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.