Lane Murray Unit, Gatesville, Texas
6 years in solitary / ad seg
July 7, 2023
Words by KWANETA HARRIS
Photography by TEXAS LETTERS
My Fellow Humans - This Is A Reminder, we, too are human beings. We were sentenced to prison, not to be cooked. Another heat wave, another summer and Texas refuses again to provide AC to prisons.
Im reminded of sons battle during childhood with brushing his teeth. My rules were - everyone brushes their teeth before sitting at the breakfast table, and brush them again afterward. My son was 4 and daily - our battles were he’d wet the toothbrush, move the toothpaste to the sink or the mouthwash to the counter. His attempts to fool me into believing he brushes his teeth. Daily, I’d march him back up to the bathroom after demanding he blow his unbrushed morning breath in my face. He started putting a dab of toothpaste on his tongue then sticking his finger into the mouthwash and sucking it off. All of this, when its just so much easier to-brush your teeth, I’d tell him.
TDCJ is like my son. Instead of providing AC - its multiple excuses - Respite, Thin Shirts, Allowing more water breaks. Heat related deaths? Deny them. All of this extra effort - when they could just provide A/C.
In solitary confinement - its worst. Not only cant we abide by all the recommendations during a heat wave for people in society to follow. But, we cant even follow the same guidelines as those in general population. Respite care - is to request a cool A/C area to go to. Not for us. There is NO A/C area for people in ad-seg to go to. Take a cold shower. Ha! With what staff? We have to be escorted to the 1 shower thats cold for 42 people. And we dont have staff for that often. Drink cold water. How? When we request cold water the ice machine is often broken. They freeze water in white buckets or vegetable tin cans as ice blocks. Oh, its cold but with a bitter metallic aftertaste. we dont get that, As requested. No staff. The staff we have are all in the A/C picket. The emergency in cell call buttons are for decoration only. They tell us - drink out the tap! our sink water is warm.
Texas doesnt pay prisoners to work. Many are indigent because they dont receive financial support from families. As this heat wave continues, they just doubled the price of bottled water. Price Gouging is illegal to do during natural disasters. But I guess its ok if the state itself is the Gouger.
This building is like a brick pizza oven or a cauldron. They are cooking us. Stuck in the cell 24 hours. No rec. No shower. No respite. Is there some cannibalistic cabal somewhere? Why else would they be so determined to cook so many people?
As of today July 7, 2023, two women have died. Both complained of chest pains and were returned to their cell after medical. They died within a week of each other. The latter was scheduled to be released Aug. 2. She died June 29. This isnt abnormal. Every year our friends die of heart attacks during the summer. As TDCJ insists its not heat related. Well, why dont deaths occur in the winter? The male prison death count for the same thing - heart attacks - is at 6.
Daily, staff are at my door telling me goodbye. They’re quitting. Working in prison without AC is hard but layer on solitary - And always adding more clothes on during the increase in suicide attempts as more and more people try to get to the A/C at psych center. I will never understand the justification for gassing someone who is hanging? or cuts theirself? Its no such thing as gassing 1 person. We’re all gassed.
Due to cell temps reaching triple digits - we all wear Prison Bikinis. Panties + Bras. These dignity vampires force us to, if we want to remain less hot and alive. Parading in front of male staff 85% during meal trays is demeaning.
In an effort to deter suicide attempts - The suicidal person is stripped and given a gown only. - NOT even a mat, fan, water bottle, toilet paper or pad. The guard ‘sits’ in front of their cell and exchanges a soiled pad for a fresh pad and they only are allowed a paper triangle cup for water. Does the american Psych Assoc know about this? Who approved this as therapeutic?
Desperation to escape our cells in the summer leads to many many suicide attempts. Ive witnessed young women slice their face open with the top of a soda can. Slice their clitoris - arms - neck.
Youd think with 2 deaths medical would be on their toes when people complain of chest pain. I thought so, too. But security and medical have been arguing more and more. Shockingly, security staff demands medical see people who complain of chest pain. Medical dismisses their concerns by saying - I’ll check on them in a few hours, when I do my rounds. Nobody wants to come in solitary confinement - not even medical.
The indigent people are provided 1 fan. Im menopausal, I have 4. Every month, 2 are confiscated and I replace them. We’re only allowed 2 fans. But, its too hot. And although they all blow hot air around - when I wet my sheet and wrap it around my Prison Bikini - It’s my form of A/C. The only way I can sleep.
Guards have started to faint - get dizzy, too. TDCJ has instituted rules for guards assigned to solitary - Not to work their entire 12 hour shift in the same place. Too hot. But, I guess its too hot for humans, not prisoners. There will be many many more deaths until TDCJ realizes - Its just so much easier and safer to provide A/C.