Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas Visitation

Before I begin, I would like to assure all readers that will NOT be subjecting anyone to yet another Dr. Seuss/Grinch parody anywhere within this posting.

Anyone visiting a DCJ inmate will probably walk past the rules and regulations regarding inmate visitation. They're always posted on a wall behind some stained plexiglass.

One rule states that visitors have to show up at least half an hour before visitation ends, since it takes a while to set the whole thing up. This includes DCJ/Dallas Sheriff Dept staph checking visitors' IDs to see if they have outstanding warrants. However, if you DO have an outstanding warrant, don't worry. They won't bother to arrest you, no matter how convenient you make it for them. (Will someone explain the logic behind this to me?)

Anyway, never mind about the warrants, it's the Grinchy attitude to holiday visitation that has me pissed off. After standing in line for two hours in wintry weather, I was told at 8:30 that no more visitors were being processed. In other words, fuck off.

Would it have really been a big deal to extend visitation another 20-30 minutes, so that the last 10-15 slobs could go in and wish their friend/husband/relative a Merry Christmas or Feliz Navidad? Nothing exciting happens in DCJ after 9:00pm. No meals, medical visits, handing out of mail or anything else is scheduled.

Besides, several people next to me had driven up to 40 miles to visit. At least I didn't have to go nearly that far.

(Addendum: Just spoke to James via an overpriced collect call. Seems the prison staph were not too busy today to do all sorts of ridiculous shakedowns. This included taking anyone's extra blanket, even if the jail doctor - an extremely decent person - prescribed it. Yes, you must be prescribed an extra blanket. And as this week is Freeze The Inmate Week at DCJ, extra blankets are at a premium.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Three days in Tarrant Co. jail

This is an interesting article - although the Tarrant County folks haven't incurred the wrath of the Feds, they're still doing a pretty good job wasting taxpayer money.

Jailhouse Blues

Who benefits from Tarrant County’s flawed pre-trial release system?

Guilty until proven innocent

I have received a couple of anonymous e-mails that suggested that I'm a jerk for "taking up for criminals" and the like, and that anyone held in Dallas County Jail is there for a reason.

True, they're all there for a reason, but it isn't always because they're guilty of a crime.

Let me remind the anonymous e-mailers - aka wimps - that there are quite a few people in jail who are awaiting trial. They haven't been able to make bail for some reason or another. And a fairly large percentage of these inmates will either see the charges dropped, dismissed, or downgraded to a misdemeanor. Hands up, everyone who has NEVER committed a misdemeanor.

I rest my case. I still welcome all comments, but all of you who choose to do so anonymously, do yourself a favor and grow a spine.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More on the Parkland inmate saga

Following the other e-mails I received from the woman whose inmate/husband was taken to Parkland last Friday (see previous posts before the Keefe Commissary one), I received a third one this afternoon. She finally got a report on his condition a few hours before he was returned to jail, after a weekend wondering what the hell was going on.

Here's her latest e-mail, again censored to protect the innocent, semi-innocent and downright guilty:

"After calling Parkland over the weekend, who denied my husband was ever there (more about that later), I broke down and called June XXXXXX the care coordinator. It was a waste of time; again, I was told that since my husband hadn't signed a release of information, she couldn't tell me anything. If he were "critical", someone at Parkland would call me. This gave me visions of him on his deathbed with no priest.

I mentioned to her that someone who answered the main phone at the jail had suggested I go to Parkland in person and speak to the prison guard, and she got rather agitated. She wanted to know who had told me this, but I didn't have my notes with me. I have to write all this stuff down just to keep it straight. Nobody at the jail seems to agree on rules.

A couple of hours later I received a phone call from someone at the sheriff's office. I think her name was Vickie but I'm not sure. I had spoken to her a couple of months ago about XXXXX getting his medications, and I thought that's all she handled, but she also seems to know what goes when inmates go to Parkland.

Here's the real kicker: she told me all about XXXXX's stay in the hospital, which I appreciated - but didn't seem to know anything about a release of information.

Also, seems that the Parkland ER employees got chewed out for telling me that XXXXX was there when I called last Friday. He was even moved to another room for his safety, which I thought real funny. He's not charged with any violent crime, he's 5 foot 7, and he's pushing 60.

Monday night my husband called me from jail. Turns out the guards at Parkland are considerably nicer than most others. One went out and got him a McDonald's, and another brought in a DVD player and some movies to watch. They even all watched the Cowboys game together. And no guard bothered to chain him to the bed per DCJ rules. One commented "I think that IV and catheter's going to work better than any handcuffs".

So I think this is all at an end. I can only hope that your James doesn't get hauled around."

Monday, December 10, 2007

How DCJ inmates get shafted when buying commissary items

Since James has to buy commissary items - usually when the served food is inedible, which is often - we soon figured out that the markup on these items was way over the top. I even heard some guards at Suzanne Kays talk about how bad the commissary markups were; one guard commented that the dry soup mixes cost about six times as much as he'd pay at Wal-Mart. These soup mixes are popular as, when a meal is served with mystery meat, the inmates often dump the meat, take the vegetables from the tray, and mix them with soup mix and hot water.

Curious to find out about the commissary supplier, Keefe, I recently happened upon a Web site called the Private Corrections institute.

As suspected, contracts are often awarded after a nice little kickback is arranged for the city/county officials who are in charge of awarding the contract. Here's an excerpt of the Keefe Commissary Network's "rap sheet":

In 2004, Keefe was found to have charged sales tax on some items that aren't taxable in Texas in connection with a Collin County jail commissary contract. As a result, almost 600 inmates were overcharged more than $5,000, records showed. Because of the error, the Collin County sheriff awarded the contract to a different firm.

Click here to read the Private Corrections Institute's rap sheet on Keefe.

Inmate ill? Dead? Dying? Who knows?

I received another e-mail just a few minutes ago (Monday morning) from the woman whose husband was taken to Parkland Friday. See my previous, Dec 7 posting for details.

After three days, she still doesn't know where he is, or how is is. Here's her e-mail - husband's name has been deleted:

"I got a call from someone named Mr. Jones at Parkland Jail Health late Friday. He explained that my husband hadn't signed a release of information so he couldn't tell me much. This didn't make sense as when I called Parkland, they said that this release is one of the first documents a patient signs.

However, he did say that XXXXX was not acutely ill, as the Parkland care coordinator would have contacted me if he was. But then for all we know the Parkland care coordinator took the day off, or is simply overworked like the rest of us. We all know what Parkland is like and what the facilities have to cope with.

Calling that June person, the care coordinator, was another waste of time, but I did it anyway. At least I wasn't told "if I didn't like the way we're treating your husband, why don't you bail him?" like I was told a couple of months ago.

I put a call in to the attorney this morning. Hopefully he can find XXXXX."

Damn, I better tell James to fill in as many legal releases as he can get his hands on.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The laughable jail "care coordinator"

I was at Suzanne Kays earlier this week to visit James and ended up chatting with another bored person in the visitor's waiting line. I eventually mentioned this blog, and ended up giving her my e-mail address, telling her I would publish any account of problems she was having as long as she didn't mind me making her anonymous.

I heard from her today, and it was a real bummer. Seems her husband was taken from Suzanne Kays to Parkland's ER, and after nine hours of phone calls and a visit to Parkland, she is still completely ignorant of why her husband was taken to the ER. Or even when he was taken to the ER. The last time she spoke to him was last weekend.

Here is her e-mail - I have censored names to protect the innocent, and fixed some spelling errors.

I spent most of the day (Dec 7) trying to find out why my husband (I've changed his name to XXXXX) was taken to Parkland, and I still don't know. It all started this morning about 8:30, his attorney called and left a message that just said that he was at Parkland and to call him back. I called back but he was in court. Later he called me back but I was in a meeting at work.

So I started making phone calls to jail staff and Parkland to see if I could find out what was wrong, especially as XXXXX is a diabetic. If his blood sugar has crashed or he's gone into insulin shock he may not be able to talk straight to the doctors. Here's who I called:

First I called Parkland and asked to speak to Parkland Jail Health. Someone named Rhonda answered and said I should call someone named June, the Care Coordinator. (Note: I removed June's last name for what will soon be obvious reasons.)

I called June and got her voice mail, so I left a message for her to call me back. She never did.

I shoul mention here that my other conversations with this care coordinator June weren't any good. About two months ago, I called her to try and get my husband's medication sorted out, and she was real snippy. She even suggested that "if I didn't like the way he was treated in jail, I should just bail him". Then she hung up on me. If she'll loan me seven grand, sure I'll bail him, at the moment it's all I can do to pay the mortgage. XXXXX hasn't been tried or convicted of anything, but I guess it won't matter, we'll probably lose the house anyway.

I then decided to call Parkland again and asked for the ER. The ER nurse said that my husband was there, but she couldn't tell me anything else as he hadn't filled in a release of information.

So next I decided to call the Dallas County Jail main number which is (214) 761-9025. It's my understanding that this number only has one incoming line. Every time I called it, I had to wait 15-20 minutes for someone to pick it up.

After 18 minutes (I timed it), someone picked up the phone. I explained the situation and she suggested I go to the ER and ask to speak to the prison guard, as my husband would have been taken to Parkland by a prison guard. I got to Parkland, found the ER, but then nobody would tell me anything. Said he was an inmate (big surprise). Nobody knew anything about this "release of information" the ER nurse told me about earlier. So I don't know if my husband ever got the release, or even knew about it, or if he's so sick he can't fill it out.

I got back to work and decided to call Parkland Jail Health again at 214-712-3032 but they said that only the "care coordinator" could help me. I called her number several more times but she never answered. Maybe she recognized my number and just thinks I'm trying to make trouble.

I finally called the jail again, but nobody could help me. They just insisted that the care coordinator was the only person who could talk to me about XXXXX's condition.

It's 5:15pm and I still don't know if my husband is even dead or alive. I guess I'll go to the jail tonight at visiting hours. Maybe one of the guards will tell me what's going on.

I haven't much to add to this. It speaks for itself. I just dread to think that her husband is dying, or dead, and she is sitting there at home unaware of his condition. Why should anyone treat another human being so badly? She's not even the one in jail.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Don't feel too bad, golf magazines aren't allowed either

A few weeks ago I tried to forward a couple of James' magazines to him. Even though one was still in its original clear wrapper, he didn't receive either. The one I put in an envelope was returned to our house, with a huge stamp declaring it CONTRABAND. So if the postman didn't know where James was before then, he does now.

Turns out censorship is certainly the name of the game at Dallas County Jail. This, from February 2007, is from the Web site www.prisonlegalnews.org:

Prison Rights Magazine Files Suit Against Dallas County Jail for Violations of First Amendment Rights

Prison Legal News, a non-profit monthly publication, filed suit today in Dallas federal court against Dallas County, Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Deputy Gary Lindsey after the Dallas County Jail banned all newspapers, magazines and other publications from entering the Dallas County Jail.

"If there was ever a jail where prisoners needed to know their legal rights, it’s the Dallas County Jail," said Prison Legal News’ editor, Paul Wright. "The jail is scheduled to be closed down by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards in the next three months, but now the prisoners there can’t access a legitimate magazine that advises them of their constitutional rights."

"The First Amendment to the Constitution protects publishers’ rights to communicate with inmates," explained Prison Legal News’ attorney, Scott Medlock of the Texas Civil Rights Project. "Last year, without telling anyone, the jail decided to stop allowing inmates to receive magazines and newspapers. Numerous courts around the country have held these policies are unconstitutional. Dallas County stands alone in violating the First Amendment."

The jail policy claims prisoners do not need access to publications like Prison Legal News because they can watch the televisions available in the cell blocks. (NB: The televisions don't work half the time.)

"It’s been awhile since I’ve seen an in depth discussion of constitutional rights on any television program," scoffed Medlock. "Inmates in the jail have paid from their own pockets for subscriptions to Prison Legal News. The First Amendment gives them the right to receive it."

Prison Legal News is a monthly 48-page magazine dealing with the rights of incarcerated individuals. It provides information about court access, disciplinary hearings, prison conditions, excessive force, mail censorship, jail litigation, visitation, telephones, religious freedom, prison rape, and the death penalty. It has been published continuously since 1990. Prison Legal News has approximately 5,600 subscribers nationwide, and nine subscribers who are currently incarcerated in the Dallas County Jail.

Prison Legal News is seeking a temporary injunction requiring the jail to deliver its magazine to the inmates who subscribe to it, and stop the county from violating the constitution. The case is Prison Legal News v. Lindsey and the case is filed in federal court in Dallas. PLN is represented by Scott Medlock of the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin, Texas.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bad inmate! No blankie for you.

Last Friday I stopped by Suzanne Kays to visit James. I noticed he looked cold.

Seems that there was a fight in his tank, which resulted in everyone's bunks being searched and every inmate being strip-searched. James' extra blanket (he had to actually fill out a request form to get it - diabetics have poor leg circulation and subsequently cold legs) was taken during the search.

However, the prison guards made no effort to actually stop the fight.

The logic behind this escapes me.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Smile ... you're brushing with antifreeze

During one conversation last month, James mentioned that the jail hands out extremely cheap toothpaste with the brand name Amerfresh. This name sounded familiar, so when I got home I Googled it.

Turns out that Amerfresh toothpaste was pulled out of quite a few prisons and jails earlier this year, Spokane being one of the jails. Made in China, Amerfresh is light on the flouride, but heavy in diethylene glycol - aka antifreeze. The antifreeze is added because it tastes sweet, but is less expensive than other (safe) sweeteners.

Other contaminated toothpastes have odd-sounding names like Mr. Cool, and are found in dollar stores and similar places.

If you managed to ingest enough diethylene glycol, your liver and kidneys will shut down slowly but surely, which is a particularly nasty way to die. Vets sometimes see dogs and cats poisoned by antifreeze, as it tastes good, but just licking a puddle of the stuff is enough to kill.

Lights out at the Dallas County Jail ... for four days

Earlier this week I went to visit James at Suzanne Kays. I noticed that, behind the visitation area, the jail looked strangely dark.

It turns out it was dark, as the lights in some sections of the jail weren't working.

I asked how long the lights had been off - turns out the blackout lasted for almost five days. No explanation was given, so I think it's safe to assume that the Deliberate Indifference code of conduct was in force as usual.

Considering that the jail has no clocks or calendars, and that sitting in the dark is not good for anyone (Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is one form of proof), I cannot help but wonder if forcing inmates to be stuck in almost-total darkness for over four days can't help but damage their physical and psychological health.

"Brent Van Dorsten, Ph.D., a behavioral health psychologist at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center explains: “While SAD’s exact cause is unknown, it is generally accepted that nerve centers in the brain that moderate mood and energy are affected by the eye’s exposure to bright light. During darkness, the pineal gland produces the hormone melatonin, which increases drowsiness. Light halts production. People with SAD may have longer periods of melatonin production and higher daytime levels in winter. Extended darkness may also be associated with decreased production of the neurotransmitter serotonin.”

The taxes on the house I bought in 1999 have literally doubled since I moved in. Why can't a few of those be applied to providing inmates with basic necessities - like lights?

Monday, November 12, 2007

I'll believe it when it happens

Why can't that $3.5 million be used for something worthwhile?

From the Dallas Morning News archive
10:34 PM CDT on Tuesday, October 30, 2007
By KEVIN KRAUSE / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas County is getting closer to offering cheaper phone service for inmates, cutting in half the fees families must pay to receive collect calls from the jail.

Vendors vying for the lucrative jail phone contract say they also can offer an additional service – recording systems that can be programmed not to tape phone conversations between inmates and their attorneys.

Accepting a collect call from a Dallas County Jail inmate costs an automatic $4.10 for up to 15 minutes. Dallas County got 55 percent of the revenue that AT&T generated from those calls, which last year came to $3.5 million.

Earlier this year, the contract came back up for grabs after AT&T told county officials that it would not renew its 13-year agreement under the same terms when the deal expired in April.

Commissioner John Wiley Price has led the effort to cut the collect call fee to $2, saying families shouldn't have to pay an exorbitant amount to talk to loved ones in jail.

"That's going to make all the difference in the world," he said last week.

This summer, four firms were chosen to negotiate their final and best offers with county staff. Negotiations are still under way.

Calls between inmates and their lawyers have been recorded at the jail for more than a dozen years.

Public Defender Brad Lollar said he only recently learned about it. He said he and the criminal-defense bar have serious concerns about the taping.

The taping of inmate calls has been highlighted by the recent disclosure that Hunt County prosecutors have been listening to recorded conversations between inmates and their attorneys.

Mr. Lollar said he was told that detectives listen to some inmate phone conversations for investigative purposes. He said the Sheriff's Department told him that investigators don't listen if the conversation is with an attorney.

But he said he wants more of a guarantee.

Lost in translation

A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in line during visitors' hours at Suzanne Kays (the minimum security jail). I noticed that the zip code for the address for prisoners' mail was wrong. It should be 75266 but it had 75222. The address is taped up on the glass window labeled Information.

Since the mail goes to a post office box, it isn't going to get there if the zip code is wrong - I had found this out the hard way when I sent my first letter to James, as the wrong address is also attached to the DCJ visitor's handbook.

I pointed this out to an employee and all I got was a dirty look. Then the employee proceeded to give the wrong address to someone who had attempted to visit someone, but had been turned away as the inmate she wanted to visit didn't know about completing visitors cards. (Generally, if an inmate hasn't recorded details of potential visitors, he isn't going to be allowed visitors.)

So when the would-be visitor mails the letter, she should get it back in about 2 weeks. Like the first one I sent.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What the Feds are so upset about

Last December, the Feds sent County Judge Margaret Keliher (who has since left office) a 40+ page document outlining the problems at the Dallas County Jail. It makes pretty disturbing reading, especially when you begin to count up the number of unnecessary deaths (hint: you'll run out of fingers):


However, the folks at the jail obviously didn't think the document's recommendations were worth bothering with, even though it contained a clear warning that a lawsuit would follow if things didn't change.

They didn't, hence the lawsuit filed in September 2007 by the US Attorney General's office. It described the defendants, ie the Dallas County Sheriff's Office, as acting with "deliberate indifference".

I incorporated the phrase into this blog's name for this reason.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

An introduction to Dallas County Jails (DCJ)

Until about two months ago, I'd never set foot in a Dallas jail, or in any other for that matter. Unless you count the time I bailed a friend out of jail in Manila.

The depressing thing is that after having compared the two, I've come to the conclusion that the Manila jail was run better in 1993 than the Dallas County Jail system is in 2007.

My fiance James is currently being held in the Suzanne Kays Jail, the minimum security unit of Dallas County Jail (DCJ). He turned himself in about two months ago after learning that an ex-employer had accused him of theft, and that a grand jury had indicted him. (More about grand juries later.)

Although he informed the jail staff of his diabetes and gastric bypass surgery when he was booked in, he wasn't given any diabetes medication or edible food for five days. During a space of two weeks, he lost just over 14 pounds. Over the next few weeks, medicine and sugar-free food was provided either sporadically or not at all. It took almost two months for the jail folks to finally get it together enough to provide him with daily medication and edible meals most days.

Before I go any further, please keep in mind that James has had no trial or preliminary hearing, so he hasn't been convicted of anything. His only bail hearing was nonsense, as the indictment contained a "typo" (the DA's words, not mine) that made the charge a first-degree felony. So bailing him was not an option. Like almost everyone else in DJC, he'll probably be kept in jail until his charges or dismissed, or his health fails to the point where the jail staff panic and transfer him to Parkland.

Moreover, most people who are admitted to DJC aren't sentenced to jail time. They're found innocent, charges are dropped, or the DA decides the whole mess isn't worth pursuing.