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Feb 28, 20

Interview with Texas Prisoner on Conditions in Solitary Confinement

The following features and interview with a prisoner in Texas on the conditions they face on the inside along with the ways that prisoners are attempting to organize.

Matt Brodnax: Can you please introduce yourself and give some background on your time at the Darrington Unit of Texas Department of Criminal Justice?

Hello comrades, this is Julio A. Zuniga “Alex”/Comrade Z inmate #1961551 at Administrative Segregation – G5 – Solitary Confinement.  There are over 200 Administrative Segregation inmates.  All are underfed, suffering from some form of psychological warfare introduced by administration in more than one way.  I have been in G5 for two years for cell phones.  However, this isn’t about me.  It’s about the broken brothers who could not maintain their sanity after years of no outside relief from an ancient penitentiary that uses food as a tool to break the indigent offender to the point of suicide.  Physical assaults by staff are frequent.  Everything I speak of is going on as you read.

MB: What are the conditions like in the prison?

You ask what the environment is like?  It depends on which torture chamber you’re housed in.  B-Line or F-Line or A-Line or C-Line… each one has it’s own track record.  E-Line G5 at Darrington is by far the worst, environmentally speaking.  The entire unit is infested with roaches of all shapes and sizes, especially in the chow hall, where the average size for a cockroach is three inches long.  They litter the floors of the hallway before entering the chow hall and cover the cafeteria floor all the way to the serving areas.  This unit is 80 years old, and so are these creatures. In the cells of solitary confinement they occupy every crevasse imaginable.  If the tray slot slams hard enough roach eggs fall from the cracks into your already small, and do I mean small, drink, prison clothes, anything coming in gets sprinkled with roach parts.

Darrington Unit requires G5 offenders to be in hand restraints to go to shower, which is just one way to psychologically mess with men’s already tattered sanity.  Once in this so-called shower, the floors are a waxy black color because of mold.  It smells of every kind of human bodily fluid imaginable.  I’ve never seen a unit so rusted out.  When you exit you feel like a therapeutic tetanus shot just to be on the safe side.  Normally the floors are supposed to be finished with a sand colored, sand textured cement finish so inmates don’t slip.  That is absolutely nonexistent.

Lighting is not up to code. Supervisors refuse to ask for light bulbs for indigent offenders and leave us to find lighting o our own.  If you write grievances on these supervisors you find yourself the victim of a faux-disciplinary case.  All of these supervisors are still ruining the track record of offenders who have been working the system to get out of G5.  We’ve got a “Major” by the name of “Major Pharr” who I consider very biased, discriminant and unfair to say the least.  Back to him last… I want to save the best for last.  Major Pharr earned it.

Now I am sitting on a 15 year sentence for murder.  I’ve got six years flat as of November.  When I pulled up on this unit I already had four years worth of appellate work accumulated.  Here you need what you call an “I-60” to receive anything from different departments.  Law Library on Darrington Unit would not respond to my I-60s in 2018, at a time so important, to submit to the federal courts within the time you have to submit on time.  It was on a timeline.  Because of Darrington Unit’s inadequate Law Library staff, I lost a good possibility of getting my case brought back for an “insufficient evidence claim.”  We can thank the grievance process for forcing Mrs. Wagner to supply the indigent packet I needed a whole two weeks prior, resulting in a denial for not submitting in the alotted time, taking with it all the hope I had.

So slowly, I learned the State’s vicious clandestine tactics to make people act out aggressively, sometimes violently.  Telford Unit is a prime example.  In 2015, where an Administration Segregation offender snapped.  When it was all over he had bashed an officer’s skull with a tray slot bar until it was liquified.  That officer just happened to be my vocational teacher’s brother.  In 2016-2017, Telford Unit starved all offenders for one year, feeding only “Johnny sacks”, driving me to do something extreme to survive.  I ended up here at Darrington Unit.  Let me try to stay on track here:  When you’re done with G5 your custody level goes to G4, which is six months of medium-custody.  When you go to chow hall, you’re fed like a fat rat, which is almost shameful when you start to realize just how bad G5 offenders are getting screwed.

This is why I make this stand, as one voice against the peace and dignity of the State, to show the entire nation how people are being treated all over Texas.  Darrington Unit is now run by inmates who speak limited English, so if you have any issue it often goes unheard and ignored.  If you have a dietary restriction, you have to set fires and flood the runs with toilet water just to get them to call a supervisor on the scene to address the issue.  It’s like Sean Swain describes in his badass book.  I’ve personally witnessed two suicides, two attempted suicides, officers abusing inmates then quickly shipping them off to another unit so their grievances don’t impact administration.  This is going on now.  On both occasions that these men died by suicide the staff and work crews are summoned to candy coat the rotten apple that is Darrington Unit.  For a few days, the lucky residents of where the deceased took his life enjoy new mattresses, blankets, light bulbs, fresh coats of paint.  Food is plentiful.  Diet trays and snacks are on point, toilet paper too.  Nobody gets written up, which is good.  Most people who are about to get parole are usually thrown in a cell with a psyche patient to ensure an altercation and keep you in TDCJ longer.

All these tactics I’m exposing now are so that any victims of this behavior can be directed to the offending officer in charge.  Major Pharr is someone I know is in on this three-ring circus.  It’s so obvious and they don’t hide the fact that they have a team of snitch-mates who are his snitch crew.  It’s known that inmates can personally screenshot Facebook pages directly to his phone to take other offenders out and get them locked up, a trap designed by administration directly.  Officers have personally told me the grand structure of Major Pharr’s “tactics.”

Next on the list of cruel and unusual punishment is Sergeant Akinson, Sergeant Williams, Sergeant Estrada, Sergeant Cabriales, Sergeant Baker.  With a crew like this for segregation area this crazy treatment of human beings should not be ongoing.  Instead, Major Pharr has made it a point to fill beyond capacity his segregated areas, even on fluke cases that do not require such punishment.  But mark my words, it’s more than just confining.  It’s starving, and rattling cages, using psy-ops to further punish the offender.  This has gone on too long and anyone who speaks up on the ill treatment… he will do anything to get rid of his evidence.

Once a month we get one grievance, one I-60.  I am allowed to fill out a grievance every seven days if I want.  Any one offender needs at least three a week and in order for any positive reaction from administration you have to have over twenty inmates file a formal grievance.  They get around it by not issuing the Step 1 forms or Step 2s to further investigate.  These are stressful tactics that cause a lot of issues for regular corrections officers.  Because of the actions of one offender lashing out on an officer the entire wing will get punished, which is unfair, because they are forcing the hand of offenders just to get the basics, then punishing him for it.  It’s so repetitive.  The pattern has been exposed.  During the times of a suicide, I’ve heard that the offender had previously verbally voiced distress to the officer and was ignored.  By the time they decide to do a security check or decide to believe the inmate population’s commotions, it’s too late.  When I opened my eyes to what this unit is operating on, it’s bigger than me.  But as Sean Swain has taught me, the tools the administration has are the direct result of what is Darrington now – twisted culture, twisted administration, crumbling structure.  Not only is the unit falling apart, the whole state is aware of it.  The state capital has some of the highest members of the capital come through here once a year, but they will not eat here or go anywhere past the chapel where they meet first hand some of the toughest men I’ve ever met.  The men who changed their lives and deserve a chance of some kind of relief from the draconian laws that hold them down.

MB: What is organizing like in the Darrington Unit?

It’s done clandestinely, because once they smell it coming they set up the ACA-AUDIT and they know how to cover up shit good.  It’s a smaller unit, but they are getting away with some real fuck shit.  If I could get really organized it would only be through comrades teaching me how to attack the entire region.  There are five regions in Texas – 110 units divided between those regions.  Pacifica Radio for Peace (KPFT.org 90.1 Houston) is reaching at least two regions and advocates from Austin State Capital.  These people are on every Friday at 9pm CST so when the organizing begins I will be sure to involve the masses as well.  You see… we have to take into consideration this attempted once and only eleven units complied in layin-it-down.  I want the comrades to know, when they last organized they passed out flyers.  Everyone knew.  This is a hub unit, meaning people have to pass through here to continue on north or south or the other units in the surrounding area.  Talk among the men is – they didn’t want to miss a commissary day! Pfft!  Sean Swain talks about this shit.  Indoctrinated, institutionalized muthas who’s opinion have no clout are the one’s who fuck shit up for the others.  If it’s a statewide shutdown of normal activities it will bring the machine to a screeching halt.  This takes a lot of outside support to prep each region on the strike.  You see, in my experience, from being on various units across Texas – it’s the people who volunteer and have compassion for the men in white. Mainly all chaplains do not agree with the “State of Fuckery.”  You and I are confirmed anarchists, against the peace and dignity of the state.  My entire idea is for it to hit the capital.

Most investments for TDCJ on the Stock Exchange are owned by the people making laws and the wardens running the shit.  You see where I’m going?  Prison Legal News, NPR News, KPFT.org 90.1 Houston are all going to need to interview for a large scale strike of this magnitude.  The order of operation is strictly based on how TDCJ operates (lock-downs, etc.)  The point of it is to overwhelm the system.  Nobody can staff 110 units overnight.  Within three days food rots, no maintenance crews, no laundry, no field squads, no officer dining halls.  Shut all operations down simultaneously.  All men in white must sacrifice for the cause to make history and set an example to anarchists across the nation – that even governments can be broken and bent, shock and awe.  You see the vision?  This is how Bursts at The Final Straw has portrayed it for us… rapid eye movement! Right?  The dream can be realized, but I have to win small battles and air them so the men can gain morale.  One thing these maggots do is break the morale, leaving empty vessels walking around.  The food is not that fuckin’ great to miss out on an opportunity like this.  This is only the beginning.  Remember how that quote states it, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!”  We are on our way.

MB: How can people on the outside try to support y’all in trying to make the conditions better inside?

Personally, I am on a quest.  For now I’m outnumbered.  I need all the supporters to make sure as an ambassador for the anarchist mind in TDCJ that the administration knows that any retaliation is under the magnifying glass.  As they are reading my mail, I want them to know that in an institution such as this, and all the cruel and unusual punishment that is occurring, and excessive use of administrative force to keep these cages packed, I want to receive phone call interviews through Darrington Law library.  I want podcasts to call and ask Warden Armstrong for permission to speak to me so they can understand exactly what I am fighting for.  Yes, it’s beyond these walls.  It goes right up the ladder.  How do you fix a broken system?  In my opinion, from the inside out!  This type of neglect has gone on for way too long.  There is no excuse for it. Do I want readers to write me?  Yes, that is very much welcome.

My whole purpose for exposing these conditions are because I personally have been affected in many ways.  My final straw was this past lockdown where all my property was confiscated, for no reason, leaving me in a cell with no light and no toilet for days.  Even after begging for a light bulb from a supervisor I was left without light.  Then, after confronting said supervisor he still further retaliated by saying he wasn’t going to do “shit.” Right on, here we go…  After all the pain and suffering on administrative segregation in G5, solitary, I feel it’s time  we have the spotlight on how we treat offenders in ad-seg!  Starting with the deaths of inmates in the past two years, why Major Pharr or Major Gooden were not held accountable is beyond me.  They are supposed to set the example to all officers that suicide is very much likely since they impose such strict and draconian tactics on offenders who misbehave.  Starve them to the point of suicide?  How about not supplying mentally ill or mentally disabled offenders with the basics, like a jacket, toothpaste, toothbrush, toilet paper.  If they are not able to understand why do they not send them to psychiatric unit Jester 4?

You see, if I had a camera to show the nation how we herd men like cattle day in day out, I would.  There is plenty of ways to make this place productive, but first we have to address the immediate problems, to see who is on board with change.  Personally, I’m one of the lucky few who found outside support, someone who genuinely cared for me, and after six years of being alone I found a comrade who shared the same mindset as I.

These opportunities to expose first hand, how the prison industrial complex, capitalist mindset affects us inside.  Let me introduce you to Darrington Branch of UTMB Medical Division, where everyone who comes in contact with Dr. Speer gets charged with a medical visit, but does not receive adequate care, nor does he refer to someone who can provide it.  A doctor that throws tantrums like a four year old in scrubs.  Indigent offenders can’t afford the co-pay, nor do we get paid for hard labor in TDCJ to afford medical or correspondence.  My whole heart goes out to my anarchist friend in solidarity from NYC who saved me from insanity, gave me the tools I need to begin my crusade for the cause.  “Prisons are for burnin’, not for learnin!'”

MB: Why are prisoners getting mail withheld from them or thrown away by prison staff?  Does it have to do with the nature of the content?

Here, mailroom is completely infiltrated by administration.  I’ve never seen a unit commit more federal crimes than this one.  It’s unheard of.  They have stripped the offender of every single simple comfort of receiving stationary from home or art supplies.  This is something easily checked by security.  It has no negative effect on an inmate, but it would actually cause the inmate to behave better because  they received love from home.  That’s insane.  Who would want that?  Contraband is anything that makes the inmate do better for himself.  It’s out of control.  For administration to try to control a mailroom is easy.  To stop housing inmates with incompatible inmates is the real challenge, in which they still can’t get right.  Just past November they housed a G5 offender with a G2 offender and he was assaulted physically.  Sexually is still to be determined.  Also, mailroom is trying to stop greeting cards from family from coming in.

If you would like to write Alex, please do not hesitate to do so.  Alex loves receiving mail.  If you would like to send Alex a book, zine, article, etc. that is great too.

Julio A. Zuniga #1961551

Darrington Unit

59 Darrington Road

Rosharon, Texas 77583

Also, Alex makes beautiful portraits that can be viewed via Instagram.  Just search @julioazunigaart

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