In an article the mailroom tried to censor, Texas inmate Jason Walker describes the repression and retaliation directed against prisoners trying to get relief from the extreme summer heat.
Note: the first draft of this essay was censored by the Allred Unit mailroom, leading Jason to record an audio version that was broadcast by Kite Line Radio. Jason was then able to send out a written version of the essay, which is below.
“I don’t think prisoners are treated like humans in this state. If there was air conditioning in that prison, my dad would be alive, out of jail, and rebuilding his life right now.”
– Ashley Frantom on her father’s death at TDCJ Gurney Unit 1
Andre Shawn Boyen, #1750184, is an Allred Unit prisoner, who recently had his share of the retaliatory methods imposed by staff towards prisoners with heat sensitivities.
Since 2011, Boyen has been prescribed medication that, in effect, makes him sensitive to the hot weather. His daily medication intake consists of: 300mg capsules of Effexor for depression; 200mg of Tegretol for mood swings, and 100mg Promethazine for difficulty sleeping.
First, medical staff randomly revoked his bottom bunk pass, that allowed him to be permanently assigned a bottom bunk for ACL and fractured tibia surgery. “Someone has been running a scam, snatching our bottom bunk passes and forcing us to see a provider and basically pay $100 to get our bottom bunk back”, Boyen suggests, citing others who’d had it happen to them too, as backup to this assertion.
Then, on July 12, 2019, Boyen was moved from the building designed to accommodate heat-sensitive prisoners, to 7 Building, which is not. As he arrived to 7 Building accompanied by guards, his face and neck were drenched in, and dripping, red chemical agents that contaminated the entire pod, suggesting he’d just been gassed in the face at close range.
Boyen was denied the chance to decontaminate or shower. “I was forced to leave [the AC pod] and to move back to [population] in the heat,” he says, prompting his refusal to walk. “An ICS was initiated and I was held on the fence [handcuffed] posing no threat at all when Lt. Reyes asked me if I would comply [sic] so I looked at him and asked ‘comply with what?’” At this point, Boyen was blasted in the face with a riot-size can of gas, dragged to the infirmary (for non-medical reasons), then thrown in a 2-man cell that was already occupied with prisoners, in front of cameras.
This is not a unique situation at all; the face gassing of handcuffed prisoners is normal, and the recommended way to deal with righteous protesting of civil rights violations. It goes on because the victims rarely try to expose it, or they can’t.
Back to the basics
TDCJ created a state-wide policy called “Respite Training and Education”. It is supposed to alert staff to how prisoners can access respite areas. In part, it says:
-Inmates are allowed to access respite 24/7;
-Inmates do not need to be sick, injured or feeling bad to access respite, rather they may do so to cool down whenever they wish;
-To access respite, inmates can make the request to any correctional officer;
-If there are problems, ask to talk to a ranking correctional officer.
But what are prisoners supposed to do when ranking staff prep officers on how to deny respite access? Ranking staff like Sgt. Michael S. Mason, Sgt. Barbara L. Atteberry, Sgt. Nikiynecole R. Felder, staff who disregard respite policies entirely out of ill-will and laziness.
Within the chain of command, someone has drawn up a policy that allows only one respite area to accommodate over 3,000 prisoners, with access being given to twenty a day; those who don’t make the cut have to try again the next day.
Out of the twenty that go to 1 Building (an administration building) for respite, I’ve seen many make turnarounds to avoid bogus disciplinary cases, which are dished out to deter prisoners from using respite.
Michael J. Waddell is a racist guard who works the 1 Building desk. He is the main one that I’ve seen that retaliates and extorts prisoners into giving up their respite pass to avoid trumped-up disciplinary reports.
“The 1 Building desk officer [Waddell] tried blackmailing our respite access by intimidating and threatening [sic] with falsified cases,” prisoner Jalen Fisher wrote in an affidavit concerning our attempt to access respite. “Waddell said if we would deny respite, that he wouldn’t write us up,” Fisher went on to say.
Throughout the prison, a respite memorandum is posted for all to see and read. If we dare challenge being denied by pointing to the respite memo, Sgt. Atteberry goes into cross-out mode. “Is that a threat?”, “are you refusing housing?”, “you gonna do what to me?” she asks, while clutching a riot-use can of gas, ready to pull the trigger. The prisoner has no choice but to walk away frustrated. Feldon keeps a “NO” sign on her desk, which is her umbrella answer to any question or request. She’s extremely cross-acting too.
On July 10, 2019, I received a false case from Officer Waddell. In it, he lied, saying that I refused to go to the house – a cross-out case. During the event, I was with Fisher. Our only reason for being in 1 Building was to access respite. At this time, it was 110⁰ indoors and around 105⁰ outdoors. Within seconds of our arrival, Waddell threatened and harassed us. He gave several reasons why he would write us up, e.g. my collar was flipped up, Fisher was out of place (too close to the wall), I had a towel around my neck, Fisher’s hair was cut wrong, etc. But if we refused respite he wouldn’t write us any cases. I pointed out his extortive manner and requested his name and how to spell it. “Since you writing me up, I’m writing you up”, he said, and did.2
Not only were we denied respite, but I received a false case for trying to access it, in accordance with their own policy. Anyone interested in the extent staff will go to can read my other pieces on this same matter without me having to recite it here.3 4
On July 24th, 2015, Deputy Director Robert Erison authorized a TDCJ state-wide memo to all TDCJ wardens and regional directors, ordering all wardens to make air-conditioned respite areas available. This included posting notices explaining where these areas are located, and allowing staff and prisoners to use them as needed.
But, like at the Allred Unit, Pack Unit prisoners feel threatened just asking for a place to beat the heat. “I’ve only ever tried to use an area listed on TDCJ’s ‘notice to offenders’ once, and that was a bad experience”, said Fred Wallace (plaintiff), in a declaration he wrote to the courts.
The Allred Unit administration are already prepared to counter any heat-related wrongful death claims. Since they do have a heat memo everywhere, they’ll simply recite the stated specifics, then claim that prisoners are aware that they can access respite 24/7, but are choosing not to.
The State of Texas requires county jails to keep indoor temperatures between 65 and 85⁰ (see Title 37 Texas Administrative Code, 259.160). This is because when it’s the high 90s outside, it can easily get up to 110⁰ inside places that lack adequate air conditioning.
Since 1998, at least 23 prisoners have died from heat-related illnesses in TDCJ. 75 out of the 104 state prisons in Texas lack air conditioning, and this issue may never get addressed by prison officials alone; TDCJ claimed it would cost nearly $1.2 billion to properly install air conditioning in all 104 state prisons. One of the most recent prisoner heat-related deaths being that of former Michael Unit prisoner, 54-year-old Robert Earl Robinson, who died on July 19th of last year. With 2011-12 being a year that 14 of the 23 prisoners died of “environmental hyperthermia”, which is commonly known as heat stroke. [Editor’s note: around the time this article was being written, another Texas inmate, Seth Donnelly, lost his life with an internal body temperature of 106⁰.]
The acknowledgement of this alone isn’t compelling TDCJ officials to take even a small measure to ensure the safety of prisoners during the long summers. One step would be the creation of an independent oversight committee that could monitor the actual allowance of prisoners getting access to respite upon request. And without the threats of harm and false write-ups.
This committee would also be composed of concerned citizens that could investigate heat-related/denied respite issues and hold staff that are in violation responsible.
Till then, I encourage readers to file complaints against the warden’s office and their subordinates by contacting the ombudsman office and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Dare to struggle, dare to win! All power to the people!
Jason Renard Walker
2101 FM 369N
Iowa Park, TX 76367
Appendix: Affidavit from Jalen Fisher
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1746, I, Jalen Fisher, declare under penalty of perjury that the following is true and correct:
On July 10, 2019, around 5:04pm, me and Jason Walker #1532092 were given respite passes by the 7 Building Sgt. Walker was given permission to take a towel, as I was. When we went into 1 Building (a respite area), I leaned on the wall as I waited for assistance, with Walker standing next to me. In about 20 seconds later, the 1 Building desk officer (Waddell) tried blackmailing our respite access by intimidating and threatening with falsified cases. I did in fact hear Waddell demand that Walker take the towel off his neck – Mr. Walker did as told. Waddell told me that I would receive an out-of-place case for being too close to the wall. When Waddell realized that it was too hot and Mr. Walker could have a towel, he then threatened me with a grooming case. Waddell was intending to find specifics that were out of compliance. He continued to intimidate Mr. Walker, telling him he would write him up for his collar being turnt up, when the only [reason] that was so [was] because he asked for Walker’s identification card, which was on a lanyard that flipped his collar up. Waddell said if we would deny respite, that we wouldn’t write us up. Waddell witnessing his faults, he told us “y’all can have respite with a case or go home without a case.” As we were leaving, Walker asked Officer Waddell for his name and the correct way to spell it. Waddell got angry and told Walker “well, give me your name since you want my name. If you’re gonna write me up, I’m gonna write you up.” On this day, the heat index was 110⁰ degrees, and 107⁰ outside. A lot of inmates denied themselves respite to avoid Waddell’s made-up accusations on a disciplinary case. His co-worker (Young C.O. III) allowed Waddell to follow through with this foolishness, knowing we’re allowed respite.
Appendix 2: Editor’s note: Suggested wording for complaints
Contacts: you can contact the Allred Unit at (940) 855-7477. Relevant email addresses are [email protected] (Allred Unit Warden), [email protected] (Regional Director overseeing the Allred Unit), [email protected] (from the Regional Office overseeing the unit), [email protected] (same), and [email protected] (Senior Medical Director), and the TDCJ Ombudsman can be contacted at [email protected].
I am contacting you as I have been informed that, on July 10th 2019, inmates Jason Renard Walker #1532092 and Jalen Fisher #2072753 attempted to access the respite area at 1 Building, Allred Unit, but were turned away by the desk officer, Officer Waddell. Waddell threatened to issue both inmates with disciplinary cases as a way of intimidating them in order to prevent them from accessing the respite area, a right that they are guaranteed in accordance with TDCJ policy. He then proceeded to issue these cases as retaliation for Mr. Walker asking for his name.
Jason Walker was issued with a case for refusing an order to go to the house, but as he was exercising his right to access respite, it would appear that this order was invalid. I urge you to investigate and overturn these cases, and any other cases issued by the 1 Building desk officer against inmates seeking respite, and to ensure that Officer Waddell is removed from any position where he can threaten and intimidate inmates attempting to access the respite area. Further, I urge you to ensure that all inmates in need of respite are able to access it without fear of victimisation or retaliation.
I wish to draw your attention to the numerous cases of TDCJ inmates who have lost their lives to heat-related conditions in recent years, such as Robert Earl Robinson and Seth Donnelly, and urge you to consider the negative press coverage and legal consequences that may follow from any further harm to inmates caused by failure to follow the TDCJ policy on respite areas.
- 1“People are in danger”: The Prisoners Feeling the Effects of US Climate Crises, Oliver Milman, The Guardian, July 2nd 2019 https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jul/02/people-are-in-danger-the-prisoners-feeling-the-effects-of-us-climate-crisis
- 2The disciplinary case was processed and the hearing held without me. I was ultimately found guilty.
- 3See my articles: Prisoners suffer heat exhaustion: denied medical care, access to cold water and staff negligence
- 4see also Heat-Related Conditions at the Allred Unit.