You Will Suffer in Silence: The Lack of Redress in Texas Prisons (2017)


texasCorruption and Cowboy Justice

I recall a couple years back when a guard here at the William P. Clements Unit remarked to me, that I had no idea how corrupt Texas really is. I almost begged to differ, and was about to recount all the corruption I’d witnessed over the years, but I caught myself and then began to take closer account. I began consciously scrutinizing the laws and rules of the Texas government and how completely and openly the laws and rules were broken by officials.

I had a clue from studying the court decisions in the groundbreaking Ruiz v. Estelle federal lawsuit which had been brought by Texas prisoners challenging a huge range of inhumane conditions within the Texas prison system. That case which lasted over two decades, pit an unusually justice-oriented Texas federal judge, aptly named William Wayne Justice, against the entire corrupt bureaucracy of the Texas Department of Criminal (In)Justice (TDCJ), which was hell-bent on running the TDCJ like the concentration camp system of the German Nazis; and this is no exaggeration.[1]

Numerous rulings in the case described and tried to stop TDCJ officials’ efforts at every turn, with the support of the state’s Attorney General’s office, to sabotage the case. They used methods from writing the prisoner plaintiffs and witnesses bogus disciplinary cases and throwing them into solitary confinement, to beatings and having inmate stooges cut their throats.

I also learned from Texas prisoners, who were around during the years that the Ruiz case was active, how they’d heard guards boast and themselves read media accounts about TDCJ officials waging a campaign of terror against judge Justice, attempting to intimidate him into withdrawing from the case or acting in their favor, with tactics ranging from threats on his and his family’s lives to vandalizing his property. Which they said only stiffened the judge’s resolve to purge the prison system of its corruption and culture of abuse. But the prison bureaucracy ultimately won out. Justice was only one isolated man working out of the isolated chambers of a federal courthouse.

But to get a better sense of the broader culture of the Texas government I began studying the histories and policies of political officials in Texas, from judges to legislators to governors. And a common thread many of them shared was a complete disregard of basic fundamental laws, there was a common thread of racism and insensitivity to the issues and interests of marginalized peoples and groups, and the prevailing ethos was that of a Wild West cowboy justice mentality. They took their ubiquitous ten gallon hats and cowboy boots seriously, which many wore in their various campaign posters and Texas guards — especially those who oversee the prisoner chaingangs, disparagingly called “hoe squads” — actually wear as uniforms.

As I’ve written in several articles, extensive physical abuse of prisoners by guards pervades Texas prisons. Likewise expert witnesses in the Ruiz case found abuse in Texas prisons to be worse in quantity and degree than in any of the many other U.S. prison systems they’d investigated and observed as court monitors.[2]

No Redress for Prisoners

This brings me back to the issue of corruption in the TDCJ. Not only, as was proven in the Ruiz case, was/is the abuse in the TDCJ the product of an official “culture of violence” stemming from what judge Justice described as “the seeming inability of correctional officers to keep their hands off prisoners,” but it is a culture insulated from challenge or redress at the highest levels.

As in many U.S. prison systems, TDCJ has a prisoner grievance procedure through which prisoners may file complaints that are “supposed” to offer them an avenue for redress of mistreatments or denied needs. Sadly, no such relief can be expected. As judge Justice found upon reviewing the grievance procedure as applied by officials to specific prisoner complaints, they

“were neither investigated nor thoroughly reviewed. The responses were often nothing more than standard stock responses [such as]… ‘your allegations were denied;’ ‘no evidence could be found to support your claim;’ ‘this office will take no further action in this matter at this time.’”[3]

But that’s not the worst of it. The Ruiz case was terminated in 2002 by the 5th Circuit Appeals Court upon the appeal of TDCJ officials, despite that judge Justice fought to keep the case open as he continued to struggle to reform the TDCJ. Following the close of the case, a study of TDCJ conditions from 2006-2012 showed that guard abuses of prisoners escalated, as reported in 2014.[4] At the very time this report was made, TDCJ officials — officials who had no power at all to act as they did — made modifications to the already ineffective grievance procedure, to deny prisoners the ability to grieve abuses of force by guards and the ability to review the grievance policy to learn and understand how to properly apply it.

In what follows I’m going to go into the actual letter of the relevant policies to show what was done so readers can see just how vile and corrupt TDCJ actors are, and the blatantly illegal measures they took to preserve an environment where guards may violently abuse and brutalize prisoners and not even pretend to offer the victims an avenue of complaint.

As the courts have held, the U.S. Constitution does not create the right to a prisoner grievance procedure, but once prison officials create one the constitution protects prisoners’ rights to use that procedure.[5] But of course Texas officials don’t respect any laws, not even the federal Constitution, which is why judge Justice fought with them for over 20 years … and ultimately lost.

In 1999, the central rule-making body in the TDCJ, the Texas Board of Criminal (In)Justice (TBCJ) and other authorities, approved the Offender Grievance Operations Manual (OGOM). Under the TBCJ policy (BP) 03.77, they set out:

“The resolution support manager shall establish and maintain the Offender Grievance Operations Manual (OGOM) to provide guidance to employees regarding the offender grievance procedure … Instructions on how to use the offender grievance procedure shall be established separately from the OGOM for distribution to offenders and employees. Provisions for training, educating, and implementation of the offender grievance procedure shall be established in AD-03.82. ‘Management of Offender Grievances’ and the OGDM.”

This document was signed by the TBCJ Chairperson, Oliver Bell.

Consistent with the above BP-03.77, the administrative directive, AD-03.82, establishes that certain grievances will be classified as emergency grievances and others as specialty grievances. Also Section IV of AD-03.82 states that “Copies of BP-03.77 … and this directive, as well as instructions on how to use the offender grievance procedure shall be available at each unit, to include copies in the law library.” It also establishes that the Resolution Support Manager will oversee the grievance procedure, access to courts department, and ombudsman’s office. And furthermore, “The resolution support manager shall direct, administer, supervise, and manage the implementation and operation of the offender grievance procedure without interference by any employee.”

Now, suddenly in latter 2014 a memo was issued to all TDCJ prisons by a fella named Frank Hoke, who was the Access-to-Courts supervisor. That is, he worked under the resolution support manager who presides over the access to courts program, the grievance procedure, and the ombudsman’s office, all of which are separate offices and procedures.

In total violation of the AD-03.87’s instructions that the resolution support manager assure that the grievance procedure remain under his oversight “without interference by any employee,” Frank Hoke’s memo totally modified the grievance procedure, directing all TDCJ prisons to remove the OGOM and related grievance guidelines from all law libraries, eliminating the entire classification of grievances as “specialty grievances,” and barring prisoners from filing grievances about guards abusing force on them unless the guards themselves first self-report that they misused force on the prisoner. All of this in direct violation of Hoke’s authority and AD-03.82. Here, verbatim is what Hoke’s memo said:

‘Effective immediately the offender grievance manual will no longer be available in the law library. As such, please remove all copies of the offender grievance manual from your shelves. Make a note on your holdings list it has been removed and in its place write ‘summary of changes to the offender grievance program.’ The next revised holdings list will not include the offender grievance manual. In addition, cut out the below notice and post it in your law library for offender review. Should you have any questions, please contact this office at  936-437-4816.

“Added: Emergency grievances that are repetitive in nature or have been previously identified and or addressed in another grievance will not be considered an emergency grievance and will be processed as a regular grievance. If at any time grievance staff cannot determine the grievance is repetitive in nature, the grievance will be processed as an emergency grievance according to the guidelines established in the offender grievance operations manual.

“Added: 3rd party allegations of sexual harassment will not be addressed and removed. The term ‘specialty grievances’ has been removed. Non­emergency grievances shall be processed as regular grievances subject to all screening criteria.

‘‘Revised: time limits: disciplinary appeals and step 2 grievances shall be processed within 40 days of receipt from offender.

“Added: grievances that do not describe a reported use of force that was excessive or unnecessary do not warrant any further action and shall be considered non-grievable *enforcing*: 1 issue per grievance.”

As can be seen, Frank Hoke totally modified the AD-03.87 and BP-03.77, which he had absolutely no power to do. Yet his modification of the grievance policy has been implemented throughout the TDCJ. In fact an update on these modifications was announced in the TDCJ’s monthly prisoner newspaper, The Echo, Vol. 86, No. 9 (Nov. 2014), p.5. Particular focus was given to the part that basically eliminated the ability of prisoners to grieve abuses of force.

Again this was all done at the behest of a TDCJ official who had no power whatsoever to modify the grievance policies, indeed his office has nothing to do with the grievance department at all. So how was it pulled off and no one within the TDCJ raised even an eyebrow? Well, that’s the big question concerning the Texas government overall. There is no respect for the law nor limitations on power here. Folks simply do as they damn well please, and those who exercise no power are expected to just suck it up and accept it. It’s no wonder that the TDCJ operates like the Nazis’ concentration camp system, and brooks no challenge. For us on the inside of it, it means summary brutality and death without recourse to redress.

Che Guevara once pointed out that conditions for revolution are ripe only when all systems of redress can be seen to have broken down. In Texas they have never existed. Revolution anyone?

Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!


[1] Texas literally operates a modern day system of compulsory slavery, where it forces all its prisoners to labor without pay, including planting, tending and harvesting crops (including cotton) using primitive hand held tools. This labor replicates that of the slave economies of the ante-bellum U.S. South. In fact this system was applied by the German Nazis in their own slave labor camps which the TDCJ mirrored. As Robert Perkinson was to observe in his study of the history and development of the TDCJ, Texas Tough, the TDCJ during the early era contracted out convict labor, and subjected its prisoners to such grueling work conditions that their death rates rivaled those of workers in Nazi concentration camps.

[2] See, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “Life’s A Gas in Texas Prisons: The Frequent Abuse of Chemical Weapons (2017), and “US Prison Practices Would Disgrace A Nation Of Savages: Texas – A Case on Record (2013). Both available at

[3] Ruiz v. Johnson, 37 F. Supp. 2d 855, 922 (S.D? Tex. 1999)

[4] “Force Against Texas Inmates on the Rise,” Texas Tribune,

[5] See, Williams v. Meese, 926 F. 2d 994, 998 (1991); Jackson v. Cain, 864 F. 2d 1235, 1248-49 (5th Cir. 1989).


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