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Saturday, 20 August 2016

Will the September TDCJ inmate strike change anything?

Some people may say that I shouldn't be blogging about this. Some may say that it could put hubby at risk of intimidation or retaliation by the prison guards or administration. So let me start by saying two things very clearly:

1. Hubby has no intention of taking part in the planned inmate strike on 9 September 2016, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have an opinion on it or discuss it.

2. Intimidation and retaliation are just other words for bullying, and if there is one thing I detest more than people touching things that don't belong to them, it's bullies. They only have power if you let them, and by not talking about something like this, you give them power.

OK, now that's out of the way, lets get to the subject at hand: the proposed inmate strike on 9 September. This is a follow-up, and in some cases, ongoing action, from the April strikes that took place in at least 5 TDCJ prisons and several others across America. The reasons for the protest and action are many - when you have around 2 million people affected directly by something, you are unlikely to get a single number one issue. But Texas is unusual in that it does not pay its inmates any money at all for the work that they are obliged to do (don't turn up for your work detail in TDCJ, you'll catch a case and further punishment which can include being placed in Ad Seg, loss of other 'priviledges' such as the already limited recreation time, etc).

Now I do get the argument put forward by many in Texas that inmates get a number of things 'for free' while in prison that they would have to pay for in the freeworld. These include food, a roof over their head, a bed, clothes, running water (from the walls if not from a tap, and you probably wouldn't want to drink it anyway given the levels of arsenic in some areas). I also get that these are people who have been found guilty or plead guilty (two things that do not necessarily mean a person IS guilty by the way) and are in prison as punishment. But just as TDCJ is fast becoming the dumping ground for mentally ill individuals, the Texas public and lawmakers have a somewhat schizophrenic relationship with prisons and inmates (and their families).

First, there is absolutely no such thing as a free anything in Texas (or anywhere else). Just because the inmate does not pay directly in cash for the food, bed, roof, clothes, etc, doesn't make it free. Either the family pay by sending money that is then used to cover some of the medical costs or communication costs or food and other items from the commissary, or EVERYONE ELSE in Texas who pays taxes is paying for it all. And for many, that includes the inmate right up to the day they find themselves in jail.

In a state so adverse to paying personal income tax or any other kind of tax, doesn't it strike you as odd that very few Texans question the amount of their tax that contributes to the monster machine that is TDCJ with it's more than 100 prisons and around 140,000 inmates?

If TDCJ paid a dollar an hour - dammit, even a dollar a day - to inmates who worked, then the $100 annual medical charge (inmates who are indigent are not denied medical attention - I wont call it 'care') would be a little easier to swallow, because it would indeed be coming from the inmate's own funds. But given that inmates do not get paid, it is not the inmate who then pays for the medical charge: it's the friends and family of the inmate who are already paying through their taxes, and are then being told that they will pay TWICE through the money they send the inmate.

It's not just the money, or lack of, that is an issue in Texas. The convoluted and downright deliberate lack of will to assign many inmates any credit or 'good time' if they do behave themselves, is clogging up the system. It is causing (along with the dysfunctional BPP system) inmates to remain in prison long after they make that mind shift from reprobate to remorseful and wanting to give something back to society. The inability of the system to see beyond a crime to the inmate, to measure that inmate against them self rather than against an outdated perception of what an inmate should be, or to see prison as an undesirable millstone around the neck of a community has lead to certain parties within TDCJ and the TX legislature working tirelessly to keep as many inmates in prison as possible just to keep the prison machine going as it is.

Given the size of TDCJ, one possible reason for not paying inmates to work could be that there simply would not be enough 'jobs' to go round. It almost certainly suits some sections of the administration that so many TDCJ inmates are excused work because of 'medical' reasons - when these individuals could easily take part in computer-based occupations (no, not the Internet or unrestricted email), building and repairs, modern farming (rather than the plantation slavery that has men weeding fields on their knees with their hands in the TX summer) and any number of other things that would.... oh, I remember, we don't want the prison population to fall too low do we, otherwise some good ol' boys might have to be let go. Better to keep those inmates in prison until they are too old or sick to contribute as much as they would like to society, so that if by some miracle they do get paroled, it will only be a matter of time before they roll back through the picket gate again.

So will the planned strike change anything?
 In short, no I don't think it will - beyond making life even more uncomfortable for any inmates not only involved, but also just in the same prisons as the action-takers. I understand the need to feel in control of ones destiny and to rise up against tyranny, but I really don't think this kind of action will achieve that.

What might go some way to achieving it is for the friends and families of the inmates to stop taking this laying down. Stop taking on the shame of your inmate's crime - let the inmate carry that, and walk in liberation with your head up to that polling booth and vote out the people who are standing in the way of change. Stand for local government yourself, then state government. TALK about this with people, don't let the bullies think they can do what they like and get away with it. Educate yourself, learn the law and use it, start blogs, newspapers, radio shows, join the TIFA, become active. Don't do your inmate's time for them, use the time to make the situation fairer for all now and all who come after. It can be done, you only have to look outside of the US to see that penal systems do not have to be run along the same lines as gulags.