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Oct 30, 18

The Anatomy of Abusive Prison Guards: Telford Unit’s Overt Assault and Punishment Program

As of late October, Jason Walker has been moved to the Ellis Unit. Jason reported that he’s in a block of 300 prisoners who are being given cold showers, and when he complains about this (or anything), they lock him up for several hours in a phone-booth-sized cubicle too small to sit down in. To complain about this treatment, you can ring the warden’s office at (936) 295-5756  or try emailing the warden at [email protected].

You may wish to ask the warden’s office whether anything has been done about this since they received an earlier complaint. For more context on Jason’s struggles at Telford, see his previous articles Censorship, Staff Negligence, and Extreme Heat, Under Lock and Key, and Urgent Call to Action: Defend Jason Walker from Staff Harassment!

by Jason Renard Walker


The incidents described in this piece give context to the historical and contemporary art of abuse, inflicted on prisoners from the torturous isolation chambers of the Eastern State Penitentiary during the 1820s, to the 1971 Attica rebellion and beyond.

The documentation of the past, present, grieved events of prison-controlled torture, blaze a paper trail that show abuse by guards is a lot deeper than being inadvertent or isolated events. It is actually part of a poorly-designed program designed to crush the will and spirit of prisoner resistance and unity through intimidation, coercion, physical assault, humiliation, isolation, starvation, and when all else fails – attempts are made to outright murder prison activists and other “troublemakers” who refuse to bow down to the injustice.

These methods do work against many prisoners; but others use them as fuel to the fire in their outspoken voice and work.

Administrative efforts to suppress the truth – or punish those who reveal it – play counter to the kind of ethical standards that the common folk would expect from an institution whose mission is “corrections”, and under a government who often criticizes the inhumane prison practices in other countries, like the Western media’s critique of Abu Ghraib, which was called “Saddam’s torture central” because of its twice-weekly public executions during the reign of the Ba’athist government. Of course, after U.S. forces overthrew Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003, the Abu Ghraib prison’s name was changed to the Baghdad Central Confinement Facility (BCCF) as a way to sever it from its dark past. But the torture that occurred there after U.S. control made Saddam’s “torture central” look like the detritus of those American-regulated acts.

However, U.S. citizens are becoming more aware that these schemes and abuse of official power are common among guards, and are mutually reinforcing through ranking staff. On a bigger scale, it is slowly being spread across the world by way of American militarized occupation of countries like Iraq and its prisons. Instead of continuing Saddam’s public executions at BCCF, U.S. military guards like Corporal Chris Graner and Chip Frederick held private executions and torture of Iraqi detainees, while snapping photos of these abuses for personal pleasure and future reminiscing. Unlike Saddam’s, their practices weren’t intended to be made public, just as with the practices here at the Telford Unit.

This matter raises more far-reaching questions about how the concept of integrity and corrections is understood. As it is, the officers are themselves giving examples of criminal conduct.

There is no honor among abusers

There is an art to the emotional and physical abuse that is inflicted on prisoners by Telford Unit staff of a variety of professions. It is sneakily sketched to first justify any act or reaction made by guards, including slapping, punching, and breaking bones. This may be in relation to a guard being provoked to attack, or just feeling the need to uphold law and order in a way that is personally satisfying or maliciously vengeful.

Justification and relief of any liability comes at the expense of the prisoner being written a disciplinary report for assaulting or threatening to assault staff; self-inflicted bodily for secondary gain (e.g. playing crazy to avoid previous write-ups); refusing to obey an order; possession of a weapon, and any other reason a guard can use to explain why contact with the prisoner was made. In short, it falsely projects the guard as a responder to a dangerous situation or prisoner. A situation that they themselves stage.

One example of this “manipulated enforcement of the law” happened September 20th 2018, around 7:30 AM, to Isaiah Freeman #1562524, who is housed underneath me in 12-Building B Pod 77 Cell, waiting to be moved to the medium custody building once a room becomes available; till then he’s single-cell solitary like me.

As Officer Dillon P. Powell escorted the smaller-sized, handcuffed Freeman from the shower back into his cell, he used this handicap to add to his resume of assaults on prisoners. With full awareness that the pod surveillance cameras were recording, and as I watched through the reflection of a window, Powell grabbed Freeman by the neck and choke-slammed him to the ground, obviously attempting to break it.

Powell used one knee and all of his weight to choke-pin Freeman’s neck to the ground as he fought for air, until the sleeping pad watch tower guard, Donna K. Strickland, happened to see, and then called for help. Going against the grain of policy, Powell didn’t have a walkie-talkie or a second escorting guard, which is designed to prevent another Telford Unit officer from getting killed, as happened in this same setting several years back. He didn’t even verbally holler for help.

Sgt Victor M. Raggs, Ira M. “Beastmode” James, Lt. Ricks, and others responded. Ricks manically demanded that Powell remove his knee from Freeman’s neck, roll him on his side and allow him to breathe. “Beastmode”’s assistance was nothing but obnoxiously rehearsed screaming threats at Powell’s co-worker Jones. Insults like “fat stupid motherfuckers” and a litany of other vulgar language and disrespect came from her mouth, you name it she said it. Raggs said nothing of the harassment directed at Jones, which stemmed from his absence during the assault and the fact that he allowed protective custody prisoners everywhere, willy-nilly. When the smoke cleared, Jones took his frustration out on us.

Powell is the same abusive guard that had just come back from leave following, and in response to, an incident that he had with a Latino prisoner who occupied the same cell Freeman is now in. And who slammed another handcuffed prisoner on another cell block, a few weeks after slamming Freeman.

Freeman was framed as being aggressive and trying to escape Powell, despite having nowhere to go beyond his own cell. The excited voices of random prisoners demanding that Ricks review the camera footage were abated by Beastmode’s empty threats that someone would wake up dead if we didn’t mind our own business. Her reputation for using spit, and far worse schemes than Powell can think of, was enough to quiet all except a few who only spoke back from a hiding position in their cells. From her position as a non-ranking officer, she has and exercises more authority than her supposed superiors, often telling them what to do.

Powell was allowed back on the cell block to work, using the opportunity to taunt Freeman cellside and through the safety of the cell door; eventually provoking Freeman into throwing water out of the cell, at which point Powell ran to his supervisor and claimed Freeman hit him.

The original assault on Freeman was never filed, so as to prevent the incident and camera footage from being investigated beyond Telford Unit’s damage control “commune”. The water-throwing claim was fully investigated and remedied, while Powell escaped liability unscathed, using the subsequent assault claim to validate his own premeditated conduct – and possible future assaults if he ever crosses paths with a handcuffed Freeman again. Even though Jones was only following Sgt Raggs’ orders when he left Powell to escort Freeman alone, he was used as a scapegoat and blamed for the entire event; but I never saw anyone question why Powell took the initiative to do something that he knew ran afoul of policy.

Over-the-top assaultive oversight

Another prisoner, last name Martinez, was a victim of two separate assaults during an unknown time, but within the last two months. I’d actually seen this prisoner during the month of August 2018, painfully pushing his walker with a back-brace on. It was rumored that “staff beat his ass” for reasons unknown, but under the pretext that he tried to “assault staff”, even though he couldn’t take a single step without the use of his walker.

Interestingly, when I was thrown in lock-up by Lieutenant Derek D. Sartin on Sept 5 2018, who confronted me with the threat of violence while I was on my way to a disciplinary hearing, I was put in a cell above Martinez. This time, he had a neck brace on, and a badly bruised face and black eyes. He still had his walker, but could barely use it or stand up to submit to handcuffs, which is the only way we can leave the cell. Out of necessity, he avoided leaving the cell to shower.

Unseasoned 12-Building staff were led to believe that Martinez failed at attempting to hang himself, and that his injuries were the result of this, and his placement in lock-up was due to his assaultive behavior. Rumors spread throughout the building as some staff vicariously passed what they’d heard to prisoners who work around us but live in the prison dormitory. These prisoners began doing the same, but adding and deleting details to their liking.

The real reason for his placement in lock-up was to isolate him until his wounds healed, the assault charge was a complete invention. Martinez’s entire stay in lock-up generated taunts, harassment, indifference and emotional torment from medical staff and guards alike. He was often called “crazy” and “stupid-ass” for supposedly trying to kill himself, but Martinez defended himself by letting it be known that he was attacked and nearly killed. An Officer Smith commented to me that “they” and medical staff thought Martinez wouldn’t make it and that he should be dead, she is one of the many that are saying that he hung himself.

On the morning of September 30 2018, and during my one hour of recreation, Officer Justin W. Freshour admitted that Lieutenant Jesus M. Estrada “beat Martinez’ ass” at length and beyond a deadly use of force. “That wasn’t a use of force, Estrada beat the shit out of him” Freshour said with a blushing smile. Freshour also noted that Martinez was recently beat again “by staff”, this time here in 12-Building and during Estrada’s shift. Estrada has recently been promoted to a 12-Building Lieutenant.

Freshour claimed to have no knowledge of what led to the double assault, and showed no concern about it, like everyone else. He did seem content with the result, and the fact that Estrada now has a broader range of security oversight on prisoners isolated from the help of others, and those under the care of protective custody.

A white prisoner (I lost his contact info) who lives in the protective custody section of 12-Building told me some time ago that Estrada broke his hand by slamming it in the door. He still had the splint on his arm. He claimed to have a lawsuit pending on the matter.

These incidents illuminate the threats that I was subjected to by Estrada and Sgt Zavin M. Gilstrap on July 14 2018. I was taken from my cell on 3-Building by Gilstrap, handcuffed and taken to a dark and secluded area, simply because I refused to stop pursuing the publication of aheat stroke-related article that was confiscated by Security Threat Group officer Angela Mendez on completely fabricated grounds.

Instead of Estrada addressing the issue of Gilstrap threatening to write me a false case for threatening to kill female officers if I didn’t give in, he protected Gilstrap by letting it be known that, however Gilstrap wanted to handle the situation, he had his full support. Estrada even mentioned that if I thought everything was a joke, I should go eat lunch and he’d show me what he’d do once the handcuffs were removed. Three white prisoners, a white guard and one black officer stood behind me in the cramped space, seeming to want to see Estrada’s threat lived out then and there.

Activist and Professor of Philosophy for Austin’s community college, Azzurra Crispino posted a narrative of this event on the PAPS blog immediately after my phone call to her. These events were in full view of various cameras, but little investigating was done, and both Gilstrap and Estrada were hastily assigned to work either end of the walkway that led to the chow halls, law library, infirmary, and mailroom, making it impossible for us to not cross paths.

Captain Gooden was the initial investigator, but decided to pass the investigation over to the culprits’ shift captain, “Beard” once evidence showed how unusual the ordeal was. Gooden claimed to be one of the few with integrity, and his desire to have nothing to do with anything has allowed his integrity to go unchallenged.

The Three Little Pigs

Head Warden Garth A. Parker, Assistant Warden Marshall, and Major Timothy S. Hooper, when together, almost look like the three little pigs, if one uses their imagination. All three are replacements for others holding these ranks who were transferred.

Hooper looks like your typical small-town jailer, beer belly, out of shape, thick mustache, smelly breath, extremely hateful and a coward. His belief is that being a top guard means that he’s automatically entitled to the highest level of respect and submission, becoming aggressive when a prisoner doesn’t go along with this act. However, he is good at hiding his deeply-ingrained racial hatred when around imposing black people, like Warden Marshall. Around Warden Parker, this reserve vanishes, and his verbally abusive behavior builds momentum by the second.

Warden Parker has some of this same racial hatred, and uses obscene language and blatant threats to “do something” as a way to mask his fear of being challenged, whenever he has no choice but to address an issue with a prisoner. He usually sends others to do his ground work for him. When he has something foul up his sleeve, Hooper is called to assist him, as they will both vouch for each other following acts of misconduct.

An example of this foul partnership occurred on Sept 6, 2018, when I was handcuffed and taken to see Parker and Hooper. Before the door closed, I was met with a crossfire of “dumbass”, “lying motherfucker”, and sly threats. The purpose of the meeting wasn’t to address a slew of ombudsman complaints regarding various staff, but to threaten, harass, and coerce me into not posting any more blogs or articles that generate such activity. Parker claimed that he’d be monitoring my mail and keeping close tabs on me. If it didn’t work, he said, he’d do something to make me stop. He didn’t say what that would be, but he did seem confident that it would solve the problem.

Warden Marshall, on the other hand, is a black official and jailhouse “token”, used to quell individual resistance and united fronts against blatant acts of injustice. He’s no different than Al Sharpton; often popping up to pose as a rescuer, but only when it serves the interests of his administration more than it exposes its deficiencies and assaultive history. He seems stuck on criticizing our actions, not confronting or analyzing the individuals and situations that provoke it. His method of problem solving is perfunctory, not effective.

This was exposed on September 24, 2018, during a handcuffed visit I had with Marshall, Hooper, and Assistant Warden Michael W. Bates. Bates posed as a fair-minded person who was looking to address my complaint about laundry manager Renitia T. Davis and Lt. Sartin. After Bates left, Hooper claimed that my complaint about Sartin was unfounded. Absurd and devoid of logic as it sounds, Hooper said Sartin was only answering my question of whether he would hit me. Marshall agreed that since I asked him if he planned on hitting me, he had the right to approach me with balled-up fists and say that he might do so.

A change of events warrants retaliation

I am happy to report that the threatening an officer case that I was written by laundrymanager Renitia T. Davis, that resulted in me losing my line class and good time, and being demoted to medium custody status, was ultimately overturned by Warden Bates on October 5 2018. Through the help of outside supporters, and my dilligent networking, I exposed the conspiracy that Davis, C Tisdale PS III (counsel substitute imposter), Disciplinary Hearing Officer Captain Sandra M. Clark, Counsel Substitute Sheila A. Forte and Lieutenant Derek D. Sartin engaged in that prevented me from collecting evidence, attending the hearing, questioning the accuser, and appealing the finding of guilt. Jane M. Cockerham of the TDCJ Ombudsman Office assisted in trying to seal the deal by providing false information to a supporter that filed a complaint. “It was noted that the offender had no disciplinary hearing scheduled for the date of this incident, but that he did attend a hearing the following day. There is no indication that staff violated agency guidelines…”

In a separate response from Cockerham, covering the same issues, she provided more false information: “He was afforded the opportunity to appeal the decision in this matter, but there is no record of him doing so, and the time limits for appeal have expired. Based on a review of available documentation, the case was appropriately processed, and there is no reason for a reversal of the original decision.”

Apparently there was reason for a reversal; on September 26 2018, I filed a grievance laying out the conspiracy, and it didn’t take Bates long to rule in my favor, which requires compelling documented evidence, given that the time limit for appeal had expired. “Disciplinary Report #20180337108 has been recommended for overturn. Please allow ample time for this to reflect upon your record…” (Grievance #2019011895). The reversal reflects many due process of law violations.

Even though I defeated the case, since then I’ve been bombarded with many other cases from Officer Myers, Officer Drager, and others claiming that I’d engaged in lewd acts. These cases are no different to the threat case, as it’s my word against theirs. And it subjects me to worse conditions and punishment than what I’d previously got overturned.

On October 6 2018, around 10:00 AM, Officer K. Smith, with the assistance of a protective custody prisoner, attempted to pass me a lunch tray containing the prisoner’s spit. “Spit in his tray”, she said in a low tone. “Do it, I’m serious”, she told him with a sincerely straight face. After she realized I was standing at my door, she claimed the tray would go to my neighbor Jose Hernandez #2185302.

This was brought to Raggs’ attention to no avail; the very next day Smith was assigned to our pod again. For no reason at all, she denied Hernandez the right to shower, claiming that they verbally refused. Her beef with me stems from the fact that I defeated my case and was helping Hernandez, who is transgender, defeat a threatening an officer case she framed them with on October 6.

Raggs was present when Smith called Hernandez all kinds of terms such as “bitch” and “HIV-having ho”, but just as he was unresponsive to James’ threats towards Jones, he was even more unresponsive in this situation. This suggests that Raggs and the prisoner lackey have an understanding with her that enables her to freely engage in malicious activity, particularly when around them.

On October 7, Smith was assigned to work with Jones, a proverbial pushover, who conceals his lack of fortitude by claiming to be a humble servant of Christ.

Not only did Smith deny Hernandez a shower, she wrote them another threat case then tried to get Jones to bear false witness; he declined to do so, but the case was still written. In between these acts, she went from cell to cell spreading rumors about Hernandez being HIV positive. She then openly showed frustration when I refused to leave the day room until she was assigned elsewhere.

A team of guards headed by Raggs entered the pod, and I insisted that Smith being moved elsewhere was a non-negotiable demand. The usual threats of physical assault were hurled, but the hollers of other prisoners stating that they’d riot eventually caused Raggs to finally agree to move Smith to another section. Out of anger, Smith hollered from afar that I’d start getting the same treatment as Hernandez for helping “the dick sucker” and that we must be “sucking each other’s dicks”.

But, in the teeth of repression, my personal small token of getting a disciplinary case overturned through struggle, unity, struggle, is only marginal. The real fight is ongoing against the currents of repression, and siding with people of all genders and lifestyles who will assist in advancing correct political lines, and resist trends and struggles that keep the oppressed nation on the cutting edge of surviving government-sponsored mental, physical, and spiritual genocide.

These struggles aren’t barred from behind prison walls. They are created here, as time and oppression builds resistance. Whose side are you on?

Jason Renard Walker #1532092

Ellis Unit

1697 FM 980

Huntsville, TX 77343

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