Outsider on the Inside
Reflections on our society by an Israeli born filmmaker

From Bacolod in the Philippines, to Polunksy Death Row unit in Texas

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The blogs and letters keep coming in fast and furious. Mark is writing about continuous searches of his cell that keep him living with “all my property on the floor waiting for another raid… or move to the hole.” In earlier blogs he detailed the raid, the destruction of his legal files, no clean towel for 12 days and running out of toilet paper… not to mention stamps.

His girlfriend wrote me:

“I did receive some personal letters from him also, Ilan, he is drinking water all day because he is so hungry, he said that’s the only way he can ease his stomach. His hands are shaking because of the hunger. This is horrible! And legal work? THAT ALONE pisses me off, but to know Mark is sitting there in a cell, no showers, nothing, and hungry…. I just don’t know what to do to help.”

And all of that because of  illegal  cell phones which made their way into Death Row unit. The Texas Department of Criminal  Justice admits those cell phones made their way probably by underpaid prison guards who made extra money smuggling these phones in. Yet rather than try to find these guards and punish them, the entire prison is punished.

The lockdown is now in its 4th week and no real media coverage; demand for access to prisons… an investigation… Nothing! Soon Mark will run out of stamps or his typewriter will be taken away under one pretext or another. Then the door will be sealed tight , and so will  be the last  independent voice telling us the human reality behind this lock down.
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While reading Mark’s blogs my mind drifts to my first prison visit. It was in 1983 in a provisional town on the island of Negros in the Philippines. I came to Negros to interview and follow Father Niall O’Brien, an Irish Columban missionary  priest, and Father Brian Gore (an Australian). They were arrested on trumped up charges of conspiring with local Marxist rebels to assassinate the mayor of a small provincial town on the Island. It was the last year of President Ferdinand Marcos’ rule. The repression was increasing and the country was dead poor, plagued by violence and a growing Maoist insurgency. Bacolod Municipal Prison had the look and the feel of a medieval dungeon. I remember all the faces pressed against the bars, the terrible fetid aroma and the blackness inside. The cells were large with dozens of prisoners sleeping on the bare floor sharing one open toilet ( a hole in the ground) and some spigot that was supposed to represent showers.

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We entered without a problem heading for the priests’ cells. To my surprise they did not complain about the conditions but talked instead about the humanity of the prisoners .  They went on and on about how nice the guards , how poor they are  and how friendly the prisoners are. This is how Father O’Brien remembers it: “All the prisoners were stunned that a foreigner was in that prison, they were all desperately poor. There was a phone there but until we came no one used it. I remember sitting in the middle of them and starting talking about hope.” .
I was in Bacolod for a week  going to visit and film with the priests every day. After the initial shock had worn off, I noticed the prisoners’ families living in tents out side the minimum security wing of the prison, cooking for their loved ones. The guards were very accommodating, even helped us to carry our gear into the prison yard. The prisoners were allowed to sell their craft   so they could buy more food. Suddenly, this medieval dungeon felt very human, a teeming society.
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I remembered Bacolod prison while reading Mark’s blogs. Polunsky is a highly modern prison, a five-star hotel in comparison to the 17th century Bacolod Jail built by the Spanish governor who ruled the island. Yet despite the dismal conditions I found Bacolod far more human than Polunsky. The poor, barely literate, guards mingled with the poor, illiterate prisoners, with chickens running in the yard soon to be killed for food by the families who are cooking for their loved one to supplement the daily diet of rice and one dried, salty fish. Everyone was struggling to survive including the guards and the prison warden. Poverty was a great equalizer.
What emerges from Mark’s blogs and other prisoners’ letters is that Polunsky Death Row Unit might be squeaky clean and modern but it is far less human.

I am worried about Mark now that he claims to be targeted because of his blogs. I trusted the poor, illiterate guards in the Philippines. I do not trust the guards in Polunsky.  The depersonalized violence hidden by legalistic rules and regulations scares me more than the old fashioned human interaction in Bacolod, where rules and regulations are to be negotiated daily by both prisoners and guards. Now as Mark’s stamps run out who knows what will happen? Who can prove that if he  would  be beaten up it  would be  unprovoked? Who could dispute the prison’s version if indeed his typewriter would be taken? How can we really know what  would  happen  in these searches when the only version we would  hear would be  the sanitized, terse press releases. The Geneva Convention forces a country to allow a visit of Red Cross monitors to its POW camps. Will the State of Texas allow an impartial group to visit its prisons? And if not, will the Federal government step in… or international  human rights organizations?

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3 Responses to “From Bacolod in the Philippines, to Polunksy Death Row unit in Texas”

  1. Forwarded from Grubac@prodigy.net

    Dear Friends,

    I just called the Polunksy Unit and the lockdown is still going on. I asked for the warden, was transferred to the “duty warden’s office” and got a secretary who said the duty warden was busy. The duty officer was Major Furgeson.

    When I asked WHY the lockdown was still on since they had searched cells several times for contraband, I was told, “They are searching again.”

    I told them that this was ridiculous, that 3-5 searches had already been conducted, and if they haven’t found contraband, then either their search teams were incompetent or there just wasn’t anything to find.

    When I told the woman that this needed to end today, that it had gone on long enough, she responded, “Yes, it has and I agree with you.” But she told me that she has no idea when they will stop searching and that oders were coming from higher places. I told her the governor’s office told me that it is up to the wardens to decide when to end the lockdown and that the governor is no longer in charge.

    She insisted that “higher-ups” were causing searches to continue but wouldn sy or doesn’t know who the “higher-ups” are. I am wondering if it is Senator John Whitmire who wants this so he can continue to get political mileage from it and make himself look tough on crime.

    If anyone else wants to go testify before the Senate’s Committee on Criminal Justice on Thursday, let the Abolition Movement know asap at Abolition.Movement@hotmail.com

    Please continue to make calls. Here’s the info originally sent out:

    PLEASE FORWARD AND POST THIS FAR AND WIDE!

    Here’s our proposals. How many can YOU do?

    1. *Monday, Wednesday and Friday are “Call-in Days” until the lockdown ends. We want everyone to make 4 calls–to the Polunsky Unit warden, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, the Ombudsman Office and Governor Rick Perry. Warden Tim Simmons: 936-967-8082. Texas Board of Criminal Justice: (512) 475-3250. Governor Rick Perry: 1-800-252-9600 (All in Texas except Austin) everyone else 512-463-2000. Ombudsman Coordinator: P.O. Box 99, Huntsville, TX 77342-0099, (936) 437-8035 and (936) 437-8067 fax, ombudsman@tdcj. state.tx. us
    The demands are to end the lockdown, end the shakedowns, restore visitation, restore commissary, restore regular showers and recreation—in other words, restore normalcy. Keep notes of who you speak with and what they tell you and them report it to us so we can keep track.

    *Attend the Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing on Nov. 13 in Austin at the Capitol. It will be at 10 AM in Capitol Extension, Room E1.016. According to their web page they will take public testimony and one of the items on their agenda is the use of lockdown procedures. Our point should be that once cells have been searched once or even two times, then life should return to “normal.” Also, personal possessions that are permitted should not be destroyed—from typewriters, to radios, to legal papers to photos of loved ones. This is NOT contraband. Food should be enough calories that prisoners don’t lose unintended weight and are kept hungry. So far, we have three people from Houston committed to attending and speaking. Who else can join us? We will notify the media about this.
    *Schedule meetings with members of the Board of Criminal Justice. We found that two of those on the board live in Houston and we are setting up appointments with them for a delegation to meet and discuss the abuses going on. Check their web page to see if some of them live in your city. http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/tbcj/tbcj-home.htm. The chair of the board lives in Horseshoe Bay, which is in the Hill Country in Burnet and Llano Counties but his business is in Austin and is a corporation that helps clients implement effective labor relations strategies. Oliver J. Bell & Associates, 13449 Dulles Avenue, Austin, Texas 78729, Phone 512.249.6200, Fax 512.249.6607. The vice-chair of the board clerked for (gasp!!) Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court and Edith Jones (gag!) on the 5th Circuit. He lives in Cedar Park, which is in the Austin area. Others live in Amarillo, Highland Park (Dallas), Arlington, Lubbock, and San Antonio. Schedule these
    meetings soon and certainly before the Board meets on Dec. 2-3.
    *Attend the meeting of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice on December 3 in Austin. The meeting is at the Sheraton Austin Hotel, 701 East 11th Street, Austin, Texas 78701, Tel: (512) 478-1111, Fax: (512) 479-6458. The meeting on Dec. 3 will allow public comments only on agenda items, but surely the cell phone / security / contraband issue will be on the agenda. If it isn’t, we should sign up to speak on an agenda item and then talk about the lockdown anyway. We plan to notify the media that we will be attending and have a statement for them.
    *Contact media / reporters and ask them to investigate why cells are being shaken down four and five times and why personal property is being destroyed that is allowed and NOT contraband, i.e. legal materials, photos, radios, typewriters, hot pots.
    *Find a lawyer who will investigate and possibly file a lawsuit regarding the arbitrariness of lock down procedures and the abuses that have gone on. Yolanda Torres was one attorney who was suggested. It was also suggested we contact the NAACP in every major Texas city, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense Fund), LULAC, ACLU and also their Prisons and Jails Accountability Project, and the Texas Civil Rights Project http://www.texascivilrightsproject.org/ which has offices in San Juan, Austin and El Paso. Who can volunteer to help with this?
    *Write letters to the editors of all major Texas newspapers describing what has been going on at Polunsky and asking for an investigation. Does anyone already have a list of e-mail addresses or street addresses together for Letters to the Editor for papers in Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Livingston, Lubbock, Amarillo, El Paso and whatever is the biggest paper in the Rio Grand Valley.
    *Contact Texas legislators to be part of a delegation that will make an impromptu visit to Polunsky to make an inspection and question prisoners. Sherri will contact State Rep Dora Olivo, Gloria will contact Reps Jessica Farrar and Senfronia Thompson, and we will have someone contact Reps Harold Dutton and Garnett Coleman and Senator Rodney Ellis. Other cities and other Reps or Senators? This needs to happen asap.
    *A demonstration outside of Polunsky if the lockdown does not end. The rumor is that it will last for three months. This means until AFTER the holidays and is unacceptable.
    *Write to your family or friends on death row and ask them to document what is happening. Then share that with everyone, us as well as the media where you live.

    On Thursday, when one of our members called Polunksy, she was told that the lockdown might continue for three months. Also, they said that the men were now getting hot meals. Can anyone verify this? Also, the men were being allowed to make commissary, but only for a limited amount of stamps and hygiene products, but nothing else.

    Pick a least one thing you can do. Share this with others. Please keep us informed about what YOU are doing so that your actions can be shared with others. If you have another idea, share it!

  2. hi chat me in cyborder mwahhh take care


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