Letter from Eastham Unit
Waking from a restless semi-sleep in which I couldn’t quite slip into full unconsciousness, I sit up and place my bare feet on the floor. I’m no longer even bothered by the scattering of the many roaches that my floor and walls are always full of. I’m resigned to it. It’s much worse this time of the year, summer. My own personal hell, lasting more than one hundred days each year and taking its toll... My boxers are soaked through with sweat, as is the towel I’d been sleeping on to keep my back off of the rusted iron... The sweltering heat is at 104º so inside this red brick building it’s unbearable. The mattress provided by TCI [Texas Correctional Industries] is under my bunk as sleeping on it isn’t possible. With its plastic covering, within ten seconds your body heat coupled with sweat, humidity, and these conditions causes a very hot and nasty situation. I break out with a horrible “environmental rash” if I do try to sleep on it, so it simply isn’t a choice. The minor ache and discomfort of sleeping on steel is a lesser evil than the terrible itching rash. My only provided towel is now sweat soaked, and rusty on the down-facing side, but that makes no difference—toweling off is nonsensical, as the moment I’m out of the shower, the sweat once more immediately starts rolling and dripping down my body, off my nose... “Rec time!” Now I know what roused me from my fitful slumber. “Recreation” is only a three times-per-week event (if we’re lucky) in Eastham Unit. As the guards begin pulling the prisoners out of their cells on third row (I'm on first row), they continue hollering “Rec!” I have a few moments to get ready as each prisoner must submit to a strip search, then to restraints, before being marched out to a single man rec cage not much larger than the cell.
My mouth is dry and my tongue is thick. I’m feeling fatigued and have a slight headache. Symptoms of dehydration, and I know it. I look with hopeless defeat at my toilet/sink combo. Water... I’ve got no choice but to drink it, my body is screaming for it but the mere thought of drinking this water is disheartening. The smell is sulphurous, rotten egg-like, but I’ve drunk well water before, that’s not the problem. I have been forced to drink this water since being transferred here close to two years ago and it’s horrible. There is a taste to it I’m unable to compare to anything I have ever tasted before. When you have finished swallowing/choking it down, your mouth is left with a filmy disgusting residue. Since drinking it, I’ve experienced severe cramps in my stomach, pains in my kidneys and my groin area. “Boil notices” have been put out, but we have no way to boil water. Clean water is available... for 15¢ per 16.9 oz bottle through TDCJ [Texas Department of Correctional Justice]’s money-making giant commissary. I do not go to commissary, like many other people here in Texas’s prison system. It is encouraged by health officials to drink at least 1 gallon of water daily—more in hotter circumstances. That is $1.20 a day for the bare minimum. For many like myself, it might as well be $120.00. We are people paying our debt to society, but what price is being exacted?
I brush my teeth, splash water on my face, and choke down as much water as I can stomach. No water inside the rec cage, nor a toilet. The only way to get water while outside (in summer only) is to have a water bottle—purchased at the commissary—to pass to the guard for filling. No cups permitted outside at rec, and like many, that is all I have. Two hours with no water in the heat. I’m fortunate to own a handed-down pair of shorts and t-shirt. Anyone without them is required to wear the TDCJ ad seg [administrative segregation] jumpsuit. The material is like canvas, and, soaked with sweat, feels like wearing a wet sail. The guards reach my cell, strip-search me, before allowing me only my pair of sweat-sodden boxers for the walk to the rec area in restraints. Once at rec, I am uncuffed through the “bean slot,” which is the hinged doors with locks that a food tray or your hands can fit through. My clothes boast new rust marks from the iron “bean slot.” Rec constitutes either walking in very small circles or attempting to throw a deflated basketball through a rusted-out goal. Mostly I just try to see the sky above the metal fence through the barbwire. It is over all too soon and my now sweat-soaked shorts and shirt are peeled off, along with my boxers, for another strip search, before being led back to my confines. The wet clothes collect more rust, which is next to impossible to remove entirely.
Showers follow rec, and the shower area is like the rec yard in that you must submit to restraints and shower alone. Many prisoners use their cups to shower in their cells out of their sink to avoid a “shakedown,” which many officers do out of spite, for making them do any work—they must search, cuff and escort. I do it to conserve soap and barter for another bar. The “bars” are 1×1 ½ inches, and less than ¼ inch in thickness. More like a chip. I’m to shower, wash my clothes and dishes (i.e. cup and spoon) with that. No other soap is provided without charge. The laundry alone takes the entire bar, which does nothing for the orange tinge the once-white clothes now sport. The dirty appearance to the clothes is very dehumanizing and embarrassing as it is, but handing an officer your rusty clothes that also smell musty from under-washing is crippling to a person’s emotional fortifications. Mental strength is all that stands in the way of the very common suicide in solitary. Usually I’m able to barter for a second “chip” of soap.
Shower finished, I use the soapy water on my cell floor to somewhat clean it—another reason I shower in my cell. A dishwashing and laundry detergent made by TCI is available—for $1.90 in commissary. I gather TDCJ figures indigent “offenders” do not merit clean spoons in seg? Texas, unlike most other states in the USA, doesn’t allow prisoners to work for wages. Either you have support from beyond the wall or you don’t.
The food cart arrives with cold food and warm drinks at around 10 AM. Often times the beans are spoiled from re-heating, but you get used to that. If you are “meat-free,” you get most of the calorific intake from legumes. Flies swarm the tray holder that the guard leaves sitting halfway down the “run” or walkway of eighteen cells while he feeds those at the far end. Rocks are something to be careful of, lest you have to take a trip to TDCJ’s costly dental. Inspection of your greens could yield any number of bugs, and you can find hardened grits or greens under your mixed vegetables—even though neither had been served that day...
Once feeding is done, clothes are now drip-drying in the stifling heat. I place my towel, the rusty, sweaty one I used to sleep on that morning, back on the iron bunk in front of my ten inch fan set on low. Why not high? When it’s this hot, putting the fan on high is like trying to use a blow dryer on high to cool down. The hot air that ensues is suffocating. So with my fan on low, feeling drowsy and lethargic I wait out another scorching summer day. All that remains of the day is hopefully mail and more unsavory food. It will take hours—late into the night or early morning—after the sun sets before the red brick which makes up the exterior of this aging prison will relent and cool, freeing those inside—temporarily—from the extreme oven-like effect...
This is Comrade Kado, and I’m just one white activist in this struggle for human rights. Prisoners are people too, and these people running TDCJ’s facilities commit more crimes, of a greater magnitude, than most of the criminals that they are given charge over. Seven more years I’ll be here fighting, & will endure these conditions. I am strong and I will fight on, but how many of these human beings, black, brown, or white, will succumb to these inhumane, torturous conditions? How many more will choose suicide to escape such pain and suffering? How many will die from health complications as a result of these horrid and very wrong conditions? Help me, brothers and sisters of the fight! The struggle is real! Help fight for the ones who have no voice! Fight the power! Fight toxic prisons!
I encourage all words of solidarity, news of the struggle and words of strength. You can reach me at:
Noah “Comrade Kado” Coffin #1795167
2665 Prison Road #1