Texas Jail Project: Raising a ruckus

Seadrift, TX, Feb 28th 2007
Dear friends & supporters,
Ten days ago, Feb 17th, was the one-year anniversary of my release from the Victoria County Jail. I served 2 and 1/2 months for a criminal trespass conviction I got for climbing a Dow Chemical tower to protest the company’s continued denial of justice to the victims of the 1984 Union Carbide-Bhopal Gas Disaster in India.
Those 73 days were hell. Only made bearable by all of you who wrote, called, paid for me to call you and sent me books. I received hundreds of messages of support and I appreciated each and every one of them.
Most of you know I wrote a nine-page letter (http://www.texasjailproject.org/stories/diane_wilsons_letter) to the Victoria County Sheriff detailing the inhumane conditions in their jail, including overcrowding, lack of legal representation, withholding of information pertaining to inmate rights and the status of their cases, and worst of all, the withholding of medical treatment from ill women who were jailed for non-violent misdemeanors.
One of the ways I fought off my anger and depression was by listening to the other women’s stories and writing them down. As I heard story after story of injustice compounded by mistreatment, I knew I had to do something more to call attention to all this abuse and neglect. And when I got out, that’s what I did.
With the help of my friends, Houston activist Krishnaveni Gundu (Kinnu), Austin writer/historian Diana Claitor and former diplomat, ex-colonel and peace activist Ann Wright, we started a jail advocacy group and called it the Texas Jail Project (TJP). It enjoys non-profit status as a project of Calhoun County Resource Watch, which is my 18 year old 501(C )(3)(K) environmental organization.
· We made our first public appearance as a group in May 2006, at the Texas Commission for Jail Standards quarterly meeting in Austin and when we returned on November 2, 2006, we were joined by five more women. We all wore black t-shirts with white numbers on the front that represented the various neglected population of female inmates in Texas: women with HIV-AIDS who are receiving no treatment or medication, women held in lengthy pre-trial detention and women who had committed suicide.
· Sheriffs, jail managers, other advocates, and the assistant director of the Jail Commission have spoken to us after our appearances and commented on the way our descriptions grabbed attention and made people think more about the women in jail.
· Thanks to a wonderful volunteer web designer Scott Gress we’ve launched a website, www.texasjailproject.org. Besides functioning as an organizing tool, the site enables secure Pay-pal donations.
· We started a Listening Project, to gather stories from women who’ve been inside the 255 local lockups in Texas.
· Diana Claitor’s article on pre-trial detention—of the way women AND men are held for months on end without even being convicted of a crime—was featured in the October 2nd online edition of the Lone Star Iconoclast (http://www.lonestaricon.com/absolutenm/anmviewer.asp?a=591&z=68).
· We were interviewed on KOOP radio in Austin about our activities; the calendar section of the most recent MS. magazine (Winter, 2007) listed our Dallas Caravan action.
· We drove a small caravan from Austin and Houston to Dallas for the January 23rd County Commissioners meeting where Dallas supporters met us. Four of us from TJP presented the commissioners with specific examples of conditions in their jail, and I announced that we were nominating the Dallas County Jail (DCJ) for the first annual Slammer, the award for the worst jail in Texas!
Our caravan could not have been more timely.
As part of our Listening Project, we came across Margie Snider’s story (http://www.texasjailproject.org/stories/a_mothers_story_of_the_dallas_county_jail). She was in the Dallas County Jail for four months in 2006 and tells about women inmates with severe medical conditions going untreated or ignored and despite her protests and fears, Margie herself was given medication other than what was prescribed to her by her doctor.
We decided to go in person to register outrage in front of the Dallas County Commissioners at their public meeting last month. Just after we posted Margie’s story on our website, the U.S. Justice Department issued a stunning report about its year long investigation of the Dallas County Jail, warning the County Commissioners that the federal government would have to take over the jail unless massive changes were made immediately. In addition to high rates of infectious disease and filthy living conditions, the investigators discovered 11 deaths due to incompetence and mistreatment. You can read the report which is 47 pages of horror here: http://www.texasjailproject.org/articles/must_read_feds_report_on_dallas_county_jail
Armed with this report we intensified our efforts at the Dallas meeting. On our request most of the local TV news channels were present to cover our statements to the County Commissioners.
A veteran prison activist at the American Friends Society has commended our Listening Project and we are collecting more of those inmate stories every day.
In the meantime, we have received phone call after phone call, and numerous e-mails from family members of DCJ inmates asking for our help, and we are connecting those people with Dallas area advocates. Also, I’ve been asked to co-write a story for a national online news source that will draw much attention to their jail.
Our immediate plans are to return to Dallas to stage a larger demonstration both inside and outside the commissioners’ court. We also plan to speak to county commissioners in Angelina County and in San Antonio since women have written us from both those counties about mistreatment and a lack of medical attention. We can’t help everyone but we are trying to live up to our slogan ‘changing jails one county at a time.’
The Texas Jail Project has so far been completely volunteer run and led. The only financial support we’ve received so far has been a modest contribution towards the Dallas Caravan from the Houston based Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (tejas). When we began we had no idea how much we were needed by inmates and their families, and now we find that we are unable to move forward without your monetary support. Your donation will go towards much-needed organizing material and a part-time project manager and basic supplies. Right now, we have no way to get that without your support.
We are a project of Calhoun County Resource Watch which is a registered 501 C (3)(K) non-profit which makes your contributions tax deductible. Please consider donating through our secure donation page on our website www.texasjailproject.org. While you’re there read more about our goals and history. If you have any questions about donating or getting involved, please e-mail our executive director Diana Claitor (diana@texasjailproject.com).
Also, you can mail a check payable to Calhoun County Resource Watch and write TJP in the memo line. You can mail that to:
TJP, 1712 E. Riverside Drive, Box 190, Austin, Texas 78741.
Please help us keep fighting for those without power.
Thank you,
Diane Wilson
Calhoun County Resource Watch
Box 1001 Seadrift, TX 77983

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