TDCJ Joins List of States Using Digital Mail to Disrupt and Surveil Communications
As previously predicted by myself and various others within the prison movement, the trend around the nation’s prisons towards intrusive digital mail policies has now officially made its way to Texas state prisons, the biggest prison system in the country.
According to a public service announcement released by TDCJ on 7 July 2023, beginning on 17 Jul 2023, units will no longer accept general correspondence. Instead general mail must be sent to the digital processing plant at:
P.O. Box 660400
Dallas, TX 75266-0400
The public and official justification for this move towards more intense surveillance of the mail is the current drug epidemic within TDCJ. Each incarcerated persyn reading this and many out in the public have direct experience with the effects of this sad daily occurrence of overdoses, drug induced suicides, the drama daily instigating violence and intimidation amongst people in prison, the walking zombies, the toon attacks. the loss of morals and character to drug addiction. We can not act as if this isn’t occurring, and it is not my intent to justify these occurrences within this writing. However, my intention is to state that the states’ official justification (the drug epidemic) isn’t sincere.
The new policy doesn’t come as a shock to many of us. Frankly, for most of this decade prison departments across the United $tates have been doing the same thing utilizing the same justification (inmates getting drugs through the mail). The courts for their part have upheld these intrusive policies, under the pretext that departments provide alternatives for receiving mail, books, and other functions of prison life.
The sincerity of the state’s justification must be questioned due to their own actions. The daily inattentiveness regarding drug culture exhibited by the staff allows the epidemic to function. Daily, every staff member from wardens to the lowest officer on the totem pole can see, smell, or otherwise experience the elements of the drug epidemic within each TDCJ unit.(1) Most times, officers and staff look the other way for various reasons. For their own safety and security while doing a potentially dangerous job certainly is one of them, and another is certainly that officers and staff, to a very large degree prefer an intoxicated prison population. I’m not speaking about the executive branch of the agency. The people in business suits are not in tune with the attitudes and mindsets of the employees on the ground. If they were, they would know what each inmate does through observation. Prison officials choose the lesser of two evils, feeling that the drugs act as sedatives and will calm tensions within the prison which is somewhat true.(2) They opt for this instead of the contrary largely sober-minded prisoner which is more often than not harder to control.
Furthermore, TDCJ officials have banned programs and materials that would otherwise play a positive role in the fight against addiction.(3) The Revolutionary 12 Step Program by MIM(Prisons) being only one of them.
The policy will allow legal, media, and subscription mails to still come to the unit. All other mails will be received at the warehouse or will be returned to sender. This policy extends the distance between families and their imprisoned loved ones, straining relationships on top of the genocidal sentences a lot of us are serving in TDCJ and around the country. These police-state policies are helping to destroy our families.
And for those of us within the prison movement, how does this policy affect us and those on the outside who support us? I propose that organizations develop communication funds which will go to alternative communication lines. These funds would be invested towards proven cadres who can make their individual work spread amongst the people. These new communication lines would be autonomous and clandestinely utilized to forward serious organizing work.
As the state continues to clamp down on illusionary elements of democracy, we must organize ways around their various intrusive sanctions while developing the capacity to reconstruct the power relations of this society.
The time has come to liberate Our political prisoners. There have been decades of conversation, of litigation, and other passive acts of resistance with little to no results.
GENOCIDE! This policy perfectly depicts how the health and future of Our families and as a result Our peoples is at stake, under attack and reeling.
Courts have thus far upheld similar policies elsewhere. Saying that realistic penological interests are being met, as prisons use the pretext of the current drug epidemic as the reason for this policy, and the courts further assert that prisons are offering a viable alternative (the tablets).
The first units that will experience this policy are: Allred, Coffield, Polunsky, Powledge, Plane, Garza West, Clements, Halbert, Robertson, and East Texas ISF, with more to follow in the following weeks, according to the public service announcement.
MIM(Prisons) adds: As soon as this policy was implemented, the attacks on prisoner communication have started. A prisoner in Stiles Unit in Texas reported on 25 July 2023:
“We were recently given tablets and our e-messaging, phone through the tablet. I’m on Ad-Seg, in Restrictive Housing (RHU). On 10 July 2023, my wifi and e-messaging, as well as my phone were taken from me for no reason. According to TDCJ, all mail will be digital now, since 17 July 2023. But certain people were taken by surprise to wake up with none of our mail or phone. Without any explanation. We have been asking and sending I-60’s grievances about this, but still no one will give us an explanation. What can I do?”
The comrade asks if the censorship rules mentioned on the first page of ULK would apply to this situation. And it’s a good question. These prisoners mail is effectively being censored, so it would seem so. But we are not lawyers. And it is likely that this would need to be tested via the courts.
Some prisons in Texas, like Polunsky and Allred Units, are just returning to sender all mail from MIM Distributors sent to the prison, including media which according to the rules is supposed to be sent there.
Another problem comrades are facing is when we send them forms in the mail, they cannot print them or fill them out, because they are only given to them in a tablet.
As a comrade in Virginia wrote in ULK 76:
“This U.S. Supreme Court ruling and prison policies of surveillance and censorship listed above reveals that the fascist and repressive nature of prisons extend beyond these prison walls and adversely impacts those of you in the community. This should give human and civil rights activists, including our loved ones, additional motivation to work in solidarity with incarcerated freedom fighters to challenge these Constitutional violations via civil litigation.”(4)
1. A Texas Prisoner, November 2017, “Epidemic of K2 Overdoses at Estelle, Throughout Texas”, Under Lock & Key 59.
2. A Texas Prisoner, March 2021, “TDCJ: Your Staff are Bringing in the Drugs, and it Must Stop”, Under Lock & Key 73.
3. MIM(Prisons), June 2022, “FL, TX Censor Revolutionary 12 Steps Program”, Under Lock & Key 78.
4. A Virginia Prisoner, January 2022, “A Strategic Objective to Disrupt and Surveil the Communication Between Prisoners and Our Loved Ones”, Under Lock & Key 76.