[Pnews] Prison officials, ACA inspectors ignore contaminated water in Texas prisons
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Oct 21 17:01:15 EDT 2015
Prison officials, ACA inspectors ignore contaminated water in Texas
October 21, 2015
*/by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington/*
/“Multi-racial unity among and across oppressed and exploited groups is
necessary for revolutionary alliance that can win but must be built
upon the basis of independent strength within the Black revolutionary
movement itself (and in the other oppressed groups as well), not by
ceding leadership to others outside that community.”/ – Assata Shakur,
in Joseph G. Ramsey’s “Revolutionary Relatability: Assata: An
Autobiography as a Site of Radical Teaching and Learning,” Socialism &
Democracy, 2014, Vol. 28, No. 3
Revolutionary greetings to all!
In the September 2015 edition of Prison Legal News, Panagioti Tsolkas of
the newly formed Prison Ecology Project wrote a scathing article that
shed light on a serious problem at a prison located in Navasota, Texas.
Dangerous levels of arsenic have been found at the Wallace Pack Unit.
Arsenic is a heavy metal that is poison to human beings! I actually was
housed at the Wallace Pack Unit at the time the article was released. In
fact, I had been sounding the alarm about high levels of arsenic in
Wallace Pack’s water supply.
I was very pleased and quite surprised to see the article. Many people
don’t understand that in Texas prisons we live in a virtual
informational “black hole.” It is extremely hard to get authentic
information about our conditions in or out of these modem day gulags.
After reading Mr. Tsolkas’ article, I and many other prisoners
discovered high levels of arsenic have been a problem at Wallance Pack
Unit for well over seven years!
On Aug. 19, 2015, the Wallace Pack Unit was being audited by the
American Correctional Association, commonly known as the ACA. The ACA
sets standards, policies and best practices for prisons across Amerika.
ACA even issues a coveted accreditation to those Amerikan prisons that
meet their “strict” standards.
During the audit, one of the inspectors spoke to me personally and the
first thing I mentioned to her was the presence of high levels of
Arsenic in our water supply. ACA gave Wallace Pack Unit its stamp of
approval. However, one question has been haunting me and keeping me up
“How could the American Correctional Association continue to give
Wallace Pack Unit passing marks and rave reviews if the drinking water
is contaminated with poison?”
An intelligent person could surmise that in order to receive
accreditation from the “esteemed” ACA, clean water would definitely
factor in heavily, wouldn’t you think? However, this is not the case at
all. In fact, I have discovered that there are numerous facilities
operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice which have
contaminated water supplies!
So what we have here is some type of conspiratorial relationship between
TDCJ and the ACA. Another question has presented itself: Does the ACA
have the integrity to contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
and file a complaint against Texas and TDCJ for violations of the
federal Save Drinking Water Act (Public Law 95-523)?
I do not think they have the integrity to go the extra mile to ensure
prisoners consume safe and clean water. You see there is a symbiotic
relationship between TDCJ, the state of Texas and the ACA – a
relationship based on mutual benefits, corruption, secrecy and lies!
“How could the American Correctional Association continue to give
Wallace Pack Unit passing marks and rave reviews if the drinking
water is contaminated with poison?”
The ACA receives generous donations from TDCJ and from Texans who have a
vested interest in the smooth running of TDCJ’s corporate enterprise –
an enterprise based on a slave plantation work model. The donations ACA
receives act as bribes, buying silence when ACA auditors discover
serious violations that could shut down prison operations.
Arsenic in the water, black mold in prisoners’ living areas, excessive
amounts of bacteria in water, roach and rodent infestation and serious
building code violations are all ignored and covered up by our “good
friends” at the ACA.
*The Empire strikes back*
As a result of my on-going revolutionary investigative journalism, I was
suddenly awakened in the early hours of the morning on Thursday, Sept.
17, 2015, and told by a correctional officer: “Pack your shit,
Washington. You are leaving and you ain’t coming back!” What was
remarkable and quite interesting, I was being transferred along with
another prisoner named Mark Schwarzer, 1433741.
Mark Schwarzer has contracted skin cancer, which he attributes to his
consumption of arsenic contaminated water at the Wallace Pack Unit.
Mark had been housed at Wallace Pack for approximately six years.
Recently, Mark had been filing grievances and requesting that the
University of Texas Medical Branch personnel test his blood for the
presence of arsenic. They refused to do so.
Like me, Mark also was suddenly awakened out of his sleep and told he
was being “gotten rid of.” When people in power conspire to silence the
voices of those who dissent or cry out for justice, that gives us cause
to believe the oppressors have something to hide. The problem of
retaliation smacks of an elaborate cover-up, but it is much deeper and
more complex than you realize.
For the record, let me say I was not a disciplinary problem while housed
at the Wallace Pack Unit. I did file administrative grievances and write
articles which exposed abuse and injustice at the unit.
As a result of my on-going revolutionary investigative journalism,
I was suddenly awakened in the early hours of the morning on
Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, and told by a correctional officer:
“Pack your shit, Washington. You are leaving and you ain’t coming
In August 2015 the San Francisco Bay View newspaper published my piece
entitled, “TDCJ placed me in harm’s way because I spoke out in reference
to the extreme heat
This piece created a ripple effect that was felt at the Texas Attorney
General’s Office in the state Capitol located in Austin, Texas. As a
result, TDCJ prison officials actually threatened to transfer me to a
unit with harder conditions than those of Wallace Pack Unit.
On Sept. 18, 2015, TDCJ made good on their threat. I was sent to the
H.H. Coffield Unit located in Tennessee Colony, Texas. The Coffield Unit
is the largest prison in Texas. It is a maximum security prison, whereas
Wallace Pack Unit is a minimum security prison. Coffield houses
approximately 4,500 men.
I noticed immediately that, like many TDCJ facilities, the Coffield Unit
is in a gross state of decay and the state of Texas certainly is not
providing adequate material or resources to keep up with maintenance or
the increasing deterioration of the infrastructure. The demographics of
the two prisons , Wallace and Coffield, are completely different.
It was very noticeable. At Wallace Pack, there were many white and
Latino men; they were elderly, disabled and suffering from a wide array
of chronic medical conditions. Correctional officers were beating and
mistreating many prisoners housed there.
At the Coffield Unit, we have many New Afrikans – Black – men, some
young, some older. Most have a ton of prison time.
The common thread which binds all of us is that we all are being
oppressed by a system which not only profits from us but a system which
ignores our fundamental rights to be treated with dignity and respect.
*More poison water!*
It took only one day on Coffield Unit for me to find out that
contaminated drinking water exists there also. In June 2015, a public
water notice was posted at the Coffield Unit. The notice stated that a
higher than normal level of coliform bacteria was found to be in the
water systems that supply the Coffield and Michaels units. Micheals Unit
is right across the road from Coffield. It houses approximately 2,500 men.
Coliform is a form of bacteria that is naturally present in the
environment. However, high levels of coliform can mean that other
potentially harmful bacteria may be present in the water system.
This is not the first time Coffield Unit has had a serious threat to the
safety of its water supply. In fact, on April 28, 2014, a hazardous
toxic chemical storage dump was partially destroyed during an excavation
project. The ground at the site was said to be saturated with a
substance that smelled similar to paint thinner or paint.
The hazardous toxic chemical storage is said to have been in the ground
for an unknown number of decades. The dump was believed to contain
discarded lead-based alkaloid paint, paint thinner and paint solvents.
TDCJ and the administrators at the Coffield Unit never have taken proper
action to clean up this hazmat site.
It took only one day on Coffield Unit for me to find out that
contaminated drinking water exists there also.
As I proceeded to investigate, I discovered many prisoners were having
health issues that they associated with the contaminated water at the
unit. Their symptoms include rashes, swollen lower extremities, chronic
fatigue, asthma and CANCER!
I interviewed a prisoner named Kevin Wayne Handy, 1826610. He was
diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014. He was given chemotherapy in order
to treat his condition and, as a result, his kidneys suffered damage.
Mr. Handy said, “Prior to me being locked up, I didn’t smoke cigarettes,
use drugs or drink heavily.
“I remember they posted a boil notice here in January 2014. I never took
the warning serious – and we can’t even boil our water up in here! Then
the medical staff here tried to say I contracted cancer because I may
have engaged in oral sex! I was insulted because I never have done that.”
Mr. Hardy continued: “The University of Texas Medical Branch provides
health care for us down here. They know something is very wrong with the
water here, but like many they just go along to get along. I’m gonna
file a lawsuit against these folks! I know they may retaliate against me
but I don’t care. I came in here healthy and now I’m all messed up. I’m
not going to be quiet any more.”
The contaminated and poisoned water at the Coffield Unit is a
state-created danger. TDCJ prison officials like Assistant Warden Donald
Bilnosk love to say things like “bottled water is available for purchase
through the commissary for those with concerns about the tap water.”
Bilnosk is assistant warden at Wallace Pack Unit, where super high
arsenic levels have been found.
I want to ask all of you something: What happens to the prisoners who
can’t afford to buy bottled water off the commissary?
What happens to the prisoners who can’t afford to buy bottled
water off the commissary?
*Connally and McConnell Units*
In 2012 there was a contaminated water disaster that brought three full
busloads and a couple hundred prisoners to Coffield Unit from the
Connally Unit, which is located in Kennedy, Texas. I interviewed a
prisoner who was housed at Connally Unit during the prison water disaster.
Charles Turnbull, 1207399, was transferred to Coffield from Connally
Unit in 2012. Mr. Turnbull said: “A few years ago, oil was found on the
property the Connally Unit was built on. I think TDCJ owns the lease to
the land. I heard the oil company may have been Penzoil, but I’m not sure.
“What I am sure about is this: You know to drill for oil you need water,
so the city of Kennedy, Texas, started allowing this oil company to use
their water well, the same water source Connally Unit uses. Everything
went fine until the water pump broke.
“Then we were told there was too much bacteria in the water. The water
was unsafe to drink or shower in. It got real bad. We were literally
urinating and defecating in plastic bags and throwing them out the
window!” Mr. Turnbull continued: “We could not use the toilet. I had to
get into straight survival mode and rig my hot pot to boil because these
TDCJ employees weren’t giving us enough water to live!
“TDCJ knew something serious was wrong, but they didn’t make it a
priority to move us until the media and our families started asking
questions. Corporate greed and the inhumane treatment of prisoners is
the most downplayed and under-covered stories in Texas. I hope this
exposé changes that.”
Not too far down the road from Connally Unit is the McConnell Unit,
located in Beeville, Texas. McConnell Unit is one of the most
dilapidated and understaffed prison units in Texas; the conditions are
horrible. Prisoner Keith Cole, 728748, filed a lawsuit against the
Wallace Pack Unit with three other prisoners citing unconstitutional
conditions related to the deadly extreme heat.
In retaliation for filing a civil lawsuit, the senior warden of Wallace
Pack Unit, Robert Hererra, conspired with the TDCJ Classification
Department and had Mr. Cole sent to the William G. McConnell Unit. This
was in or around February 2015. In June 2015, Mr. Cole was returned to
the Wallace Pack Unit.
I interviewed Mr. Cole in reference to the conditions at the McConnell
Unit. Here is an excerpt of that interview, verbatim. Mr. Cole said:
“Offenders are exposed to bio-hazards such as black mold in showers and
in their individuals cells. McConnell’s water supply comes from the city
of Beeville, Texas, where arsenic levels are unsafe.
The city of Beeville warns all consumers to boil their drinking water.
However, the offenders have no way to comply because there is no way for
us to boil water. In addition, the city and TDCJ refuses or fails to
provide bottled water to offenders during these crises, thus exposing us
to dangerous levels of arsenic.”
This interview that Mr. Cole granted me was much more extensive and
detailed; however, our focus is the pervasive and systemic problem with
contaminated water inside Texas prisons. I do feel compelled to mention
that Mr. Cole has very serious chronic heart problems. Mr. Cole takes
the highest dosage of nitroglycerin tablets a person can be prescribed.
Mr. Cole’s medical problems are well documented. TDCJ’s Classification
Department knew this prior to transferring Mr. Cole to McConnell Unit,
and Senior Warden Robert Hererra knew this fact also. McDonnell Unit is
grossly understaffed and the cells are not equipped with any call buttons.
What do you think would have happened if Mr. Cole would have had a
serious cardiac event while housed at McConnell Unit? In my opinion,
TDCJ attempted to harm Mr. Cole for engaging in peaceful, legal activities.
*Texas won’t protect the babies *
One of the most regrettable legacies left behind by former Texas Gov.
Rick Perry is the pattern of practice in which Texas allows corporate
entities to damage the environment, harm Texas citizens and then get
away scot-free as if no harm was caused.
In early September 2015, journalist Susan Carroll of the Houston
Chronicle reported how “experts” in Texas refused to launch an in-depth
study of the San Jacinto River. The study would have determined if
toxins and poisons in the river caused higher instances of brain and eye
cancer in children who live in close proximity to the toxic waterway.
The panel of experts included representatives from the Texas Commission
on Environmental Quality, the US. Environmental Protection Agency, and
the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry.
Now I want you to think about something: If these so called
environmental health professionals don’t care enough about our children
to launch a study that could save the lives of babies, what makes anyone
think for a moment the state of Texas – TDCJ – has a vested interest to
ensure Texas prisoners have access to clean and safe water supplies?
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been charged with securities fraud
in Collin County, Texas. Paxton, a master at deceptive business
practices, recently filed an 88-page court document, which, if
successful, would block enforcement of a new federal rule that expands
federal authority over the water bodies the government can regulate.
If these so called environmental health professionals don’t care
enough about our children to launch a study that could save the
lives of babies, what makes anyone think for a moment the state of
Texas – TDCJ – has a vested interest to ensure Texas prisoners
have access to clean and safe water supplies?
Texas is working overtime to cover up its dirty deeds. I am requesting
that “free world” activists and investigative journalists take a long
hard look at the contaminated water epidemic. I request that you send
emails to federal legislators such as Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Green
and Beto O’Rourke. I ask that you contact the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and request an investigation be launched immediately
at the Coffield Unit.
Please help amplify my voice. Access to clean drinking water is a human
right! Dare to struggle, dare to win! All power to the people!
/Send our brother some love and light: Keith “Malik” Washingtion,
1487958, Coffield Unit, 2661 FM 2054, Tennessee Colony, Texas 75884. /
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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