Prison reporter Jason Walker continues his dispatches from the inside, this time detailing a horrific gas attack among other brutalities.
by Jason Renard Walker
Shortly after completing this essay, Jason was attacked again by Ellis Unit staff. He reports, “On 1-6-19 at 12:27 AM officer Barnett (white female) and another Latina female and white officer sprayed a heavy dose of chemical gas in the vents and on the cell block to choke us out. They turned the industrial fan on, kept all the windows closed and laughed as it circulated, choking everyone. They all wore gas masks then closed my solid security door connected to my cell door so that I was trapped in the gas and as it kept sucking under the door and through the vent shaft…
The entire night they sat around laughing with gas masks on and never reported it or allowed any of us to decontaminate. The camera will clearly show that they never pulled any prisoners out to decontaminate, nor did they open any windows. I’m in F-2-2-30 cell.
They will lie and say that they gassed someone trying to hand or cut themselves (perfunctory) but the camera will show that before or after the gassing no one was removed from their cell or had items removed from their cell.
Jason is demanding: “For the cameras to be viewed for 12:00 am – 12:45 am and answers to why they gassed the F-2 cellblock and never opened any windows or allowed anyone to decontaminate.”
You can ring the warden’s office at 936-295-5756 or try emailing the warden at firstname.lastname@example.org, and submit complaints to the TDCJ Ombudsman at email@example.com. More senior TDCJ staff can be contacted at Wayne.Brewer@tdcj.texas.gov, firstname.lastname@example.org, Bryan.Collier@tdcj.texas.gov 936-437-1770, 936-437-2101 or 936-437-2123.
Want to know how a government in any given country treats its society? Look in its prisons! In this controlled, and often hidden world, the guard is only a mirror reflection of law enforcement personnel, while the prisoner reflects the individual they’re sent to monitor and control; usually adopting the most heinous methods in order to achieve the former and the latter ends. The abusive tactics citizens are subjected to outside prison walls are only a microcosm of what’s actually going on inside prisons. And are differentiated by the fact that one side of the fence is catching the murders and abusive treatment on camera while the other side isn’t, or so they say.
The Ellis Unit is one of those controlled torture units, and a prime example of qualified immunity at its best. Here, it’s not the prisoners who are reporting being assaulted, but rather the guards, who are ever-so-proud to admit that their use of force and brutal behavior had nothing to do with restoring order, but instead disrupts it.
Within this piece lie several verifiable examples of prisoners who were assaulted by a guard who admitted doing so, and were punished while the guard received nothing more than congratulations and slaps on the back. What this epidemic has resulted in is an “attack now, ask questions later” attitude and culture that’s being deployed throughout the prison, and accessible to any guard brave enough to admit what’s described here.
Double Jeopardy Punishment:
What do I myself have in common with these prisoners: Caterrion Dwayne Backus #2174651, Juarez Fidencio Jr #1501277, Alabama and Echo? One way or another, we are all victims of the unit’s “gray suit protection,” and received administrative punishment on top of being assaulted.
On Nov 12 2018, while Backus was standing on the stairs talking to Sgt Lauri D. Turley, a jealous officer, Josaphat Cruzalta, pushed Backus down the stairs, injuring his back in the process. Cruzalta rushed towards Backus with a cocked fist, but was popped in the mouth. Turley encouraged Cruzalta not to report the incident, since, in her view, Backus was defending himself, and said she would write a statement confirming this. Cruzalta wrote an assault case anyway, and even admitted that he instigated the incident.
Backus was found guilty at the disciplinary hearing by Michael G. Hill, who advised him in the future to not fight back, but ball up. If Backus was killed, he said, TDCJ would pay for the funeral. Backus was sent to solitary confinement for the crime of protecting his life and liberty – gray suit protection.
Towards the end of Oct 2018, officer Rodney D Jones III, a young black “gunslinger”, amplified a minor altercation with a prisoner who goes by “Alabama.” In front of the cellblock door control picket, Jones grabbed Alabama by the jacket and popped him in the mouth several times. A white guard, who had no knowledge of what had happened, sprayed Alabama in the face with gas. A non-resisting Alabama was handcuffed, given an assault case, then sent to lock-up.
Jones came back to work the next day, marveling at the fact that Head Warden Kelly Strong commended him, not for using justified force, but for being able to justify his assault. Jones was rewarded with a more prestigious job assignment, while Alabama was sent to close custody housing – his crime, refusing to go in his cell. Jones uses this particular incident as momentum to strut up and down the hallway like a rooster in front of a hen house.
On Dec 7, 2018, around 3:31 am, Juarez experienced his share of abuse. In an effort to protest officer C. Morris denying another prisoner his breakfast, Morris opened all of the cellblock windows, so that the freezing air sucked into our cells to mix with the cold air blasting out of the cell vents. Close to 30 minutes later, Morris grabbed a bucket of ice-cold water, then dashed an unsuspecting Juarez and his personal property. He doused himself too, then reported that he’d been assaulted. Though cameras are on the cell block, none can see the cell doors or catch a guard entering a cell.
Surveillance cameras point straight forward, and cannot see beyond the entrance, which require several steps to meet the cell door. Basically, the cells are inside a bigger space. And a prisoner could be killed by a guard, and no visual proof would be available to verify who entered the cell. Cpt Clifton removed all of Juarez’s containers, put him on food loaf meals for a week, then had Morris write disciplinary reports for assault and burning a paper bag. Morris admitted to the dashing, but claimed he was putting the fire out, when he’d stomped it out well before he sought the bucket. The only place with water was on Morris and in Juarez’s cell.
I assume water tossing is a normal act here on F-Pod. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve seen three guards use water tossing as punishment. I’ll describe the last tossing in more detail, as it was the most animated. On 12/01/2019, around 12:16 PM, “Echo” and Officer Barfield exchanged insults; as Echo was getting under his skin, Barfield left, saying he’d be back. He passed my cell carrying a bucket of smoking hot water. The sound of a splash, and Barfield claiming victory, were heard, accompanied by a loud scream. Echo was put on a week of food loaf, but didn’t receive the assault case because Barfield forgot to wet himself.
I personally sent out several reports about being assaulted by Brandon K. Pollock, Zachary Williford and others. The last portion of the disciplinary hearing was held on Dec 11 2018, and, of course, I was found guilty. Pollock gave his story of the events, but somehow left out the flurry of punches he threw at me. He claimed he “accidentally” hit me with the door, then I held up my fist like I was about to hit him. According to Pollock, he gave me several chances to put my fist down and leave. I didn’t, so he felt threatened, grabbed me, and end of story. I’m left-handed, but he claimed to have been struck with my right hand.
Under cross-examination, he admitted to hitting me with punches, but never mentioned why he used them. Or the amount of force he used. He noted that the phantom punch swelled his left eye, photos were taken, medical care was sought, and numerous witnesses saw it. None of this supposed documentary evidence was present, and when I asked about it, the hearing officer, Hill, claimed he had no control over where it is, and he seemed not to care if it even existed. (Disciplinary case #20190075590).
I was found guilty, based on the officer’s report and testimony, but Hill never explained why my witnesses and evidence held no weight against hearsay. The disciplinary report noted Pollock had no injuries, but in his testimony he had to get medical care for a swollen eye, an unverified assertion.
Hannah Wiley, a reporter for the news organization The Texas Tribune, reached out to me in response and to collect data for a future story. Those who’d read about what happened began reaching out as well. This clip from chron.com, official website of the Houston Chronicle, sent by a source, stood out the most: “The Texas prison system’s Office of the Inspector General has launched a criminal probe after two Telford Unit workers admitted to falsifying inmate records in an apparent effort to improve disciplinary statistics at the northeast Texas lock-up.”
Just think, Telford Unit Head Warden Garth Parker called me a “lying motherfucker” when a supporter filed an ombudsman case on this same issue, after I’d complained about this back in July 2018 – who’s lying now? Typically the counsel substitute, disciplinary hearing officer, and appeal reviewing warden are those who have interest in, and the power to manipulate, disciplinary statistics. I was written a false case, and the hearing was held without me knowing I had a case. When I received my punishment in the mail, I spoke to Warden Marshall, and requested a review of the pod camera, to show I wasn’t served a case, or even spoken to, by Counsel Substitute Sheila Forte. Obviously he did.
When I tried to appeal the decision, to exhaust the state remedies available, the grievance was sent back as “non-grievable”, because the case number didn’t exist. But the original case with Forte and the hearing officer’s signature on it tell a different story. This is one example of techniques used at the Telford Unit to conceal due process violations, and block litigants from raising the issue in court, and wiping evidence out of the statistical database.
The Good Cop, and Consequences of Inaction:
Most importantly, moments after the incident, another F-Pod prisoner wrote a sworn affidavit about a conversation he heard Pollock having with other guards. In this statement, Pollock asked another guard to bear false witness to “whatever I [Pollock] say happened”, and that he and Williford tried to break my jaw and knock my teeth out. The officer refused to bear false witness “to bullshit”. But this officer obviously never reported the incident to a higher authority. But why?
In a corrupt institution, there is always the “good cop”, or one who thinks of himself as having a consistent personality every day he or she works. But this consistency is only in their minds, and rarely do they put principle before self-interest in their day-to-day gatherings and actions. They’re not the same working alone as they are with ranking staff, a group of guards, or a sadistic coworker. Their actions are purely based on a need to coexist in each setting, avoid retaliation or termination, and protect themselves as one who does their job impartially, and nothing more. They’ll often look the other way, falsify paperwork, and switch up accordingly. To appeal to each group, they’ll justify writing cases and reporting co-workers by claiming “rank” made them do it, and a certain prisoner’s potential to snitch gave them no choice. They’re more dangerous than the abusers, because their acts, and failures to act, are done in what seems like good faith to an observer, but in reality they are self-centered, unpredictable, opportunistic double agents.
On a macrocosm level, the act of doing nothing when something is required, breeds events and catastrophes such as mass murders and genocide, while keeping the flame lit like in Rwanda, Bosnia, and the Jim Jones People’s Temple congregation. These same individuals are the ones who never interfere when their co-workers beat up and kill minorities on the streets and in interrogation rooms. At the same time, the pressures to conform are great, to be “one of us”, not to be a liability that risks the system getting confronted.
Keeping a code of silence is often the top-down power of authority, sending unwritten expectations indirectly to the subordinates, advising that unconstitutional and criminal behavior is acceptable, but only under special circumstances, which they define, and they do so on a “need to do” basis. A lot of the recently exposed scandals at the highest levels of business, government and the military involve the lethal mix of unspoken expectations from authority figures, which are subliminally passed down to new arrivals who want to be accepted in the inner circle, with the tacit approval of numerous silent partners.
Ellis Unit’s Lieutenant Kimbro is a prime example, as he had an entire night shift of rogues abusing prisoners, destroying property and writing trumped-up disciplinary reports as part of policy, and enforced compliance. Sgt. Warner, Sgt. Morning, Sgt. Brooks and Sgt. Grace are others who have created a system that ensures false disciplinary reports are processed and unchallengeable.
According to prisoners, these officials avoid exposure because those they manipulate remain silent. But history has shown that the silent partners are normally those responsible for destroying the same chaos they play blind to; by, out of necessity, assuming the ignorant whistle blower role. As I exposed in “the good cop”, their focus isn’t on doing the right thing, but on doing what’s seen as right in order to receive less punishment.
I give a revolutionary salute to each and every one of you who have assisted me in exposing this evil system. And a very special thanks to those who have put self-interest to the side to take part in a struggle that requires us to rise above imitating the gangsters that rule over us, and side with real comrades to fight the real enemies.
Jason Renard Walker #1532092
2101 FM 369 North
Iowa Park, TX