Cooking Them To Death: Heat In Texas Prisons: 
an interview with 
L. Amir-Sharif

HANDOUT: You were in TDCJ for how many years?

SHARIF: Thirteen.

HANDOUT: And in the summer, it’s incredibly hot in there.

SHARIF: Really hot. Most of the units are called ‘red-brick units.’ The unit I was in – Ramsey II, which is also called Stringfellow – Ramsey II was built in 1908. And it’s a red-brick building, and that brick itself just gets so hot during the summertime, it absorbs the heat, basically. It just stays there. You don’t have fans, even.

artwork by Steve Perlman

HANDOUT: I remember in 2013 ordering you a personal fan from TDCJ, because they did not give them out for you in your cells.

SHARIF: Right, man – it’s so hot, you need a fan – people were dying. In 2011 is when the issue of ‘heat-sensitivity’ and just the dangers of the heat, became a big issue because inmates were dying.

HANDOUT: And was that being covered in the media at that time?

SHARIF: Initially, it wasn’t.

HANDOUT: Did you know that inmates were dying because you knew them? Or did word get around?

SHARIF: At the Ramsey II unit, we had a lot of issues there. A lot of inmates passing out. The older inmates having a lot of complications. Now TDCJ did not attribute their deaths to the heat – they were saying that other medical conditions [were causing the deaths]. That was the basis of the lawsuit, because you have this older population, the older gentlemen who have all these medical conditions, and then the heat complicates their condition and it’s a heat-related death. The heat exacerbated the situation and caused their death. So that’s a heat-related death, and it’s because of the conditions there [in the unit]. They don’t have adequate windows, ventilation, and they don’t have adequate cooling because the fans blow hot air – the lawsuit brought this particular issue up at the litigation. TDCJ didn’t want to take that into account, they didn’t want to be held responsible for that, they wanted to write it off as something else. And so that’s what made the litigation so important.

HANDOUT: The litigation ends up being known as the Keith Cole case – Cole V. Collier; Civil Action No. 4:14-cv-1698 – what is the Keith Cole case? How did it happen?

SHARIF: Keith Cole was an inmate at the Wallace Pack Unit. And that was a prison that had a lot of older gentlemen there, they had a geriatric unit there, just for the older inmates, you know. And after several deaths there, the guys go together, Keith and some other guys got together and they filed suit challenging Brad Livington, and TDCJ Director Coller – and they said people had died from heat-related strokes from the sweltering heat inside the buildings that TDCJ housed inmates in. And they argued also that many of them were elderly and disabled inmates that were housed at Wallace Pack Unit. Once word got out about that, everybody else around the state was saying ‘Hey, that’s the same type of stuff that’s happening in THIS unit.’ So people tried getting in on the lawsuit

SHARIF: Based on conversations I had with Keith Cole, when we were housed in the Leblanc unit in Beaumont, as a result of the lawsuit and some other events that took place. Keith and several other inmates – Jackie Brannum, Richard King, Fred Wallace, Marvin Yates, and a couple other guys – got together, and they understood enough about the law to file a federal lawsuit and raise the issue. At some point attorney from the Texas Civil Rights organization took the case over and started helping those guys advance the lawsuit through the court system.

Because when you file pro se (that means as an individually, without an attorney), it’s really difficult to contact witnesses, to gather evidence, and so forth. So the Texas Civil Rights Project took on the case on behalf of the inmates at Wallace Pack Unit.

HANDOUT: And what was the outcome of this case?

SHARIF: There was a consent decree issued in 2019, and the judge ordered them to designate certain inmates as far as the inmates’ health was concerned, and designate whoever was vulnerable to the heat needed to be placed in a unit that had access to air conditioning. Basically, the court ordered TDCJ to recognize that certain inmates were more vulnerable to the extreme heat inside the prisons. They need to be housed in prisons that afford them the opportunity to be around air conditioning. The Leblanc unit and a handful of other TDCJ units that could accommodate the large number of inmates. So TDCJ argues that only the inmates from Wallace Pack Unit should be entitled to the benefits of the court’s ruling.

Because the Brazos River is right next to Ramsey Unit, it always floods the prison out, we were evacuated during Hurricane Harvey for safety reasons. That’s 1,500 (one thousand five hundred) inmates. We were sent to the Wallace Pack Unit from Ramsey.

The judge had ordered that no one designated as ‘heat sensitive’ could  be housed there at Wallace Pack Unit. TDCJ ignored all that and took us there. Mind you, several inmates from Ramsey, including myself, per the court’s ruling and definition of a ‘heat-sensitive inmate,’ were heat-sensitive and should not have been housed at that prison. That’s how myself and other inmates from Ramsey unit got involved in the Keith Cole lawsuit.

artwork by Steve Perlman

HANDOUT: So TDCJ claimed that the court’s definition of a ‘heat-sensitive inmate’ should ONLY apply to inmates from the Wallace Pack Unit, prior to the Ramsey Unit prisoners being transferred to Wallace Pack. And then you came to Wallace Pack and argued that it should include you?

SHARIF: We were at Ramsey. We were transferred to the Wallace Pack Unit. At that time there was some type of order in place for TDCJ to remove all the heat-sensitive inmates from the Wallace Pack Unit. ….. Based on the medical definition they had created entitled ‘heat-sensitive,’ my medical conditions and medications I was taking made me susceptible to the heat. But TDCJ claimed they were transferring us on an emergency basis because of the hurricane. Nevertheless, the judge had made a specific order, and there was no wiggle room that said ‘If there’s a hurricane or a natural disaster, that can house heat-sensitive inmates in Wallace Pack.’ It’s a death trap. Most of those prisons are nothing but an oven.

TDCJ had a court order to evacuate all the heat-sensitive inmates. A couple of weeks later, they  have a hurricane situation, and TDCJ decided that because Wallace Pack Unit had a lot of empty beds, decided to take the inmates there and not worry whether they are heat-sensitive or not. This is called ‘deliberate indifference.’ When we got housed there, one or two on the inmates from Ramsey died and some of them had complications, and that was brought to the attention of the Texas Civil Rights Project and that’s when all hell broke loose.

HANDOUT: At what point does the Keith Cole case become a class action suit that represents every inmate in TDCJ? That’s what they were seeking with the suit, right?

SHARIF: Right. Based on my conversations with Keith Cole, that was one of his goals, was for this to apply to everyone – it would be a stronger class action with more people represented. But it became a class action because of the number of inmates being represented from the Wallace Pack Unit at that time. They had enough inmates there to make it a class action. 

HANDOUT: Eventually, a ton of media outlets covered the heat-sensitive case, and claimed that the case was brought, the inmates were successful, and everything is fine now. Was the case won?

SHARIF: To a degree, because TDCJ still did not fulfill it’s obligations under the court’s order.

They designated certain medications, certain medical conditions, certain age groups, as being ‘suspcetible to the heat’ aka ‘heat-sensitive inmates’ and they require a certain type of housing in units that were cooler and had air conditioning. And TDCJ bucked that. Now mind you, TDCJ built an air-conditioned pig-stye for millions of dollars, and then they’d fight against giving inmates air-conditioning.

SHARIF: Jeff Edwards wanted his money. He worked pro-bono on some cases, but he made money from this case here. He took on the case, and non-profit attorneys can still get compensation for their work – although it’s less since the Prison Litigation Reform Act.

HANDOUT: How much money did he get?

SHARIF: Millions. He got millions. They were able to submit a bill to the court, and the court ordered TDCJ to reimburse Edwards and his group for services provided. Because TDCJ was found to be the losing party. And the length and the size of the class action itself, and the time that they invested with discovery, depositions, court appearances and all that.

HANDOUT: After this case, did TDCJ start housing heat-sensitive inmates properly, as ordered by the court?

SHARIF: They did to a degree. They said it was too much for them to do, but the judge came back and issued an order that said TDCJ did have the money to do it, and they were going to do it. I participated in two court hearings wherein the court questioned the adequacy of TDCJ’s compliance with the orders to keep us cool, to relocated other inmates to units that had air-conditioning.

HANDOUT: How did you end up in the courtroom talking to the judge during these hearings?

SHARIF: Because once I was at Leblanc Unit, the judge basically said they TDCJ had exposed us to the heat at Wallace Pack Unit, and now we were members of the class action, irrespective of the short period of time we were housed there. I started communicating the court itself just from my experience in civil litigation and prison litigation, and I started sharing certain things with the court about the violations and the overall conditions that we were being subjected to. And so the court selected certain individuals to testify.

HANDOUT: And TDCJ was trying to de-class you and the other inmates from Ramsey.

SHARIF: Right. Because they said we were not part of the initial class of inmates that filed the lawsuit.

HANDOUT: How did Jeff Edwards and the Texas ORG respond to this to the Ramsey inmates wanted to be part of the class?

SHARIF: Initially, they were receptive because the number of inmates in the class – our inclusion made it an unusually large event. And so they embraced us at one point. But at another point, I and a lot of the other guys, felt like Edwards was throwing us to the wolves, and he backtracked his arguments and said that TDCJ was right to a degree because the Ramsey Unit inmates weren’t in Wallace Pack and they should be housed somewhere else. He wrote this to us.

HANDOUT: What was Edwards incentive to do this?

SHARIF: So the case could settle and they’d get paid. And that’s the bottom line. Basically, what he got he thought would suffice for his time, and so he was good. They were gonna air-condition the Wallace Pack Unit, so a majority of them could go back to that unit. There were other provisions created to help heat-sensitive inmates being released from the prisons earlier, and so he felt like he had done what he set out to do.

HANDOUT: Did the court allow you and the other Ramsey inmates to be de-classed from this class?

SHARIF: The court re-classified us – which I appealed on behalf of all the guys in Ramsey, I filed to the appeals court, the US Fifth Circuit – and we just kept going back and forth. Eventually, TDCJ and the court pulled some tricks about the Prison Litigation Reform Act to force me out of the case, or from leading the lawsuit. (Because I had previously had Prison Litigation Reform strikes – if you file a lawsuit and it’s dismissed, they can use that as a strike against you, and three strikes and you’re out. I’m not an attorney, so in the past I’d filed some litigation – not that it was frivolous, but other technicalities and other attorney I fought in prison litigation, they were a little more suave than I was and they convinced the court to dismiss my cases.)

But I still helped the guys. They removed my information off the appeal, but I still helped filling out and filing the paperwork, all the signatures, and filing the necessary paperwork to pursue the appeal of the de-classification.

The court eventually dismissed our appearl. The court and TDCJ conceded that irrespective of our ruling, these Ramsey Unit inmates are right: they are heat-sensitive, and like the Wallace Pack Unit inmates, they should be housed in facilities that don’t put them as risk of serious harm or death from the extreme heat in the Texas prisons. So that was a victory, even though the appeal was dismissed. And a lot of Ramsey guys were then housed in a unit that had air-conditioning , unless they wanted to go back to a red-brick unit.

artwork by Steve Perlman

HANDOUT: You got out of TDCJ on December 10, 2019. I know you’re still friends and in contact with a lot of the inmates still inside. What has happened with this heat-sensitive inmate topic since 2019?

SHARIF: There’s people still now trying to fight it, and make it a statewide thing, because TDCJ still has inmates that are heat-sensitive housed in facilities that subject them to extreme heat and put them at risk of serious health dangers or death. They’re still doing it. Pulunski Unit. Ramsey. Allridge. Hunstville area prisons.

Down in south Texas, the walls used to sweat.

Before we even knew about the heat-sensitive case, TDCJ was ordered to remove us one day because of the heat. Garza Unit. Bro, deep south Texas. That place is so hot. Officers used to pass out. At the Ramsey Unit I was a trustee, and I had to help one officer who almost passed out. And I helped her to medical area where they had air-conditioning. But I have seen officers just pass out because of the heat. It’s bad. In the summer the heat may be 105 F, but the heat index takes that up another 10 or more degrees. So you’re in a building that’s 115 F degrees, no adequate ventilation, and then when you’ve got the fans blowing all they’re blowing is hot air. So it’s just a recipe for a disaster.

As a Trustee I used to be responsible for passing out ice coolers with ice water in them to all the different units and the officers as well.

One day at the Ramsey Unit, I’m in my cell, and it’s another 115 F degree day. And the inmates are asking to be let out on the walkway (or ‘the run’) right outside of the cells. The guard said no, he wasn’t gonna ‘roll’ the door, or open them so inmates could get out. We started banging and making a lot of noise to draw attention to some of the rank – and the rank means some of the lieutenants or sargeants or higher ups – so they know that we down here too hot, we can’t breathe. That was the first time I almost had a heat stroke. A sargeant saw me and asked what’s wrong with me. I said, Get me out of here, I can’t breathe. She yells, ‘Roll the door, roll the door, roll these doors!’ which means open the cell doors, and she took me down another floor. And I’m telling you if that sargeant hadn’t of came that day I’d probably be among the numbers of those people who died of heat stroke. Every time I saw that Sarg, I used to say ‘Thank you, Sarg’ and she’d say ‘That’s my job.’

When I got down to medical, they were talking about writing me a disciplinary report for disorderly conduct. And said ‘Don’t even worry about that, Sharif.’

I wouldn’t have been banging on nothing if I hadn’t been afraid. [His voice almost breaks remembering this near-death experience in a Texas hell hole.]

It was hot. At one time I just sat back on my bunk. I was exhausted, man. I was having difficulty breathing, and so everybody else just kept riding and you know they just kept yelling, because I was out of it, man. I was gassed. I just knew that if I didn’t get out that damn cell soon, man, that I would pass out. Because I kept coming in and out and consciousness, in a way. It was just a real fucked up feeling. The doctor said if they hadn’t of brought me down there, I’d of probably had a stroke. And that was the first time I understand that the heat could cause this.

HANDOUT: It seems like TDCJ isn’t just causing their inmates to suffer from the heat, but their employees as well.

SHARIF: A lot of guards were happy that we filed that lawsuit. Even the guards were asking how TDCJ can spend a million dollars to house from pigs, but they don’t care about us. That’s one of the reasons TDCJ has a high turnover rate with the officers. The economy kinda helped TDCJ, but a lot of the officers quit because of the heat. Although a job at TDCJ has some benefits, it’s not worth your life. And that’s what you gotta think about at the end of the day. If you’re doing 8 hours in a sweat box, you may not make it home. And officers are passing out regularly.

HANDOUT: Does the warden even have to be in the heat?

SHARIF: Seldom.

HANDOUT: Does the warden have an administration that sits in air-conditioned rooms in the building?

SHARIF: All day long. All day long.

HANDOUT: Aside from total abolition – if you were in charge of TDCJ – what would you do?

SHARIF: Air-condition every prison. You got to. Because the heat in Texas is horrible. It’s miserable. A lot of heat related deaths occurred. And that put a lot of pressure on TDCJ – from the families, and outside organizations.

HANDOUT: When you were inside, you were always working, always busy. During a 110 F degree day, can you do any of those things? What’s a day like inside prison in that heat?

SHARIF: In Ramsey it was rough. It was real tough. I waited until nighttime. I used to stay up late in the night when it was cooler and my fan wasn’t circulating hot air.

There’s also the Law Library in the prison, but it’s only open a certain number of hours, and inmates are only entitled to a couple of hours a day in that air-conditioning in the Law Library. It’s not a fix.

HANDOUT: Didn’t they shut you out of the Law Library at Leblanc?

SHARIF: Yeah, they didn’t like my litigation activities.

HANDOUT: Did they just close the library?

SHARIF: They closed ME out of the library.

HANDOUT: How did they do that?

SHARIF: They run it. They would make up some excuses that I was troublemaker or what have you – that was because I was exercising my constitutional rights to the court. The Law Librarian herself was basically the one who took it on – she confiscated all my law books, and I had to go back to Brazoria County where I had another lawsuit against TDCJ officials, and the judge ordered them to give me back my legal materials. They do these what they call ‘low visibility forms of retaliation’ when you make problems for them.

HANDOUT: And even the Law Librarian wants to stick it to you?

SHARIF: She was leading it. People that had real knowledge of the law, who could raise certain issues – she didn’t want you in the Law Library.

The Texas House of Representatives approved the money to put air-conditioners in all prisons. Another victory. Representative Canels from Edingurh said that we’re cooking people in prison by leaving them in these conditions. 

SHARIF: Being in prison is punishment in and of itself. Being in conditions like that, it’s a very bad experience. And people do react negatively. These are the same people who are gonna come back home – after years of this type of torture – they’re mindset is not gonna be good when they do get out. They’ll be very traumatized. And that’s if they make it home.

Even the worst of the worst, you still gotta treat people humanely. It’s a reflection on society people civil. It’s a death sentence for some to be sent to prison and subjected to conditions like that – it violates the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. It’s just a bad look to send somebody somewhere where you’re violating their rights, and you claim that you’re holding them there because they violated something. That’s hypocritical.

HANDOUT: What can a person who is not in prison do?

SHARIF: They can voice the concern itself about what’s going on behind the walls to their legislators, the media, social media, and just put the pressure on your elected officials to act more responsible and be more accountable.


HANDOUT: Do you identify with the term Jailhouse Lawyer?

SHARIF: Jailhouse lawyer, writ writer, bit writer. You write litigation – but not just for civil matters, you help inmates in general with any issue. Domestic, family law issues – anything that dealt with the law. That’s what a writ writer is. Any issue that effects your sentence, or the conditions of your confinement. I’m that type of guy that will be involved in trying to make things right. 

You got a lot of guys running around calling themselves writ writers, and all they’re trying to do is hussle and make some money off people.

HANDOUT: And you’ve faced persecution for being a writ writer. 25 days in solitary confinement.

SHARIF: Taking away property, writing bogus ass cases, which leads to further privileges taken away, and can even lead to solitary confinement. They use pretexts to lock you up, but you understand the reason, and everyone else knows the reason, but they have use those disciplinary reports as guises to cover up, because they can’t come right out and accuse you of the legal thing they don’t want you doing.

Writ writing, greviences that you file internally, or institutional grievances that I used to help inmates file, and was pretty successful with it. Certain administration officers clique up, because they don’t like you, they got buddies you might of written a grievance about, and they knew the best writ writers or grievance writers, and they’d narrow it down. They knew our styles, they knew the language they we used in the grievances or in the writs and complaints, and they come at you, man. They shake your cell down, they search your property. I used to get my locker shook down – a shake down is just a bullshit ass search, and all it is aggravating annoying TO GET AT YOU. I used to get shook down three of four times a week, man – and that’s not normal. Because the searches are supposed to be random.

HANDOUT: Are they just trying to persecute you? Are they trying to destroy your stuff?

SHARIF: They know, they know. If you doing stuff like I do – litigation – you gotta stay on the right side of the rules. You don’t deal in no contraband or nothing that violates the rules, because you know they’ll come at you. They’re gonna come at you if you’re involved in litigation. So you can’t expose yourself – you can’t basically assist a situation designed against you. You know you’re gonna get searched, you know they’re gonna things to try to provoke an incident with you, so you just gotta be calm, you gotta stay within the rules, and just be a model inmate. Or try your best to be. ‘Cause sometimes they’ll piss you off, and you might lose your cool, but you gotta gather yourself really quick.

Verbal disrespect – they have a list of rules that you’re supposed to abide by, and they use that well to try and write you up and make life miserable for you. A lot these violations are imagined, fabricated, contrived acts. And they try to use that to their advantage. They try to break you, to break your spirit.

HANDOUT: You were an activist with Making the Walls Transparent.

SHARIF: They say you gotta be the ox on which the people ride. And they’ll ride your back. Somebody got to stand up for us. And if you’re not willing to make that sacrifice, then you ain’t got no position, or you ain’t got no right to complain. Somebody’s got to make the sacrifices, and I know it was people before me – like Ruiz case, the Cruz case, Guajardo, and a lot of other guys, they made sacrifices in Texas. They took enormous risk to bring attention to the brutal conditions in the TDCJ. Remember the Eroy Brown case, and the stuff that was going on there at the Wallace Pack Unit – that’s how that prison got it’s name. Somebody gotta stand up for us, man. When you stand up, you can look yourself in the mirror and say: Hey, I’m the man. I’m the man. Yeah, I’m the man, I’m the one. Guys right now, they write me and thank me. One guy just got out after 26 years, he said he ain’t met too many guys like me.  He said, ‘No matter the shit they did to you, you still kept it real.’ I don’t know no other way.

Even on MTWT website, I told TDCJ: I’m gonna make you famous.

And I got the Feds to come to the Dallas County Jail and shrink that shit up. @004-2007. The conditions at the jail in Dallas … for two, three months they wouldn’t wash our fucking clothes, man. Dallas County Jail is like the sixth largest jail in America. You’re supposed to have certain additional rights in a jail that you lose when you go to prison. It was just horrible. They were beating people up, jumping on you, and all that. I filed lawsuits, and that’s where I got the three strikes from, at the County jail. Because they play some real politics there, but once again it was a victory because in the end they shut down several of the jails that make up the Dallas County Jail system. They built a new area that’s called the Suzanne K Building, and all that is a result of the litigation I filed, I gathered thousands of signatures and filed it to the court. And I appeared at a SPERS Hearing, and I was able to testify to a federal judge about the conditions there.

How I crafted those lawsuits was I included the names of the local politicians, because they’re responsible for the conditions there. The county commissioners. And this drew attention, it put pressure on ’em, to do something about the conditions there. People were dying, the medical was a mess, the whole intake process was a mess, the mental health situation was a mess there. And I just pushed the issue, man. And every time I go to court – and sometimes I passed it off to other Trustees there – and they would get signatures collected and get ’em back to me. And then I would get ’em out to Kay Lee, and we shared ’em with the US Department of Justice, the Texas Jail Commission.

The Texas Jail Commission came on a surprise visit, and the motherfuckers [guards] came and got me with 18 guards with all this body armor on, and took me solitary confinement, and that’s where I stayed until I got out of jail. So the guards came to the cell block and they tell, ‘Rack it up, rack it up!,’ they cut the TV off, and then they hollered my name: ‘Sharif! Step out the cell!’ I asked what’s going on, they told me to turn around, they put me in handcuffs and shackles, and they took me to solitary confinement. For eight months.

HANDOUT: Holy shit.

SHARIF: It was cool, I didn’t give a fuck, man. They brought me my property. They didn’t want to fuck with me, I already had ’em in court about that, so they didn’t wanna fuck with that paperwork. It’s a bed, a light, a seat, they even had a shower in there – they didn’t want me coming out EVER.

It wasn’t hard because I kept busy with my legal work. Fighting the criminal case, and fighting the civil lawsuits I had filed in federal court. So it kept me busy, I had all my law books, I had access to the phone twice a day so I could call out, and I just love doing legal work. I love it.

They put me in isolation, in an area where inmates don’t come or seldom be able to walk by or talk to me. And if they were ever caught in that area, just stopping to talk to me, they rushed ’em off in a hurry.

The Sheriff – Lupe Valdez – she said, ‘What the fuck do you want, Sharif?’ I said, ‘Look how you’re running this jail. This place is fucked up. This is a mess. You’re violating our constitutional rights. When I was in segregation [isolation], they wouldn’t even give us toothbrushes. I filed to the court about that. The court made them start giving us toothbrushes.

HANDOUT: Are they embarrassed by court decision’s like that?

SHARIF: Always. Embarrassed and mad. 

I told the judge, they’re doing this because what I’m filing. They’ve got nothing against me. If they did, they would’ve taken me to trial. The powers that be are just keeping me here. As a punishment. So that judge ordered them Peter Harlan at the Civil Division – the judge told him to find out why I was still being held in the county jail, because that would be a violation of his constitutional rights. He gave ’em a few days to do it and respond, and do you know, within that week I was before state judge and being released on ROR. I had been in the county jail 17 months at that time.

HANDOUT: How can they keep you in that long?

SHARIF: They’ve got people in there three of four years, awaiting trial, because they can’t pay bail. Only in capital cases can they deny you a bond. So they have to give you what’s called a ‘reasonable bond.’ I argued that, too, in state court. I said, ‘You nailed me here, you denied my right to a speedy trial, and then you’ve held me here for almost two years.’ I went to trial three years later, and they found me guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with a car – a bogus ass case.

The guards told me, ‘They’re gonna get you, Sharif. This is Dallas County, man.’

My attorneys even told me, ‘You’re making political enemies, and we’re not gonna be able to get you a fair trial here in Dallas county.’ They told me I needed to take down the Making the Walls Transparent website.

HANDOUT: And then what?

SHARIF: I mean, we kept it up. Shit, I’m gonna make that sacrifice. If that’s how they roll, that’s how they roll. But if I back down, then they can always terrorize somebody, right? They can always get away with this.

HANDOUT: In any given unit, how many genuine writ writers there are?

SHARIF: A handful. Most of us go to the Law Library every day. That’s where I lived. I filed for extra time in the Law Library. I used to do 4, 6, 8 hours per day. So people see you in the Law Library, and we kinda meet and talk and exchange ideas. Share what we’re working on, problems in different areas of the prison, exchanging solutions and ideas. That’s how the writ writers get to know each other – we’re not necessarily friends, because I mess with guys that are legit.

I take on people’s cases like they’re my own case. I take pride.

artwork by Steve Perlman


  1. See: ‘Cole et al v. Collier et al Filings submitted by pro se interested parties should first be reviewed by the Court before filing. Case Number: 4:14-cv-01698. Court: Texas Southern.
    ‘Prisoners Reach Settlement With Texas in Air Conditioning Case’ by Gabrielle Banks. 5 February 2018.
    ‘Judge approves settlement mandating air conditioning at hot Texas prison’ by Jolie McCullough. The Texas Tribune. 8 May 2018.
    ‘Official: Texas violates settlement over hot prisons’ by Juan A. Lozano. Associated Press. 10 September 2019.
  2. Rack It Up: ‘Bro, I don’t know where “rack it up” comes from. That’s some plantation/Texas redneck prison lingo. They use and have so many such terminologies. It means: go to your assigned housing location/cell/bunk and sit your ass there until told what to do next.’
  3. Ruiz v. Estelle. 503 F. Supp. 1265 (S.D. Tex. 1980)
    Cruz v. Beto, Cruz v. Beto, Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972) Guajardo v. Estelle, 432 F.Supp. 1373 (S.D. Tex 1977)

On May 21, 1970, Fred Cruz, the most famous writ-writer in the Texas prison system, filed a pro se class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 against the State of Texas in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Cruz wrote his complaint on toilet paper. He asked the district court for declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as damages, complaining that as a Buddhist, he was not allowed to use the prison chapel, that he was prohibited from writing to his religious adviser, and that he was placed in solitary confinement for sharing his religious material with other prisoners.

Cruz’s case went all the way to the US Supreme Court; and Beto got positive action from the Supreme Court. Pretty good for a damn writ writer, especially under the conditions of the 70’s.

  1. The George Allen Courts Building, 1915-1995. ‘This was a real shit hole where a guard repeatedly stabbed me with metal keys and more. Ended up in federal court about that incident. See Behind Bars: The World’s Toughest Prisons: Dallas County Jail, Texas, USA.


Confinement was another punishment resorted to in dealing with recalcitrant slaves. On “Cedar Grove,” near Jefferson, Willis Whittaker had in 1850 a solidly constructed jails of brick, with separate compartments for the men and women, to punish the insubordinate among his 171 slaves. CURLEE Abigail

HANDOUT: There are 5 former plantations that now make up what is Ramsey Unit: Waverley, Drayton, Quarl’s, Palo Alto, Smith.

CREIGHTON: The Prison System farm units in Brazoria County expanded rapidly until, by 1967, there were four prison farms located there … Retrieve, named after one of the Mills Brothers’ plantations and sometimes referred to as “Burning Retrieve” by its inmates.