Summer Heat in Arizona Prison

Summer Heat in Arizona Prison

Summer in many prisons can be unbearable, as very few have any temperature control or much ventilation, and staff do little to nothing to provide relief. Prisoners suffer heat-related illnesses, and sometimes death, every year. Temperatures inside a cell can be over 110 degrees, at which point a fan does nothing but blow the hot air around. See Boiling Behind Bars, an article from The Intercept earlier this year, about the conditions in Texas prisons.

We received this today from a prisoner in Arizona:

Times on the yard are hard and its getting real. The heat waves are literally killing us as we don’t have any AC, only swamp coolers. The temperature we have been forced to endure all month has been a consistent 97° with 77% humidity inside all day into the night all due to the swamp coolers. This is absolutely insane, and when we have recreation we get locked on the rec field for hours at a time, very limited water supply and when that runs out we have to argue and cause trouble just to get the jugs refilled. A plan that everyone refuses to lockdown is in talks right now. When we engage could be soon. The danger we are being forced to endure with these temperatures is outstanding. I can only imagine with climates changing how bad it will be in the years to come.

Shining a light on the War on Drugs

Shining a light on the War on Drugs

From the Texas Center for Justice & Equality: A new report, Reversing the War on Drugs in Texas, authored by Policy Analyst Sarah Reyes and Director of Policy and Advocacy Alycia Castillo, shares research on who’s actually using drugs in Texas, the harmful consequences of the drug war, the failures of “just say no” approaches to drug use, and more.

Sarah and Alycia’s report recommendations focus on REAL public health and safety—not the mass criminalization and punishment that have been the status quo since the 1980’s. They include implementing harm reduction, phasing out certain state facilities, expanding health care access, and decriminalizing drug possession (like the marijuana decrim on the ballot in Austin right now). You can read the full report here.

Sarah sat down for a 30-minute radio interview on KBOO-FM; listen here!

A Letter from Brandon Daniel – Death Row, Texas

A Letter from Brandon Daniel – Death Row, Texas

This letter from death row came to us through a third party. It’s an interesting letter and after reading it one gets a clearer picture than the one the media represented while Brandon Daniel’s case was ongoing. It shouldn’t need to be said that the police officer who was killed, Jaime Padron, was a human being just like Brandon. But we’re saying it anyway because our mission has as its core the belief that every person should be treated with respect and kindness, no matter what mistakes they have made in their past.

From all accounts it would appear Padron acted well within his authority. He did not deserve to die. His daughters did not deserve to lose their father. But it also seems reasonable to conclude that Brandon Daniel did not act from forethought and planning. And that should have been something the jury was allowed to consider when given the “authority” to sentence him to death.

To whom it may concern,

My name is Brandon Daniel, and I am writing this letter to you from prison. With police brutality once again in the news, and legal reform a hot topic of discussion, I’m writing to tell you about my legal case, in the hope that I might be able to spread awareness about a common but little known condition that is responsible for sending others to prison, and perhaps to leverage your platform to gain support as well. My case involves the class of anti-anxiety medication called benzodiazepines, and it is one of the clearest examples of something called Paradoxical Reaction. I am hoping that you can help me. Let me fill you in on my story.

First, my background is relevant because it demonstrates that the event that led to my being here was not part of a pattern of behavior. I have no violence in my past, no felonies. I was a software engineer, I’m college educated, and I’m from a normal, middle-class home. Everything that happened that night was completely atypical and out of character.

The event took place at Walmart, so it was all captured on surveillance videos. You can see me stumble around the store for twenty minutes, dropping items and running into displays. I was clearly disoriented. A police officer was called, and he confronted me, tackled me, and in the chaos of the moment I shot and killed him. The video shows how hectic the situation was, it clearly was not a thought out and intentional act. It took place in the span of 10 seconds.

Subsequent blood tests revealed that I had 11 times the therapeutic dose of Xanax in my system, and these tests were taken seven hours after the event. With a half life of eleven hours, it is reasonable to assume that the amount of Xanax in my blood that night was extraordinarily high. Plus, as I later discovered, Asians metabolize Benzos faster than other populations and it stays in their systems longer. I am of Asian descent.

In addition to all of this, I was interviewed by police immediately after the event, while I was still highly impaired from the medication. Again, this interview was captured on video, and one can clearly see that I am suffering from the classic symptoms of Benzodiazepines. I had amnesia, stating several times that I couldn’t even remember what day or time it was. I was confabulating, giving different accounts of what happened, none of which turned out to be accurate. And I was experiencing chemical submission, complying with the detectives leading questions against my best interest. All of these are common side-effects of the Benzodiazepine class of pharmaceuticals, which includes the date rape drug “roofies.”

This aspect of my case sets me apart from other similar cases, I believe. My confused statements provide a window into my state of mind at the time, while in many other incidents we can only wonder what is going on in their mind.

After all of this, while awaiting trial, the jailhouse doctors put me on a cocktail of antidepressants: Zoloft, Celexa, Remeron, etc. During this time, I had several suicide attempts and I spent most of the time in observation cells, nearly catatonic. It is my belief that this common, secondary use of pharmaceuticals to medicate inmates awaiting trial, renders them complacent and fairly useless when it comes to contributing to their defense. This results in inmates who are resigned to their fate, able to be easily railroaded by the legal system, regardless of the merits of their case. Since most people who are first entering jail are, understandably, depressed, they are all too willing to accept this ‘treatment’.

In my case, my trial team was handpicked by the judge, they agreed to work for a flat fee, and they put on a subpar defense at the last minute. The public opinion surrounding my case was continuously manipulated by statements released from the pharmaceutical company. In many news articles, the fact that I was even on Xanax at all is never mentioned. I’ve learned that this is a common tactic used by the pharma industry, who often deploy ‘crash teams’ to these types of events to try and shift the blame away from their drugs. I was convicted and sent to Texas Death Row, where I am today.

Years into my sentence, I was finally able to get off of the psychiatric medications. Then I began to research the history of pharmaceuticals and I became aware of their role in many cases of violence, such as mine. In fact, this is a well-documented symptom of Benzos that’s sometimes-called Paradoxical Reaction or Rage Reaction. It is also related to the phenomenon called Homicidal Somnambulism, or sleep-walking murder. Many other cases can be found in the medical literature, and these types of drugs have come up in the toxicology reports of several ‘mass shooters’, including the Las Vegas shooter and the Southerland Springs Church shooter. Over the past two decades, prescriptions for Benzos have skyrocketed and so has the number of overdoses, which has risen eightfold since 1999. This time period also coincides with the epidemic of mass shootings in our country. It is certain that the prison population over-represented by Benzo users who are unaware that this drug contributed to their situation. This is a major reason for my speaking out, to inform others about this possible influence on their crime.

Since my trial, my lawyers and I have accumulated a massive amount of research proving that this is not a one-off event, but is a well known phenomenon in the medical community that has been actively covered up by the pharmaceutical industry for decades. I have scientific articles, expert evaluations, and even an internal FDA study that highlights the extreme number of violent episodes associated with Benzodiazepines compared to other drugs. This FDA study was not released to the public and was only acquired through FOIA requests put out by lawyers.

Now, my goal is to use my story to help expose this issue. Books have been written about pharmaceutical-induced violence, but I really feel that my case is the clearest example of such an event. By reaching out to you with this letter, I am hoping to use your platform to help spread my story, to garner support from the activist community, and to make contacts with any lawyers, expert witnesses, or fundraising apparatuses that might be able to help. My friends and family have compiled information about my case on a website: supportbrandondaniel.org. I am asking that you please post about my site on your social media accounts and link it up to your website. Any other exposure or resources would be very much appreciated.

I really hope that you can help. Please contact me at the address below. I look forward to hearing from you, thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Brandon Daniel #999589
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South Road
Livingston, TX 77351

Melissa Schmitt – Calling All Angels Against Inhumane Justice

Melissa Schmitt – Calling All Angels Against Inhumane Justice

Our friend Jack Erdie produces and hosts a podcast called Plague Talk. The July 26, 2020 episode features Melissa Schmitt, and follows the previous episode which featured her husband Jacob.
Melissa talks about how our perverse and tyrannical criminal justice system derails lives, devastates families, destroys communities and how its very personal invasion of her life drove her to make a difference in the lives of our discarded incarcerated populations.

Texas Prisons Are Not Cool – Summertime Blues

Texas Prisons Are Not Cool – Summertime Blues

Texas prisons are not cool

‘Cause most of our feelings, they are dead and they are gone
We’re setting fire to our insides for fun

– Daughter – Youth

Texas prisons are not cool in the summertime. The first year I spent in a Texas prison was in 2015 and I began my stay in the late fall at the Holliday unit in Huntsville. In November that part of Texas is typically cold and rainy. It can warm up into the 80s on an occasional autumn day. By April, when it is still cool in the rest of the US, the daily temperature in Texas and the south can reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit. By June, its sweltering.

I remember back in 2011 when Austin suffered a record heat wave. The temperature met or exceeded 100 degrees for more than 100 consecutive days. I spent as much time indoors that year as I could. When I did go outdoors it was to quickly enter an automobile accessorized with cold A/C. That same year 10 Texas prisoners died from heat stroke.

In 2015 when the heat of Texas strove toward its August peak, I had no such luxury. I was stuck, along with the majority of Texas’ inmates, without air conditioning in the sweltering heat.

To mitigate heat, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice installs fans in dorms and common areas. An inmate living on a unit having individual cells or dorms with single bunk living areas can buy a fan from the commissary for $20.00. Indigents are right out of luck, though the Texas CURE has provided fans to prisoners for many years. On the Holliday unit, a transfer facility with common dorms, inmates weren’t allowed to purchase personal fans because there were not enough outlets to supply the required power.

The Holliday unit is one of many intake facilities in Texas. Similarly constructed units are Middleton, in Abilene, Garza East and Garza West, both in Beeville, and Gurney in Palestine. The state built these units as part of a rapid expansion of the Texas prison system during Ann Richards’ administration.

As the Texas Monthly wrote in 1996:

Exploiting the cloud cover of “urgency,” prisons were built poorly and at an exorbitant cost. Some 12,000 “emergency beds” were thrown together in 180 days at the height of the hysteria in late 1994. Those particular prison units have a life expectancy of about twenty years, as opposed to the fifty-to-seventy-year life expectancy of the standard TDCJ prison; they are nothing more than minimum-security warehouses, and yet they carry the price tag of maximum-security prisons. Construction of the $10.3 million Ama-rillo meat-packing plant was also deemed for some strange reason an “emergency” back in 1994, a decision that cost the taxpayers probably an extra $1 million even though the facility was built partly using free inmate labor and even though it still lacks essential (and expensive) items like grease traps and bar screens.

These intake facilities still exist, more even than I have listed here, some 10 years beyond the time that TDCJ officials scheduled them for replacement. The corruption in the system was so rampant that lobbyists at that time figured they had an unlimited supply of taxpayer money.  They believed they’d easily be able to convince the legislature to provide funds for shiny new prisons. Since then, there’s been some backlash nationwide over mass incarceration that hasn’t quite reached Texas.  The inmate population back in 1996 was 129,000. Today that number is 160,000.

TDCJ built the units with steel girders, siding and roofs rather than the traditional brick and mortar walls and asphalt roofing found in more permanent units. As a consequence, the temperature in the dorms can exceed as 130 degrees in the summer. It’s a bit like living in an outbuilding or an Easy Bake oven. I showered two or three times a day just to get my shorts and t-shirt wet. This had limited benefit due to the nature of Huntsville weather namely, the constant high humidity which thwarted the cooling effects of evaporation.

If I were younger  it probably would have been less stressful. I survived obviously but many Texas inmates haven’t and the average age of prison inmates increases each year. I saw men processed at Holliday who were eighty and older. The geriatrics had a difficult time with the heat.

TDCJ has been running from the A/C issue for years and in 2018 lost a federal law suit filed by inmates on the Wallace Pack unit. In the suit, which cost them an estimated $7 million, administrators claimed that adding A/C to the unit would cost between $22 million and $120 million. These figures were apparently only for the benefit of the jury (who don’t appear to have been fooled). After losing the law suit, they’ve revised those numbers down to about $4 million per unit. They could almost complete the upgrade of two units for the amount they spent fighting the law suit. With a total operating budget of $3.3 billion, (pdf) they could, at $4 million a unit, add A/C for all 155 units and barely make a dent in the total budget. Texas prisons are not cool for inmates but pigs have it made.

One of the early efforts TDCJ made to reduce the heat stroke problem was to make an educational video about dehydration and heat stroke. I remember my annoyance as they rolled these videos out. As with everything in prison watching the dehydration/heat stroke video was mandatory. Just another 20 minutes out of my day but it was the principle. Did they need to show it every 90 days? The video taught us how to drink water,  how to gauge the color of our own pee and to consider when it might be necessary to sit in a respite area. These respite areas were places on the unit where A/C was installed. The hallway near the warden’s office, the infirmary or the education building.

The guards who work at TDCJ did not seriously consider inmate’s request for respite. Because they have been conditioned to treat every inmate request as though it is a ploy to achieve an ultimate escape, they would initially push back on these requests. When the Pack unit lawsuit started winding its way toward trial, administrators fearing more lawsuits encouraged the officers to take heat-related requests seriously. This had limited success.

For instance, keeping the coolers supplied with ice and water added responsibility to already full plates. The staff might pay closer attention to the issue if units were at full capacity. But with some units staffed below 50%, keeping  coolers full is a low priority. At one unit I was on, the staff rate was 46% of optimum and we’d spend hours without cold water. Officers did not supply inmates tasked with refilling the coolers with proper gloves and equipment that would prevent cross contamination. After I watched the coolers filled once or twice, I couldn’t drink the water from them except in extreme circumstances. AI has received feedback on the Texas heat from some of our inside voices and published it here.

It’s nearly summer. In Texas especially, the inmates will have a difficult time staying cool. This discomfort up to and including death, will be a risk all the way past August. And TDCJ is even now playing games over the issue of A/C. Please consider contacting the Texas CURE and helping an inmate get a fan. Better yet, adopt a Texas inmate, especially if you’re in Texas. Texas prisons are not cool but they do have A/C in the visitation areas.