Browsing: Prison Life


For decades of Texas summers, prisoners of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have lived in heat they described as equivalent to “walking out to your car in the middle of the summertime,” to “getting into a hot box in the sun.” They have often slept on the concrete because it is cooler than their mattresses, and away from fans that blow hot air on them. They have sometimes struggled to write letters because their sweat drips over the paper as if it were raining. Twenty-three men have died in these conditions since 1998, including Larry McCollum, who, just days after being booked for writing a hot check, died of a heat stroke while convulsing atop his bed. His internal temperature was found to be 109 degrees.

These are all among the reasons that, on Wednesday, a federal judge in Houston ruled that such conditions violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment — that there is a “substantial risk of serious illness or death from the current conditions at the Pack Unit.”

john.patrick.walterBreakfast reading from the Voice Media Empire: The conclusion of an amended autopsy report for John Patrick Walter, who died in jail on April 20, 2014, has been changed from “undetermined” to acute withdrawal from benzodiazepine, a prescribed medication that was withheld from him by staff during his incarceration. The findings echo claims made in a lawsuit filed about Walter’s death, and Erik Heipt, an attorney for his family, feels the results would have been known years ago if not for obstruction by county officials. Westword has the story.

mark.ellis_1_Breakfast reading from the Voice Media Empire: Just what does it take to get a murky child sex-assault conviction overturned? An admission of perjury by a key prosecution witness? Expert forensic analysis of the only piece of physical evidence in the case, which suggests that it may not be evidence at all? A ruling by a federal judge that your lawyer’s efforts in your defense didn’t meet constitutional standards and that you should be given a new trial or released? Westword has the story.

philippa.mccully.two.surveillanceBreakfast reading from the Voice Media Empire: College coed Philippa “Pippa” McCully’s lawsuit claims that she was badly injured during a bizarre excessive-force episode at a county jail and then refused medical treatment for a knee injury severe enough to startle the team doctor for the Miami Dolphins. Video of the incident appears to confirm much of McCully’s account. But her attorney says the case has dragged on for more than a year in part because it took place during the administration of a former sheriff whose indictment on felony charges that include extortion and official misconduct arising from an alleged sex scandal involving at leat three employees has complicated the situation immeasurably. Westword has the story.

prison.illustration.gettyBreakfast reading from the Voice Media Empire: When he entered a for-profit prison in July 2014, Dennis Choquette had a serious but treatable foot malady related to diabetes. But according to a lawsuit filed by his estate, his jailers repeatedly refused to address this problem as a way of saving money, thereby allowing his condition to deteriorate slowly and agonizingly over the course of more than a year. Westword has the story.

darrell2Breakfast reading from the Voice Media Empire: Paralyzed in a police shooting a decade ago, Darrell Havens fought tenaciously for years to bring the circumstances of his incarceration — and the use of deadly force that preceded it — to public attention. The judge gave him twenty years in prison. The encounter with police, who’d targeted him in a car-theft sting operation, sentenced him to life in a wheelchair. That sentence has now run out. Westword has the story.

img_1008On the night Jessica says she was raped by a prison guard at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Houston, she had only four days left of her sentence before she was released. (She requested that we not use her real name.)

It had been about six weeks since she cut off a consensual relationship with a prison guard named Samuel Hawkins and began resisting his advances, she said. But on the night of November 15, 2015, Hawkins came to her cell and told her to come with him to drop off a tissue box on the male floor, where she knew one of the inmates. Hawkins “paraded her around,” said Jessica’s attorney, Bill Underwood. And when he returned her to her own cell, seeming jealous of the attention from other men, Jessica says he told her,  “We’re gonna have our first real fight tonight,” before raping her. Hawkins pled guilty to sexual abuse of a ward.

michael.lee.marshallBreakfast reading from the Voice Media Empire: Attorneys and family members of Michael Marshall, who died in jail circa November 2015, call discipline imposed on two deputies and a supervisor over the incident incredibly insufficient. And indeed, previous suspensions of local law enforcers in cases that didn’t lead to death, including actions involving a sexually explicit text, flashing a badge to get faster restaurant service and more, were as long or longer than those handed out in regard to Marshall’s passing. Westword has the story.

john.patrick.walterBreakfast reading from the Voice Media Empire: The death of John Patrick Walter in Fremont County jail was absolutely unnecessary, according to a lawsuit filed by his family. The complaint contends that Walter was allowed to slowly, painfully expire as a result of withdrawal from a prescription medication by representatives of a private, for-profit company under contract to provide health-care services for inmates. Westword has the story.

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