“Approximately 28% of the [FBI’s domestic covert action] efforts were designed to weaken groups by setting members against each other or to separate groups which might otherwise be allies and convert them into mutual enemies. The techniques used included… encouraging hostility up to and including gang warfare between rival groups…”
- Church Committee, U.S. Congressional Report: Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, 99th Congress, 2nd Session, Report No. 94-755 (1976)
According to penologists and pro-prison propagandists, the most common themes in U.S. prisons are gang violence and race wars. The jockeying for position of drug sales and territory. The inevitable rape, murder, and exhortative tendencies as a consequence of our need to carry on failed endeavors to wreak havoc on society before incarceration.
The prison administrations attempt to promote rehabilitation and positive change through hiring community members specializing in corrections; the implementing of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA); the introduction of an ombudsman office to serve as an independent oversight in the event in-prison grievance channels fail.
And the justified use of solitary confinement, more repressive policies, excessive disciplinary punishment, denied parole reviews and the construction of more maximum security prisons, when the contradictions of an overcrowded prison create these very hostile conditions.
With the stroke of an ink pen, what really goes on behind the walls and razor-wire fences of America’s prisons is stylishly painted by wardens, grievance staff, ranking guards and their ilk – the penitentiary Picassos. Which is no different than the narratives I laid out about.
But what these admirers of fake news enjoy overlooking is the fact that a majority of the violence occurring in prisons is staff instigated. Some riots, murders and rapes could easily be prevented if wardens, Security Threat Groups (STG) and Offices of Inspectors General (OIG) actually investigated complaints and pre-warnings themselves, instead of deferring them to the ranking guards and investigators who the complaint alleged as culprits. Or by engaging in the covering up of paperwork that shows staff complicity following these deferred complaints.
In reality, guard brutality and torture are the common features of Texas prisons, and arguably of all American prisons. While mainstream corporate media and politicians hype up the U.S. penal system as a prototype to how the world over should run prisons.
Outside of civil lawsuit settlements, little if anything is said about the barbaric torture of prisoners following the 1971 Attica prison uprising. Or the Corcoran State Prison incident, where guards set up fights between prisoners, gambled on the outcomes and then shot the prisoners for fighting, between 1989 and 1994.
This resulted in over 40 shot, 8 killed, and others shot and killed with no justification.
Then there’s the long-running torture of over 100 Black men inside “Area 2” of Chicago’s jail system, who gave false confessions following increasing amounts of torture by investigators. The exposure of this led to 164 men being removed from Illinois’ death row, and full pardons being granted in four cases.
Despite exposure of these crimes against humanity, torture in Texas prisons persists. In situations where a guard can’t get his own hands dirty, he’ll pay an inmate in food and work duties to do it for him. When this proves impractical, he’ll instigate gang and race wars.
These environments I’m experiencing at Connally Unit afford some notable examples. Let’s look at work fights, then the gang and race war instigation.
Will fight for work – or food
In TDCJ, there are several kinds of custody levels a prisoner has, depending on behavior and disciplinary infractions. Outside trustee (G1) being the most honorable and close custody (G5) being the most restrictive. Solitary confinement is a whole other matter.
Medium custody (G4), which the examples in this essay focus on, is located in an isolated part of Connally Unit known as the island. In its coffers are some of the most savage, perverted, black hearted and unreasonably violent people I’ve ever lived around.
With its tendency to be a hub for young short sentence inmates, perpetually teetering from G4 to G5 their entire sentence, the reason this environment is the way it is should be obvious. Life on the island is the only life they know in prison, and seem to care for.
I witnessed one in particular arrive from the G5 pod in search of establishing a reputation. To achieve this end, he accepted a bribe from a guard to assault another prisoner for the absurd privilege of sweeping the pod with a shower scrubber brush. One bloody-nosed prisoner later, he strutted to and fro, here and there, with the broom and a grin. That’s until he was caught a month later, going all in for a bag of “free world” chips and a better broom.
Now he’s back in G5, probably waiting for his year’s stay to expire so he can have at it again. A very common dilemma.
Then there’s another similar incident. A prisoner exchanged words with a guard who’d denied him a visitation update form. An hour later, an inmate from another part of the building is given entry into the pod so he could earn food by putting the prisoner in line. The fight took place but the guard was dissatisfied with the results. No knockout equals no pay.
This is not a culture native to Connally Unit. It’s a circumstance that gets embedded into the minds and spirits of inmates and guards alike, as the former and the latter shuffle from pod to pod, unit to unit, etc. The symptoms of this disease only reinforce and justify acceptance of this behavior, since it’s already established throughout TDCJ.
Texas prisons in particular have a penchant for, and history of, inmates engaging in counter-productive conspiracies for small tokens and working rights.
I add more emphasis to this in the introduction of my paperback book available on amazon.com, “Reports From Within the Belly of the Beast: Torture and Injustice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice.”
Instigating Bully and Ranking Guard
A ranking guard, who prisoners identify as “Sergeant Motes”, learned years ago how to keep his hands clean in a shitty building.
Since an article I published several months ago led to staff having to honor our four hours a day recreation. He came up with a very effective way to deny all four hours at a moment’s notice, while forging a wedge between gangs and races; instigating hostility through these divisions and bullying low level guards into going along with the program.
Though the actions he takes are against TDCJ policy, state law, and the morals of any decent society, the overall ignorance of those working and living in this environment allow him to deploy his tyranny unchecked.
His game is spending time popping up on the pod unannounced, hoping to see at least one person on the second or third tier. In the event he does, he’ll encourage a guard to lock down the pod under a bogus “23 hour suspended activity” rule. Which ultimately punishes everybody for the actions of one person.
Not only is this illegal on its face, 23 hour suspended activity is reserved for multi-prisoner violence, riots, and any activity posting a safety risk to prisoners or staff, and can only be initiated with a justifiable reason signed off by the building captain, major or warden.
This can only suggest they are conspiring with him too, don’t give a damn about him breaking rules, or he’s taking it upon himself to do it behind their backs. Standing in front of someone’s door conversating doesn’t meet the 23 hour suspended activity threshold, and actual disciplinary measures exist for individuals that disobey or are found “out of place”, which is what he’s punishing everyone or.
Several people complained directly to him about this and were told to do whatever they need to do to stop second and third floor roaming.
A cross-fire of threats were announced to no-one in particular that any individual that caused a 23 hour lockdown for any reason would be punished by getting “lined up”, meaning an individual beating from each inmate of the rival gang or race, or by any that want to participate if the individual isn’t gang affiliated. And, in the event the individual manages to get through the gauntlet, a collective beatdown comes next.
This opened the doors for gangs disinterested in unnecessary violence to be ready to war with any gang or race that made an effort to assault anyone accused of causing a 23 hour suspended activity lockdown.
Up to this point, Motes routinely locked down the pods. And in the event no one roamed the tiers, out of frustration he’d lock the pod down anyways, claiming someone whistled out of their window at a fictitious white woman.
Even if such a thing is true, the guilty person is already in their cell and easily identifiable, which make punishing prisoners in the day room by locking them in a cell, an instigation to gang or race war.
Not to mention him occasionally pointing out the guilty person, then suggesting what they’d done in their own cell is why we have to join them.
This recently occurred on Nov 7 2022, and spilled over to Nov 8 2022, ultimately denying the second and third tier two days of dayroom rec since the 23 hours wasn’t up until after our scheduled recreation time on the 8th, and the lockdown occurred before our recreation in the dayroom began on the 7th.
Since we are still on lockdown at time of writing, any punishment or subsequent riots are pending.
While it can’t be denied that gang violence is a common occurrence in prisons and oppressed communities, what is rarely mentioned is that the American government and its henchmen has been behind instigating and spreading this violence and deliberately creating the conditions that gave rise to it.
To further distance as many white inmates as possible from the chaos that may or may not ensue, bellhop, broom boy and other off-the-record jobs were given to many by Motes and another ranking guarding who work the day shift during Motes’ days’ off.
In respect of this, these workers are immune from lockdowns and any punishment from causing lockdowns, since they are authorized to wander the tiers under the notion they are cleaning, and must be available to work, lockdown or not.
And it must be realized that ranking guards looking the other way so harmless prisoners can be attacked is a ploy specifically designed to keep a wedge between the unity of prisoners from different races, gangs and ideologies.
The minute a riot starts, they’ll use these chaotic conditions to vilify us and justify targeting us with tear gas and violent takedowns. Then, with the stoke of an ink pen, the penitentiary Picassos will paint a masterpiece for the world to see.
Dare to struggle, dare to win! All power to the people!
Call to Action
Readers, please file complaints with the Ombudsman and the warden’s office. An investigation needs to be launched to expose Sgt Motes, Cpt Guardiola, and 8 Building day shift staff’s role in abusing the 23-hour suspended activity rule by allowing lockdowns on medium custody pods as a pretest to deny dayroom and outside recreation, when the individual responsible for the lockdown didn’t violate any rule warranting a 23 hour lockdown. Also inquire if the warden or major is aware of this unjustified abuse of authority.
Editor’s note: you can contact the Connally Unit by emailing Edmundo.Cueto@tdcj.texas.gov or calling (830) 583-4003. The TDCJ Ombudsman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Renard Walker #1532092
899 FM 632
Kenedy, TX 78119
3 thoughts on “The Penitentiary Picassos: Guard-Instigated Gang and Race Wars in Texas Prisons – by Jason Renard Walker”