Texas Indigent Mail Battle Victories and Set Backs
The Texa$ Board of Criminal (in)Justice implemented new prisoner Correspondence Rules on 1 October 2013 restricting indigent prisoners to 5 one-ounce domestic letters per month. The previous policy allowed 5 letters per week. This is a clear attack on prisoners' access to the outside world, and in particular impacts politically active prisoners who use the mail to expose the brutality and abuse going on behind bars in Texas. In response to this new policy United Struggle from Within initiated a grievance campaign, organizing prisoners to appeal this restriction. Below are several new updates to the campaign:
Successful Grievance Against Limits on Legal Mail
From Hughes Unit: "I won my grievance due to interference from the department law library which deals with offenders who are indigent. They were saying five letters a month for everything and they were trying to stop my legal mail from going out to the courts. There is no limit on legal mail! They were also trying only to give us supplies like 25 sheets of paper, one pen, five envelopes a month. But an indigent offender who is doing legal work can have this once a week, and mail out as much legal work he or she wants."
One prisoner from Allred wrote Step 1 and Step 2 grievances requesting additional stamps. Because of his need to use his 5 indigent mail stamps to pursue legal research this prisoner was unable to write to family and friends and so requested additional stamps from the Warden. The first request prior to the grievances stated "I need to mail 5 more letters this month using indigent [mail]. ... This unit law library is giving me the run around having me write and ask everybody under the sun. They don't know about the 83rd Legislature House Bill 634 by Farias of Texas. It's the holidays, I need extra 5 letters this month." The response from the Warden: "That doesn't meet any legal requirement and I don't have the authority to allow you extra postage for that." Responses to his grievances following up on the Warden's denial included denying the Step 1 for "excessive attachments." The attachments were copies of his initial attempts to resolve the issue without filing a grievance.
Based on the victory from the prisoner in Hughes Unit, we encourage prisoners to appeal their access to stamps for legal mail separately from the restriction on personal mail.
Restrictions on Receipt of Stationary
A comrade in Eastham Unit reported: "Each year the big wigs running Texas prisons decide on what to take from the prisoners next. This year it involves indigent mail and stationary sent in from the outside. Prisoners who have no money on their trust fund account are able to receive supplies (paper, pen, envelopes) and send out letters through the indigent mail. Before this March prisoners could send out five letters a week, now it's just five letters a month... What's worse is that we're charged for indigent mail services. Whenever we get money on our account, the cost for every letter mailed and each supply is deducted.
"Prior to March our friends and family could have stationary from an outside store sent to us. This was eliminated, and now our only option is purchasing stationary from commissary, and paying their prices. Like any oppressor, TDCJ enjoys coming up with new ideas and ways to make life more difficult for their captors. There's strength in numbers. The more of us who write grievances, send letters to state politicians, and get the word out to our family and friends, the better chance we have of telling our oppressors that we're not going to take this lying down."
This comrade is right on about the strength in numbers. We have a number of prisoners across the state working on this campaign to end the restrictions on correspondence in Texas, and we've come up with a few key steps for prisoners and supporters to take.
Some jailhouse lawyers have created guides to fighting this injustice as well as a broader grievance guide for Texas, and we are seeing an influx of prisoners requesting these resources. We look forward to the results of this growing activism in this state with the largest prison population and one of the highest incarceration rates in the country.
For this indigent mail campaign in particular, we have a sample step 1 grievance for prisoners to use as well as a sample step 2 grievance for those whose step 1 is rejected. Write to us for a copy of the indigent mail campaign guide.