The Texas Prison Circus and the European Death Row Connection
November 13, 2008
It had been a long time since we had seen the prison circus in town in Texas, orchestrated by a popular Senator then relayed and amplified by the local media. And for once I am taking side with the TDCJ. For those who have not watched the Senate hearing held on October 21st, 2008 and the second hearing held today, you must watch them carefully to appreciate the extent and the depth of this political masquerade. You can find them here (1).
And now a respected national media outlet, ABC News, joins in the local propaganda with an article entitled: “Death Row Wireless Crime Spree Probed », that you can read here (2).
The factual errors or omissions of Senator Whitmire’s show on October 21st were reported and addressed in detail in the Hell Hole News by Hank Skinner, so I won’t revisit those issues but I will add a couple of things.
Firstly, during the Oct 21st hearing, Major Smith from the Polunsky Unit insisted that death row prisoners have financial resources. Personally I have yet to meet or see a rich prisoner on death row. Few of them have supporters in the United-States and overseas who are assisting them to raise funds to pay investigators, experts and attorneys in the hope of bringing the truth in the open as the number of capital cases railroaded by the Texas system is beyond belief. The majority of them has no support at all, not a penny to buy a single item from the commissary. This is a very inaccurate and misleading statement.
Secondly, regarding Mr. Whitmire’s advice to prison officials not to worry about breaking the law (“just do it and see what happens”) and to talk to Greg Abbott (the current Attorney General in Texas) instead of relying on “some TDC lawyers” to jam cell phone signals despite the legal requirement to obtain the authorization from the FCC and to implement systemic pat searches of all employees and visitors although the US Supreme Court has ruled clearly against such methods (pat searches can only be enforced if an “individualized suspicion” or “probable cause” exists), it is indeed impressive and revealing to discover how a legislator, no less than the chair of the criminal justice committee at the Senate, publicly disregards the law he was elected to enforce.
And the second hearing held today further demonstrated the purpose of such “political commitment”. How convenient is it to have, once again, the Austin American Statesman releasing a story about Tabler’s threat letters just on the very day of this new hearing? If nothing else, this further proves, if need be, that Tabler is seriously mentally deficient. A man calling a reporter and a Senator from death row, expecting assistance from them, who then gets caught, ends up getting angry at them??? A sane person would not have expected anything different, in fact a sane person would never have considered making such calls in the first place. To make him look "dangerous" in the eyes of the public is plain ridiculous. Mike Ward should move to Senator Whitmire's office where he belongs as he has demonstrated nothing but biased reporting and no journalistic impartiality on this particular issue.
The whole thing is a pathetic political posture, pointing the finger at prison officials, who are professionals, to give them a public spanking and treat them like incompetent teenagers. Mr. Whitmire seems to believe that a prison can be run like an office, when he couldn't be further away from reality. Prison management deals with theoretical aspects for a small part but for the most part it rests with human beings confined within a number of legal parameters and with a shortage of underpaid correctional officers, so unqualified and inexperienced that it’s not funny.
The current conditions on death row are THE major security threat. The isolation, the sensory deprivation and the idleness are the main factors that will drive ANY human being – criminal or not - to psychosis and insanity. Mr. Whitmire’s refusal to look at the documented evidence and to act accordingly, simply because he was “inconvenienced” and he is angry about it, says a lot about his true motivation where prison security and public safety are concerned.
By definition a hearing is, as per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: a: an opportunity to be heard, to present one's side of a case, or to be generally known or appreciated b (1): a listening to arguments (2): a preliminary examination in criminal procedure c: a session (as of a legislative committee) in which testimony is taken from witnesses.
Evidently Senator Whitmire loves the sound of his own voice but he would be well advised to listen to those testimonies rather than continue to flatter his ego at the taxpayers’ expense. After two hearings on prison issues, what exactly has been achieved to address the problems, besides increasing the pressure on prison officials and gloating in the political arena? We will undoubtedly find out in the short and long term, but this attempt to turn prison officials into political lackeys certainly is not the answer.
To conclude about this circus, it is a perfect demonstration of how politicians in Texas demonize death row prisoners, the prison population overall and capital punishment at the taxpayers’ expense only to serve their own agenda. If it is nothing new, it is however alarming that not one journalist has so far felt compelled to expose the facts and publish an impartial review.
On to the “European Connection” and ABC News, as always with the US media one has no possibility of getting a response published, so here is my response to this piece of yellow journalism.
Firstly it is interesting, even intriguing, that a national media came up with this topic on its own when absolutely nothing, in the numerous and recent articles published about security problems in Texas prisons, ever mentioned European support for death row. For argument’s sake, let’s assume the editor had an epiphany and came up with it on his own.
Those of us who were interviewed were not told about the topic of the article, but we were misled to talk about the meaning of European support for death row prisoners in Texas. I must apologize to the friends I naively or stupidly dragged into this. At first I thought it was going to be another piece of trash journalism about European women seeking romance on death row, like the one written by the Dallas Morning News a few months ago. But I was assured by Tracey Gudwin that it was not what they wanted to write about, and indeed it was not. She was truthful at least on that point. The journalist showed little or no interest in discussing the conditions on death row, the isolation or the justice system in Texas although there is ample documented and compelling information for journalists to write about.
You can imagine our shock when the piece was published. Indeed it was yet another piece of trash journalism but of a different kind this time.
Beside the fact that our quotes were truncated and published totally out of the original context, the story fails to explain that when funds are sent to a prisoner’s account, those accounts are managed by the TDCJ Inmate Trust Fund and there is no way an outsider can control the funds or be held responsible for their use, no more than the prisoners who can only use them to make purchases from the commissary. To imply otherwise is not only incorrect but also totally biased. Then to insinuate that European Defense Funds set up for death row prisoners are used to allow those prisoners to indulge in some criminal activities is absolutely unsubstantiated and very misleading for the public, which for the most part has little knowledge or understanding of prison life, prison rules and procedures or the extent of the endemic corruption in the legal system financed with its tax dollars.
As if the ongoing political propaganda demonizing death row was not enough, now death row supporters, who are being retaliated against by prison officials at the Polunsky unit on a regular basis, are also being demonized in the media. No need to say that many of us will not be talking to the US media again anytime soon as they have little to do with professional journalism but are willingly taking a substantial and active part in the piteous world of disinformation.
In any case, the European fight against capital punishment and support for death row prisoners are not about to end anytime soon. We cannot and will not accept to be the hostages of illegal retaliation prison policies used to break prisoners or to blackmail them to submission.
None of this has to do with public safety, but all to do with postures and egos in the political mainstream; it is simply outrageous.
Then click on the date of the hearing you want to watch