The pre-eminence of environmentalism in the twenty-first century is a novel political and historical development. Ecology is a new body of scientific description and knowledge upon which social, economic, political and ethical ideas and practices have become premised. Ecosystem science suggests that political, social, and economic arrangements must be compatible and ideally optimize natural ecological processes. Harming ecosystems is considered ethically, politically, and ecologically wrong.
- Graham Purchase, Green Flame: Kropotkin and the Birth of Ecology
When a person says that they are a “water protector,” an animal and plant lover, they more often than not identify with being classified as an environmentalist. However, just to live in the United States of Amerika, you must become an expert in biology and water analysis, and be proficient in identifying poisons and pathogens, which routinely appear in your immediate environment, your food, and your water supply.
More specifically, you must actually transform yourself into a private investigator, able to figure out the complex and conspiratorial relationships between capitalist corporate entities that persistently pollute the environment, and federal and state agencies—government departments commissioned to protect our land, air, and water from being corrupted and exploited by these corporate entities. Our planet and our health are in peril.
What I have discovered is that the State of Texas has conspired with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to downplay and cover up contaminated, toxic water supplies in state-run prisons as well as the rural communities in close proximity to those toxic sites. It is not just the prisoners in Texas who are suffering the ill effects of corrupt agri-business.
I have also discovered that what is happening in Texas is not unique. I’ve learned of another imprisoned environmentalist in Pennsylvania, housed in a prison known as Frackville. His name is Bryant Arroyo, and he has discovered the same custom of corrupt government practices in his state. In a recent essay, Arroyo stated that
In general, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) knows it has a water crisis on its hands. The top agencies like the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and EPA know about this open-secret and have conspired to deliberately ignore most, if not all, of the prisoners’ official complaints. DEP has received four drinking water violations from the EPA. But the underlying problem is money, money, and more money.1
Bryant Arroyo cites money as the underlying problem. I find that quite remarkable, because recently I have been studying the spending habits of Scott Pruitt, the former director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.2 As I see it, Pruitt and his cronies have aggressively forced roll-backs of anti-pollution measures, while conspiring to line the pockets of close associates, and supplying Pruitt with $100,000 a month for private jet memberships, bulletproof vehicles, and even a bulletproof desk.
Pruitt was so busy squandering taxpayer dollars that he ignored environmental disasters taking place in plain sight. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island has requested an investigation into Pruitt’s careless spending. My question is, when will the Environmental Protection Agency start doing some protecting of the environment?
Hog Farms and Toxic Water
I first discovered the connection between hog farms and E. coli in the water supply in the years 2015 and 2016. I was housed at the H.H. Coffield Unit. Coffield, which is located in the eastern part of Texas, in Tennessee Colony, is the largest state prison in Texas. In Anderson County, it is approximately an hour and a half from Dallas. There are many prisoners from the Dallas and Fort Worth areas housed there. Right across the field you can see another large state prison, the Michael Unit, which shares the same water supply system with Coffield. This water system has been plagued by problems with E. coli contamination.3
On numerous occasions, boil notices were issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), but it has been well established that Texas prisoners have no way to boil their water. Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) often lies to the public about trucking in clean water when these notices are issued.
While housed at Coffield, I noticed many prisoners had weird keloid-like growths and tumors on the sides of their necks and heads. Some prisoners had recurring respiratory problems and gastrointestinal abnormalities. Some, like Kevin Wayne Handy, TDC # 1826610, were diagnosed with throat cancer.
There are three large prisons in the Tennessee Colony/Palestine area: Coffield, Michael, and Beto Unit, and they all have some type of industrial hog operation functioning. The prison agency TDCJ and the TCEQ know that these hog operations are contaminating our drinking water, but because we are prisoners, our health and our lives really don’t matter to these violators of the public’s trust.
It is very hard to comprehend how the medical personnel who work for the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) and provide healthcare to the prisoners at these facilities have not been able to draw the correlations and connections between particular health problems and the toxic water supplies. Actually, I have observed in the past, while I was housed at Pack Unit in Navasota, Texas, that UTMB medial staff were well aware of the high levels of arsenic in the water supply for years but decided to keep their mouths shut.
Lawsuits have certainly been filed citing the toxic water at both Coffield and Michael Unit, but we have discovered that the conspiracy to cover up the existence of these topic water supplies extends far beyond the offices of TDCJ and TCEQ. Corruption, collusion, and complicity exist in the U.S. magistrate judge’s chambers in Tyler, Texas and in Lufkin, Texas. Something very foul is going on in the Eastern District of Texas.
I am now at the Eastham Unit, located in Lovelady, Texas, and as at Coffiield the water is toxic thanks to hog operations. We have discovered bacteria known as H. pylori in our water supply as well as another parasitical bacterium called crypto-sporidium. This nasty parasite has affected TDCJ employees as well as prisoners at Eastham. And TDCJ employee Dr. Owen Murray continues to lie to the media and the public at large about the water quality at Eastham and numerous other Texas prisons. It won’t be until federal courts issue a significant monetary award to prisoners that the TDCJ will finally clean up their act and stop poisoning the water supply.
In 2017, Earth First! Journal published an article I wrote exposing “Horrific Conditions for Livestock Animals in Texas Prisons.”4 In this article I not only exposed the mistreatment and abuse of chickens and hogs, I also discussed the connection between toxic water supplies and the toxic waste from factory farming of livestock animals.
Doug Bock Clark has written a very informative article in Rolling Stone, a must-read for any serious water protector or environmentalist.5 This expose serves as a case study clearly illustrating the high level of corruption which exists in Amerika, showing how capitalist corporations like Smithfield Foods have entered into an agreement with the Chinese government to poison the environments and communities of poor Black and White people. A number of Clark’s points are particularly relevant to Texas prison conditions:
* A mature hog whose only activity is to eat, excretes around fourteen pounds of manure a day; manure can give rise to respiratory health problems.
* In 2008, a Government Accountability Office survey found fifteen studies linking animal waste from industrial livestock to widespread health problems.
* A North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services study found that students in middle schools up to three miles away from hog farms had elevated rates of asthma. So it is not a farfetched conclusion that the prison farms in Texas that raise hogs have the potential to harm children living nearby.
* Leaks through the clay bottoms of lagoons which store hog manure can spread E. coli into ground water and nearby wells. This has been a major problem in Texas, because TDCJ has been allowing toxic hog waste to be deposited into the Trinity River for decades, and they actually just allow the water to seep into the ground. The EPA ignores this.
* Hog waste has not been proved to correlate with cancer, but researchers at Duke University in North Carolina are currently conducting wide-ranging studies into possible links. Texas A&M University students often come to prisons in Texas to study horses and engage in other agriculture-related projects, but far some reason the aggies won’t help discover the connections between these toxic factory farms and our contaminated water supplies.
*Shane Rogers, a professor at Clarkson University and former EPA engineer, has studied this particular issue extensively, and he says that “a wide body of research shows that living near pig farms can be hazardous to people’s health.”
Connecting the Dots
When I first began to do my own research as to who is responsible for the mistreatment of livestock animals in Texas prisons, my focus was on uncovering what companies or individuals were buying eggs and hog meat from TDCJ. My free-world friends and I were provided misleading and deceptive information by a TDCJ employee names Jane Goolsby, who works for the TDCJ Manufacturing, Agribusiness, and Logistics Didision, Planning and Research Department. TDCJ does not sell eggs or pork to anyone—it is the agency’s “shell corporation,” Texas Correctional Industries, that does all the for-profit business, which exploits prison labor—but, of course, that’s another can of worms.
I have now found out exactly who is responsible for the abuse of hogs and chickens and who is responsible for the contamination of our water supplies. Bobby Lumpkin is the director of TDCJ’s Manufacturing, Agribusiness, and Logistics Division. These are a few of his responsibilities with respect to livestock operations: he “manages the commercial cow herds and stocker operations, broodmare and horse development operations, laying hen operations, farrow-to-finish swine operations, feed production facilities, and meat packing plants.”6 If Lumpkin’s hogs are poisoning our water supplies, which in turn are causing us serious health problems which last for years, then we have found the person and the TDCJ department which are liable. It is time we amend our list of culpable defendants to include Mr. Bobby Lumpkin.
In the age of Trumpism, I’ve noticed that federal and state governments in Amerika relish the opportunity to abuse, exploit, and mistreat the nation’s most vulnerable, disenfranchised, and oppressed populations. Toxic prisons like Eastham in Texas and Frackville in Schuylkill County in Pennsylvania are not the exception, they are the norm. We, the prisoners who inhabit these institutions, are mostly Black, Latin and poor white human beings.
We are the victims of rare diseases such as polycythemia vera (PV), a disease Bryant Arroyo found to be quite prevalent in Frackville. At Eastham, we are plagued by multiple problems, which affect our water quality. The pipes at Eastham were installed in 1953, when lead pipes and lead base solder were used liberally in plumbing projects. In 1986 lead pipes and lead based solder were outlawed by the EPA. The State of Texas has refused to spend the money to completely replace these corroded and deteriorating pipes, which continue to leak high levels of copper and lead into our water supply.
I am one of an ever-growing number of imprisoned correspondents and environmentalists in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign. In a small solitary confinement cage inside a Texas prison dwells the spirit and legacy of the anarchist Kropotkin, “the first person to mould proto-ecological concepts within the then fledgling fields of economics, agricultural science, conservationism, ethology, criminology, city planning, geography, geology, and biology into a coherent new scientific outlook combined with a radical political or social ecological program for rejuvenating society and our relationship with the Earth.”7 Let us all continue to fight to preserve and protect our planet earth. Dare to struggle, dare to win, all power to the people!
- Bryant Arroyo, “Frackville Prison’s Systemic Water Crisis,” at www.socialistviewpoint.org/janfeb1824.html
- Michael Biesecker (A.P.), “EPA Chief Spent Millions on Security and Travel,” El Paso Times, April 6, 2018.
- Keith “Malik” Washington, “Prison Officials, ACA Inspectors Ignore Contaminated Water in Texas Prisons,” in San Francisco Bay View, October 21, 2015.
- Keith “Malik” Washington, “Horrific Conditions for Livestock Animals in Texas prisons,” at www.fighttoxicprisons.org and Earth First! Journal, Fall 2017.
- Doug Bock Clark, “Why is China Treating North Carolina Like the Developing World?”, in Rolling Stone, March 19, 2018.
- TDCJ Directory: Manufacturing, Agribusiness, and Logistics Division.
- G. Purchase, Green Flame.
ContributorKeith "Malik" Washington
Keith “Malik” Washington is a cofounder and chief spokespersyn for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement; he is a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and the deputy Chairman of the New African Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter).