In the Belly of the Beast

Organizing on the Inside in Texas


By: Randi Jones

Abolitionists all over the country should be motivated by the actions that prisoners have been taking to oppose the horrendous conditions on Texas death row. Texas not only leads the country in the number of executions it carries out each year, but also in the brutality and inhumanity with which the prisoners are treated. To name a few examples, prisoners do not have a work program or any group recreation; they cannot have contact visits; no TVs are allowed in their cells; they are allowed only one 5-minute phone call every six months; and health care is inadequate.

The latest protests have included sit-ins while verbally addressing the inhumane conditions they face; distribution of literature; organizing protests on days when executions are scheduled; and encouraging inmates to protest their own executions, one of which Shannon Thomas participated in before his state-sanctioned murder in November.

“Many times we have addressed the problems with conditions and suggested reasonable solutions to the problems, which would not cause any breaches in the security of the prison, nor cost the state any money--but to no avail, because our verbal and written grievances fell on the deaf, indifferent ears of a sadistic administration that enjoys torturing and treating us like any thing but human,” Texas death row inmate Gabriel Gonzalez wrote in his diary.

“Yet how do you physically, psychologically and spiritually torture and treat people like animals and expect them to act civil and humane? Those of us here who still have a sense of self and humanity have had enough of the state-induced carnage and the brutal rape of our human rights and constitutional rights! Therefore, with this nonviolent protest, we have drawn a line and decided to physically and nonviolently resist the oppression.”

Since the protests began, the conditions for those involved have worsened considerably. So-called “privileges” (which actually means basic human rights), such as recreation, showers and clothes, have been taken away from protesting prisoners. Riot gas has been used against them, and sometimes, they have not been allowed to wash it off for days. Prisoners who participate in these nonviolent protests are treated brutally, with guards using unnecessary force.

The United States has become infamous for its use of torture in dealing with prisoners abroad. However, the reality is that the same tactics and brutality is being used against the inmates in the Polunsky Unit.

“I’ve been involved in prisoner rights activism for years,” death row prisoner Robert Will reported from the Texas gulag. “Because of my efforts, I’ve been repeatedly beat down, gassed, put on every type of restrictive available and had every type of psychological tactic used against me to try to break my spirit. As I’m writing this, I’m in the most restrictive cell on this 2,500-man unit because of my organizing for an upcoming protest, which will be the first of its kind. I’ve been stripped down to my boxers, with nothing else in this cell but a pen and a piece of paper.

“They took all of my other property--mattress, sheets, blanket, books, paperwork, food and clothing--but as the level of oppression rises, so does the level of resistance. The time for action is now. The conditions here are getting worse on a daily basis.”

Texas prisoners are asking that people get informed and involved in this struggle. Take time to get to know an inmate through writing letters. Write the prison warden and tell him to fix these conditions.

“I would like for the many organizations and groups to reach out to me and persons with similar interests like me,” inmate Kenneth Foster explains. “We are the living testaments to what is going on with the death penalty fight, and if our experiences are not utilized and shown to the masses, people will continue to be in the dark.

“We offer our writings, poems and drawings to these groups to help send messages to the world. We’ve come to see quite often that people are in denial about how the capitalist regime distributes the death penalty according to two things, race and class. The more this is denied, the further we will be from finding victory in this fight.”

Robert Will presented activists with a challenge: “Being an abolitionist means more than just simply having anti-capital punishment views. It means actively working to dismantle this deplorable system of capital punishment and essentially working to change the current culture in the U.S., especially Texas.”

What You Can Do
Read more from these prisoners on their Web site at www.drivemovement.org. Write to these prisoners:

Robert Will #999402
Polunsky Unit
3872 F.M. 350 South
Livingston, Texas 77351

Kenneth Foster Jr. #999232
Polunsky Unit
3872 F.M. 350 South
Livingston, Texas 77351

Gabriel Gonzalez #999225
Polunsky Unit
3872 F.M. 350 South
Livingston, Texas 77351

Write a letter of protest to the warden at:

Warden Loyd Massey
3872 F.M. 350 South
Livingston, Texas 77351
Telephone: 936-967-8082 (**054)