November 20, 2016:
“We do have a law library with info pertaining to the law, but I have been requesting cases and my requests have been ignored. I write grievances on a pretty regular bases. I am in the process of learning how to navigate. I hate the way this prison administration works, according to certain aspects of prison polices and made-up-for-convenience prison policies. The administration has been covering up what they don’t want outside agencies to know. They lock up some gang members, but allow others to operate freely in prison population. It’s a real messed up situation. They talk the good talk. But if someone were to truly investigate these so-called safe prison policies, they would see it’s BS, and its full of administrative loopholes. Most prison policies are only there for show. I’ve been fighting gang problems since 2013. They say that the prison lawyers always win, because they have so many resources. Well, those resources belong to the tax payers. Not to these prison officials. They know how to discourage anyone with all the runaround BS they do to anyone out there who is willing to help with phone calls.”
September 28, 2016:
“It is extremely frustrating dealing with the officials here when it comes to meeting deadlines and court dates. Legal work sometimes disappears in a random shakedown and harassment is an ongoing element to be dealt with.
They make access to the law library as difficult as possible. Then when you do gain access, the environment is openly hostile.
The grievance dept. is a complete sham. They place COs in it whom let all of their coworkers know who is filing a complaint against them. Grievances come up missing or they hold them until your time limits have expired.
Even if your grievance is legit and the complain is real, in no form will you win against the state.”
September 26, 2016:
“We get to file grievances but most of the time we don’t get a response or we get one that is so generic that they don’t even bother to check a box for 5 different remedies. So I now go through the process of all the way to appeal then write the Head Sheriff and TX Commission of Jail Standards. These seem to be the only way to get an answer. The law library access used to be great at least for a county, but as they shut down the tower I was in, the law library access in now non-existent. It has been over a month since the last time I had access to the law library at all. ”
September 15, 2016:
“Grievance forms are not readily available as they are claimed by policy. When a problem arises and a grievance is requested, the general response is “we don’t have any – go back to your cell.” We must put in a request for forms and wait for them. Even with medical issues I have yet to see a favorable response.
The problem with the law library is that offenders don’t even know where to start, and the ones that do are talked to with discouraging ever learning anything, much less the assistance most need on this unit, which is mostly a medical unit.
I have heard of many instances where if you pay a filing fee up front your case gets more attention; if you file in forma paupris you get no help from the courts. Motions for assistance are passed over or denied and defendants summary judgements quickly adjudicated. Then it’s on to the appeal process where there are more fees, delays, clerk of court mishaps.
All of these things and more combined discourage even a strong willed person with resources from trying to right a personal wrong caused by people from the state. That’s why I’m in the process of learning everything I can to help others and myself when (not if) the time comes.”
June 30, 2016:
“Being a jailhouse lawyer is not easy. I face retaliation from everybody in different ways because they feel like I am threatening their position in this industrial complex. This prison culture is out of control at times and is often ignored and I feel like we can do something to help people and make things better for the next generation.”
May 22, 2016:
“It wasn’t until 1999 when I started to actively lead protests as an activist against prison conditions of confinement. In my endeavors I’ve been a victim of harassment and retaliations by guards and ranking officials. I’ve been set up with weapons, drugs, and prison gangs in an attempt to stop my protesting….I have experience in properly exhausting state remedies and filing petitions. It’s in legal research that I struggle because I read and write extremely slow; I process information abnormally to the point it effects my ability to keep up with the demands a civil suit requires. I try to do my best despite this. Most inmates in this unit are youngsters and do not know how to properly file grievances or exhaust state remedies. Here’s where I educate them by sharing my format of complaints and how to do legal research. I have six people seriously involved and learning well the whole process like I once got started.”
May 9, 2016:
“If most of the population in prison would have known the laws or would have been given attorneys that knew the laws, most of us would not be in this state ran slave labor camps. It’s like fighting a beast with a blindfold on. We have access to a law library. However, if you don’t get the request just “perfect” you aren’t going. Then when you get to go, it’s a 4am-6am time, room temp is around 90 in the winter 55 in summer, no talking, only two books at a time, and the guards in the library don’t know any answers except write access to courts, and file a grievance. We have limited amounts of time to do paperwork and to study, and absolutely nobody to direct us in the direction we need. Gym rec is where you go to get advice, almost 80% of this is B.S. The NLG will hopefully publish some information that I can use to give back a life sentence without parole for a crime I did not do.”
From Coffield Unit, Tennessee Colony – May 5, 2016
“Imagining how different our justice system would be if incarcerated pro-se litigants had access to Lexis, the internet, and modern office machines while a State had to prepare its case in a restroom, by hand, with outdated case law (and coworkers prone to violence). There are many challenges but one stands out, and that is the pre-defeating stigma of the term ‘Jailhouse Lawyer’. When a court is presented material from a board certified attorney and rebuttal by a ‘Jailhouse Lawyer’, the hurdle is automatic and difficult to overcome. Frankly, if the guild could help a transition to a more descriptive and respectful term of address – one that upholds the quality of work done behind bars – it would hasten a day where our work is judged on its merits. Such a term might be ‘Incarcerated Pro-Se Litigant“.
May 11, 2016
“TX has the sorriest prison system. They cover up their wrongs, don’t pay us for labor, the list can go on and on. If I could change things within the judicial system I would. Even our grievance procedure, we can write up laws all day long, but in the end of the day, they’ll believe their own officers and claim they investigated the matter; deny my allegations. We even had an officer here who was in the tower, who ‘intentionally’ fired a rifle into the incinerator, which is next to the boiler room; course if he have hit it, the whole unit be wiped out. Do you know that he is still here? I even had my ex-laundry bosses harass me, cross me out but how can we prove their wrong? If they don’t put cameras and recorders in places or let us have a recorder, we will never be able to honestly catch the crooked laws. I don’t expect special treatment; I understand they act and talk a way to make us have it here to do right but there’s a line you just don’t cross”.
May 3, 2016:
“I come from Dallas County and our criminal court system has the dubious title of being ‘America’s Wrongful Conviction Capital’. Dallas County leads all other counties and most all states in the number of DNA exonerations and is among the top in non-DNA exonerations. I have two friends who were victims of the Dallas criminal courts and served unjustly a total of twenty and twenty six years respectively in this TX prison system. De ja vu in 2008 following my friend’s release I was wrongfully convicted for aggravated assault with deadly weapon, although it was known I did not commit the crime. I believe if we each do our part, or at least what is within our means we can make a significant impact on the current judiciary across America because Dallas isn’t the only place in need of serious reforms”
May 4, 2016:
“I have found that trying to research and litigate from behind these walls poses unique challenges. From the inadequacies of prison law libraries, to staff that cannot or will not provide assistance, or in some cases, impede one’s ability to pursue legal work, it is necessary to involve myself in any and all professional organizations I can, to build a stronger network to further my legal goals.”
From Coffield Unit, Tennessee Colony – April 30, 2016
“An issue that inmate litigators truly face is access to up-to-date case information and case history. Often, it will take 6 months before I am made aware of a significant change in case precedent or become aware of a new ruling that effects the cases I am working. The prison law library is woefully restrictive and only the most basic law materials are available. They even have take out the TX Government Code books. It would be great for an organization to put together an address or representative, whom we could write to so as to ask for say the latest US Supreme Court cases or any Circuit Court case law that we would not see for about a year. Since the Federal Rules AEDPA give us a year to raise issues based on new, applicable Supreme Court law, knowing when those come out and having an idea when they exist would be a great help.”