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Friday, 28 December 2012

Just finished

And ready in time for my not-step-granddaughter's 1st birthday in a few day's time. Meet Tippi:

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

A day like any other

My husband asked me a couple of letters ago how I really handle not celebrating Christmas when just about everyone else is all happy and merry and really getting into the festivities. He knows that my special day is the solstice, and that usually I do things over several days rather than cramming it all into a gluttonous 24 hours.

Plenty of people around the world do not observe Christmas as any kind of special day, and many have other days in the year that they celebrate with gifts and parties and a little too much food and drink. I often think that birthdays are more special than holidays, simply because your birthday is yours. That makes my husband's eyes roll as well, because he has no time for astrology :)

But seriously, it really is no big deal for me not to jump on the Christmas Day bandwagon. I've already opened the couple of gifts I received this year, when my daughter and her boyfriend came over for dinner on Sunday. They are spending today with friends who this year had a premature baby. But you see, just because I don't do Christmas, doesn't mean I don't participate in anything that happens at this time of year. Quite the contrary; many Christmas traditions are based on pagan activities.

I send Yule cards rather than Christmas cards. I spend quite a bit of time each November hunting down cards that say "Seasons greetings" rather than any reference to Christmas, and I make sure that some of them have no glitter or other embellishments on so that they are prison-friendly. They usually have trees on, or robins and snowmen.

Talking of trees, I would have a tree as long as it still had roots, but I don't have a garden to keep it in. So for the past couple of years I haven't had a tree indoors at all or any specific decorations beyond some seasonal greenery in a bowl. But I have a yew tree just 5 feet from my front room window so I usually have my own show of birds to decorate my view instead.

I give gifts. Mostly handmade, or just small things that I know the recipients really want. I receive gifts too, though rarely as many as I give, but that's OK. It's not the receiving that counts.

We share food and drink, with people we want to spend time with. That's possibly a little different to the majority Christmas where you "have" to spend time with "family" whether you want to or not because it is "tradition". I love to cook, so having the kids over for dinner was great for me to do a full roast. As I now live on my own, I rarely cook that much food in one go these days. Eating with friends is also part of my tradition, whether I'm making food to send to them, or eating out with them as I will be in a couple of day's time for one of our regular lunches.

So really as you can see, my end of December isn't that different to other people's. I just don't spend ridiculous amounts of money, or hoard bread and milk as if the world is about to end. It's quite liberating, in an old fashioned kinda way.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Seeing red

But in a good way! I've been busy knitting and crocheting for Yule, and there has been an awful lot of red yarn in use.

There is still more to make, with some miniature Xmas stockings as tree ornaments to go with our Desk Decorating Competition at work. Then hopefully during the Xmas break I will be able to finish a couple of projects that keep getting put to one side so that I can knit for others. It will be good to start January with clear decks again.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Security lockdown procedure

Some readers may find the following useful in understanding how a full security lockdown can operate in a TDCJ prison.

You have been placed on a lockdown status because of disruptive behaviour or security reasons. This status has been imposed and will continue to be imposed until such time as this disruptive behaviour is eliminated or the security reasons no longer exist. To ensure you understand the conditions and process of your return to normal activities, the progressive release schedule is explained below.

Week one: You will receive showers and necessities three times weekly and you will only receive sack lunches. Visitation privileges may be suspended. You will not be permitted dayroom privileges. If your behaviour is acceptable you will progress to week two.

Week two: You will receive showers and necessities three times weekly. You will receive commissary privileges one day. Hygiene items, one of each, and correspondence supplies, at a limit of $10, will be allowed with one spend for a total of $20 every two weeks. You will receive a hot lunch one time during the week if unit design allows and sack lunches for all other meals. Visitation privileges may be suspended. You will not be permitted dayroom privileges. If your behaviour is acceptable, you will progress to week three.

Week three: You will receive showers and necessities three times weekly. You will receive commissary privileges one day. Hygiene items, one of each, and correspondence supplies, at a limit of $10 will be allowed with one spend for a total of $20 every two weeks. You will receive a hot lunch and supper three days if unit design allows and sack lunches for all other meals. Visitation privileges will be reinstated if suspended. You will be permitted limited dayroom privileges as appropriate for your custody designation. If your behaviour is acceptable you will progress to week four.

Week four: You will receive showers and necessities three times weekly. You will receive regular commissary purchase privileges one day as appropriate for your custody designation. Daily hot lunches and supper privileges will be retunred and visitation privileges will continue. You will be permitted limited dayroom privileges as appropriate for your custody designation. You may be allowed to return to work at the Warden's discretion. Upon approval by the Warden, lockdown will be lifted.

Generally, all meals will be delivered via use of the food tray slot. If your cell does not have a food tray slot, to receive a meal while on lockdown status you must go to the rear of your cell, face the wall, kneel down and place both hands behind your back. When you have followed these procedures, your meal will be placed inside the cell door.

If at any period during these four weeks there is a recurrence of disruptive behaviour, the unit or portion involved may be returned to week one of the lockdown schedule.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


Over the past year I have gone from thinking that none of my family served in either of the World Wars (because no one had ever told me they had) to knowing that several fought in both as well as in the Boer War. So today, I remember 3 men who died in the Great War:

My great grandmother's cousin Sgt William Harry Sansum, 20th Battalion
born 25 September 1874
killed in action 19 August 1916 at Ypres, Belgium.

My great, great uncle Corporal William Henry James Josey Clanfield, Reserve Mechanical Transport Convoy
born 3 March 1873
died 29 October 1918 at Rouen, France.

My great, great uncle Albert Lay
born July 1883
Killed in action 29 April 1917 at the Battle of Arras, France. Below is how that day of the battle was described in the History of the 2nd Division, Berkshire Regiment:

"The Berkshires at once established blocks and flank defences and snipers were pushed forward into Oppy
Wood where they also established themselves. Here three enemy machine guns were captured and used with
considerable effect upon the retiring Germans. A number of the enemy's troops were also captured, some of whom pretended to be dead until tiurned over in order to be searched. Thes prisoners were immediately evacuated. Thus far the Berkshires held all they had so gallantly won. The right flank of the battalion was heavily counterattacked. Nothing daunted however, the enemy with great courage came on again and again, his troops being decimated by the splendid marksmanship of the Berkshires. Between 5 and 9.30 am he launched five separate attacks against the battalion. Four were repulsed but during the fifth the supply of grenades gave out and, almost exhausted and much reduced in numbers, the Berkshires were forced to give ground. And then as the men filtered back through the battered trenches they came suddenly upon a store of German bombs. Arming themselves with these they again faced the enemy and, attacking him furiously, won back all the ground they had lost.
Once more the enemy launched a heavy counter-attack against the right front and centre of the now very thin line of Berkshires. But ever as they came on the enemy's troops were shot down by rifle and Lewis gun fire. and this attack also was bloodily repulsed. Fresh enemy attacks continued to develop until at last
reduced to less than half their original strength and scattered over a front of about 500 yards the gallant
Berkshires were compelled to withdraw to the line of the sunken road running south west from the west corner of Oppy Wood.
The left company (C) holding its objectives north of the sunken road, now numbered only 35 other ranks, moved north along the trench taking with them their wounded and three captured machine guns until they joined hands with the 5th Infantry Brigade about B.12, d.0.4 Here the survivors of the company remained.
The remainder of the Berkshires their left flank in the air and all their bombs expended, retired to the old British line and. there maintained their ground. No wonder the Brigadier of 99th Infantry Brigade (Brigadier-General R O Kellett) said in his report to Divisional Headquarters "During this severe fighting the action of the 1st Royal Berks was beyond all praise ... towards the end practically all the Lewis gunners were killed or wounded." During the day's fighting the Berks had captured about 70 prisoners and 3 machine guns and had killed large numbers of the enemy."

Out of 200 Berkshire soldiers that staged the attack, 151 were killed.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

TDCJ online commissary system by eCommDirect

TDCJ have finally rolled out their new inmate "care package" system that allows friends and family (F&F) to purchase items online from the unit commissary to be delivered to the inmate. Inmates are also allowed to purchase packs of items, such as a hygiene pack or a snack pack, through the usual commissary window. You have to give them points for trying I suppose.If you want to use the service, the URL is https://tdcj-ecommdirect.portal.texas.gov/ but it is only available between 4am and 9pm Texas time.

The charge for F&F purchases is $3.75 for each transaction. Each inmate can receive up to $50 worth of outside purchases per quarter. F&F can also deposit funds into the inmate's trust fund account, for a lower fee per transaction than Jpay charges.

Hubby and I talked about this new system at our visit last weekend. He doesn't like it that I send him money, he would rather be able to earn his own. He enjoys the books I send but has limited space so I try not to send too many. He said he has seen some of the packs and other items that other inmates have bought themselves, and he feels that they are not worth the money. In the snack pack, the only item he said was worth it were some smoked almonds, and he can always acquire those from someone else if he wants some.

So we agreed to watch and wait for now. I'm wary of giving my bank details directly to Texas.gov, and as with all new systems, there will be teething troubles until it all beds down. We may use the money transfer section in the future simply because it is cheaper, but I'm happy enough with Jpay for now.

Of course if F&F could send items through this service that are not available to inmates through commissary, then it might be more attractive. Other states manage to accommodate that. Or if F&F could purchase postage stamps of course because those are the things hubby runs out of most frequently. But TDCJ are obsessed with the idea that inmates would gamble all of their stamps away if they were allowed an unlimited number (as if they don't gamble with everything else they own, and plenty of stuff they don't own too) so I can't see that happening.

I realise that I'm a minority in all of this, but this care package system really isn't much use to us.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Some words have both a positive and a negative connotation, and security is one of those words.

Sometimes security means a source of comfort; where or what makes you feel safe, and also the word Yes. For me, one source of security is often knitting, and on my travels in Texas last week my friend and I found a great yarn shop near to Spring called The Hen House. We'd already been into the local Hobby Lobby and I'd bought some yarn that I thought would make some pretty socks, but they didn't have any individual patterns for sale. So by word of mouth, we found The Hen House and what an Aladdin's cave it is! Not only do they have an amazing selection of traditional, specialist and novelty yarns and yarn equipment, but they also have a large stock of quilting fabric and equipment and a range of finished quilts on display. The ladies there were very friendly, and I would absolutely recommend the shop to anyone in search of yarn in Texas. In fact next time I visit, I intend to save some extra cash to spend on some of their yarns.

For other people, the word security is more related to restrictions and closely related to the word No. We experienced that kind of security this weekend when I went to visit my husband. Usually we get 2 x 4 hour contact visits - always with the proviso that if it gets crowded we may have to have the visit cut short. This time, my husband's wing had been placed on security lockdown because allegedly a gun and some bullets had been discovered. This is not a new situation at this particular unit; they have been on various lockdowns for similar reasons all through the summer this year.

However, this time it meant that not only were we not able to have our usual contact visit (which is only contact in as much as we get to hug and kiss briefly at the start and end of the visit and can hold hands across a wide table), but that my husband was not permitted to sit in the open run with the other inmates behind the glass but had to sit in a cage instead, like the inmates in Ad Seg do. No contact absolutely means no contact. We could have had photos but we chose not to, given the circumstances.

While we dealt with it as an inconvenience (albeit an upsetting one, as I can't just pop back in a week or so and get a hug and a kiss, this is it for us for the next year now), we discovered on the Sunday that some of the inmates who were supposed to be participating in the Day With Dad event on the Saturday from my husband's wing had been told at the last minute that they could not now take part. The couple next to us were one such family; the lady had 2 small children of about 2 and 3 years old, and had been told she would have to wait up to 3 hours for a regular visit instead on the Saturday. She decided to find a motel and come back for a visit on the Sunday, adding considerable expense and inconvenience to her weekend. The children were obviously used to seeing their dad in the contact area as neither understood why he couldn't open their packets of sweets for them or why they couldn't sit on his knee.

Some will say, I'm sure, that the bottom line is if the inmates had behaved in the first place then this would not be an issue. I agree to a point, but when the inmates do behave while incarcerated, and then still receive extra punishment for something that they had no part in, how is than an incentive to keep behaving correctly? And more of an issue is the punishment of innocent people like those two children and their mother. Visitation is not just about the inmate.Phone calls are not just about the inmate. TDCJ states that it works to encourage friends and family to stay in touch with the inmates, but one has to wonder just how hard it works to enable this when it comes to explaining to a 3 years old why daddy can't give them a hug this weekend.

TDCJ and many other similar organisations fall into the habit of only seeing the inmate. Peer pressure is all well and good, but when the target has not done anything wrong, it simply breeds resentment and reduces co-operation from others that are affected by the punitive measures. Inmates rarely talk to other inmates in the visit room. Inmates, even locked in single line cells, have far more opportunity to talk. The reasoning behind the severe segregation of the inmates in my husband's wing this week was, on the surface, flawed.

For those who think we should just be thankful that we were able to have any kind of visit at all, I would ask what kind of person would you prefer to return to society - one with the support of friends and family who finds work and contributes through taxes, or one with no support who very quickly returns to crime and continues to cost the state and tax payers money? Have you ever tried to spend a whole year away from your wife or husband, with no phone calls? My husband might have broken the law, but I haven't.

We did have a good visit, despite the high noise level. I also had more of a holiday this time, instead of just flying in and out either side of a weekend. And now I am back home and ready to refocus on building our own security further by buying the flat that I live in. Positive steps usually work better than negative ones.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

On the road again

Well in a day or so anyway. Today I'm doing the last minute laundry and checking of flight details etc before I head out over the the Atlantic (hopefully avoiding Hurricane Sandy!) and down to Texas to see my husband.

I found myself wondering earlier, just how many other people do this. I say people, although I guess the vast majority are female, though surely there are at least one or two guys who write to American female inmates and make the journey to see them occasionally. I doubt there is any way to officially count the numbers entering the USA to visit penpals and husbands/boyfriends/fiances each year, simply because most would not give that as their reason for entering the USA. I answer the border guards' questions as and when they are asked, I don't generally volunteer any unrequested information. I stay with an English friend while I'm over there who has been there for 30+ years, and once a border guard did ask me why I would want to go to the small town my friend lives in. I told him that is where she lives, and I could tell he thought I was crazy just for that. I can imagine his opinion if I'd told him that 2 days later we'd be driving up to Palestine to visit my husband in prison. That's why I, and many people I know who do this, don't mention visiting prisons when we travel. It's really not worth the hostility and condescension you receive.

But still I wonder how many people from Europe, Canada and even Australia make this journey each year - and some, multiple times a year. This will be my 10th or 11th visit, I'm not really counting. Each time I'm there, I spend around $500, which isn't much really as I don't treat it like a holiday. Might not sound like much going into the American economy just by myself, but what if there are thousands of people doing the same thing - and spending considerably more than I do - each year.

It is interesting to note the difference in attitudes at the moment between President Obama and Mitt Romney when it comes to all things foreign. Mr Romney says that to be effective overseas, America must be strong at home. That's a very insular view, as if we over here care much in general about how America is at home. We just want to be sure that America isn't dragging the world into yet another war it can't win and has no business financing or facilitating. Mr Romney didn't make a good impression when he recently visited Europe and the Middle East. Someone should remind him that you don't make friends by insulting people or insinuating that you're better than they are.

By contrast, Europe seemed to enjoy President Obama's visit a couple of years ago, particularly his Irish "relatives" the O'Bamas. That was pure genius. It doesn't matter what his political leanings are, or his social policy or even his foreign policy, what Obama has that Romney doesn't is an understanding of people. He doesn't talk down them, he doesn't take a paternal stance and speak as though he knows what's best for us if we would only listen in some Victorianesque tone voice and painted smile. But he can be decisive, and he leads quietly. Maybe Americans would rather have a noisy blusterous individual who stumbles over malapropisms and unimportant things like the truth, and leaves a trail of destruction in their wake. If they do, I'll be leaving America with Mr Romney in charge. And if that happens, it might just get even harder for me to return, because I'm sure I'm not the kind of person he wants hanging out on his turf, even if I am spending my money there for a while.  

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Song of the moment

The Gaslight Anthem "Handwritten"

Just has the most appropriate word right now. Enjoy!

Monday, 1 October 2012

"Improvements" to the Offender Telephone System in TDCJ

Hot off the press from The Echo (the inmate newspaper inside TDCJ), here are some details of the "improvements" to the system:

"Offender Telephone System Implements Changes
Changes are happening to the Offender Telephone System (OTS). Some were effective on August 8, and other will be phased in as enhancements are made to the automated system to support changes.

Offenders are now allowed an unlimited number of minutes each month. Also, the maximum duration of each call has increased from 15 minutes to 20 minutes.

Another immediate change now allowed offenders to hear a list of family and friends (F&F) who are registered to receive their telephone calls. A voice prompt provides offenders with instructions for listening to their list of registered F&F.

Offenders are also able to purchase an unlimited amount of phone time on a monthly basis from their Trust Fund Account. F&F will be allowed to fund their Securus Correctional Billings Service (SCBS) accounts or pay their bill, up to $250, through the web or the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, and up to $500, through the call centre (800-844-6591) in one transaction.

Phased in changes will include an offender-approved calling list, separate from the offender visitor list. Once implemented, an offender will no longer have to add a F&F to his/her visitor list if they only want to have telephone contact. An offender will have up to 20 approved registered F&F, excluding attorney(s), on his/her approved calling list.

Until the approved calling list changes are fully functional, offenders must continue to add F&F to their visitor lists in order to have telephone contact. As important note regarding these changes is they impact only the offender telephone list; all current policies and procedures regarding the offender's visitor list will remain in place.

Another phased-in change will allow offenders to call approved registered postpaid/contract (no prepaid) cell phones. F&F can only register their postpaid cell phones by calling the Enrollment Centre (866=806-7804) and speaking to a representative. During the registration process, the representative with F&F in the call and with their permission, will contact the F&F's phone company to verify the owner of the phone and that the cell phone is postpaid/contract.

Any previously registered landline telephone number that is switched to a cell phone by F&F will be inactivated and will require a re-registration of the telephone number as a cell phone. Once the landline is switched to a prepaid cell phone, the number cannot be re-registered and will be permanently inactivated as long as it remains prepaid.

If a F&F has previously registered a landline, they can keep receiving calls on that landline as well as any approved registered postpaid cell phone. It is important to note that each approved, registered phone number counts as one of the 20 allowed numbers an offender is allowed to contact.

Announcements regarding the OTS changes will be available to offenders through the offender phones and printed materials and to F&F through websites and printed materials.

Here is a recap of the changes:
* Offenders will have an unlimited number of minutes each month.
* Offenders will have 20 minute maximum duration calls, up from 15 minutes.
* Offenders can listen to their list of approved and registered F&F when making calls.
* Offenders can purchase an unlimited amount of phone time st the commissary.
* Offenders will experience an increase in the transaction amount of F&F SCBS accounts.

To be phased in:
* Offender telephone list will be separate from the offender visitor list.
* Offenders may have up to 20 registered F&F on an approved calling list.
* Offenders can call approved, registered, postpaid/contract cell phones.

Important telephone numbers and websites for F&F are:
F&F Registration: 866-806-7804

F&F Billing

Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Ombudsman Coordinator:


Still no mention of extending the system - as many other states and the Federal prison system does - to include overseas phone calls. Given the information above, the only reason I can see for this lies firmly with the phone company itself. Securus has no way of enforcing someone overseas to take up a phone contract with them in order to use the service. A way round this could be for Securus to provide remote phone numbers for overseas F&F - as many other phone companies do. These are acceptable for jails all across the US including those in Texas. Those numbers could be available only on a pre-paid basis (as most others currently are) with a debit or credit card with the same address as the phone account would be registered to, so the company gets the cash up-front and overseas F&F are able to receive calls on an approved number.

We live in an era of instant remote payment transactions with the tap of a cell phone. There is no logical reason why Securus is still resisting this revenue opportunity.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum...

You'd be forgiven for thinking this was about ancient Rome, but actually it really is about forums.

I'm a member of a few, have been for ohhhh about 15 years now, covering very random and different subjects. One, associated with an inmate penpal site, often has colourful arguments and falling outs, and when those happen some members post that they wish everyone would just play nice and "aren't we all here for the same thing?" and even recently "grow up"! It makes me chuckle when I see those kind of posts because (as I have been known to say on the forums) humans are not very good at playing nicely and it happens everywhere.

The disadvantage with public fall outs on a forum related to inmates, is that any passer by could get the impression that those who write to inmates are all a sandwich short of a picnic. The stereotypes must be true if that's how we behave!Well, some are, but most arent. We just have strong views on things and generally when you feel safe somewhere, you feel more able to discuss meaty subjects, and it's usually those that turn into the major slanging matches.

So I thought today I would just mention that a similar thing has happened on another forum I have been a member of for about a year. Now, before you go jumping to conclusions and think I might be the causal factor in all this, I have hardly posted anything on this other forum for weeks, mainly because I didn't feel I had anything to contribute. But I went for a look today and found that one of those fall-out things has occurred. In true human fashion, the forum has divided into factions, with one side taking their metaphorical ball home, and others setting up camp elsewhere.

What could this forum be, I hear you ask? Could it be a sporting forum, as we all know that passions run high with sport supporters. Could it be politics, given the frantic American presidential posturing at the moment? Could it even be a forum about the use of the hyphen in the English language (certain to raise the blood pressure of any pedantic academic)?

Nope. It's a forum about knitting dolls. 

Friday, 24 August 2012

It's not what you know, but who you know - and TDCJ wants to know too

A few months ago, TDCJ started telling its officers that if they had people on their personal Facebook accounts who were currently under parole or probation conditions, or who had been incarcerated in the past, then the officers would have to delete those individuals from their Facebook account. TDCJ rules state that TDCJ staff are not permitted to associate with any offenders or their families.

More recently, TDCJ has been saying to officers that it requires their Facebook log in details so that TDCJ can check to see who might be on their friends list.

TDCJ is saying to its employees that they cannot "associate" with any of those people (anyone). How easy do you think that is to comply with? Especially if by "associate with", TDCJ means "go to the same church as", or "use as a babysitter", or even "teach your children at school". And what if TDCJ should find out about someone on the officer's Facebook page, when the officer does not actually know themselves that that person is related to an inmate for example. Can TDCJ trample over an individual's privacy by telling the Officer what they have found? It would appear so.

This would be funny if it weren't so serious. TDCJ is an agency with a high level of staff turn-over, poor retention rates, an inability to attract enough new recruits, and one that continually advertises for new staff in Nigeria. And yet it is determined to reduce its current staff base even further by carrying out a witch-hunt for anyone who might just be connected in some way to those horrible, nasty, criminals who would surely murder each and every one of us in our beds if they were ever to be released (except around 70,000 do get released each year and fewer are returning to TDCJ year on year).

How far will TDCJ go with their policy? Will they eventually insist that an officer moves house because their next-door-neighbour's cousin's son has just been sent to prison? Will they start looking further back into an individual's family history to see if any of their ancestors were ever incarcerated back in the day when inmates were lucky to leave TDCJ alive (though it wasn't called TDCJ back then, there are still some in the agency who mourn the loss of their perceived power to inflict physical abuse on inmates who weren't "respectful" enough).

I see a lot of officers complaining about how they are now treated worse than the inmates. I have a small amount of sympathy when it comes to the foibles of the administration and petty rules that hinder rather than help keep officers and inmates safe. But I have no sympathy for them when they complain about having to be searched when they enter the unit. That's no different to friends and family of inmates, and officers have collectively looked down on us with scorn for long enough. They usually say that we choose to be there supporting our inmates, so we should just suck it up. Well, now it's their turn to suck it up, because they choose to work there. Perhaps they should try some reverse psychology and see it as keeping themselves safe from those who would happily bring in weapons for inmates to use.

By keeping officers and those related to inmates separate, TDCJ are operating a divide and rule policy. Keep the two sides at arm's length, don't allow either to educate the other that the stereotypes are not true, keep everyone in the dark, and TDCJ can just keep doing what it always does: spending tax-payer's (that's officers' AND inmates families') money without having to be fully accountable for how much and what it spends it all on. The old red herring of "reduced public safety" is peddled liberally by TDCJ, and yet if 70,000 inmates are already released each year without mass violence on the streets of Texas, how safe is TDCJ actually keeping the public right now? 

But the point really is this: TDCJ cannot afford to keep alienating its current officers and expect them to keep sucking it up. TDCJ needs staff, but can't afford to pay for them. They either need to raise some more money (hello? International phone calls? extended visits where the family pays a premium? a care package system that actually gets off the ground?), or they need to reduce the number of inmates so they can operate with a lower staff count. Doing nothing is not an option; the lessons of Ruiz should not have to come back to haunt TDCJ again.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Just marking time

As I've said before, I don't want this to be "just another inmate-wife blog". That's why I don't blog about the minute details of what we deal with on our journey, and why I throw in my handcrafts and other stuff now and again. I'm more than just an inmate's wife, just as hubby is more than an inmate or defined solely by his crime. We're individuals who just happen to be in this situation together at the moment.

But some things keep rearing their ugly heads time and again, and right now it's the phone situation. It's funny sometimes when I find myself explaining it to someone else, as I did this morning to a good friend, and I find a justification or partial explanation in what I'm saying as I say it that I had not fully comprehended before. In case you didn't already know, TDCJ inmates had a phone system installed around 2 years ago, but there are strict conditions of use, the main ones being:

Inmates can only call those who are
  • on their visit list
  • registered with the phone company and have a landline in their name
  • resident in the USA (excluding Alaska and Hawaii)
To start with, the number of minutes per month was also strictly regulated. Then it went up to 240 per month, and now it has just become "unlimited". However the other conditions still apply.

This means that a TDCJ inmate can chatter away to their heart's content with a US penpal they have never met and possibly have only exchanged a couple of letters with over the course of a few weeks, yet I cannot talk to my husband at all under any circumstances except if I can get there for a visit, when we have been married for almost 6 years and I knew him before his crime. Tell me how this is fair.

But what I was explaining to my friend earlier is that TDCJ are not discriminating against hubby. He can use the phone system just like any of the other inmates in general population can. The issue is, I am discriminated against because of where I live. He has registered, has recorded his voice, is in general population and not Ad Seg or on Death Row, so in the eyes of TDCJ and the Texas legislators I am the one in the wrong because I live in the wrong place. And why should they care? They have provided what TIFA and other advocate groups asked for; a phone service.

We've dealt with it for the past 7 years since he moved from county jail into TDCJ and we'll continue to deal with it, but sometimes things happen that would be much simpler to deal with by spending just a few minutes of real-time talking. Right now, his mum is dying, and there are things we need to discuss and work out, but we have to do it through letters that take around 10 days to cross the ocean. Tell me how this is fair.

No, tell the Texas legislators that it is NOT fair. Please.

Friday, 6 July 2012

That time of year again

While I am here, wading ankle deep through rain water on my way home today and wondering if the sun will ever show its face again to this little island I call home, Texas is baking. And I don't mean making cup-cakes.

Every year, anecdotal reports seep out of TDCJ prisons about heat-related deaths. Advocates start ranting about the lack of air conditioning in the prisons, and the tuff-on-crime crowd start ranting in return about liberal hug-a-thugs and how their granddaddy never had air conditioning back in the day and why should criminals get such a priviledge when other law-abiding citizens can't afford it, or when soldiers are out in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan in similar conditions.

It's a tough argument to find any common ground on, that's for sure.

Should bad behaviour be rewarded? Well, no. And no one is really saying that it should.

Does the state have a duty of care towards those it decides to keep incarcerated? Emphatically, yes it does. And more importantly, the law says they do too. So then we move into the game of What-is-reasonable-care? This is a very simple game, played between the TDCJ top dogs and the Supreme Courts (because Texas courts generally will agree with anything a state agency wants to do), which involves the Judges saying "you need to take reasonable care of inmates" and TDCJ saying "we do take all reasonable steps to care for inmates". And yet inmates do still die each year from heat-related conditions.

No one is really asking for every square inch of TDCJ property to be fully air conditioned to 65 degrees F. That's not at all practical, given the design of the buildings, and TDCJ would say they couldn't afford the running costs (although they do have a large pool of trainable labour to maintain any equipment, and plenty of space to set up solar and wind power harvesting technology which could actually bring energy costs to zero and may even enable TDCJ to sell some of the power it harvests... oh wait, they can't, the oil people wouldn't like it).

Inmates do have to take some responsibility for their own health during hot weather. They do need to make sure that they drink - at least 1 cup of water (not coffee) every hour - and more so when they are on lockdown because the food in the johnny sacks wont have much liquid content. But should inmates be forced to adopt the extreme measures of laying under wet sheets with a small fan blowing hot air across them just to get enough relief in order to sleep for a few hours?

And what of the guards and other staff who share the same space with the inmates, but who cannot strip down to their boxers? What is the point of an employment union if it does little to improve the working conditions of its members?

Hubby tells me not to worry. He knows how to look after himself in the heat, and doesn't care if others think less of him for making sure he drinks whenever water is available while he is working. He complains about the extremes sometimes, but then so do I when we are on our 60th day with rain of some kind (it feels like it, it could actually be more than 60 days).

I'd love better conditions for all inmates. But what I'd love even more is for TDCJ and the Texas legislature to look seriously at reforming the sentences and time spent before parole is possible - and then to see parole as an affirmative action and not something to be denied at any cost on the basis of things an inmate cannot themselves change. I'd rather we only had to do a couple more years of this long distance thing, instead of at least another 12, so that's what I'm focusing on. I have wellies, Hubby has a fan. We'll be OK.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Pixies again

So how are those two pixies coming along, I hear you ask. Well, as luck would have it, Ariel and Tinder both wanted to show you their new clothes today so I had to get my camera out and catch them while the sun was behind a cloud....

This is Ariel.

                                                    A rear view of her jacket:

Close up of the buttons at the front:

And this is Tinder

The sparkles on the red yarn show up well here. The yellow lace holes are worked in embroidery silk and a very small crochet hook.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

A little tidy up

From now, all items for sale will be featured on a separate blog to this one, with links to my Etsy shop where the items can be purchased safely online. I have removed the pages from this blog so as to keep it focused on what we do.

If you are interested, check out Silvaculture For Sale

Thursday, 14 June 2012

World Wide Knit In Public Day 2012

This year, World Wide Knit In Public Day is actually running for a whole week (why knit once when you can knit 7 times?!). So if you see more folks than usual clicking their sticks together in the open air, why not stop and say hello, admire their work, and maybe have a go yourself.

More details here

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Tieing holes together

Which actually might have made a better name for the Ravelry group I've started!

That's what this post is about. I've been a member of Ravelry for a while, it's a knitting and crochet resource website with about 1 million members worldwide, and a fabulous place for inspiration, patterns, materials, and general yarn-related chatter. There are a couple of prison-ish groups there, but nothing specifically for those with incarcerated loved ones. Until now :)

The group is called Ladies in Waiting drop in if you fancy a space where you can talk about your ups and downs, with prisons or  yarn crafts.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Can't stand the heat?

Last year, a guy that my husband knew at his unit died of heat-related complications. The guy had been at the psychiatric unit for a couple of years and had just returned to general population; he was sent straight out to work in the fields in 100 degree heat and died after a few days of working. He was in his 50s.

Texas had a particularly long hot summer last year, and rumours were rife of other heat-related deaths occuring, although TDCJ never publically confirmed any of these. There are plenty of things that can be put as cause of death without implicating a system that puts inmates outside to work in such heat or keeps them in glass and/or metal boxes with little ventilation. This year, it would seem that TDCJ is practicing something quite rare - forward thinking.

My husband has a bottom bunk restriction because of a hernia he had a couple of years ago, and since March he has been on the bottom tier in his wing. I noticed he had been moved last weekend when I sent him a Jpay email (inmates cannot reply by email,  but they can receive printed copies of the text and it's a lot faster than traditional letters through the post when you have something important to say) and I now know why. They needed his bunk for a heat-restriction inmate. Those with that classification are housed whenever possible on the lower 2 tiers (there are 4 tiers to each wing where my husband is), to minimise the amount of stair climbing they have to do. It also helps to keep similar inmates together in one place, and it appears that quite a few guys are being moved around to achieve this.

So now he is back on a third tier, but this time almost as far from the dayroom as he could be. This is good for someone who likes relative peace and quiet when he is reading and writing! His new cellie appears to be a good match as well; another older guy who has been at the unit for the majority of his time. Unfortunately with every move or change, my husband enters a period of self-reflection and self-loathing that can mean he stops writing while he works his way through it.

As we don't have a visit firmly planned for anytime soon, I just have to hope my own well of self-reliance and determination doesn't run dry this summer.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

What a difference a few hours can make

This morning I was happy and posting about the new dolls I'm making.

Now, just a few hours later, I am in tears because one of my penpals has died.

My friend, Jon, took his own life 3 weeks ago. He was in his 70s and would never have walked out of prison alive. He had the last word, true to form.

Regardless of what Jon did 46 years ago, in the 5 years I had been corresponding with him he had been a spirited, alert, intelligent and stimulating friend. We shared our hip ailments, and our criticisms of the political systems we both lived under. He wrote 2 letters to every one of mine, and loved to learn about British words and phrases and their meanings.

I will miss him, and my sympathies are with his family.

New project: Pixie girls

I like making knitted dolls, and I'm a member of a group on Ravely that is currently doing a knit-along. Our inspiration is "Ren Fairy" but as I don;t want to fuss around with wings, I have decided to make pixies instead. These will then be on their way to Australia, as gifts for 2 little sisters.

These pixies will be bigger than the dolls I've previously made. This is because I want to work more detail into their clothes, and that's tricky when the clothes are so small. They already have names: Ariel and Tinder, and their outfits will match their personalities. So, to start, here is Ariel's body, legs and head with ears. I'm doing Tinder's legs today and then on to the arms.

Sunday, 6 May 2012


As I've mentioned before, I have several penpals who are in prison in various states on the US. My pals and I have a steady and uncomplicated arrangement with our writing. We don't talk on the phone, as many people seem to want with their penpals. Even if I did want to, it would not be right for me while I cannot talk to my husband in that way. I also don't visit my penpals; the guys would definitely be off-limits while my husband is in prison, and while the girls would probably welcome a visit, I can only stretch myself so far when I'm over there. So we just write, once every 4-6 weeks or so, and talk about wtuff I do and stuff that they are all interested in.

Recently I have been discussing the pros and cons of some of the US states as places to live in with my older guy in Pennsylvania. I had mentioned that Idaho looked as if it had a lot of the things I was looking for, and he said that he enjoyed the fishing there.

A few days ago I received a surprise package in the mail from my PA pal. It was a book, a National Geographic photo book about the natural history of Idaho. It cost him over $10 to send and I was totally humbled that he had sent it. He gets paid a tiny amount for the work he does in prison, and is a very proud guy who will not allow me to send stationary or money to cover any. And yet he wanted to give me something that would cost him more than 2 or 3 weeks to pay for.

I write to inmates because I am interested in people and I like getting mail. I don't really have any other altruistic motives, or a desire to "save" anyone. I've never received anything like this from a penpal before and I am both humbled and also really happy for Jon that he could do something that made him feel good too.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

I do more than knit....

Occasionally I make stuff in other ways too. Recently a friend told me she was going to Malta to attend a wedding and instead of a hat, she wanted a fascinator. For those who don't know, a fascinator is a concoction of net, feathers, lace, ribbon, flowers and sparkles generally attached to a hair slide or hair band. They've recently caused controversy at the Ascot race meeting, as they don't qualify as a hat for the Royal Enclosure.

It's amazing what you can do with a few feathers and a couple of hours.....

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

A little layette

We're waiting for my friend to have her third baby at the moment. For someone who was told 5 years ago that conception was unlikely, she's done pretty well so far with a boy and a girl, and now we are waiting for another boy to arrive :) In amongst all the other bits of knitting I've done recently, I've been making small things for the baby. A set of baby clothing is called a layette, but that's a term that doesn't seem to get used much these days, perhaps because relatively few women make the clothes their babies wear in the first few months after birth.

So what do you put in a layette? Generally it will consist of vests, pants (often known as soakers in America I believe), all-in-one babygro or bodysuits, leggins, jackets, and the usual mittens, booties and hats / bonnets. You can add a blanket if you have time. The key is to use patterns and styles that allow the baby to be dressed with the minimum of pulling of arms and legs, and that allow nappies (diapers) to be changed without removing the whole garment.

I've done 4 pieces so far, and I'm about to make a couple of pairs of pants as the baby will be in terry nappies during the day at home.

Friday, 23 March 2012

more dolls and more movement

Two things to blog about today, especially as it's been a good couple of weeks since the last post. First I'd like to introduce my newest pair of dolls, Abney and Teal:

These two have been a real labour of love! They are the characters from a Cbeebies animated show of the same name, and have been made for a friend's 2 year old daughter. You can see some episodes of the show here and decide for yourself how well I've matched them to the characters. I did have to make a couple of changes, to accommodate a 2 year old's fingers and temper in being able to dress and undress the dolls! I'm especially pleased with Teal's hair and her sneakers.

Second, the fall-out from my husband's momentary lack of judgement continues. On Sunday I thought I would start a letter to him using the Jpay email service, and when I hit the preview button I noticed that his housing assignment had changed.

This is something we had expected, but even so it was a surprise and not a welcome one. It means he has been moved from minimum security to medium security, and makes it more likely that he will have to turn out for hoe squad. And no, that has nothing to do with hookers.

So I've been waiting all week to hear from him, and as is often the case, the letter that did arrive today was written the day before he moved cells. It's a very wierd concept, living 2 weeks behind yourself all the time. And people wonder why I may get a little testy sometimes when I read forum posts from people who haven't had their morning/daily/hourly email fix from their penpal and O-M-G could it be that their penpal doesn't want to speak to them anymore or perhaps the penpal is laying in a pool of blood taking his (it is invariably a he) last breath.

As mother would say, some people don't know they're born.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

This is why TDCJ needs to allow international phone calls by inmates

The best example of a real situation has occurred to illustrate the stupidity and missed opportunity of TDCJ and the Texas Legislature in not permitting inmates to make international calls via the new phone system. Inmates are permitted only to call those on their visitation lists who have a registered USA land-line with the phone company (excluding Hawaii and Alaska). And for those thinking that Skype would circumvent this issue, it wont. You have to provide proof of residency that matches the landline number.

There was a riot at my husband's unit last Thursday.

Normally I wouldn't be too concerned, because it is a big place and often he is nowhere near where the trouble is. I just wait for the letter with the details which usually takes between 10-14 days to get here. But this time, the circumstances are different:

The confrontation happened when the field crew were returning to the chow hall. I currently don't know if my husband has been given his old job back on food service (which would put him in the chow hall when the disturbance occurred) or if he is still assigned to the field squad and had to go out to work (which would put him in the chow hall when the disturbance occurred), or even if he is still not being called to work at all and just went for his lunch as usual (which would put him in the chow hall when the disturbance occurred). So whatever his assignment, the chances are high that he was there.

I've been told there were several officers and inmates involved, an officer has a broken jaw and injured hand (and I'm sad for them that they had to deal with it) and that tear gas / pepper spray was used. The unit was put on temporary lockdown, which was later lifted for all excluding the wing where the field crew are housed.

I am pretty sure that once the lockdown ended, many inmates got on the phones and were telling their loved ones that they were OK. Those whose loved ones live in the USA anyway. My husband doesn't have anyone to call because none of the family over there have a land-line in their name - like so many Americans and a growing number of Europeans. So he can't even call someone and ask them to pass a message on to me that he is OK. He fulfills all the inmate-related requirements for calls, such as not being in Ad Seg.

So I have to wait for around 2 weeks before I hear anything from him, even if he mails something out that very night. How is this fair on me, when others can receive calls? I'm not asking for special treatment, just equity with other friends and family of TDCJ inmates who are no better or worse individuals than I am.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

You can't choose your relations

Most people, I think, would like to look back through their family tree and find some interesting or noteworthy characters. Maybe a politician, a mistress of a Royal, an heroic soldier, or perhaps a darker side to their family such as a slave trader or criminal. But that's OK when it's in the past isn't it. We can distance ourselves and our present lives from anything that our ancestors might have done, because we are not them. True?

Funny then how that doesn't apply to current family situations. If you find out that a family member has gone to prison for example, do you react the same as if that family member lived 100 or 200 years ago? I suspect not. And I don't understand why.

There is a term, "guilt by association". This actually has some legal standing, not only in several American states, but also in English law. It means if you know about an illegal (or just plain wrong) act and do nothing to stop it, you are as guilty as the person actually committing that act. It does NOT mean that anyone who simply knows the individual is as guilty as the criminal themselves. It is perfectly possible to know someone and not condone their actions. I know this because I am one of those people.

I learned this weekend that people who know me (or know of me) in real life have been reading this blog. My first reaction to that is Great! That's what it's for! But then I started to think about how what is written here could potentially change how those people treat me the next time we meet or have to work together. It's not that it is any secret that my husband is in prison in the US, or even what he did to end up there. Everyone who knows me socially, knows about my marriage. I am still the same person I was before those readers found this blog - still doing the same job in the same way, living in the same crappy social housing and still liking the same music and speaking in the same language with the same spiritual beliefs. But now not only do I wonder if they will treat me differently (however subtly) but also if I will treat them differently too. It's an unusual situation: I know roughly who they are, and they obviously know me, but they may not know that I know. Sounds more like an espionage thriller than a day in the life of an inmate wife....

The reason I'm posting about this though is more because I have been doing some genealogy recently. I did my husband's birth mother's family a while ago and thanks to the Mormons I managed to trace them back to the late 1600s to their origins in the Bayern area in the Bavarian region of Germany. I've been there, it's lovely, and I haven't yet found the exact reason for their relocation to what is now Maryland USA. In my husband's family there are wealthy timber merchants and a politician (to his amusement, a Republican), but no other criminals that I've discovered.

Last weekend I did some digging into my own family history. My mum tried a few years before she died, but did not get very far, mainly because she couldn't get access to any documents (pre-internet) and because our families seem to have their children later in life so there are bigger generation spans and most of them have died. We're also not in any way shape or form a "close family".

I used a relatively new site findmypast.co.uk which allows you to purchase blocks of credits to access documents, rather than having to sign up for a whole year's subscription. This was my magic key! I have now tentatively gone back on both my parent's sides to around 1800, but I now have some mysteries of my own to solve:

* Why did my great great grandfather retire from the police before he was 35, and how and why did he show up on a census return aged 16 living at an address in Cheapside London with no parents and only a "Person in charge" given?

* Why does his daughter show up much later with her husband and also a different man living with them, with his status given as "father in law"?

* Did both sides of the family know each other? And was one a lodger of the other family at one point as a census return suggests?

* If my grandad had a sister, who lived just 20 miles from the rest of us, why didn't my parents ever tell me, especially when I knew about his brothers?

One of our family names is Coldrey. It's not particularly common, and I'd be interested to hear from anyone else with that name, who might be able to shed some light on my retired policeman.

On the whole though, my history is how I had been told. We're of simple country stock and really haven't moved out of our native county before my parents up-sticks to Cornwall. I'll be doing a trip back to our main village in a couple of weeks so maybe I'll have some more pieces of the puzzle after that.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Could you live without friends? (WAP petition)

I've been away for a few days and been busy as it's been my birthday, but I need to post a link to a petition that has been set up by the folks at the Write A Prisoner website.

To sign it, click HERE and please add it to your Facebook, Twitter, etc

The rationale behind it is as follows.....

"We are WriteAPrisoner.com, a website that posts the following types of profiles for inmates: Educational, Employment, Housing, Legal, and our most popular, Pen-Pal. Members of the public choose to write the inmates posted on our website via postal mail. We do not give inmates access to the Internet in any way. In 2003 the Florida Department of Corrections proposed a rule to ban inmates from seeking pen-pals. This rule bans inmates from participating in all of our programs. We attended the State’s public hearing on the proposed rule in Tallahassee, Florida, as did representatives from many other organizations that oppose the rule, including the ACLU, the Catholic Church, members of the public, ministers, and others. Not one person showed up to support the rule! Still, in 2004, the rule was implemented by former Florida Department of Corrections’ Secretary, James Crosby. (Incidentally, Mr. Crosby, who implemented this rule, has since been imprisoned himself on corruption charges.) In 2009, along with Freedom Through Christ Prison Ministry (one of the oldest prison ministries in this country), we challenged this rule in Federal Court, represented by a highly competent team of lawyers from the Florida Justice Institute. Presenting NO EVIDENCE of wrongdoing by pen-pals or WriteAPrisoner.com of any kind, the district court arbitrarily ruled against us (and the inmates).

We appealed to a panel of judges on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in hopes that justice would prevail. Again, presenting not a single piece of evidence of wrongdoing, a panel of three judges ruled against us in yet another stunningly arbitrary decision. While we pursue the appeals process, we are hopeful that you will sign this petition asking Governor Scott of the State of Florida to repeal this senseless and destructive rule.
Research overwhelmingly shows that inmates having access to contacts outside of prison has a highly positive and effective impact on rehabilitation. Still, the State of Florida has cut them completely off without even so much as a single documented problem. Numerous studies show us the State’s position is counterproductive to helping these people turn their lives around and returning to us as well adjusted citizens: http://writeaprisoner.com/why-write-a-prisoner/default.aspx

Since the adoption of this ban in Florida, two other states have followed suit and adopted almost verbatim language of the Florida Department of Corrections’ rule that bans our mail. They are Governor Nixon from Missouri and Governor Daniels from Indiana. We intend to send this petition to all three governors. Please support what little is left of a First Amendment for prisoners or those seeking to help them turn their lives around, and sign this petition today. Thank you!"

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Not Public Property

There are a lot of stereotypes that go with prison; the bully guard, the cruel warden, the flirty nurse/teacher/librarian, the tough convict, the wimpy convict, and of course the inmate's wife. How do stereotypes become? In most cases, it is because there are indeed a very small number of people who do act/look/behave in such a way that is extreme. And because these are extreme cases, people tend to talk about them, and so the myth evolves into a stereotype that most people recognise and many people actually thinks is the real thing.

There was the first episode of a new drama on BBC 1 last night, called "Prison Wives". It's not a documentary, it uses fictional characters and a fictional prison, but it portrays the lives of an assortment of women whose husbands are locked up in the UK. I really was in two minds whether to watch it, and saw the first three or four minutes after the credits started before I turned it off. But the tiny bit that I did see, made me think it would be a good drama, probably addressing some of the issues that British inmate wives face in a sensitive and unsensationaistic way. Of course it is entertainment, but the BBC often has a way of commissioning dramas like this that handle topics in a far more grown-up way than many so-called "documentary" makers do.

One of the reasons I decided not to watch the programme was that I'd had enough of prison for one day. I don't do my husband's time for him, and I don't feel obliged to make it the centre of my universe in the way that it is for him. While I have an interest in prison issues and I like murder-mysteries, that doesn't mean it is the only thing that interests me.

When I got home from work last night there was a message in my inbox on one of the prison forums I inhabit, from a woman from Associated Press UK, asking me if I would like to take part in a film about "women who fall in love with inmates". Most of the time, I just delete messages like that, especially when there is a specific section on that particular forum where the media can post their requests for guinea pigs. Last night though, it really rubbed me the wrong way.

It is one thing to post a general request for all to see, but quite another to invade my inbox with a request, especially when they have obviously not taken the time to read what is publicly available about me and my husband. If they had done so, they would know that I did not fall in love with an inmate, I fell in love with a free man who then went on to comit a crime and is now an inmate. Not the same thing at all. They would also know, if they chose to find out, that I also write to several other inmates across America - why don't they want to know about friendships with inmates? Why don't they want to talk to me about two of my pals who have both spent time on Death Row (in different states) and who are now in general population serving life sentences?

But what really got me was the old ploy of "your chance to tell your story". Am I expected to bite their hand off and cry "Of course I'd love to take part in something that would lead to so much ridicule and pity being sent my way, and may damage my chances of moving to the US or my husband's chances of parole at a later date". It would not be our chance to tell our story; it would be us being used to illustrate whatever whimsical slant the producer wanted to put on their own perceptions of what life is like for "someone like me".

I came to the conclusion several years ago that there is no way to show on film this life that my husband and I have without the majority of people either thinking we are sad, mad or bad. The minute you start to try and explain, it makes you sound desperate or dillusional, even to those who may not immediately think poorly of you. I even find myself thinking how daft I sound sometimes, so I can imagine what others must think. I decided that film is not the medium to use if I want to give a positive portrayal, at least, not someone elses' film.

I write this blog because I know there are people out there who face a similar situation to us, with the hope that they can find information and maybe a little solidarity here. I am open and honest with the people I meet face to face about where my husband is and why, but I don't parade around town with a banner to make a statement about it. I don't eat, sleep and think prison 24/7 and I have absolutely no intention of doing so.

If anyone is going to make a film or write a book or play about us, it will be us. We're not some Victorian freak show that you can amuse yourself with, and frankly we don't fit into the stereotype that the media seem desperate to show anyway. We're just two people making the best of a bad situation together.

If you want juicy scandal, try the Lohans or Hiltons of this world. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Major case update

It was what we expected. Dropped a line class, 30 day recreation and commisarry restriction (excluding hygiene and stationary supplies), 30 day job relocation to medical orderly (which in effect means 30 days of doing nothing because they rarely require any extra help in medical).

Could have been a LOT worse.

The thing is, hubby was thinking about changing jobs anyway. He's been working the food service line for 6 years now and the hussling and squabbling of the other inmates really gets him down. So he now has 30 days to decide whether he wants to go back to it, or to request a job doing something else (but not hoe squad and not laundry). In the long run, this could be a good thing, and probably not what the Captain had in mind as a punishment.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Major case

I pick and choose what I blog about TDCJ, mainly because I don't want this to be *just another inmate wife blog* but also because sometimes there are things that don't need to be in the public domain at the same time that they are happening.

I've been thinking about the rehabilitation side of TDCJ recently, or lack of any meaningful rehabilitation or re-entry planning or programmes. In the latest letter I have from my husband, it would appear that he may have picked up a major case for doing something that most of us in the free world take for granted and certainly wouldn't think twice about doing.

When someone in the office where I work has a headache, it is very common for them to ask in general if anyone has any headache pills. This usually results in 5 or 6 people waving the little plastic and foil strips as an offering, along with disclaimers such as "you should probably only take one as you're small" or "don't worry, they're not prescription ones". I would put money on this scene being repeated across the globe as people generally want to help others who are feeling a bit ill or in discomfort.

In TDCJ, inmates are not permitted to share anything, even if it would help out someone else. This is a security measure which I do understand, but it also goes against the fundamental basics of communal living - the greater good of the whole depends on people getting along and being nice to each other.

My husband gets acid reflux regularly, and has Zantac from the pharmacist at his unit. Many other inmates also have Zantac on prescription there. It is available over the counter outside TDCJ and is not a controlled substance in any way. While he was working in the dining hall a couple of weeks ago, another guy mentioned that he had just got his prescription. He gave my husband a pill because he was experiencing heartburn at the time. A guard saw them.

Now, I am NOT criticising the guard at all. He did not know what changed hands and he was absolutely correct in pulling both my husband and the other inmate out and searching them thoroughly etc. But I also find it difficult to criticise my husband or the other inmate in this instance, for doing what so many other people do every day - including I suspect a good number of corrections officers.

At his time of writing, my husband was fairly certain he was going to catch a major case because of this, though it had been a couple of days since the incident and no notification had yet been received by him. I would hope that the Major or Warden, on reviewing the evidence and circumstances, would decide on a minor case for both inmates. Why go for a more serious charge when the pills were not narcotics - where does that leave the punishment scale if the next time the pills are narcotic? It also does not appear to have been a planned transaction; rather it was a short discussion between 2 guys who both know the other takes the same medication.

Where does this leave rehabilitation? By punishing inmates for behaving in a social and community-minded way, what exactly is TDCJ promoting? Often one of the reasons that the Board of Pardons and Parole gives when denying an inmate parole is that they have become institutionalised. And yet this is precisely the behaviour that TDCJ itself encourages, and inmates who do not become institutionalised get punished for displaying that.

There is no clear plan or directive for rehabilitation in TDCJ. It is the only state criminal department of corrections that does not have "corrections" in its name (Texas Department for Criminal Justice). I have always thought that speaks far more about the attitudes of Texan legislators than it does about the inmates it holds.