Letters From Prison: Not Right at All

The letter below is from a Texas prisoner. TDCJ does not pay any of their prisoners for work, so the only way they can purchase items from commissary is if someone on the outside is able to put money on their books. TDCJ provides minimal hygiene items to indigent inmates (who have no money on their books): soap, toilet paper, and toothpaste, and for women, 1 box of pads and 6 tampons per month. No shampoo, no lotion, no deodorant (and remember Texas does not provide any air conditioning for the inmates).

It is commonly against the rules in jails and prisons for inmates to help each other by sharing commissary items or food. Each item of their property must be labeled with their name and ID number (like in elementary school). Any item found in possession of an inmate that is not labeled with that inmate’s name and number is considered contraband, and will be confiscated. This includes every piece of paper, stamp, envelope, book, hygiene, and food item. Even “special” items such as radios and typewriters (in facilities that have those items available for purchase), cannot be given to another prisoner upon his or her release, they must take it with them. The irony of this practice is that it encourages theft and hostility.


I have a concern about the required work we inmates do in TDCJ that goes without pay or incentives of any kind (no “work time” or “good time” is applied to our sentence, as in most other states). I feel that the Texas prison system should adopt the same plan as other states, and start paying their inmates by the hour, or by the day, which would allow their inmates to become independant, to some degree, reducing the number of inmates who are indigent. This would teach the inmates the value of a dollar earned doing hard labor, and allow them to purchase needed items from commissary for the work they do. 

Texas does not believe in rehabilitation, because if they did, they would have adopted this idea for their prisons. The Texas prison system believes in capital punishment only. And they do not want to help their inmates. They believe in allowing their inmates to suffer, they do not want to help us and they do not want anybody else to help us, inside or outside. For example: If an inmate who is indigent who never makes commissary nor gets visits, and he is not able to buy or purchase himself a Speed Stick deodorant, and some other inmate sees this man’s suffering condition and buys this man a deodorant, the inmate that helps out the poor, suffering inmate will get in trouble for helping the poor, suffering out. Now I don’t think that is right at all.

Hard Work-Work: Legalized Prison Slave Labor

Today’s blog post comes from Shawn Ali Bahrami, who is serving his 20th year in a Texas state prison (since he was 17 years old). Shawn has always proclaimed his innocence, and you can read his story here.)

Shawn agreed to write a post for us about the harsh working conditions of Texas inmates.

Group singing:
Hard work-work,
Hard work-work …

Lead man counting/singing:
and you – four-step
<the line steps forward>
Group singing:
Hard work-work …
I used to work at Mickey D’s,
Now I have to chop the weeds — four step

On time and in a straight line!” shouts the armed, gray-uniformed prison guard, who supervises his Field Squad of roughly thirty inmates from atop his snorting beast.

Hoe Squads1

“And if you can’t talk and work at the same time, then shut the fuck up, or I’ll write you a case!”

“Fuck-you, Bitch, and that case!” shouts back an anonymous inmate from the work-line.

“Alright, just for that, I want them aggies head-high, and anyone who isn’t flat weeding head-high gets a case.” The guard looks at his work roster and puts a mark next to two names.

The bunched-together, rhythmic, straight line of white-uniformed inmates swing their aggies/hoes in unison, doing work in the scorching Texas sun, yet moving with the precision of a school band.  

“One-two-three,” the squad hits the grassy ground three times, “and you — four step.” On the lead man’s command, the squad steps forward on the fourth count.

The Field Squad’s blade-tipped sticks lift head-high, then bang the drum of the ground, repeatedly and manually, they mow down all the waist-high grass in their path. Clods of disturbed, dry dirt billow into a cumulus dust cloud around them. Snakes shoot scared through the grass. Huge ant piles are sidestepped. Critters are pocketed and later taken back to cells as pets. The chorus of singing continues over the drumbeat of the aggies.