Steven Maher, September 8, 2012

Steven Maher

September 8, 2012

It has been more than six months since I submitted anything toward my journal. I have not had the resources nor the ability to sit in peace long enough to write anything positive. I did make an inquiry to you concerning the Journal Project and recently received a response from Bradford at the end of July with answers to my questions. Thank you for responding and letting me know that my journal is not getting lost in the mail, and especially that someone is actually reading my words.

I have recently been blessed enough to have the ability to write a few letters, and the semi-patience to sit still long enough to do so. Because of this, I am sending this letter and additional entries for my journal. Thank you for your patience and understanding! Please recognize that I am specifically prohibited from earning a living, as I am a mere slave of the State of Texas because of my incarceration. Thus, I cannot write as often as I would like to. Also, in order to save as much as I can, I will use recycled paper.

I normally write my thoughts briefly by date when I am journaling, but I feel compelled this time to write a brief description of my day in the hopes of making sense of my life (and sharing it with you of course).

On a “normal” day it is just after midnight when I am finally allowed to go to sleep. I will most likely be awakened at 1:00 am and again at 2:00 am by the officers counting. If not, the loud speaker just above my stall (i.e. cubicle) in the dorm will most certainly echo into my dreams. They will announce “prepare for chow” after the count clears at 3:00 am even though we most likely will not be allowed to go to chow (breakfast) until several hours later. This is the beginning of my day. Breakfast will be served between 3:30 am and 5:00 am or so. Severe budget cuts have caused the already horrible meals to be cut in half, and pancakes are the norm. Beginning September 1st, the new fiscal budget cycle, chow hall procedures require the scanning o our ID cards to ensure we only eat once.

If this day is a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, “necessities” (clothing exchange) occurs at about 4:00 am. Sheets are exchanged only on Mondays. Texas, unlike almost every correctional system in the country, does NOT issue sets of clothing to inmates upon commitment. Rather, they give one set to wear, and then “exchange” as necessary. We are given a total of three sets, so we can generally get two sets exchanged while wearing the other. Of course, since we are not responsible for our own clothing, most are destroyed and damaged (used as rags to clean) and then recycled back to us. Although I wear specific sizes, I may or may not actually get an exchange of clothing that properly fits.

Now that breakfast and necessities are complete, the first shift workers are called out before the 6:00 am shift arrives. Guards in Texas work 4-days on, 4-days off, 12-hour shifts. Basically there are two shifts this way, the day shift and the night shift. With this type of system, the same guards do not always work the same days, just the same shifts.

The first official count of the day starts at 6:00 am when the day shift arrives. All the lights are turned on, and the guards come in with blaring radios yelling and screaming. Most, but not all, make sure they wake everyone up because they are mad they have to be awake. This is the first sign we have about how our day is going to be if we are not already at work.

Assuming the count is correct (and a lot of the times it is not, so the guards have to recount until they get it right), the day begins at approximately 7:00 am. We are not allowed to have our own TVs, so they have two in the dayroom of each housing area. One is for sports only and the other is for movies or whatever. These are turned on by remote only, and guards are supposed to come in at 7:00 am (and every hour thereafter) to turn them on and change the channels as needed. Since these TVs are in the same room with the cubicles (or cells elsewhere), sleep is abruptly disturbed when the TVs go on.

Activities begin roughly at 7:00 am, and recreation is called along with all other scheduled appointments. The day has begun. Since 2008, when Texas first allowed telephones, the phones come on. The phone schedule is 7:00 am to 10:00 pm, and we can only call landline phones of people who are listed on our visiting list of 10 allowable names.

Since work is slave labor in Texas as we are not reimbursed for our forcibly assigned jobs, very few look forward to the day. Should we be one of the blessed few who have loved ones who are able to send us a little something, we count ourselves blessed. Commissary, along with visitation, are the only enjoyable times we look forward to. The commissary schedule changes, and the prices are constantly going up for worse-than-generic products, but it’s the only store in town. We have no choice but to shop there. As for visits, they are only on the weekends from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, for two hours each (four hours if the visitor is from out of state and is preapproved). Only immediate family can get a “contact” visit; otherwise, you must talk on a phone and be separated by a glass partition. Of course, once “trustee” status of sorts is attained, all visits become contact. Only three contact visits are allowed per calendar month, and only one visit per weekend. Visits are enjoyable for the most part, although they have over-priced vending machines that do not always work. They sell “Philly Cheese Steak” (frozen) sandwiches, but have no microwave to heat them up! Occasionally they will sell fresh fruit, knowing that this will be a big seller as Texas does NOT provide fresh fruit (and rarely, if ever, canned fruit) to us.

Additional counts are done at 9:00 am and 2:00 pm during the day shift. Lunch occurs sometime after the 9:00 am count is cleared around 10:00 am. Last chow is normally between 3:00 pm and 5:30 pm. As I work the afternoon shift in the Garment Factory, we do not come in until after 5:30 pm, so we get whatever scraps are left (that have not been stolen) in the chow hall, and the meal is almost always cold. This is the last meal of the day and has to last us until almost 12 hours later when breakfast begins the following day.

The Garment Factory is part of Texas Correctional Industries (TCI) and we are responsible for making socks and jackets for inmates, jackets and vests for officers, as well as drapes and other unique items that are sold across the country. Necessities socks are grey, commissary socks are white. Since we make both, when we need to purchase “white” socks, which are now $1.20 a pair, we are providing the labor for production and packaging, and then they sell them back to us.

There is no afternoon recreation, and most Texas prisons do not have air conditioning, so we endure the best we can inside the buildings that have no air flow. We are not allowed (like most other prisons) to purchase an ice bucket and ice. We simply sit in our stalls like livestock.

The night shift arrives at 6:00 pm and count normally occurs unless there is a chaplaincy program that evening. The only part of this shift that anyone looks forward to is evening recreation and the mail. The mail is passed out between 8:00 pm and the 10:00 pm count, and rec occurs at that time as well. Not many people write anymore since the advent of instant communication.

Basically the night comes to a close at 10:30 pm weekdays and 12:30 am on weekends as they are “rack up” times. We are counted at 10:00 pm, and then a special “bedbook” count is done between 11:00 pm and midnight where everyone is awakened to present their ID card to the guard. Essentially, one’s ID card has become more important than the individual. It’s required to be in the housing area after 11:00 pm, it is needed for dispensing of medication, available for presentation upon request by any guard, needed to receive a visit or commissary, and sometimes even to pick up one’s mail. Without an ID, life stops in here.

Although the day is over, the nightmare continues with constant loud speaker announcements all night long. Another day is marked off the calendar, and I pray that I find something to read or do other than sitting in my stall and staring at the walls.

That is a day in the life here in Texas. I wonder if in several years I am going to be sane enough to carry on a normal conversation with normal individuals who don’t have some hidden agenda or who want to impose their own sickness and deviancy on me. Will I be like that in the years to come? Will I ever be able to relate to the real world? Is this the life I have to look forward to? No! I can and will do all that I can to stand strong and stay sane… What else can I do?

Thank you for reading about my life and what I face daily in this nightmare I am living. I pray that everyone who reads this understands and has compassion for those subject to restraint by a system that has grown way too big. Surely there are better ways to deal with people’s mistakes, especially when those mistakes put no one in harm’s way.

Thank you Bradford, for your kind words and for acknowledging my letter. I will continue to write my thoughts and journal when I can. I hope that you have also blessed others with all of your programs, and that the funding I know you need there at Prisoner Express comes in. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Best wishes always,

Steven Maher