We, the prisoners of TDCJ, especially those held in indefinite solitary confinement (aka: administrative segregation/restrictive housing), hereby serve notice of mass hunger strike to begin on January 1, 2022. The purpose of this advance notice is to provide time for TDCJ administration to make immediate, necessary changes to modernize TDCJ before we are forced to resort to such extreme measures to address these issues, because once it begins, “promises” of future change will not be accepted. For decades we have accepted TDCJ’s lies, abuse, deprivation, and inhumane solitary confinement that even TDCJ acknowledges to cause extreme mental, physical, and emotional harm, much of it permanent. The TDCJ grievance system is a joke and resolves nothing. The conservative-leaning Texas courts have expressed reluctance to intervene on behalf of prisoners, always deferring to TDCJ’s “experts” even when these “experts” excuses are completely irrational and disproven by the policies of every other state and federal prison system. TDCJ houses more prisoners in solitary confinement than all other state and federal systems COMBINED. We will no longer accept the lies, abuse, and draconian conditions of TDCJ. We demand the following changes to protect our human rights and Constitutional rights:
1.) To abolish the use of indefinite solitary confinement (ad-seg/restrictive housing) for alleged or confirmed STG members, we demand NO LESS than the settlement terms of Ashker v Governor of California, which ended the practice of indefinite solitary confinement in California. These terms include:
a.) Transform the use of Restrictive Housing (RH) from a status-based system to a behavior-based system to address the behavior of individuals. Stop locking people in RH indefinitely for simply being a member of an STG. Only those who engage in serious rule violations should be placed in RH. The majority of RH prisoners never violated any rules, never threatened anyone. TDCJ's claims that placing STG members in RH is necessary for safety and security is disproven by the policies of every other state and federal prison system who manage these groups and allow them to remain in general population where they are able to engage in constructive, educational, rehabilitative programs. The practice of indefinite RH serves no purpose and only causes unnecessary, permanent mental, physical, and emotional harm to prisoners who are denied all educational and rehabilitative programs, then released into the public. This does not contribute to public safety or the prisoner's successful reintegration into the community.
b.) Upon assignment to RH for ANY reason, prisoners will be informed of firm criteria for their release from RH, and upon meeting this criteria must be released.
c.) Confirmed STG affiliates who are found guilty of an RH-eligible offense will enter a 2-year step-down program for return to general population after serving their determinate RH term.
d.) TDCJ will create a new Restricted Custody General Population (RCGP) custody level as a secure alternative to solitary confinement/RH (similar to California), for those STG-validated prisoners who refuse to participate in the step-down program or who have committed numerous acts of misconduct while in RH which may not rise to the level of an RH-eligible offense. This RCGP status is a non-punitive, non-solitary, high-security status that will continue to provide an opportunity to complete the step-down program and return to general population. This RCGP will include allowing prisoners to move around without restraints, afford sufficient out-of-cell time, small groups recreation, contact visits with family, and rehabilitation and educational programming.
e.) ANY prisoner in RH for ANY reason (STG or non-STG) who has been in Ad-Seg/RH for more than 5 years as of January 1, 2022, and has not has an RH-eligible major disciplinary infraction within the past 2 years, MUST be immediately released to general population, and under no circumstances will any prisoner remain in RH/solitary confinement for more than 10 years. (If someone is incapable of avoiding serious RH-eligible offenses for ten years, that is a symptom of severe mental health issues and MUST be appropriately addressed by mental health staff through an appropriate mental health behavioral therapy program. These individuals should not be left to rot in solitary confinement for their mental health issues, and RH staff should be better trained to recognize and report these mental health issues. )
f.) The current State Classification review system is a perfunctory charade. Ruiz v Estelle, 503 F.Supp. 1365-67 (S.D.Tex 1980) established periodic reviews to protect prisoners' 14th Amendment Due Process rights. These reviews are supposed to be MEANINGFUL (Mathews v Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 333 (1976) ) and cannot be a perfunctory review with a predetermined outcome. Review with a predetermined outcome does not satisfy due process and is tantamount to no review at all. Hewitt v Helms, 459 U.S. 460 (1983); Grissom v Roberts, 902 F. 3d 1162, 1179 (10th Cir. 2018).
During the COVID pandemic we are not allowed to attend these SCC reviews, not allowed to make a statement or present evidence, or anything else required by due process. TDCJ claims it is a COVID precaution; yet they can conduct disciplinary hearings in the same room, with the same number of people if they want to punish us? The results are the same whether we are given "due process" or not, proving that these reviews have ALWAYS been a sham review with a predetermined outcome. We will no longer accept this violation of our Constitutional rights and clearly established law. We demand MEANINGFUL reviews, assisted by counsel substitute--these are due process hearings and we are entitled to the same due process protections as a disciplinary hearing. Furthermore, ALL appeals and any decision to hold a prisoner in RH beyond 5 years MUST be reviewed by an independent, impartial, 3-person panel consisting of a TDCJ representative, a legal representative fromthe Texas Civil Rights Project, and a mental health professional familiar with the issues of solitary confinement.
g.) As in the Ashker settlement, designated prisoner representatives and legal counsel will meet in conference with TDCJ officials on a regular basis to review the progress of these reforms, express concerns and solutions, discuss programs and improvements , and to monitor overall prison conditions. This allows prisoners to have a voice and be morre actively involved in our rehabilitation, to inform officials what we need, and as a forum for conflict resolution.
WE WILL NO LONGER ACCEPT INDEFINITE SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR ANY REASON! ! ! THIS IS NON -NEGOTIABLE! ! !
2.) END the GRAD requirement as a condition for release from RH. This program requires prisoners to provide self-incriminating information which can potentially be used to prosecute him, and is therefore a violation of our 5th Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. The GRAD program further requires prisoners to provide information about the gang or other prisoners resulting in a "snitch" label that places him at greater risk of harm or death. TDCJ KNOWS this, which is why they require all GRAD participants to sign a waiver absolving TDCJ of liability. Furthermore, in the past, TDCJ assigned ex-STG/GRAD participants to designated units to minimize the risk of reprisals against ex-members; but TDCJ no longer does this. They now mix exes among active members, potentially creating MORE security and safety risks. The GRAD requirement places prisoners at even greater risk of harm than simply disassociating on their own. TDCJ's "solution" only makes problems worse.
3.) For those who remain assigned to RH for legitimate reasons:
a.) Must be housed at climate controlled 12-building or high security-type facilities. During extreme heat RH does not have access to "respite areas," nor is there consistent distribution of ice water when it is needed most.
b.) Must be provided rehabilitative and educational programs.
c.) Must be provided firm criteria for them to EARN their release from RH.
d.) Must be eligible for the Securus tablet system, with access to ALL content ( entertainment and educational ) for level-one prisoners.
e.) Televisions for level-one prisoners ( either in-cell or in dayrooms ).
f.) Small group recreation for level-one prisoners.
g.) Access to the video-visitation program. (Why can G-5 have video-visits in a cage/booth, but not RH?)
h.) For level-one prisoners, access to the prisoner phone system: either in dayrooms, a designated booth, or a cordless system. RH will no longer accept a single 5-minute phone call every 90-days at rapacious collect-call fees that are as high as $15.00 for a 5-minute call, when general population is unlimited at 6¢ per minute.
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for all tdcj prisoners
4.) The current grievance process is a joke! The same officials whose policies or actions are being complained about, are the same officials responding to and denying the grievances. The "grievance coordinators" are merely a rubber stamp, with basic rubber-stamp excuses to dismiss all complaints. We demand an independent grievance review process that is not ruled by wardens, regional directors, or other TDCJ officials with an interest in protecting one another, protecting the system, and maintaining the status quo.
5.) The newly revised "sexually explicit images" policy is a ridiculous, vague policy that unreasonably denies magazines, newspapers, photos, and other non-sexual content. The old policy was more than sufficient to prohibit pornography and nudity. The current policy now prohibits newspapers if it contains an advertisement for swimwear or underwear. Fitness and health magazines can be denied if fitness models in "revealing" clothes are demonstrating how to properly do an exercise, or if there is coverage of fitness/bodybuilding competitions (men and women in revealing swimwear). Sports magazines are denied if there is coverage of any athletic event requiring "revealing" uniforms (i.e., olympic swimming, diving, beach volleyball, gymnastics, etc). Most car and motorcycle magazines will now be denied. Celebrity gossip magazines for beach body photos. Art magazines and art books will be denied for "nudity." Basic comic books can be denied for a female cartoon superhero in a revealing costume. Even romance novels can be denied simply for the cover image. Did the Taliban suddenly gain control of TDCJ? This is absurd and serves no legitimate penological objective, especially considering that anyone can sit in the dayrooms and watch nudity and graphic sex scenes on network television. Is TDCJ going to remove all TVs to prevent that? Are they going to require prisoners to cover any tattoos that depict nudity?
The inevitable result of this policy will be more instances of guys masturbating in the dayrooms to something on TV, with more fights and riots because of it. There will be an increase of prisoners using female staff as visual stimulation while masturbating, either in the cell or in public areas, which will result in more fights between cellmates or in public areas. TDCJ's new sexually explicit images policy will only create more conflicts while unnecessarily prohibiting a broad range of reading material that is in no way "sexual." The new policy is too vague and open to interpretation of what constitutes "anything intended to cause sexual arousal." Is TDCJ going to compile a list of every single weird sexual fetish to enforce? Feet fetishes? Legs? Spandex? Latex? Leather? Boots? Hands with long red fingernails? What about uniform fetishes, will TDCJ prohibit those prisoners from looking at guards? That policy is ridiculously vague and absurd, and we demand a return to the old policy that simply banned pornography and actual nudity (exposed nipples, genitals, anuses, and simulated intercourse).
a.) To facilitate visitation and family connections necessary for successful reintegration into society, TDCJ shall make it a priority to assign prisoners to facilities near their families, and to make it easier to obtain a hardship transfer in order to be closer to family.
b.) End the practice of indefinitely removing people from visitation lists for vague, unproven infractions. There are prisoners who haven't seen their mother, wife, husband, children, for years because they've been removed fromthe visitors list over monir infractions, and the review process is a farce. Removal of visitors from visitation lists must be for a proven infraction, with meaningful appeals, and for a definite term.
c.) The SPD-Code restriction prohibiting contact visitation with non-immediate family is unreasonable, arbitrary, and unrelated to any legitimate penological justification. Just because a prisoner has an SPD code that is more than a decade old, that prisoner is permanently punished with denial of contact visits with loved ones who aren't immediate family, despite years of good behavior. What relation does this have to a long-past incident that is completely unrelated to visitation privileges? We demand a reasonable and equal application of visitation policy to allow SPD-Coded prisoners who are eligible for contact visits to include visitation with non-family.
7.) We demand that TDCJ rescind the policy of only allowing prisoners to receive deposits from people on our approved visitors or call list. This serves no rational purpose other than to increase hardship on prisoners who are not violating rules. Most prisoners have more friends and family than will fit on a 10-slot visitation list or call list. TDCJ's stated purpose of reducing unauthorized transactions for contraband is illogical and unsupported by the facts as defined by TDCJ. TDCJ officials KNOW that those who engage in trafficking contraband do not use inmate trust fund deposits. TDCJ officials KNOW that those who engage in trafficking contraband do so via outside electronic transfers like cashapp, greendot, etc., which is why they created the rule to punish those who are caught utilizing these unapproved methods. Ironically, if a friend or family member who is not on an approved list wants to send money to a prisoner for a legitimate reason, they have to use one of these electronic transfer apps to send money to someone who is on the prisoner's approved list. So TDCJ's new policy only creates "rule violations" of third-party transfers for legitimate, honest assistance from loved ones and does nothing to inhibit trafficking of contraband. It only creates hardship on friends and family to help their loved ones in TDCJ. This rule must be rescinded.
8.) For far too long TDCJ has maintained a predatory, extortionist, racketeering monopoly of necessary items through strict control of only allowing purchase from TDCJ commissary. Prisoners are forced to buy cheap junk that frequently falls apart or malfunctions, at exorbitant prices ($20.00 for a cheap dollar-store clock radio? $360.00 for a typewriter that only a few years ago costed $125.00?). In the past, prisoners could order writing supplpies from approved outside vendors (Walmart, Office Depot, Amazon, etc.) at reasonable prices. Then, TDCJ disallowed that, forcing prisoners to purchase writing supplies only from commissary, while doubling the prices; despite the fact that all writing supplies are now produced at a TDCJ-owned and operated printshop with unpaid inmate slave labor. We now pay $2.25 for a 99¢ writing tablet? TDCJ did the same thing when they switched from brand name clothing to TDCJ-produced items where the entire supply chain—from growing and harvesting the cotton, to manufacturing in TDCJ garment factories, truck drivers and warehousing--ALL of it is done with unpaid inmate slave labor, yet the prices went UP while the quality went DOWN. TDCJ continues to raise prices on items while still refusing to pay inmates even nominal wages (as most prison systems do), and making it more difficult for loved ones to help us obtain what we need.
Recently, we have difficulty obtaining even basic items from commissary. They haven't sold shampoo or toothbrushes in MONTHS. Soap shortages...during a pandemic so we can't even wash our hands regularly. Shortages of shoes, clothing, basic hygiene, and food items. TDCJ hasn't sold radios or the cheap, fragile headphones in over a year, so even if a prisoner has a radio, many have no headphones to listen to it. The junk hot-pots that regularly malfunction, which we need for hot water (because most older units do not have hot water in the cells), haven't been available for nearly a year. Prisoners are forced to go withoutbecause of TDCJ's monopoly even though these items are available from outside vendors who specifically serve prisoners. Even TDCJ's attempts to provide healthier food options through commissary are woefully inadequate, when outside vendors offer a wide selection of healthy options for prisoners. TDCJ's refusal to allow outside purchases of necessary items has NOTHING to do with security, and everything to do with profiteering on punitive, monopolistic control. It is time for TDCJ to stop profiting on prisoners and their loved ones, to modernize and allow alternative means to obtain BASIC items that TDCJ is often unable to provide even in non-pandemic times of supply chain shortages.
We demand a return to the old policy that allowed prisoners to receive outside purchases of writing supplies from approved vendors, with reasonable limits on the amount we can receive per quarter.
We demand the right for our loved ones to provide basic necessities from an approved vendor (Walkenhorst, Walmart, Amazon, etc.), in a reasonable amount (for example, a 50-pound package), once per fiscal quarter, to include but not limited to:
· basic personal hygiene items (soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc)
· basic food items and health supplements (vitamins , meal replacements, etc .)
· basic clothing items (white only; t-shirts , shorts, underwear, socks, thermals, fleece hoodies and sweats, knit caps, etc.)
· athletic shoes (white only; less than $100.00 in value)
· work boots (brown or black only; less than $100.00 in value)
· headphones (less than $50.00 in value)
· art supplies (drawing pencils, color pens/pencils, watercolors, paintbrushes, pastels, etc .)
· approved appliances (typewriter/word-processor, radio or walkman, hot-pot or other method to heat water, etc.)
·prison-specific televisions (small, clear, flat-panel, requiring headphones)- It is long past time for TDCJ to either sell small personal TVs on commissary or through outside vendors. This is not unprecedented within TDCJ as there are a number of TDCJ units that have small in-cell TVs. In-cell TVs will reduce the majority of arguments and fights in dayrooms and provide an effective behavioral management tool to incentivize good behavior .
If other state and federal prison systems can provide these items and allow outside purchases for them, Texas should too. If they won't pay prisoners to work, and they cannot adequately provide these items, then TDCJ should at least make it easier for our loved ones to help provide what prisoners need.
We, the prisoners of TDCJ, have been silent for far too long and we are no longer going to accept the lies, abuse, and inhumane draconian conditions of TDCJ. If TDCJ cannot agree to reasonable changes, a hunger strike will begin on January 1, 2022.
Memorial Unit, Rosharon, Texas
20 years in solitary / ad seg
November 20, 2021
Words by AARON STRIZ
Photography by TEXAS LETTERS