WHY TEXAS 7 PRISONERS RISKED THEIR LIVES TO ESCAPE
By Gloria Rubac
It's probably fair to say that a majority of the 700,000 women and men in Texas prisons or under the supervision of the state understood why the Texas Seven escaped from the state prison system in December.
While the national media reported on every detail of this dramatic prison escape, they virtually ignored the prisoners' stinging criticism of the state's criminal justice system when they finally surrendered.
The seven men sneaked out of a maximum-security prison on Dec. 13 and remained at large for 42 days. Before the last two would surrender to authorities in Colorado, they demanded a live television interview in which they criticized the Texas criminal justice system.
"The judicial system in Texas has really gone to the pits," said Donald Newberry, one of the Texas Seven. "We're receiving 99 years for a robbery of $68 and nobody was injured. They're giving kids so much time that they will never see the light again. Their life is gone.
"Now all they are is a roach in a cage. Things have to be changed; there has to be more rehabilitation in the system down there. You know, I couldn't even go to college. Where's the rehabilitation when you can't even help yourself?"
Partrick Murphy told a television reporter he wanted people to be more aware that there is definite wrong within the penal system of Texas.
One of the Texas Seven killed himself rather than go back to prison.
WHAT GOES ON IN TEXAS?
Texas prisons are hell to do time in, or to await execution in.
As death-row prisoner Michael Sharp said before his execution, many of the guards "think it is their patriotic duty to torture and brutalize prisoners."
At this moment, 13 death-row prisoners have issued an urgent appeal for help. They have been put on an indefinite lockdown with no visits, no commissary/hygiene purchases, no stamps, no hot food, no recreation time--and no word when this will end.
Guards are reportedly gassing prisoners. And in retaliation prisoners are throwing feces and urine on the guards and are flooding the runs with raw sewage.
Prisoners are being thrown down on concrete floors while handcuffed. Gerald Tigner's head was busted open and Rick Rhoades was punched in the back of his head, the men reported.
In a desperate letter to the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement in Houston, one of those on lockdown says: "HELP! HELP! HELP! I beg you to contact the media and attorneys and those concerned with cruel and unusual conditions at the Terrell Death Camp.
"There is a fast-worsening and volatile situation here which, absent prompt outside investigation and intervention, will likely get some prisoners or guards or both seriously injured or killed."
The Abolition Movement has begun a campaign of calling prison officials, politicians and the media in an attempt to force scrutiny on these abuses by guards and officials.
LONGSTANDING INHUMANE CONDITIONS
Last year on Feb. 21, prisoners Ponchai "Kamau" Wilkerson and Howard Guidry took a guard hostage on death row at the Terrell Unit for two days. They wanted to protest the horrific living conditions for all death-row prisoners, who are housed in 6-x-10-foot cells with no human contact unless they are allowed a visit.
In November 1998, Wilkerson and seven others on death row attempted to escape. Six were captured in a hail of gunfire. Martin Gurule managed to escape but his body was found floating in a river near the prison a week later.
Ever since a ruling in 1981, Texas prison officials have been trying to get out from under the supervision of the federal court. That decision resulted from a historic lawsuit filed by prison activist David Ruiz and six other prisoners that in 1979-1980.
During the last 20 years, even though many changes have been forced on the system, racism, abuse and violence by guards still run rampant.
Even though most aspects of prison life are no longer under federal supervision, Texas' super-max prisons are still "the worst in the country," according to prisoners' attorney Donna Brorby.
Texas conditions are worse than the notorious Pelican Bay Special Housing Unit in California, Brorby stated.
Texas prisons are run by a state that has no uniform indigent public defender system; a state that has upheld convictions for capital murder even when a defendant's lawyer slept through the trial, was using drugs or kept leaving the court room to put money in a parking meter.
Texas is one of only four states that provide no state funding for indigent defense. Last legislative session, both houses passed a bill providing for indigent defense, but then-Gov. George W. Bush vetoed it.
Fugitive Newbury told a television anchorperson: "I had to threaten to beat up my own attorney so I could get another attorney because my first attorney spent three months and hadn't even come to talk to me. What kind of judicial system gives you a defense that won't even show up?"