On or about 2010, I was transferred from the Bexar County Jail, in San Antonio, Texas, to the Garza Unit, Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), in Beeville, Texas, to be processed into the TDCJ and begin serving my 13 year sentence. In 2010, when I left Bexar County jail to the Garza Unit to be processed into the TDCJ--I did not suffer from any physical illnesses or have any mental health issues.
Upon my arrival (on or about 2010) to the Garza Unit, I was stripped searched in processing and my tattoos were examined and documented. The Garza Unit prison officials found my tattoos were those worn by members of the Mexican Mafia (aka EME). Garza Unit prison officials informed me I would not be allowed to be housed in the general population (“gp”) due to my tattoos and being a member of the EME. They informed me that I would be housed in administrative segregation (“ad seg”) until my release from prison, unless I sign up for and join the Gang Renouncement and Dissociation Process (“GRAD”) and complete it. I was then assigned to indefinite confinement in ad seg.
On or about 2011, I arrived to the Polunsky Unit, TDCJ, in Livingston, Texas. I was housed in solitary confinement in ad seg at the Polunsky Unit. In ad seg at the Polunsky Unit I am housed alone, in a cramped, concrete cell, with a small window that’s only 3 inches vertically by 4 feet horizantally and which sits across the top back wall 3 inches to the ceiling, for 22 and one-half to 24 hours a day. I’ve been housed in ad seg for approximately 12 years and 6 months. The cell contains a steel sink, toilet, small table, small shelf, and two horizantal windows made of steel mesh chicken wire approximately 3 feet vertically by 5 inches wide.
I spend my days alone. I’m brought three meals each day and served through the food slot on my door. I’m forced to eat alone every day. I’m not allowed to have group meals. I am denied phone calls. Prisoners in gp are allowed to use the pod phones as many times as they can afford. The gp’s phone calls are about 3-5 dollars for approximately 15 minutes. In ad seg, I can request a phone call every 90 days. The call is only for 5 minutes and costs approximately 20 dollars. I am denied access to a television to watch. A 5 minute call to my mom or loved one, saying hi-and-bye in seconds--prohibits effective meaningful, communication with a loved one. It’s painful to call my mom and barely say “hi, how are you? sorry, I have to go my 5 minutes are up.” It breaks a loved ones heart to only be given a 5 minute call with their loved one incarcerated. This is why I never requested a 5 minute call to call my mom. I did not want to cause her more grief and burden her with a 20 dollar phone bill for a short 5 minute call.
I am denied contact visits. I have not been allowed to have a contact visit now for approximately 12 years and 6 months. My mom came to visit me about twice at the Polunsky Unit. Our visit were behind plexiglass over a phone. She cried at our visit because she wanted to hold me, kiss me, and hug me. It broke me spiritually, psychologically, and physically, to see my mom through a plexiglass and not be able to hold and kiss her. I did not want to see her on those non-contact terms. It was very painful emotionally and psychologically. I believed that I would be able to come home to my mom and take care of her--make it up to her for being away so long. But this did not happen. You see, my sister found my mom dead on Thanksgiving Day morning, 2017. My mom lived alone. She suffered a heart attack and died alone in her home’s bathroom. She was 62 years old. I never did get any chance to hold, hug, or kiss her while here at the Polunsky Unit. Now, nor will I ever, as she’s gone from this world forever. I tortured her mind and soul by being in prison and not being allowed a contact visit with her or, a decent phone call regularly. The thought of this has affected me both emotionally and psychologically in a negative way.
I am denied vocational, recreational, educational, and religious programming. I have a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) and want to participate in vocational courses offered if housed in gp. I enjoy sports and want to participate in basketball, and handball tournaments--and group recreation. I was raised attending Castle Hills United Pentacostal Church in San Antonio, Texas [now known as the Hope Center], from age 6 to 17. I consider myself a Christion who follows the King James version of the Holy Bible. I want to attend group prayer, worship, and religious service with other fellow Christians.
I am stripped searched each time I exit my cell. I only leave my cell if I have a court date, official visit by parole, attorney visit, friend/or family visit, medical appointment, go to a 15 minute shower [7 days per week], go to 1 to 2 hour recreation [2 days per week]. Besides this, I remain in my cell alone for 22 and one-half to 24 hours each day as described above. The only human contact I have is when a guard handcuffs me to leave or enter my cell, or if at a medical appointment a medical staff touches me. My only avenue of communicating with anyone is by screaming or yelling through my cell door, or wall. Also, if placed in a recreation cage as described above.
I now suffer from both mental and physical injuries I did not suffer from prior to my confinement in ad seg. On or about March 2011, I arrived to Polunsky Unit ad seg. Over time I lost my normal sleeping pattern and found myself sleeping 1 to 3 hours each day at different hours of the day and night. This was caused by several factors, mainly being confined to a cell the size of a parking space for 22 and one-half to 24 hours each day, within ad seg. Ad seg is loud at all hours of the day and night. Steel doors slam open and shut every thirty minutes as guards conduct counts, and, at night they flash lights on your face to see you. Also, there are prisoners screaming and yelling and banging at all hours of the day and night. It did not take long for me to have severe chronic insomnia. Imagine being confined to a small area of your home [like I am in ad seg]. Men and women walking through your home all day long every 30 minutes; and, men and women walking through your home and slamming doors all night long every 30 minutes, and shining a flashlight on you in your face. All the while your next door neighbors of your home, throughout the day and night, screaming, yelling, and banging [like I experience each day and night in ad seg]. Over a period of time, you will have insomnia--I did.
After I realized I had insomnia I noticed I began to suffer from acid reflux, and migrane headaches. Over time I became very ill. Something didn’t feel right. So I went to medical and they diagnosed me with hypertension. Medical informed me that my blood pressure was so high it was borderline “stroke”. I did not suffer from none of these things prior to being housed in ad seg.
The next thing I noticed right away was my vision would get blurred quickly while trying to read. As time went on I had difficulty focusing and being able to concentrate. Especially while trying to read or study. I found myself at different times reading the same page of a book over, or being stuck on the same paragraph for 20 to 30 minutes. I found myself unable to focus and read an entire magazine article. The lack of social interactions and environmental stimuli affected me greatly. I did not experience symptoms of depression or anxiety, prior to being housed in ad seg. And my ad seg confinement has exacerbated my post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). As asserted above, when I arrived to TDCJ in 2010, I did not suffer from any physical or mental issues. My PTSD was not bothering me. The physical illnesses I experienced after being housed in ad seg were migraine headaches, bleeding ulcer, acid reflux, hypertension, swelling in my feet, legs, and ankles, later causing more pain to my knees, and spine, and vision problems.
My vision began to deteriorate. When I try to read my vision becomes blurry. I have trouble reading for 20 or 30 minutes. I did not suffer from vision problems prior to being housed in seg. My spinal chord is now in constant aching pain throughout the day and night. I did not suffer from back pain prior to being housed in ad seg.
I suffer from chronic insomnia. Ad seg is loud all day and night, as described above. In ad seg, I’m not able to maintain any consistent normal sleeping pattern. My days and nights overlap. I lose track of the date and of what day it is due to insomnia. I did not suffer from insomnia prior to being housed in ad seg.
I suffer from anxiety. It feels like being punched hard in my stomach and tickled all at once. I feel this anxiety, sporadically, each day. It causes me severe pinched nerve pain in my neck’s back area. It causes my neck’s nerves to tense stiffly, making it difficult to turn my neck side-to-side. It causes severe pinched nerve pain in my back’s upper shoulder blade areas, and making it impossible to sleep due to the pain. I also suffer from panic attacks and it causes me to have trouble breathing and, makes me feel like I’m having a stroke. I did not suffer from anxiety prior to being housed in ad seg.
I suffer from hypersensitivity, and PTSD. Loud and sharp noises affect my senses to the extreme. When a steel cell door, prison steel door, or steel barred door or gate open and close--my senses are extremely sensitive to the noise they create. Any slam, or bang, causes my heart to jump and it makes me feel as if something horrific, or potentially deadly has occurred--as if an AR-15 was next to my ear and someone shot off a round without me being aware the shot was about to be fired [which is not normal as all it is a steel door popping open and being closed in ad seg]. While serving prison time in Beaumont United States Penitentiary, I was stabbed and assaulted on my birthday [September 27th], in 2002, by unidentifiable prisoners. The assault against me caused me to suffer from PTSD. But, the PTSD was manageable prior to being housed in ad seg. Once I was housed in ad seg it set off my PTSD and caused hypersensitivity. Each day it bothers me more and it’s difficult to cope with in this ad seg environment as described above.
I suffer from chronic depression. I noticed that after being housed in ad seg I lost hope. I felt like giving up on doing things, such as for example, learning, art, self-improvement planning and studying, exercising, singing, corresponding with family, friends, and loved ones, meeting new people or friends, listening to music. I felt a constant despair, sadness, and anger. When I hear a song on the radio, a news story, or reminescing about a past experience with a family member or friend, sporadically, I find myself becoming emotional [which all of the above is not normal behavior for me]. I became an unhappy person. I did not suffer from depression prior to being housed in ad seg.
I now have trouble concentrating, trying to learn, and read. I order books to read that interest me, with a desire to read them. Then as I start to read them I’m not able to focus and maintain enough concentration to finish a chapter. I stay stuck and find myself rereading the same sentence(s) over-and-over. It’s not normal. I notice this and I know I was not like this prior to being housed in ad seg.
Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas
12 years in solitary / ad seg
August 10, 2021
Words by JASON J. HERNANDEZ
Photography by TEXAS LETTERS