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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.