Living in Third World Conditions at Ellis Unit in Texas
I am writing this in response to several issues we have on the O.B. Ellis Unit. These issues are a daily struggle for offenders. The issues I am raising are: The access to a toilet in common areas, such as dayrooms and chapel, the drinking water that we have access to in our cells, dayrooms, chapel, etc., the new toilets being installed in the two man cells, the illumination of bright lights being left on all day and night, and The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). We as offenders would like the public to be aware of the Cruel & Unusual Punishment we face on a constant basis. All issues can be avoided if TDCJ would address the problems, instead of ignoring them.
First issue is with not having access to toilets in common areas, such as dayrooms and chapel. When in the dayroom they keep the door locked and most of the time we are in there for several hours at a time. We only have access to a urinal in the dayroom and the chapel.
They stage us for chow sometimes an hour or more before we leave for the chow hall. We then get stuck in the chow hall for 30-45 minutes before being released to go back to the wing. Once back on the wing we are put into the dayroom for an hour or more most of the time before any in-or-outs are given to go to our cell. One example was on January 18, 2019, when they staged us for chow at 4:00pm and we didn't go to chow until 5:00pm. We made it back to the wing at 5:45pm and at 6:15pm we were still requesting an in-&-out into our cells (where the only toilets are). My stomach was upset and I had diarrhea and needed to go to the restroom when we came back from chow. When we got back to the wing we were put in the dayroom and at that point I asked CO Slider if she could let me in my cell so I could use the restroom, and she told me she didn't have time. I asked her where I was supposed to go and she said "whatever." When I realized I could not hold it any longer I used the only thing made to the restroom in the dayroom. The urinal.
Sargeant (Sgt.) White and CO Bradford were walking down the hall when they noticed me without a shirt on and approached the dayroom window. This is when they realized what I was doing and came into the wing. Sgt. White ordered CO Bradford to lock me up on F-Wing. As CO Bradford escorted me to F-Wing he told me I should have just used the restroom in my pants instead of the urinal, that it would have been better for me. When I got on F-Wing I was placed into a small cage and stripped-out. I asked CO Siad if I could see medical as I had blood on my toilet paper, but was refused medical treatment. They never even took me by medical after handcuffing me (use of force).
Sgt. White came to F-Wing and asked me for my statement on the case for causing a disturbance by using the restroom in the dayroom. I wrote my Step-1 grievance while on F-Wing and got a move slip stating I was moved because of being locked-up. My property was packed and brought to me, which I was missing 1 black bag of coffee and my medical issued lotion. When I received my step-1 back the Warden stated that Officer Slider denies any wrong doing and there was no disciplinary actions taken. The proof of disciplinary action was being locked-up and my property being packed-up. They discarded the case, so I did not receive the case.
I was extremely humiliated by other offenders and the officers on F-Wing. This has caused me to have suicidal thoughts and anxiety attacks. When I received my Step-2 back they still claim "There was insufficient evidence to support your allegations of misconduct by the staff named in your complaint." But then state that "Staff conduct will continued to be monitored to ensure professionalism and policy compliance." Neither investigator for my Step-1 nor my Step-2 ever came to the wing and asked anybody (offenders) what happened during the incident.
The second issue is with the drinking water we have access to in our cells, dayroom, chapel, etc. The O.B. Ellis Unit was built in 1961 and still has lead pipes underground that cannot be seen. Maintenance went through and changed the pipes in the pipe chases to a type of PVC, but not the pipes buried underground. Our sinks have galvanized pipe and fittings used and also have outside faucets installed. Galvanized has been banned in the United States for drinking water and the outside faucets are not FDA approved for drinking water. This is unhealthy and unlawful.
The water coming out of the sinks smells bad and tastes bad, and sometimes it comes out brown. This is the water we are supposed to drink and prepare any food we purchase off commissary with. Not everyone can afford to purchase bottled water from commissary for drinking, nor should we have to in order to be able to have safe drinking water. When the water gets real bad they put up notices to boil the water before drinking. We do not have a way to boil the water before we use it to drink or cook food as our hot pots do not get that hot. They issue bottled water to officers when this happens but not offenders.
The igloos in the dayroom are used for ice water, but they never clean them out. They just empty them in the morning and refill them with ice and water. The tests they say maintenance does on the water is said to pass or exceed the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ), but I do not believe they do. These tests should be done by an outside agency and tested at the source where we get our water.
Jackson v. Arizona, 855 F.2d pt 641(4) 9th Cir. 1959; states polluted water is an Eighth Amendment claim. This is a violation of our Eighth Amendment "The consumption of Hazardous Water." As I stated earlier I have been having diarrhea since being on this unit and would like to know if it is because of the water.
Another part of the issue is that we do not have hot water available in common areas. This is unsanitary as we cannot clean our cells, dishes, clothes sold on commissary, etc., with hot water. There is hot water in the first cell on each row of cells which shows it would not take much to add hot water to every cell. We do not have access to the mop cell (closet) as we are either locked in our cell or in the dayroom. The dorms have hot water at their sinks, so we should have access to hot water in our sinks in our cells.
The third issue is the installation of the new Icon Water Control System on the toilets. I was told that TDCJ received a grant for Ellis and the Estelle Units to save water. The Icon system is being installed as a trial project on both units. They also told me that Lori Davis was not aware of the fact that there is a lock-out feature on them. These new toilets only flush every 5 minutes and if you flush more than once then you get locked out for an hour. They are being installed into two-man cells instead of just single cells. This will be an issue when you have both offenders in the cell needing to use the restroom right after each other. Also, if you get diarrhea or vomiting because you are sick. Davis v. Scott, 157 F.3d 10003, 1006 (5th Cir. 1998). Human feces carries a certain odor plus toxic gases. This falls under Cruel & Unusual Punishment having to deal with other human feces.
The fourth issue is the illumination of the bright lights at night. They do not dim or turn off the lights at night. Some wings have dimmers but not all wings. This is unconstitutional because it does not allow an offender to receive enough sleep. Lemaire v. Mass., 745 F.Supp. at 636 (5) 1990; Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, which states; There is no legitimate penological justification for requiring (offenders) to suffer physical or psychological harm by living in constant illumination.
The fifth issue deals with the PREA standard throughout the unit. First of all the offenders working in an Industry have to get strip-searched twice for lunch chow and twice at the end of the day. We get strip-searched before leaving the building we work in, and then again at the turn-out gate before entering the unit, by the same TCI employees. I was told this falls under two different policies which is okay, except that they do not make the policy for the turn-out gate for all offenders.
On 04/04/19, a Thursday afternoon, Senior Warden Kelly Strong, was outside the perimeter fence watching us get strip-searched with her binoculars. After several offenders had to contact their family that weekend, Monday afternoon they started painting windows black and put up plastic on the fence. There is still a problem as they only painted a few windows and most people stand taller than the painted windows. The guard tower by the back gate can see over the plastic and the log for that tower will show that most of the time its women in the tower.
TDCJ states "Zero-Tolerance" to the PREA standards, which states that opposing gender shall not be able to see your genitals or breasts. Most offenders live in cells and the toilets face the front of the cell. We are not (by policy) allowed to hang anything up to impede the officers to view into the cell. This allows the women to be able to see us using the restroom or changing clothes. The newer units are built out of concrete with solid doors which have two small windows for the officer to be able to see in there. These are also maximum security units, so they could update the cells and install something on the front of the bars.
Now that I was able to bring these issues up about the O.B. Ellis Unit, we hope that people will see the changes that need to be done. We would like to get the help of the public on fixing the issues. Living in the Texas Prison System is similar to a Third World country. The people of the United States of America are supposed to set the standard on how people are treated. This is why we send out humanitarian aid and go to war with countries that have leaders that mistreat their people. We have all done something wrong to end up here, but we still have a right to be treated like human beings. We need the help of people to fight for our constitutional rights while incarcerated as we are limited in what we can do. Most offenders I have met are trying to change who they are and working to be a better man, father, citizen. I want to thank you for taking the time to read this letter and your consideration in helping us. If I can provide additional information, please let me know.