and trying to get it resolved by proposing rational solutions is their definition of "instigating problems."  In the distorted logic of any authoritarian regime; If we say there are no problems, then there are no problems; and if you say there are problems,  then YOU are the problem and you must be silenced! Da, Komrade! 


Culture change? hmmm...can someone please find my party kazoo? It's the one with a hole in it so it sounds kinda sad and the streamer needs a dose of the little blue pill. but, hooray for culture change!


    To be fair, not every officail in TDCJ pretends (?) to be an idiot in search of a village.  Some of them actually do have a brain that works and want to solve problems.  The problem with that is that they are outnumbered or outranked by the ones who refuse to acknowledge that problems even exist, or that there may be better ways of dealing with those problems.


So, the unit GRAD program director called his boss at the STG Management Office, Eva Shiver, who in turn called her boss, STG Programs director Christina Hinojosa, whom I've had two previous conversations with and who strikes me as one of the rare TDCJ officials who actually wants to not only identify problems, but find rational or even unorthodox solutions to those problems.  Her reaction was, " I know this guy, he doesn't want to create problems, he wants to solve problems."


    They arrived at the unit to meet with me and three other SPD inmates still on Phase-2, and the unit GRADprogram director to discuss the SPD problem and other GRAD issues.  During the meeting, Ms. Shiver said, ''yeah, now that I've met you, I see that you aren't trying to cause problems, you're trying to help solve problems." They promised to help get it fixed.


    The following day, the unit GRAD director pulled me into a meeting with everyone's boss: Rehab Programs Division Director Carter...who also happened to be the senior warden when I was at Estelle High Security at the same time that the unit GRADdirector had been the assistant warden there before he "retired."  Great to see that the good ol' boy network of TDCJ is still going strong and taking care of their own.  (Can I get a round-of-applause for culture change?  Please?  Even if it's just a sarcastic slow-clap with an exaggerated eyeroll? much better...)  Director Carter acknowledged the problem and that it needs to be fixed, possibly with a special SPD Step-down Program similar to GRAD or the Cognitive Intervention Transition Program. know, something they can get funding for?  Because it's not like prisons are a state-run business or anything???


    That was October 2022.  And sure, bureaucracy moves slow.  But it's not like the third or fourth highest ranking officials in TDCJ can just pick up a phone and call someone and say, “hey, can you take a look at this and maybe fix it within the existing policy?" Nawww...that would require too much thought and initiative.


    For the next two months I pestered the unit GRAD director about it.  His response was that they were working on it and would fix it after I graduated the program.  To be fair, he didn't specify how long after I, technically, it's not like he was really lying to me.  Was it?  But again, I knew he was full of more bullshit than the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.  I considered quitting the program a few days before graduation and returning to seg/solitary in protest.  But, what would that solve?  I figured I should at least keep trying to change it so others don't have to slog through the same shit.  So, I played along and began pestering the unit warden about it at every opportunity.  She promised to look into it, just finish phase-3 and they will fix it after I graduate....yea, you mean after I complete the program and contribute to the positive statistics necessary to continue funding the program?  ohhh, sorry.  Does that sound too cynical for a happy resident witnessing TDCJ's "culture change?"  hooray for...whatever the fuck this is.


    My GRADclass had its graduation ceremony on December 17...and I remained on G4. The inmate Grievance forms the SPD guys filed were either returned unprocessed as not a girevable issue" or some other asinine or irrelevant excuse.  Our petitions and letters to officials went unanswered.  So, basically, officials did what they've always done: give inmates the runaround, make empty promises, and string us along until they can push the problem onto someone else to repeat the process.  YEAH! Hooray for culture change!  heyyy...why do all the pointy party hats have D-U-N-C-E scrawled on them?


   Everyone looked at me, as if I'm some sort of leader or something?  "Now what do we do?"


    Well, from past experience it seems like the only thing that gets their attention or accomplishes anything is a hunger strike.  So, on January 2, six of us started a hunger strike.  A few of the SPD guys are elderly and have health problems that prevented their participation (but, yeah, they are still a serious security threat?). A few wouldn't even try.  And it's difficult to convince any other G4's to join or expect them to possess the willpower or self-discipline to endure a hunger strike because., hell-loooo, "discipline problems” are why they are on G4! Even though one of our demands was access to rehab and educational programs for ALL of G4, not just SPD inmates, as long as basic criteria were met.  (And I'm still wondering how someone who wants access to education is a security risk?)


    On the first day of our hunger strike a captain spoke with us to ask why we were on hunger strike and what we hoped to accomplish. if none of us had ever filed a grievance, written letters or petitions, or spoken with officials and they were all completely blindsided by this temper tantrum.  At least he was polite about it.


    The next day it was both majors and an assistant warden.  They weren't as polite. The one most visibly irritated and argumentative was the same major who pretended to be so apologetic when she assigned me to G4 ("I would give you any job or housing assignment on the unit if I could...").  But,--no surprise--it's not the first time I've been lied to by someone in a TDCJ uniform.  At this point I'm convinced that "effective lying skills" is a job requirement in TDCJ.  Nor is it the first time that I've had an official glare at me with undisguised fury and contempt; only now I thoroughly enjoy it.




    oh, really? asks the defiant little imp between my ears before I begin explaining how wrong she is.  "What is the proper way to solve our problems?  Because there are only three options for prisoners:


    "One; grievances, letters, and petitions to officials.  We tried that and it failed.  All you do is ignore us.


    "Two;  we create disturbances by refusing to leave the chowhall, sitting down in the hallways, refusing to rack up, which requires pepperspray and use-of-force, or we assault your officers, and we end up with disciplinary cases and it justifies any punishment you inflict upon us.  So, realistically, that is not a viable option.


    "Three; a hunger strike.  Because TDCJ refuses to address a problem until it becomes a crisis and they are forced to deal with the problem.  A hunger strike creates the crisis that forces you to address the problem and it is nonviolent and protected under the First Amendment so you can't punish us for it."


    They have no rebuttal for a well-reasoned argument such as that.  They proceed to accuse me of being the ''ringleader,' as if that means anything?  Then they ask why we are doing this and what we hope to accomplish. As if they don't know the problem? As if we've never filed a grievance, wrote to them, or spoken with them about it? Either they are pretending to be incompetent idiots, or they truly are incompetent idiots.  There is no other logical explanation.


    The next day we met with the senior warden, Angela Chevalier.  At least she doesn't pretend to be an idiot, nor is she incompetent.  She had each of us write down our grievances and objectives, said that recommendations would be made to remove SPD codes for those who were eligible, and expand access to education and rehab programs for G4.  As a warden, that is all she has the authority to do.  It is enough to convince a few others to end their hunger strike (she also resolved a few other minor individual issues for them).  I politely thanked her for what she was able to do but informed her that I would remain on hunger strike until I spoke with someone who had the authority to fix the policy because this isn't just a problem on one unit, it is systemwide and it affects everyone with SPD codes.  She also understands and acknowledges it is my right to continue if I choose.  I continued with two others, Joel and David.  Three days later I was transferred to Wynne Unit.  I suppose I was lucky that I went straight to Wynne Unit.  David was transferred the next day, before completing Phase-3 or graduating, and went to three different units over the next 3 months before landing here at Wynne.

    Upon arrival at Wynne I was placed into a lockup/transit cell directly in front of a surveillance camera with an empty cell on either side.  I assumed that wasn't a coincidence.  That assumption was confirmed a few hours later when both assistant wardens arrived at my door to play their assigned idiot-kabuki roles of “Why are you doing this? What do you hope to accomplish?  How long do you intend to do this?... well, you'll remain right here under observation until you end it.”


    The following morning I was taken to Unit Classification for annual SPD code review.  I told them that warden Chevalier at Ellis unit said a recommendation was already made for removal.  They informed me that whatever happened at Ellis unit doesn't matter because this is Wynne Unit and no recommendation exists in the computer. The major asked if I had anything to say.  I made my usual plea and quoted the SPD policy.  Her response was that I haven't accomplished anything and that I needed to take more faith-based programs in order for her to make a recommendation to remove my SPD codes.


    Huh? What does faith based programs have to do with an SPD code?  That isn't even among the criteria for removal.  (Actually, there is no criteria for removal, which officials interpret to mean that hey can apply any criteria they wish, including "I don';t think it has been long enough,” "You sure got a smart-ass mouth," [no?! really?!] and "I don't like your tattoos.")  And, since when are officials allowed to REQUIRE faith-based participation?  Uhhh, haven't they ever heard of the First Amendment?  And as an atheist, why would you want me to fake my way through faith-based programs anyway?  let me get this straight, you want me to lie to you in order to gain your trust?  WTF?!  What a perfect example of TDCJ institutional logic!


    How does one change an institutional culture of irrational idiocy when it is still comprised of irrational idiots who make irrationally idiotic decisions?  Would anyone like to take a guess what the outcome of that SPD review hearing was?  Hint: I'm still on G4.


    for the next few days, nurses, officers, and supervisors tried to persuade me with stories about how 'it's different here," "you'll be allowed to go to school or vocation," "there are programs on G4," "there's a Life-Coach on G4 named Curtis Gambill and they just recommended him for G2..."  Meanwhile, I wasn't allowed to go to the dayroom to use the phone (one officer screwed up once and let me into the dayroom with the rest of the G4's in transit), and all of my outgoing mail was suspiciuously delayed or disappeared.  It still amazes me how much effort they would rather expend silencing or concealing a problem than to simply solve the problem!


    Isolated and unable to communicate with anyone (except for one visit they could not deny), I decided to end the hunger straike after 13 days and play along with this charade again here and keep trying.  While waiting for a cell to open on the G4 wing, I spoke with the senior warden, explained my situation and recent events.  He promised to "look into it" (standard promise from administration, then you never receive a respnse or results).  He also said to write to him: and he would review my file to see if I could be approved for college or vocational programs on G4.


    In theory, TDCJ policy grants wardens the authority to approve some inmates on G4 to access education or vocational programs.  like...oh...I don't know,  SPD inmates with a clear disciplinary history?  But, in reality, this rarely ever happens because... well...who the hell knows?  I wrote to him to request education but received no response.  I wrote to the education department and (surprise!) received no response. I wrote the warden again, one brief paragraph, to simply ask what is the criteria for me to access college or vocational programs?  And, *astonished gasp!*, actually received a response!  Nah, just kidding.  I was ignored again.  What? Did you really expect anything different from this institutional culture change?


    As soon as I was on G4 I introduced myself to Curt and shared my experience with him which turns out to be eerily similar to his.   He spent over a decade in solitary before a warden pulled some strings and obtained a special waiver for him to attend GRAD by temporarily suspending his SPD Codes...after an extended hunger strike.  (Whaaaaaat?  You mean, TDCJ administration was aware of this issue for nearly a decade before finally changing the policy in 2022?  I'm shocked!--not really) But, unlike me, Curt was promoted to G2 for Phase-3 of GRAD, then was transferred to Wynne where his SPD codes were reapplied and he was assigned to G4.  He has been on G4 for 8 years without a disciplinary case fighting the SPD code policy.


    Under a previous warden,  Kelly Strong,  G4 spent roughly 6-to-8 months a year on disciplinary lockdown until a mass hunger strike initiated an internal investigation that got rid of her and her administration.  Well, not exactly correct. you see, when TDCJ "rids” a unit of abusive or corrupt administration, they don't rid the system of those officials by firing them, they simply transfer them to another facility because...well, that's how TDCJ defines institutional culture change!  Case-in-point, when I arrived at Ellis, Kelly Strong was the senior warden there.  The unit was so corrupt and dysfunctional that she was replaced with warden Chevalier in an attempt to clean up the unit and restore some degree of order.


    Curt explained how Kelly Strong was replaced by Rocky Moore.  Under warden Moore, they decided to give just one SPD inmate (Curt) an opportunity to earn a GED. He was valedictorian not just for the unit, but the entire Region-1 (more than a dozen prisons).  He did so well that they decided to give another G4 SPD inmate a chance and, guess what, he was also valedictorian.  Wow.  Imagine that.  When someone is finally given an opportunity for self-improvement that they have worked so hard to earn, they make the most of that opportunity.  But,  that is entirely too rational and complex for the institutional culture of TDCJ to comprehend.


    A few years ago, as part of their "institutional culture change”, the Rehabilitaion Programs Division thought it might be a good idea to train inmates to be peer educators and mentors because...well...l'm just a cynical bastard after 25 years in TDCJ, so it appears to me that since TDCJ can't find enough sane, rational people to come work for TDCJ, they are providing six weeks of "Life Coach Training'' to use inmates as social workers to do grief counseling, suicide prevention (surprise, surprise, suicide is still a worsening problem in TDCJ), mental wellness checks on high-risk inmates (because the TDCJ Psych Department is..umm..don't even want to get into that right now), teaching rehab programs, and other things that trained professionals should be doing but TDCJ is too cheap and dysfunctional to afford. They also use Life Coaches as janitors, painters, and any other menial tasks they need inmates to do.  Basically, TDCJ can't find enough trained professionals to do these jobs, so they convicne inmates to do it for free (often by manipulating their sincere spiritual convictions), as a way to prop up a teetering behemoth on the verge of collapse.  Because...well...if they can convince inmates to participate in the perpetuation of the institutional culture, maybe TDCJ won't actually need to make truly substantive reforms, release more inmates who don't belong here, or...oh, I don't know,..try some substantive institutional culture change instead of just repeating it as the new propaganda...err, I mean, public policy statement.  Or, maybe it’s just that my experience in TDCJ has led me to be too cynical and skeptical of anything they say or do?


    Somehow, enough people were convinced to sneak Curt into the Life Coach Program a couple years ago.  Shortly after he was certified and approved to be a Life Coach, certain officials who did that retired or moved on; including Warden Moore and the creator of the Life Coach Program, Toby Powell.  The current warden put a stop to all that.  No more education for G4, not even GED.  No more programs.  No more G4's into the Life Coach Program. they are stuck with this glaring contradiction traipsing through their hallways, this ambulatory example of how ridiculous and irrational their SPD code policy is.  You see, Curtis Gambill is the ONLY G4 Life Coach in TDCJ.  He believes in what he is doing.  He has a sincere desire to help others.  And, most importantly, he is good at it.  So good at it that whenever officials need a Life Coach to deal with a crisis at any hour, or to meet with outside representatives; he's the one they call.  He can go almost anywhere on the unit at almost any time, to help others...and they can't really do anything about it.  But, under the current SPD code policy, and current unit administration, he is still restricted to G4, still denied all privileges, and still denied access to college, vocational training, or rehab programs to help himself.  Because.. .well.. because... THAT'S WHAT THE POLICY SAYS DAMMIT!!! AND WE'RE IN CHARGE AND WE'RE NEVER ALLOWED TO ADMIT THAT WE MIGHT BE WRONG OR THAT AN INMATE MIGHT BE RIGHT BECAUSE THEN WE WOULD HAVE TO FIX THE PROBLEM AND...and...and...


    well, why not just fix the problem?




    Oh.  ok.  That makes sense.  “Institutional Culture change."


    To paraphrase a classic movie line,  "Sir, I do not think those words mean what you think they mean."


    Granted, there are a couple officials who recognize how absurd it is to keep Life Coach Gambill on G4/SPD status.  At his annual SPD review, a couple times they even submitted a recommendation to downgrade his SPD codes,  but it was overridden by the secretive SPD Review Committee that we are prohibited from attending or making a statement or even knowing when they will convene or receiving notice of their decision or a reason why it was denied (hooray for Due Process!).  After that, unit officials--presumably thoroughly chastised for making said recommendation--now tell him that they are not going to make the recommendation...because SPDRC will not approve it anyway.  Or, they make the recommendation with a warning not to get his hopes up because SPDRC will probably deny it.  OK! All together now!  Raise your glasses for a hearty toast, “Hooray for institutional culture change!"


    Curt is also fighting this asinine policy in federal court.  But, given my own experiences fighting TDCJ in Federal court, I hope for the best but expect the worst. On the bright side, at least I found someone not just willing to fight, but capable of it.  Sooo...back to filing grievances and petitions and concocting clever new ways to harass TDCJ and TBCJ officials about the SPD code problem.




    As I write this, May 2023, we are on an extended disciplinary lockdown that began April 24, because after three days without showers or dayroom some guys came out for pill-window and refused to rack up because they wanted to speak with a supervisor.  Supervisors were pissed off that they had to come to the wing and speak with anyone, so now we're on lockdown for 30 days.


    When the warden walked around a few days later we started asking why we are all being punished for the misbehavior of a few.  His response was that "it's everyone!'


They claim that they see numerous inmates on security cameras popping their doors open, running around, fighting, smoking and selling dope on the run, and everything else.  By “everything else" I assume that includes the perverts who stand on the stairs or at the gate or in the chowhall creepily ogling female officers while masturbating...which officers do nothing about.  But, if we do something about it, we go to lockup or G5.  I miss the old days when predators like that were discovered by staff in a pool of their own blood.  Yeah, gotta love the new TDCJ culture that turns a blind eye to sexually predatory behavior then releases them back into society because...nah...those type of people are no risk to public safety.


    Well, if you see all this on surveillance cameras, then you can obviously identify who it is, so why are we all being punished for their actions?  Don't you recognize that by punishing us all, you are placing the responsibility for énforcing discipline onto inmates to enforce discipline, and the only way that works is through violence?  Is that what you want?  To encourage hostile, violent environment where people get injured or killed? Granted, I remember those days. I miss those days, when inmates were forced to act like adults and not get others punished, or they would face consequences.  Now, there are no consequences because of 'zero tolerance' and the “Safe Prisons Act,” where inmates receive felony charges and more time for violence in prison.


    The regional director was walking with the warden and told one inmate, "Y'all don't go to work, so we're not losing money when y'all are on lockdown.  I don't care if y'all stay on lockdown for six months”  Well, hooray, for institutional culture change.


    Of course, it doesn't require the deductive reasoning skills of Sherlock Holmes to foresee what will happen when you confine two testosterone fuled men--who often may not like each other--in a tiny 5'x9' cage for weeks on end.  Now factor in the Texas heat, on meager rations (sack meals that contain a skimpy peanut butter sandwich and a dry meat sandwich--or 2 boiled eggs at breakfast--and occasionally a handful of raisins) that leave them constantly hungry and irritable,  AND they are being punished for misbehavior of others because officers won't even meet the minimal requirements for their jobs.


    Hell, just imagine being locked in a small bathroom with your spouse or-partner– someone you love--under those conditions...for weeks on end.  Yeah.  It doesn't require an advanced psychology or sociology degree, or even a call to Miss Cleo's Psychic Friends Network, to predict those results.  But, apparently,  the ONLY people incapable of figuring that out are prison administrators!  Again, are they really that dumb, or simply pretending to be?  Or, maybe they don't care?  Or, worse, maybe that's what all these Strother Martin wannabes want?  And, if that's the way he wants it, well, he gets it.  Now, I don't like it any more than you may....


    Since this lockdown began there have been multiple fights between cellmates. At least 3 that the officers discovered, no telling how many went undiscovered. The first two resulted in minor injuries and were separated.  The third fight, left a man in ICU in critical condition.


    This third fight, on May 11, began around 5:50 pm, only a few cells away from mine.  They fought for about 15 minutes before I heard one guy telling the other to chill out, knock it off, don't get up; while he was also calling for the guard.  The guard never came.  They resumed fighting for another 10-15 minutes.  Again, he was telling his cellmate to quit and trying to get some inmates on the run to call the guard (non-lockdown inmates).  The guard still didn't come.  The fighting resumed on and off until about 7:10-7:15pm, when the guard finally conducted a security check. Oh, sure, they're supposed to do security checks every 20-30 minutes but, in case you haven't been paying attention:  they don't do their jobs!


    This fight lasted for nearly 90 minutes before the officer arrived and called for emergency assistance.  One guy was pulled out covered in blood, handcuffed, then taken off the wing.  Several minutes later an officer arrived with a backboard and stretcher.  Wait, you may wonder, where was the medical staff?  GREAT QUESTION!

You see, due to budget and staff shortages TDCJ no longer has medical staff on duty between 6pm and know, at night. ..when most fights and violence occur? Yeah, the time when it might be needed most?


    So, officers load this guy onto a backboard but these incompetent fools neglected to secure him to the backboard...and he fell off and tumbled down the stairs.


    The regional director arrived to view the scene because they thought it was a murder (as of last news, he was still in ICU in critical condition).  When he walked on the scene he smelled smoke and told the wardens to restart the 30 days, and to restart it any time they smelled smoke or there is a disruption.  So, after 3 weeks on lockdown, we started over on week-one, day-one due to "rampant and pervasive drug use."


    Really?  You're here because someone was nearly beaten to death in a 90-minute fight because your officers won't do their jobs.  The fight is the result of your policy of punishing everyone for the actions of a faw with an extended punitive lockdown; punishing us all because your officers won't do their jobs and punish individual misbehavior your policy of collective punishment and lockdowns only made the problems worse...and now you are doubling down on that dysfunctional policy that nearly got someone beaten to death...because of a couple people smoking?


    Such a wonderful method of teaching us to be accountable for our own decisions and our own behaviors! It is so successful that people are now being seriously injured or killed!  HOORAY FOR CULTURE CHANGE!


    Huh?  What's that you say?  You mean, this is how they've always done things?  This is how they always dealt with officers not doing their jobs, by blaming and punishing inmates?  you mean, they've always punished everyone for the misbehavior of a few and it results in violence?  You mean, when something doesn't work, they have always continued to do it anyway simply because they are too lazy and/or stupid to do anything else?  But...but..what about institutional culture change?


    But wait, there's more!  By policy,  that guy wasn't even supposed to be on this wing!  According to Administrative Directive-3.31 (lockdown policy), inmates are not to be moved into a lockdown wing unless they are part of the lockdown.  A couple weeks ago, several inmates on G5 were due to be promoted to G4 and unit classification asked if they would volunteer to move to G4.  They all refused because they didn't want to go to G4 lockdown.  They chose to remain on G5 until the lockdown was lifted.  But, on Monday, those inmates were told to move to G4 or go to lockup for refusing to move.  Unit officials attempted to circumvent this prohibition against moving inmates into punitive lockdown by allowing them to leave their cells for meals or dayroom privileges...even though they placed them into a cell with someone who was still subject to the lockdown.  nah, that wouldn't lead to jealousy or resentment.


    What?  You mean TDCJ officials ignore their own policies for their own convenience even if it gets people injured or killed?  Huh?  You mean, they've always done that?  So, is that part of the culture that is exempted from institutional culture?


    But, Mr. Striz, don't you understand that institutional culture change is a process, it takes time?


Really?  How are you going to change a culture of institutionalized irrational idiocy when it is still staffed by institutionalized irrational idiots? takes time.


    The SPD code policy is more than 20 years old.  After 10 years there was enough data to determine its effects or effectiveness with...pssshhhh...oh, I don't know, maybe a policy audit as required under Texas Government Code §§ 492.0131 and 498.005? (Requires annual policy audits by TDCJ).  I mean, it's not like they are responsible for promoting public safety, promoting positive change in offender behavior, or reintegrating offenders into society, or anything.  Oh...wait, that's exactly what Texas Gov't. Code §§ 493.001, 494.001, and 494.002 say?  Hmmm. .'s not like they're legally required to classify or reclassify inmates circumstances warrant based on their conduct, obedience, and industry, or anything like that, are they?  Well, that's exactly what TX. Gov't. Code §498.002 requires.


    Oh, how silly and naive of me to assume that TDCJ is supposed to follow state laws about how they operate!  I forgot...institutional culture change scoffs at such nonsense.


    For the last ten years, at minimum, TDCJ has been aware of the SPD code problems. When they added more SPD codes to the policy in 2020, they didn't bother to fix the existing problems: (shocker!).  But, "culture change takes time."  How long does it take to clarify or amend a policy that is being abused by officials and affects a few hundred inmates?  Or to simply issue an internal memo to unit classification staff--called a Unit Classification Procedure update--on how to resolve SPD issues? It's not a question of how difficult it is to change a policy, or the amount of time required, when executive officials lack any intention or effort to identify and solve the problem to begin with.  And these are the same executive level officials who are waving pom-poms and cheering about "institutional culture change?"  The same officials who have been in TDC for decades;  the same officials who created the dysfunctional policies and perpetuated the institutional culture that they now claim to be changing?


    How do you change an institutional culture of irrational idiocy?  A good place to start might be getting rid of all the incompetent irrational idiots!  But,  then, if they did that,  there might be a lot of empty offices in TDCJ.


    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    Hooray for culture change.



    Why on Earth would someone want to return to solitary confinement after spending more than two decades trying to get out of solitary?  If I have to do the remainder of my life sentence (until parole eligibility in 2028 or longer since G4 is almost impossible to make parole), I'd rather do it in solitary than on G4.  At least if I'm going to be locked in a cell 24/7,  I'd rather be in a cell alone,  eating regular meals, daily showers, and other privileges I lost when I got out of seg.  Furthermore, since G4 is ineligible for parole pre-release programs but segregation/solitary hasaccess to pre-release programs, I have a better chance of making parole from solitary than from G4 (because that makes complete sense!).  And now, due to our hunger strike in January 2022, they are offering more rehab and education programs for solitary than for G4.


Why wouldn't I want to return to solitary for the next 5 years???


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