The Texas Prison System - What's It Really Like?

The way it really is in TDCJ and Prison Units in Texas

“I Drove Drunk And It Cost 6 People Their Lives. Here’s How My Own Life Changed Forever.” – From HuffPost

This article by quest writer Robert Veeder just reinforced what I already know. That a minute’s wrong decision can change lives forever. In Robert’s story he says that he was drinking and driving regularly, that he almost felt it wasn’t “if” he went to jail or prison, but when. But I am guessing none of his worse imaginations included wiping out six people and living with the guilt. I bet he is a good addiction counselor, and a good man. I wish him peace on his journey.


Lyme Disease: Are inmates being exposed to Lyme Disease?

I sit here today as a free man. But, I guess the irony of the Universe wasn’t done with me, because I now have Chronic Neurological Lyme disease. Yep, I am married, I have two kids, I HAD a great job as a construction foreman and I was strong, healthy, and happy. I was the one who didn’t go back, I had moved on, life was good.

They say I have had Lyme disease for many years. Nobody can say when I got it. About 50% of those infected with Lyme never remember being bit by a tick, and never develop the tell-tale bulls eye rash. Most will be sick, with aches and fever. It’s common to think it’s flu, and eventually “recover”. But, for some, the Lyme bacteria has gone into hiding, waiting for a time when then immune system is compromised either from physical or mental stress of some sort, and then it comes back with a vengeance.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Lyme disease epidemic.

Where did I catch my Lyme disease? Nobody knows. I might have got it where I grew up, on the Guadalupe River. Or – I might have gotten it while in prison. I think of this often. I remember getting really sick once while incarcerated, and it was a weird sick. Nobody else had it, and I was bad with fever and aches. Medical care in prison is a joke, I think I got some aspirin and I stayed in my bunk and rode it out. And eventually I recovered and didn’t think more of it.

Now I think of that a lot. Is Lyme disease being caught in prisons? Prisoners often work with crops and livestock. And there are rodents all over prisons. I worked in the kitchen and they are everywhere. The common mouse is the biggest carrier of ticks there is. Not most people know that.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the prevalence of germs and illness in prisons.

If you or anyone you know has done time, and has Lyme disease, share your story. Let’s get the word out. And, hope you are healing, man. This is really a bitch. Peace ~ Magnum

When a Recovering Addict and Ex-Con Needs Medical Help

I have been sick lately. It turns out I have Chronic Neurological Lyme disease that is raising all kinds of hell with me. I have been really pretty damn sick with this, and I have been in pain and stressed out. I have made the rounds to quite a few doctors and I have made a grim discovery. When you are a person that looks a certain way, when you are a person who has a certain history, when you are a person who is open and forthright with doctors about things you have experienced in life – you are pretty much screwed when it comes to compassionate health care.

In the past two months or so I have been turned away from numerous doctors because of prior drug issues I had. I feel I cannot get a doctor to look past my tattoos and see me as a person. I am actually pretty fortunate that I got myself signed up for some health insurance this year, so at least I have been able to get in to see doctors in the first place. I am angry though that they think any mention of pain or anxiety is me “drug-seeking”… it’s not. It’s me having pain or anxiety. Where does the line get drawn between them being cautious and them being cruel and uncaring?

This really makes me think about the folks who have even less of a support system than I do. The mentally ill and addicted who have become homeless. How in the HELL do they get any level of health care if they encounter illness or injury? How about those that are still actively living addicted lifestyles, but somehow they just get sick. Like an illness that is unrelated to their addiction issues. Are they actually considered unworthy of care and compassion because they are addicted, or mentally ill, or both? I already knew the homeless had it rough. But my experience over the past couple months with doctors has really been eye opening for me. If an addict has gotten clean and then gets sick and needs help, and can’t get it anywhere, doesn’t it seem pretty likely they could relapse simply out of lack of options? Hell yah, it does. And it sucks.

I will personally be OK one way or the other. Because I need to be there for my family, and because I won’t let this shit get me down. But it has been very discouraging to see how I’ve been treated, and to realize I am pigeonholed into this role due to mistakes I made going on ten years ago. I thought one of the rules of doctoring was “do no harm”?

4 Years After Prison, I Reached a Milestone

Well, y’all, I have officially reached a milestone of sorts. I have now been OUT of trouble… that means living fine, working hard, and loving life in general… longer than I have been IN trouble, as an adult at least. I guess this is sort of a skewed way of looking at it, because I am counting the time since I got locked up, rather than since I got let free. That is because, for me, locking me up is what got me on the right path. So since that day they closed the cell door and I knew I wasn’t coming out for awhile, things turned around.

I guess that can be an encouraging thought for those folks who are just now facing incarceration, or the incarceration of a family member or loved one. As ironic as it may sound, getting locked up can set you free. It’s up to the individual of course. Some guys will use the time to do nothing more than get tattoos, work out, and perfect their scrabble game. All that is fine, too. Nothing like being able to kick some butt in a friendly game of Scrabble. And getting strong and fit are great motivators and you feel good walking out of prison in tip top shape. No doubt. But you have to invest some time on the inner self as well. Read some, think some, make some decisions about what you want from life. Find out who you are. A lot of folks did nothing with their teen and adult years but spend them getting f’d up and in trouble haven’t really thought about themselves until they get into prison.

While I was incarcerated, I read a book by Bo Lazoff named “We are all doing time” and it made the point that monks and other religious folks seek simple surroundings and lack of freedom of choice to do deep meditation and work on themselves. When you go to prison, you basically have some pretty good surroundings to do some deep thinking. Yeah, it can be noisy and dirty and of course violent so it’s not exactly an ashram, but it can serve the purpose.

So I would say to anyone facing imprisonment, if you have no choice and have to get locked up, use the time productively at least. Work on yourself somehow, some way. Learn something, study something, get better at something. You may as well, it will give you that much more of a chance when you see the light at the end of the tunnel when your time served is done. Good luck and peace to all of you. Stay cool. ~ Magnum

A Mom’s Side of the Prison Journey – by Rose, Guest Blogger

Ive always been a fixer…fix the issues that my kids came up against. But then there was an issue I could no longer fix or control. All I could do is watch from the side lines. My son, my youngest, my baby was sentenced to 2 years TDCJ and 6 months State Jail. Oh the naivety when you know nothing of TDCJ. The day that the deal was struck and our lawyer assured us that he would be out in six months, the only reason he wouldn’t be is if TDCJ suddenly built new prisons to help with overcrowding.

So here we go, counting down to six months. My son was in county for about a month and said that was cake…if prison was like county this next six months would fly by. The morning he caught chain…I cried…and cried. That night trying to go to bed I had an anxiety attack that was out of this world, I couldn’t breath…my only thought was OMG MY child is in prison…PRISON! That’s a place for horrible people. The next 45 days with no calls from him were some of the hardest of my life. I’ll admit I was a pain in the ass. I called Middleton…thankfully those ladies that answered the phone were very sympathetic, nice and very patient with this mom new to this whole new world of prison. I worried about him and for him. I lived or rather existed in this world going thru the motions with this black cloud hanging over my head, tears constantly below the surface and a never ending feeling of what a horrible failure as a parent I must be.

I knew with my logical brain that I was not a failure, that kids get grown, make their own choices, their own mistakes and pay their own consequences. At this point I didn’t really have anyone I could talk to that understood…family was sad and tried to be supportive, but had not been down this road so they really didn’t know what this momma was thinking and feeling. One day while surfing thru the web looking up anything I could find that would give me some sort of peace I came across this blog…I even emailed Magnum with my questions…and was probably a total pain in the ass with my questions and my getting defensive and pissy over some of the comments by others to my questions lol.

The forum and Magnum’s blog helped me so much…to connect with others that were on this road, that knew first hand all the emotions I was feeling, the worry and the fears. The worries and fears are legit. Prison is ugly and its not a safe haven nor is it a rehab facility. Six months rolled around and my sons parole was denied. I’ve come to notice from talking to others that a lot don’t make their first parole, I guess maybe they don’t feel like you’ve been there long enough to learn any real lessons, I don’t know…maybe it really is a money game (that’s another rant of its own lol), but regardless he was stuck until the next review. When you have a young son going in there that thought he was invincible and learns the hard way he isn’t…it’s very heartbreaking. You can do nothing…just pray and hopefully find a support group, online, in person whatever where you can cry, vent and share your story with people who know exactly what you are going thru.

I came to realize that maybe there were lessons needing learned…no matter how unfair it felt to me…lifestyle changes that had been made that needed to be cemented into place and as hard and ugly as prison is it was the cement needed to hold those changes in place. I’m not trying to be selfish or think I’m better than any of the others who love my son, but I do know that while he was in prison my life honestly felt like it was on hold, no real joy, just going thru the motions of living. Other family members still seemed to be enjoying life…trips, partying, life as normal…and it pissed me off to no end! How dare you live like all is well when my child, your son, your brother, your spouse is in hell. I’m in hell. So yea I felt very sad and even jealous that life was going on and being lived and enjoyed by those my son loved the most and couldn’t understand how they were doing it. Maybe I’m crazy, maybe I’m different than other people…but yea I definitely was doing time too.

Just like in prison – To divide is to conquer.

With all the hate going on in the world, it can be hard to keep a good outlook and positive attitude.

In prison it was much the same way – the overall feeling of hate and disrespect and ongoing oppression could get to you if you weren’t careful. You had to stay mindful to keep your head in the right place, and not let the hate become part of who you were. You had to choose to rise above it on a daily basis.

If you ask me, this hateful attitude everyone is carrying around is turning our country into something like the divisive atmosphere of being in prison. Think about it.

There is a lot of segregation and racism in prison. Racial groups keep to their own and don’t mingle much with others in prison. Even if on the outside world you are a guy with friends from every walk of life, when you are inside, you pretty much have to stick to your own. Ask anyone who has done time, they will confirm that this is the case. You have to choose who you are going to hang with, then stick with it.

And guess what – prison authorities prefer to keep this atmosphere of segregation alive and well, because to divide is to conquer.

If all the racial groups were to get along, then the prison population as a whole becomes stronger, and more powerful, and therefore harder to control. If prison authorities allow racial tension to keep simmering and even encourage it in small ways, then those racial groups act as small communities within the prison. Small communities that don’t get along with the other small communities, and constantly vie for power and status within the prison. Constantly worrying about each other rather than the bigger picture. The end result is the authorities do not have a large, strong group of inmates to worry about controlling. Instead, they have several small, less powerful groups of inmates to manage.

I can’t help but reflect on that, with all the hate and division going on in our country. Isn’t this attitude of division making us weak? Are we still a force to be reckoned with internationally, if we can’t even all get along as a country? Aren’t we weakening the overall force of the U.S. by spending so much time and energy on hating and pointing fingers at each other? We should be focused on uniting in the things we do have in common – like keeping our freedom from terrorists and the others who wish to take our power. This bad attitude of division that seems to grow by the day and seems to be fueled by politicians and the media is weakening us and is a danger to our freedoms.

Just like the prisoners in a prison, our strength as a country is diminished by allowing hate to keep us segregated and isolated in groups. Time to grow up and take note folks, because you better believe our enemies are taking note of this situation and know just how weak we are becoming as a country when we spend so much time and energy on hurting and hating each other rather than uniting for the common good.

But hey, what do I know? I am just an ex-con and a convicted felon. By law, I can’t even buy a firearm to protect myself and my family. So I hope we keep it together as a country, I need us to, my freedom is at stake. Peace out.

60 Days In on A&E: A “real” reality show about incarceration?

Today I heard about this new show coming up and it looks kinda interesting. It’s on A&E and it’s seven individuals who volunteer to actually go to a county jail for two months. This is what A&E says about it: “Sheriff Jamey Noel has devised an unprecedented program to root out crime and corruption in the Clark County Jail. His plan is to send seven civilian volunteers into jail as undercover inmates. The participants all have unique motivations for joining the program, and have been given cover stories, training on the rules of inmate culture, and instructions on how to stay safe. Now they just have to convince the inmates and the officers that they are real inmates.”

Now, I haven’t watched an episode yet so I don’t know how they cover up the fact that it’s being filmed. That is my main complaint about so-called reality shows. There is a FREAKIN CAMERA MAN and lights and all this equipment in the room with you, how can it be “reality”? I wouldn’t be acting natural under those circumstances.

So, if they really make it seem like it’s undercover, then maybe this can be a real reality show. I am gonna check out an episode or two. Might be boring. Might be OK. I like that it’s the idea of the Sheriff in charge of that jail, and that they will use the money they got from it to improve the jail. Having been in jail and in prison, I can say these folks who volunteer are choosing to do something for a couple months that is not comfortable or cool. More power to them.

Here is a link to the page about the show, and you can see episodes on there. Check it out:

Ma, you did the time too

I was reflecting on some of the site regulars, and how in general they were mothers, wives and girlfriends. There are some fathers, and siblings, and a few children of those incarcerated. And there are comments from those who have done time, or worked in corrections, and folks with addiction problems. But most of who visits here are the women left behind – the mothers, wives and girlfriends.

When I got locked up I had a lot of emotions to deal with. I was angry, first and foremost. And I had some fear, naturally. I also had a lot of guilt and shame, especially at that first visit when my mother came to see me in County. I felt so shitty. Like a real turd, that is all there is to it. And I was also very damn glad to see her. A lifeline! Thrown to me in the very dark hole I was residing in.

I think I can speak for the majority of the incarcerated when I say having your mother, your wife, or your girlfriend stick by you while you do time is very appreciated. And probably not acknowledged as much as it should be. When you go down you find out pretty fast that most of your so-called friends are nowhere to be found. Even a lot of family becomes scarce. Face it, it’s not that fun to visit someone in prison, the whole experience is crappy. And writing letters to someone who basically has NO news to share with you and nothing going on is not very gratifying either. Sending funds to someone because they are a dumbass and got locked up doesn’t usually feel like a good use of money but boy is it appreciated.

I am pretty sure when I went to prison my mother was about as nervous and scared about what I was going to face there as I was. In fact, I guess she might have been more scared and nervous. Yeah, I think she was. I knew I could handle it, one way or the other, but for her it was probably agony. I was lucky that some guys told me the real rundown of what to expect and I was sure to tell her as much as I knew, so she kind of knew what was going to happen. And, I had one of my cell mates all set to call her when they picked me up so she would know I was on my way without waiting for her to find out randomly.

The main question we receive here is “my son/husband/boyfriend just transferred from County to TDC. How do I know he’s OK? How do I find him?” I hear the fear in those questions every time I read them. I know they are looking into the unknown and expecting it to be pretty bad, all the way around.

Here’s another thing that doesn’t get said much. Your parent is left on the outside to explain to family, friends, and everyone else where you are. Why you are there. They can choose to cover it up or just own it, but either way folks judge. My mother told me that right when I went away, a lot of her coworkers in her age-group had children who were graduating college and starting their careers, and how she chose to just stay quiet because bragging on your son’s newest prison tattoo just isn’t so cool.

I’ve noticed that some of the mothers who are regulars here have gotten the prison lingo down pretty well. Catching chain, making commissary, short way – these are all terms that a mother shouldn’t need to be knowing. That’s just messed up. But it is a fact.

I’m sorry Ma, i wish I could undo that part of things. I don’t regret much in life, definitely don’t regret that I did time. It’s part of who I am. But I wish I hadn’t had to take you down with me. And I appreciate that you went through that went me. I really do. Thanks for doing the time with me. It made it a little easier to know you were there.

Never let yourself forget

As a person who has been incarcerated and spent a couple years in TDC, I have an automatic mark against me. I am a felon. Everything from being disqualified for enlisting in the military or for benefits like food stamps or public assistance in housing are denied a felon living in Texas. I have worked hard and I don’t feel it is necessarily holding me back today, but it most definitely has an affect on me and my family in some form or fashion. There are plenty of jobs and positions I cannot even consider due to this label of felon. It doesn’t do any good to complain or feel like I got the short end. After all, it’s pretty much my own actions and choices that landed me in that position. I would never play the “it’s not fair” card anyway, because life isn’t fair. And, in this case, it’s just the way the law reads so it’s the consequences of my actions and nothing to do with fairness. The only thing I can do is to keep doing the next right thing. I just need to keep working hard, keep providing the best I can for my wife and children, and keep trusting that with time I will erase as best I can any stigma that being a felon holds. I figure if I keep up the way I am going, there should come a day that nobody really gives a rat’s ass that I once made some stupid mistakes.

The main thing I try to remember is how sweet my freedom is, and how I would really hate to lose any of it at this time in my life. I wish I had a bottle of the pure awesome feeling I had the day I walked out those TDC doors. It is something you can’t explain to someone who hasn’t been locked up and stripped bare of all their rights and freedoms. And it’s something a lot of us felons do start to forget. Life gets easy, or life gets hard, or life gets boring – whatever – just something makes us start to lose our gratefulness and let’s a seed of bad thinking into our head. That’s the danger. It’s important that every one of us who did some time and now walks free never allows themselves to forget. Don’t forget those shitty days and nights stuck in a shitty, overcrowded, stinking, loud, and dirty hell called TDC. Don’t forget being mentally and physically challenged in ways that made you a little more afraid than you would like to admit. Don’t forget how achingly lonely you could be, wishing to hear just a word from someone you left behind at home. Don’t forget.

Having said that, it is my opinion that it’s time for some changes in the way we treat those arrested for drug charges. Not dealing, but personal possession. There are far too many folks just like myself that have a felony record because they messed around with drugs and got caught. I have a guess there is an equal number of people who messed around with the same drugs but didn’t get caught.

Once a person convicted of a drug crime gets home, they might already have other factors working against them like no family support or living arrangements that are unstable and somehow they just never get it together after that first stint doing time. They end up being part of the recidivism revolving door. I don’t have the answers. I don’t think it’s as simple as just shipping every one off to rehab because I personally went to rehab a bunch of times, and I can’t say it got me straight. But the fact that the US has the absolute highest percent of incarcerated individuals tells you something. Our system needs a major over-haul. Maybe the fact that Obama himself visited a federal prison a few months back is a good sign. It’s the first time any acting president has done so. Here’s to a good year in 2016, folks. If you have a loved one who is incarcerated, keep the faith. If you were once incarcerated yourself, don’t let yourself forget. And if you are somehow engaged in activities that might end with you locked up – take my advise and just quit now. Whatever you are doing, it’s not worth it, really.

How to send money to an inmate in TDC

I just sent this information to one of the visitors to the blog, and I thought it might be good information to share with everyone. It’s one of those questions that come up when all of a sudden you learn that your loved one is being sent to TDC. Just how do you help them out? Well visits and letters are important. But, the truth is, getting a little money in your commissary can make your life in TDC a whole lot easier. Buying some hygiene items and food of your own is a very good thing while you are incarcerated. Not to mention stamps and writing paper.

They are making it easier and easier to send money to an inmate. You have some choices. You can mail a money order to TDC or you can do it online or at a couple of places in several ways. Here is what you need to know about it, straight from the TDCJ website.


MONEY ORDERS or CASHIER’S CHECKS made payable to made payable to “Inmate Trust Fund for Offender Name and TDC Number
1. Obtain the deposit slips from inmates themselves, or by sending a self addressed, stamped envelope to Inmate Trust Fund, PO Box 60, Huntsville, Texas 77342-0060 with the name and TDC Number of the inmate you want to deposit to.
2. Send the deposit and completed deposit slip to Inmate Trust Fund, PO Box 60, Huntsville, Texas 77342-0060

1. Complete an ACH authorization form (Click HERE for the form!) and have a set amount automatically debited from a personal checking account once each month for deposit to a specified offender
2. Attach a voided check on the account to be debited
3. Debit transaction will occur on the 5th of each month
4. Submit form with voided check to Inmate Trust Fund, PO Box 60, Huntsville, Texas 77342-0060
5. This is a free service provided by TDCJ

JPAY allows you to send money to an offender for a service fee. Visit their web site at or call 1.800.574.5729 to send funds using Visa or MasterCard credit/debit card. Senders can make cash deposits at any MoneyGram location nationwide using an Express Payment form and using RECEIVE CODE 3570.

ACE, AMERICA’S CASH EXPRESS from anywhere in the United States. Deposit funds to an offender’s trust fund account for a service fee. For the nearest ACE location, call 1.866.734.2306 or visit their web site at

ECOMMDIRECT is the secure way to make a deposit in an offenders trust fund account.
1. Visit
2. Enter offender details
3. Add deposit amount to your cart
4. Check out using a Visa or MasterCard

TOUCHPAY PAYMENT SYSTEMS provides convenient ways to get money to your loved ones with service fees starting low, including:
1. Online:
2. Telephone (toll-free): 1.877.868.5358
MasterCard and Visa credit/debit cards are accepted, as well as MoneyPak, which is a remote cash option available at retailers
nationwide. Visit:” for details and locations.

WESTERN UNION CONVENIENCE PAY offered at select locations within the state of Texas. Send up to $200 to an offender’s trust fund account for a service fee. Call 1.800.354.0005 to find a Convenience Pay agent location. Retail locations include Kroger, HEB, Minyard’s, Sack ‘n Save, Carnival and selected Western Union agent locations. *I am sure you will need their TDC number to do this so be sure to have it.

WESTERN UNION QUICK COLLECT from anywhere in the United States. All three Quick Collect products are subject to different fees, send amounts, and other restrictions in certain states. Standard fee for over-the-counter Quick Collect transaction at a Western Union location. Deposit will post to offender’s account within 24 hours.
1. Western Union at 1.800.325.6000, or visit to find the nearest Western Union location
2. Telephone (toll-free): 1.800.634.3422, press 2 to send Q/C payment for credit card transactions.
3. Web transactions: visit for online transactions.
For each Quick Collect transaction the following information must be provided:
Pay to: TDCJ – Inmate Trust Fund
Code City and State: TDCJ/TX
Account number with Facility: Inmate’s TDCJ number and inmate’s last name
Attention: Inmate’s last name and inmate’s first name
Note: Sender’s name and address are required when making a deposit to an offender’s account.

4th of July, 2015 – Can you find freedom while in prison?

For those of you with family and loved ones in prison on this 4th of July holiday weekend, especially those imprisoned for crimes of drug use, I will tell you this – freedom is a state of mind. A person can be more free while incarcerated than they ever were on the outside.

When I was going through real bad times with drug use I was not free. Sure, maybe I could jump in my truck and drive to a party on the 4th, drink some beer and eat some barbecue and that is so-called freedom, compared to being locked in a prison environment. But the reality is – that freedom isn’t real at all. My days and all my actions were consumed with getting drugs and maintaining my habit. I lied, I stole and I got pretty low during that time. I resorted to some things I didn’t think I would ever do. I didn’t care for the person I had become and I didn’t care that I didn’t care. It was best not to care actually.

In contrast to that, when I got sent to prison it was a time for me to get straight with myself. I am not just talking about kicking the dope. I did a lot of soul searching during that time. I read a lot of books that were deep and got me thinking in a few new ways. One of my favorites was “We Are All Doing Time” by the late Bo Lazoff. There were two major ideas in that book that helped me cope with imprisonment. One was that “everything is going to be OK”, regardless of the situation. I know that sounds too pie in the sky and kind of stupid. Sometimes things aren’t OK. Terrible situations exist, in prison and out. I won’t get into the whole idea behind it but basically it’s a way of looking at life and the situation you find yourself in, no matter how shitty, and accepting it for what it is, and finding a way to be OK with it.

The other concept I pondered a lot and still hang onto today is, you are only as free as your own mind is. When you are incarcerated and being treated like crap all the way around and living in conditions that are uncomfortable and lonely and sad – you can still choose to be free in your mind. You can have good thoughts in bad situations. You can be kind to others and to yourself even in an environment like prison, and you can grow and rise above a lot, if you choose to.

For anyone, incarcerated or not, who isn’t feeling free, I recommend this book. It’s a classic in the prison world but a good read for anyone. It is spiritual in nature but down to earth and easy to read. You can find it at The Human Kindness Foundation, a group that does prison outreach that was started by Bo and his wife Sita years ago. If you want to read a quick summary of the ideas behind Bo’s book, this write up about Bo Lozoff by Douglas Goetsch does a pretty good job. I like where it says “listen to your better angel, see the cell as a world, see the prison block as a garden, see the divine in the faces of the guards, the bullies, prosecuting attorneys, parole boards; write your daughter, apologize to your ex-, renounce your pals—they’re not your friends— forgive your father, forgive yourself.”

Peace out everyone. Hope your 4th is a time of freedom for you and your loved ones. ~ Magnum

inside texas prison

Going back to prison…

A guy I know, who I met and came to consider a friend while I was in TDC, got out a couple months before me. He is currently sitting in jail, on quite a few charges ranging from DUI to breaking and entering a habitation with a weapon and with intent to commit a felony – that is a bad one, for those who don’t know. He has been in jail for over a year now, and he was just sentenced this week, to go back to prison. The sentence is for 25 years and he will have to do at least half of that before he is eligible for parole. I am thinking it’s going to be a long while before he has an opportunity to be free again.

What went wrong? While we were in prison he and I worked out together almost daily, we shared books and discussed them, and talked a lot in general. He is very smart, and has discipline when it comes to things like working out or keeping out of trouble in prison. He is a talented artist and can play a guitar, and has some skills like working on cars and construction work. He had plans to stay out of trouble on the outside, I know that much. Why do smart guys get out of prison and go right back in that revolving door?

Well, first of all, don’t think for a minute that I don’t know it could easily be me. The rate of recidivism is very high for anyone who has been in prison. A lot of this is because we are just dumb asses overall, but it’s also because it’s very hard to get out of prison and start over without a good support system and some good luck as well.

The job market is slim for those with a felony record. A lot of jobs plain won’t consider you if you have a record, like any job delivering stuff to the public or going into folks homes. So a lot of jobs that might be a good fit for someone with few skills just looking for a chance won’t consider you. When I got out, I was really fit, clean cut looking, and ready to work. And I knocked on quite a few doors. Here are some of the types of jobs I was not eligible for because I had a record: carpet cleaning, plumber’s helper, electrician’s helper, mover, motel maintenance, landscaper, apartment maintenance, pest control… that isn’t to say there aren’t some pest control companies or landscape jobs that might have considered me, but plenty of companies do not allow candidates that have a felony record.

There are other issues like where are you going to live? Sometimes, a person has burnt bridges with family or doesn’t even really have family. Finding a place to live that you can afford and that isn’t depressing as hell can be tricky. Most apartment complexes have a rule that you cannot live in them if you have any sort of criminal record.

Someone released from prison has to figure out how they are going to deal with that old group of friends or dysfunctional mate or family that are still right there waiting when you come home. You can feel really strong and committed to staying clean and out of trouble while you are sitting in your bunk in prison. But when you get home, things are way different. Any number of things can trigger you to think drinking, or drugging or worse are a good idea. It’s incredibly hard to walk away from those old friendships, and easy to tell yourself you can handle it. It’s also much harder than you think it will be to find your place in the world after a stint in prison. Let’s face it, having a record can make people you meet judge you.

Bottom line, I am sort of sad for this guy, and also shake my head some that he let it come to this. I can’t say I know any better what he should have done, but he had plans to get a fresh start. He knew the city he was from wasn’t smart for him to go back to. But instead, he got home and he contacted his old buddies, and his old girlfriends, and stepped right back into a life he should have avoided at all costs.

While he was in prison he wrote letters to his dad, and they communicated in a way they hadn’t for years. His dad lived in another state and he had plans to get out and go over his way, reconnect and have a fresh start. But he didn’t do that, and with a 25 year sentence on him now, it’s doubtful he will ever get to see him in person again. I guess they can start writing letters again.

It’s a damn shame, what people do to themselves. I pray I keep doing alright myself. I know my wife and son help me a lot, I feel such a strong love for them and I want so much to be here for them, it does make me think twice when stupid thoughts pop in my head. I don’t dwell on things much though, I just try to live in the moment, and enjoy this great life every minute, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Peace out y’all. Hope you are feeling free today, count your blessings.

Should you hire a lawyer or go with a public defender?

If a family member or a friend was recently arrested for something more serious than a misdemeanor, you may have found this site while looking for answers to the many questions you are now faced with. Hopefully for most of you reading this site, getting into trouble with the law is not something you are very familiar with and it can be confusing and terrifying to deal with.

Some of the questions you may have, apart from if they are going to do time, is if you should post bail for the person in jail and if you need to hire an attorney. There are quite a few angles to these questions and for most of it there isn’t a clear answer as to what is best, but more a decision that you will have to make about what is best for YOU.

The person in jail is probably going to be calling you in panic, and they will want you to bail them out. Consider this carefully before you post bail. Realize that if you have the funds and post the bail yourself, you can lose your money if they do not show up for court for whatever reason. If you use a bondsman, they will require a percentage of the bond for their fee and issue a bond. That fee will not be returned to you by the court or the bondsman. Only the person in jail can pay you back. In other words, just like when it comes to loaning money, don’t do it unless you can afford to lose that amount, because you just don’t know what might happen.

Another thing to consider is that for some cases, sitting in jail while waiting for trial might be the very best thing. In my case it was. It gave me a chance to get off the junk and to get my head clear. If I had been bonded out I am very sure I would not have made good decisions about anything while I waited for trial. I was just too messed up at the time. Another angle to this is that every day spent sitting in jail is “time served”. For someone with a job, a family to support, or even school to attend, this loss can be devastating. In other cases, for a person in a bad spot in their life, maybe without a job and generally just messing up, sitting in jail is uncomfortable and not fun, but chances are it won’t hurt them any worse than their current lifestyle was.

For many people the first thing they think of when there is legal trouble is to get the best attorney available to get them out of the trouble they are in. Hiring a good attorney is a very smart choice at times. First take a look at the severity of the crime you are accused of, the possible sentence you could face, and the circumstances surrounding your arrest. All arrests are serious, but some cases will benefit from the legal expertise of a great lawyer. Of course, good attorneys cost good money, so be prepared for a substantial expense. Usually though, spending some money is far preferable than spending a couple years or more locked up. And, if being locked up is the probably outcome to things, of course you will want the shortest sentence length possible.

What if you don’t have money for a good lawyer? Don’t lose hope. You might fear that a public defender will not really defend your loved one very well. In fact, in many cases a public defender will give just the same amount of attention to your case as a paid attorney can. If you are arrested on first time charges that have not caused anyone else serious harm, chances are that your case will never come to trial. A deal will be struck between the DA’s office and your lawyer. A public defender will be able to negotiate this deal just as a paid attorney will. In these kinds of cases the amount of actual time a lawyer will spend on your case, whether it be a paid lawyer or a public defender, is not that much.

Bottom line: If you find yourself or your loved ones with serious legal troubles, do not panic when it comes to making the important decisions. If you do choose to hire an attorney, talk to several and do not to be intimidated. YOU are hiring them, so ask questions! A lot of lawyers are good at talking but don’t let them take over the initial meeting. They can be prone to do this. Make a few notes to refer to so you don’t lose track and forget to ask things. And good luck!

The National Registry of Exonerations

Have you heard of the National Registry of Exonerations? Founded in 2012 by the University of Michigan Law School in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The registry keeps track of every overturned conviction and exonerated person in the United States since 1989. With the ability to use DNA evidence, the list is ever growing.

It’s a fascination website full of information for anyone interested in social justice and change. There is a list of recent exonerations with some details, recent news in the progress of exonerations, interesting graphs with statistics, and more. What a worthy project this is to gather all this information in one place. The site states that to date they have over 1550 exonerations listed. Wow

Many, many people are incarcerated for crimes they did commit, including myself. Sometimes the sentence seems harsh and sometimes it seems not long enough. But they did the crime, and they are being punished as a judge or a jury of their peers deemed fit. That is our system and overall its fair and better than a lot of other places. But when a truly innocent person spends years in prison for something they did not do – I cannot even imagine! All too often the person is not of means to properly defend themselves or to understand the system fully. What is the answer to this? I don’t think there is one, really.
But the fact that today we can read of those exonerated and have hope for those that might still be in this predicament is very hopeful. Peace y’all.

Willacy County prison where recent riot was loses contract and closes

The company that runs the Federal prison facility that was recently the site of a prison riot has lost its contract. The company, Management & Training Corp. out of Utah, has stated that the reason for the contract cancellation is that the inmate population has dropped and there is not a need for that federal facility. Also, they are looking for a new client for that facility. I have no idea who they will find to contract with, but that facility has beds for around 3000 inmates so certainly that would be far too much space for a county jail or anything of that nature. I hope, whoever they end up contracting with, that some major renovations are done first. I have never seen the place personally, but considering that the riot was supposedly caused due to unsanitary conditions such as overflowing toilets and raw sewage leaking into the sleeping areas, it seems it is in bad need of a renovation.

I looked up the Management & Training Corp’s website to learn a bit more about them. They have a great website! I learned that MTC started in 1981 by running the Job Corps program, which is a program for at-risk youths to get some vocational training. My understanding is that it is many times an alternative to sending a youth to a youth offender lockup. I had a buddy who was in Job Corp and it is run in a military sort of style and is meant to teach the youth there not only a vocational skill but discipline and how to follow the rules. They do not get to just come and go as they wish, they stay right there on site, sort of like a rehab would be.

The MTC website states that they are running 24 correctional facilities. Apart from running prisons and Job Corps, they do a bunch of other stuff which all seems to be around the “corrections industry”. I haven’t thoroughly read all of it yet but they manage medical care of inmates as well as rehabilitation programs for not only inmates but “at risk” individuals which sounds to me like maybe boot camp sort of facilities. They are also doing this on an international level and are in England and multiple Middle Eastern countries.

All this sounds just great, but I stand by my opinion that the privatization of corrections is a very bad idea. What motivation would a corporation have to actually rehabilitate any group of people? If they succeeded they would essentially put themselves out of business.

Think about it this way – a youth that attends Job Corps but who does NOT straighten up can become a future inmate. Ding! Double the profit on that person. If they do not rehabilitate in prison, they will recidivate (as far too many of those incarcerated do) and come right back in that revolving door. Now that person has made the corporation money for the third time. See where I am going with this? A company running a correctional corporation makes money when folks are incarcerated. Plain and simple. So their boot camps and prisons and youth institutes don’t have to succeed in rehabilitate anyone for them to stay profitable. In fact, the opposite is true.

I also believe that when a state like Texas, with so many prisoners, farms out its prisons to corporations, there is not enough inspections of these facilities to make sure they are being run properly, let alone humanely. Inmates don’t have much of a voice, believe me, so if conditions are deplorable there isn’t much they can DO about it!

It’s a broken system in my opinion to have privatized corrections. I very strongly believe this. Peace out, y’all!

How Realistic is Orange is the New Black?

Having never spent time in women’s prison, I cannot say with certainty if Orange is the New Black is accurate or not. However, based on my own experiences of being an inmate in prison, I do have an opinion that it is doing pretty well, as far as prison shows go and depicting things realistically. Yes, there are clearly segregated groups, tensions, fights over stupid things, and there are lots of irrational, mean and actually nutty people in prison, and that includes inmates, guards and those in charge.

One thing they can’t portray in a Netflix TV series is smell. In prison there are lots of smells. A lot of them are pretty bad. You just can’t cram that many folks into one place without there being some odors. Also a pervasive smell of disinfectant lingers everywhere. I would say the reality in prison is it’s a bit less sanitary and not as nice as they have it depicted in Orange is the New Black. Not that they made it “nice” but it’s not as cramped and as tight and as claustrophobic as it really feels in there. And the noise – they don’t come close to portraying the noise. Maybe women are less loud, but mens’ prison is NOISY.

I guess one thing to consider is OITNB is meant to depict a federal penitentiary, and the federal facilities are known to typically be nicer than most state’s facilities, including Texas’ TDCJ system.

On a television show they can’t portray how you slip on a whole different cloak while you are in prison. This cloak has you walk the hallway without a smile on your face, and always with a 6th sense about what is behind you, what is around that next corner. You don’t let your guard down often. You keep that cloak on even while you sleep if you are smart. It’s a cloak that is hard to drop when you first get out.

The one technical aspect of the show that bugged me, and that is very common, is they mixed up the words probation and parole. Folks don’t get out of prison and go on probation. They are on PAROLE. They use this terminology wrong on OITNB.

Probation is what happens prior to prison, when they give you a chance to behave yourself for a certain period of time, to avoid every going to prison. A big portion of those incarcerated were at one time on probation, because the system is set up to make it pretty hard to succeed. You have to pay fines and do community service and keep yourself away from all sorts of trouble. Some people make it through and avoid prison, but a whole lot do not.

Now, parole is what happens when you are released from prison prior to your actual sentence being completed. You are released with the understanding you will do what you should do – work, go to AA or NA, and pay a fee to the parole office – for the duration of your sentence time. Depending on the crime you are sentenced for, the rules and regulations around this can vary. Some folks need to wear an electronic monitor or report in to their parole officer and submit to urine tests for illegal substances on a very frequent basis. Others are pretty much left to their own, as long as they don’t screw up.

But back to Orange is the New Black – it’s pretty well done and an interesting glimpse into prison life. I am looking forward to the next season and I bet a bunch of you are as well. Just do your self a favor, if you have a loved one that is incarcerated, do not take ANY of these shows, even the reality shows of “Behind Bars” and “Locked Up” too seriously or dwell on them – they are just shows made for our viewing entertainment, and I think they might make a person freak out unnecessarily.


Prison privatization, inhumane conditions and incarceration of illegals cause of recent riot at Willacy

In February the inmates at the Willacy County State Jail rioted. Fires were set in 3 of the 10 housing units and damage was done to electrical and plumbing. The offenders at Willacy are for the most part low-level offenders and many are also here in the U.S. without proper documentation. The riot was a reaction to the conditions they are being held in and a lack of proper medical care.

There are plenty of folks who read these reports and their response is that the incarcerated don’t “deserve” decent conditions. That by committing a crime, they deserve just what they are getting.

The conditions were reported as deplorable, and I believe it. Sewage leaking into the sleeping areas. Overflowing toilets left that way for days on end. The housing units for the most part are large Kevlar tents. It’s not pleasant and it doesn’t have to be pleasant, but inmates – like any other human – should have sanitary safe conditions to live in.

The Willacy Unit is privately run. When prisons are privately run, it’s easy to imagine that profit outweighs other considerations. This is a simple fact that I believe is a huge issue. When Texas and other states choose to privatize incarceration and prisons, they open the door for abuse of the system and situations like the one at the Willacy Unit.

Now, all that aside, think about these inmates. I can relate to these guys’ frustration a lot because I was incarcerated in Raymondville with a guy who was in this same situation. A young kid, legally of age, but a kid, who came from the far south of Mexico to work in construction. His family were literally dirt poor farmers. He had never driven a car let alone been in a city the size of Dallas, and with no work and no money at home, he ended up in Dallas on a construction job. He lived in a city apartment with a bunch of other guys, and what an experience that must have been, after living on a very rural farm his whole life.

Very shortly after arriving, he went out with the guys after work and had too much too drink. Let’s face it, any one of us probably could have done the same in that situation. No experience with the language, the bars, the music, the booze, the women…whoa – poor kid. Well he drove his buddy’s truck home because his buddy was smashed. Remember, he really didn’t know how to drive. He was drunk and made a very poor decision. And he got picked up for DUI, driving without a license, and being here illegally, and was thrown in jail. Nobody to make a call to, and he didn’t understand what he was being told overall, so he sat there and waited.

He didn’t speak the language and didn’t understand the system. He was assigned a court-appointed attorney and was given a 3 year sentence. He never once communicated with any family during this period because he had no money for stamps. He had no money for commissary and couldn’t buy the basics like deodorant or toothpaste. He couldn’t buy any of the food items that help you feel like you won’t starve to death while in prison, or over the counter medicines, or writing supplies. Yes, this kid broke the law but I wouldn’t consider him a criminal. I will bet almost anyone reading this knows someone who has had a DUI and who got probation and some heavy fines. This kid was incarcerated for 3 years of his life for it.

Now imagine that kid x 100’s of others – that is the population at Willacy. That is who rebelled because they were cut off from family, unable to properly communicate, living in squalor with live sewerage in their sleeping quarters and overflowing toilets left that way for days. No medical care to speak of. No response to requests for basic care. They were probably pretty desperate and pretty much out of hope when they rebelled. And now they will receive stiff additional sentences, and do much more time, because rioting in prison is a pretty serious offense. The system is broken, people. Really broken.

For those reading this that don’t feel sympathy for these guys. Think about the cost. The State of Texas – that means you and me, the taxpayers – are paying to support the private prison industry and house these guys for several years. What do we gain by this?

When they are finally released they will be brought to the border and released to cross to Mexico. Because they are undocumented illegals, they do not receive the small sum of money that indigent inmates who are US citizens receive when they are released. They will literally be back in their country but possibly thousands of miles from home without funds for bus fare, a meal, or a phone call. They are pretty much f*cked – excuse my language – but before all this, the corporation who contracts with Texas to run privatized prisons made income off of them for a couple of years. Now you tell me how this is helping anyone, anyone at ALL, besides that corporation?

OK – I am off my soapbox now. But again, I repeat, the system is broken.

prison bus crash

Prison Bus Crash in Texas results in 10 Dead

Yesterday, there was a terrible accident out west of Odessa. A prison bus with 12 inmates and 3 correctional officers went off an overpass and fell onto train tracks. It was then hit by a train. Of the 15 people in the bus, 10 are dead and 4 are in critical condition in the hospital. 8 of the 10 dead are inmates, 2 are correctional officers.

The details of the wreck are still being investigated and much is not known, but I pray that the time from when the bus went over to when the train collided with it was very brief. I hope very much that those who died did so mostly on impact. I hope that the injured can survive and will be mostly alright.

This story is horrific to me, as someone who has ridden in a prison transport bus, because I can only imagine the terror of being on that bus. When you ride in a prison bus you are shackled to your seat mate, for safety reasons of course, but in the case of a wreck like this, it seems your chances would be greatly diminished. You also do not get a seatbelt. In a wreck you could not brace yourself easily, or manage to get out if you are still physically able to either, being shackled to the person next to you. The story horrifies me because I have had a friend in the Middleton Unit, where the bus left from. It’s a low to medium security unit as well as a transfer unit. Most of the inmates there are low level drug offenders, DWI cases, and some sex offenders as well. Most are on the younger side.

I cannot imagine being the family member or loved one of anyone who is currently incarcerated in Middleton, because what all of us who have been in prison or know someone in prison have learned, news from prison travels slowly, and callously. It is entirely likely that multiple parents and spouses and children are sleepless and scared right now, waiting to hear if their inmate was one of those on board that bus. When a person is transported from one prison unit to another in TDC, there is sometimes no warning at all. Or an inmate will know they are going to be moved, but not know where, or when. They might write to their family and let them know, and then it’s a waiting game. The family will one day just learn that their inmate has been transferred.

So, for those families and friends of anyone who was at Middleton, right now must be excruciating. Typically calling around to hospitals will not help because when you are an inmate needing hospital care, a hospital will not divulge to anyone calling if you are even AT the hospital let alone your condition. It’s not allowed. Calling the prison itself will no doubt lead to nothing but frustration. It truly blows my mind to think of you all right now, and I pray for you.

There are tools online to find an inmate in prison, including the inmate locator tool found on the home page of this site. Also many folks use services like JPay that allows a person to send funds and correspondence to inmates via their site. Using these tools, a person might see that their inmate is now no longer listed at Middleton, but that they also are not showing at any other unit yet. This doesn’t mean that they were ON that bus. They could very well be still in transfer and not registered at any unit at the moment. They could be in their new unit but still not showing up in the official system. Oddly, often JPay will find record of where an inmate is faster than TDC’s own inmate locator tool will.

At any rate, for any family or friends of a person at Middleton who is fearing the worse, I pray for you and your inmate’s safety. If you are one of those who are scared and freaking out right now, desperately looking for news, I send you peaceful, calming thoughts and prayers and urge you not to assume the worse until it is confirmed. Your inmate in all probability is just fine, don’t despair. And, for those who did lose a loved one in this terrible crash, whether it be inmate or correctional officer, I offer my deepest condolences and my prayers for your peace and healing.

An article with more about this incident is available here at CBS’s website.

Peace to all of us today, and every day. Peace.

**UPDATE** I just found this link that lists those killed in the wreck as well as those injured in the hospital. Rest in peace, all of you souls. Prayers for you.

Here are the casualties and injured list:
Correctional Officer 5 Christopher Davis is deceased. The 53-year-old had 205 months of service with the agency.

Correctional Officer 5 Eligio Garcia is deceased. The 45-year-old had 275 months of service with the agency.

Correctional Officer 5 Jason Self has been transferred to University Medical Center in Lubbock. He is in critical condition. The 38-year-old has 222 months of service with the agency.

34-year-old offender Bryon Wilson is deceased.

29-year-old offender Tyler Townsend is deceased.

44-year-old offender Jesus Reyna is deceased.

22-year-old offender Kaleb Wise is deceased.

32-year-old offender Adolfo Ruiz is deceased.

25-year-old offender Michael Stewart is deceased.

31-year-old offender Angel Vasquez is deceased.

35-year-old offender Jeremiah Rodriguez is deceased.

22-year-old offender Terry Johnson is at Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. He is in critical condition.

34-year-old offender Remigio Pineda is at Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. He is in serious condition.

22-year-old offender Damien Rodriguez is Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. He is in critical condition.

37-year-old Hector Rivera is Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. He is in serious condition.

Christmas in prison – a time for reflection

The holidays can be some of the toughest time for prison inmates and their families and loved ones. An inmate can feel incredibly alone and sad being in prison during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and New Years. It’s a time we associate with family and the reality of being locked up can hit hard. It’s a time when mothers and fathers cry for their sons and daughters, and wives and husbands yearn for the touch of their mate.
As a former inmate, I can tell you there were bright spots to the holidays. For one, the inmates tend to have an attitude of “we are in this together” and while I was incarcerated, it was typical to plan a party where we would pool all our stashes from commissary and make the best spread we could. Sure, it could be a little random – raman noodles, peanut butter and tuna fish, for example. But we did share, and have some fun together for a couple hours at least. And, even our holiday meals were a bit above average. A little more served, maybe even something special on the plate. Hey, better than usual at least!
And, here is another thought that offers a new perspective for many of us who are dealing with incarceration during the holidays. Today I got my newsletter from the Human Kindness Foundation. For a little back history, Bo and Sita Lazoff started the Human Kindness Foundation many years ago, as an outreach to inmates. Bo wrote a book named “We’re all doing time” that is really well known amongst inmates and is a great book for anyone. I highly recommend it for those who are religious or not, it offers a lot of wisdom and comfort. I found it VERY helpful during my incarceration.
Anyway, Bo Lazoff passed away 2 years ago, a great man lost too young, but his writings and lessons live on. For this quarter’s newsletter, The Human Kindness Foundation reprinted some of Bo’s articles and letters from 1998. He made a really great point about being incarcerated during the holidays. To paraphrase Bo’s thoughts about this, think about Jesus, and the way he lived. Where do you think you would have found him on Christmas? In someone’s cheerful living room tearing gift wrap off of presents? Or would he be at the side of those with struggles, those that are a bit lost or afraid and needing to find their belief in themselves, and their ability to love their fellow man? I think it’s easy to imagine that the place Jesus would very likely to be found was in a prison.
Maybe you can find some comfort in the thought that our incarcerated loved ones are perhaps in a position to not be “Merry”, or “Happy” but perhaps thoughtful and reflective, and therefore much closer to the true spirit of Jesus’ love than many of us out in the world. And if you or your loved ones are not particularly religious or Christian, that is OK. Let’s hope that our incarcerated loved ones find some peace and comfort during this Christmas, regardless of their beliefs.
Merry Christmas everyone, and peace to y’all. ~ Magnum

Texas is Closing Prisons – What’s Behind It?

In news today, the BBC reports “The US is known for its tough criminal justice system, with an incarceration rate far larger than any comparable country. So why is it that Republicans in Texas are actively seeking to close prisons”, asks Danny Kruger, a former speechwriter for David Cameron.

Read about this hopeful news and learn more why even conservative Republicans in Texas are realizing that today’s existing penal system is badly broken, and that low level offenders – mostly drug offenders – are spending too long in prison and not being rehabilitated. Long prison terms for relatively low level offenses results in creating a class of hardened criminals who struggle to re-enter the world after their sentences. Today, Texas is taking a new look at their methods and suggesting rehab may be the better choice for many of these offenders. This is hopeful news indeed!