I know how it works, but....

Tales from death row: Justice for Rodney Reed


By: Caitlin Adams

Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is a world unto itself.  As an agency, it is for all intents and purposes, a free-standing entity answerable to no one. There is no meaningful oversight of TDCJ policies, procedures and practices. Now, don't misunderstand me, there are manuals governing these things. Even laws governing some. It looks good on paper, in theory. But in practice when there is any attempt to hold TDCJ to their own rules, if it is deemed as interference by the powers that be at TDCJ, it is ignored. And business as usual continues.

Lockdowns and shakedowns are part of prison life. There are procedures, guidelines, rules—oops! TDCJ finds these procedures, guidelines, rules an inconvenient interference—so, they are ignored.  As anyone who knows about TDCJ history knows, the prime example of the landmark Supreme Court ruling Ruiz v Estelle shows that no one tells TDCJ how to do anything, not even the Supreme Court!  I encourage you to read Robert Perkinson's Texas Tough to get an understanding of how entrenched this little fiefdom is.

I know how it is; I know how things work, BUT I don't, won't, can't just accept this blatant abuse of power. Of course, this blog is about another of the endless ways TDCJ violates the rights of prisoners. In the most recent shakedown, Rodney had his mirror, bowls, hairbrush, dental floss, soap, food, and radio, along with the only items, technically, that should've been taken: books and magazines Rodney had bagged up to send home, confiscated.  Nothing taken is contraband. All of it came directly from TDCJ commissary. Rodney wrote recently, that he received a reply to his step one grievance regarding his radio. The grievance was denied. The reason for the denial: "the radio had been altered".  Of course, the radio had not been altered, at least not by Rodney! As such, an altered radio is considered contraband and the radio will not be returned. Rodney purchased this radio in his 12/5/12 commissary order, after his old radio died after long years of service. Rodney has filed a step two grievance, but, you see, grievances are seen as interference, so we already know how this will turn out. Rodney will buy a new radio when one is available in commissary.  Thankfully, that is a small something I can help with.

The most recent abuse of power Rodney has endured involves his health. Rodney has high blood pressure. He is supposed to have regular blood pressure checks. Do I even need to say that his blood pressure hasn't been checked in so long, Rodney doesn't remember the last time? A nurse happened to be on the pod where Rodney is housed when he came back from a legal visit. He spoke to her and told her the situation. He told me that she responded kindly that she would check and get back to him. Later she came back to the pod and yelled in Rodney’s face that he had wasted her time and that his blood pressure had been checked on 4/24/13 (the date of this interaction was 5/1/13). Rodney asked who wrote the blood pressure reading in his medical record. She responded that she didn't know because she couldn't read the handwriting. Falsifying medical records, hmmm—against the law—but doing your job as a nurse is interference. In TDCJ land the law is for everyone else.

I know these things happen every day in every prison in America. I have to hope that every day, in every prison in America, there are people who do their jobs, who follow the rules, who are fair in their treatment of prisoners—I have to hope this because I don't see it.

Update: Since I wrote this piece, I have received another letter from Rodney. His step two grievance was denied. Rodney's belongings will be disposed of. What is infuriatingly so typical is that the grievance department is required (to be read as, inconvenienced) by TDCJ policy to do an independent investigation of each step two grievance they receive. No such investigation ever happened. We know this—well, because it is TDCJ—and more importantly, because part of the required investigation is to speak to the officer on site who took the initial complaint. The sergeant in question was never contacted and thought Rodney was joking when Rodney advised him that he had gotten his step two grievance back. He didn't think it was a joke when Rodney showed him the denial and the lie. The sergeant told Rodney he would try to get his radio back, but as we know TDCJ and its staff are long on words, very short on follow through. All of this was then rubber-stamped by the acting warden!