Austin ABC is working to gather information regarding conditions inside of Texas prisons during Hurricane Harvey. We are particularly interested in what was going on in prisons in areas that were heavily affected (e.g., Beaumont). If you or someone you know has a loved one incarcerated in an affected area, please take a moment to fill out this survey. It only takes a few minutes!
Again, you can find the survey here.
Black Panther Party political prisoner Herman Bell was viciously assaulted by guards at Great Meadow Correctional Facility (Comstock) on September 5, 2017. While being “escorted” by a guard back to his housing unit, a guard struck Herman, age 69, in the face causing his glasses to drop to the floor. This same guard then repeatedly punched Herman about the face, head and body. Responding to a commotion, 5-6 other guards arrived and joined in the assault. One of them was able to knee Herman in the chest causing two cracked ribs. Another guard took out a bottle of mace and sprayed it all over Herman’s face, eyes and mouth.
Herman was then taken to the prison infirmary. X-rays have confirmed fractured ribs. Herman’s left eye is damaged from the mace and blows. He has bruises to his body and is suffering headaches, a sign of a possible concussion.
Herman Bell has now been charged with “assault on staff”. Defying common sense, they allege that Herman, for no apparent reason, slapped the guard escorting him. He did this, they claim, in a location out of the view of all inmates but in the presence of other guards. He is now in the Special Housing Unit (box) at Five Points Correctional Facility where he was transferred after the incident.
Herman Bell has not had a disciplinary violation in over 20 years. He was scheduled to begin a three day family visit with his wife a few days after the incident, their first such visit in over 2 1/2 years. In addition he is to appear before the parole board, for the 8th time, in February 2018.
Herman has, however, been the target of guard harassment due to his political background. Visitors report that guards processing them and in the visiting room comment that they are visiting a “cop killer” or “terrorist”. Some guards have been seen passing around the book “Badge of the Assassin” written by Herman’s prosecutor.
At this time, we are encouraging everyone to take the time to write to Herman or send him a get-well card, so that the authorities know we are paying attention and are concerned for Herman. Stay tuned for updates as we develop this campaign.
Herman Bell’s new address is:
Herman Bell #79C0262
Five Points Cor. Fac.
P.O. Box 119
Romulus, N.Y. 14541
Austin ABC is sharing a request from an incarcerated person in Texas. Miss Carrie is a transwoman who has started her own business behind prison walls designing rings. A photo of a couple of those rings can be viewed below. We wanted to share her message with others in case they are interested in helping her out. Until she is able to find a partner, if you would like to purchase a ring, please contact Austin ABC and we will put you in touch with her. She does not have any financial support and hopes to sell her jewelry so that she can afford things at commissary. Here is her message:
“I’ve been a lover of art all my life, working for awhile as a professional freelance photographer / photo journalist. About 3 years ago while sitting in my room doodling with a pen, I discovered a way to make rings from plastic tubing. I’ve been busy ever since. Business is grand but I need tiny patterns and have no one on the outside to help me. My kids are scattered hither and my parents and my only sibling are resting in the cemetery waiting for me to join them soon. I’m hoping not any time too soon, though. :p (hee! hee! hee!) My artwork is a very unique form of artwork you’ve probably never seen before in or out of prison. I am building a specialty jewelry business: Phantom Black Design Rings. I’m looking for a business partner in the free world, preferably a professional woman or transgender woman. A photo journalist would be grand. The business website would require a person skilled in photography, specifically macro-photography photographing small rings and ring patterns for display on the website. I would like to send a beautiful display box full of my rings for display at art shows and online but they would have to be covered up to prevent theft. I would need a safe way to display this box of rings. I am indigent and it is very depressing on store day. I need to find a partner, pen-pal, friend, business partner to help me get my art work displayed on internet and purchased out individually from the box. Each ring is a work in itself, taking 12-20 hours over several days to complete. I have no professional tools, I work with razor blades, etc. I’ve taken plastic and various forms of print media and constructed a complex form of artwork unique to this century. Never have rings of this sort existed until now.”
While a member of Houston ABC, I was able to participate in a support network for Sekou Kambui along with Denver ABC and Sekou’s friend, Jennifer. Through this process, Sekou and I became close friends. When he received parole, another Houston ABC member and I drove to Alabama to meet him in person and celebrate his release. Sekou had been locked up for so long that a lot of things felt new, even if he had experienced them before. We stopped for boiled peanuts, he cut open a nice juicy watermelon (and fed some to a stray cat), he laughed as I jumped on a trampoline, and we were able to enjoy a lovely dinner at a local park. At the end of our trip, we went to a breakfast diner and ordered an ice cream sundae. It was a beautiful experience and one that I will value for the rest of my life. Sekou became a mentor to me, and we spoke often about revolutionary struggle. We lost Sekou a few months ago–today would have been his 69th birthday. In light of this, I wanted to post the obituary that we wrote back in May to honor the memory of a man who sacrificed his life in the struggle for black liberation. ❤
William James Turk, better know as Sekou Cinque T.M. Kambui
September 6, 1948 – May 10, 2017
Sekou Kambui was a son, a brother, a friend, a freedom fighter, a comrade, a civil rights activist, a jailhouse lawyer, a U.S. political prisoner, and a formerly incarcerated political prisoner. He was a lover of freedom and life and community.
In a letter to Jennifer Murnan from behind the walls of the Bibb Correctional Facility in Alabama, dated September 8, 2013, Sekou wrote:
“I came from a family one side poverty stricken/the other enjoying the trimmings of middle class life. Born in Gadsden, AL because my mother didn’t want to give birth to me in Detroit, alone, so she returned to birth me with her family near by. I was started in training at an early age in the basement of my grandmother’s (father’s mother’s) home to become an activist in the Civil Rights Movement, beginning my day-view in Detroit Public Schools shortly after the decision out of the Supreme Court abolishing separate but equal (Jim Crow) practices, by helping integrate DPS, and later returned with H.S. Students/College Students for the Freedom Rides and sit-ins across the $outh. I traveled the Freedom Ride circuit across GA, MISS, TENN, ALA and LA. I was jailed, beaten, chased by German shepherds, KKK, & police. Later by State Troupers of Al Lingo. I grew up in the Civil rights Movement, and as I was tossed and turned by racist violence across the $outh, I became more and more attracted to the militancy of those around me — like Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hammer, Roy Innis, etc. — until I became Sekou Kambui, my own man: a revolutionary, material for the BPP/BLA, RNA, CORE, SNCC, and such like.”
In 1975, Sekou was arrested, charged, and convicted of the murder of two white men: a KKK official and a billionaire oilman. He spend the next 38 years of his life in various Alabama state prisons. Throughout these decades, he never stopped fighting his conviction, which he always maintained was based on his political activism, as a black man fighting racism in the South, rather than any real evidence.
While behind bars, Sekou steadfastly continued his social activism. He initiated legal efforts around medical malpractice, over-crowding, and other abusive prison conditions. He formed and led a Social Consciousness Group which provided cultural and political education for fellow prisoners. His dedication to justice touched people wherever he went.
Shortly before his release, a supporter and friend of Sekou commented that she was in awe at how he was able to keep his spirits up in spite of everything he had been through. He responded “I do try to stay positive and optimistic, for over time within such places, one is challenged every moment not to let him/herself be overcome by the everyday stresses that attach themselves to the experience of long-term incarceration.” Sekou was finally granted parole in the summer of 2014. Upon his release, he began his new life in the town of Dothan, Alabama and continued to maintain a positive attitude. When experiencing difficult circumstances, he’d just say “It is what it is,” and find a way to make the best of the situation. Unfortunately, only weeks after his release, he was diagnosed with cancer. Despite his illness, Sekou was able to participate in a national tour with the Red Flame of Freedom, and attended the first national conference of the Formerly-Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples’ Movement. With the help of his loving friend Jennifer, as well as a new community of friends in Dothan, he bravely coped with his illness until his death on May 10, 2017.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 6, 2017
Houston Anarchist Black Cross Austin Anarchist Black Cross
Phone: (281) 543–8148
Beaumont, TX— If there is one thing those doing prison advocacy learn quickly, it’s that the official statements from prison officials never provide a full account of negative conditions and abuses. Looking into the impact of Hurricane Harvey, this is especially true; but looking out for how the aftermath will be handled is even more daunting for those who have no voice. Though prisoners endured Hurricane Harvey with the rest of us, aid and concern for their well-being has been slow to follow, leaving basic human needs up to the discretion of prison administrators.
In the immediate wake of Harvey’s landfall, official statements downplayed its impact. On Sept. 1, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said “power has been restored to FCC Beaumont, and generator power is no longer being used. The Inmate Telephone System (ITS) is currently operational. The FCC continues to use its own reserve of water to operate the complex. There is ample food and bottled water for inmates and staff,” while the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) social media pages read “leadership visited the facilities in Dayton this afternoon talking with staff and dropping off donations. Everyone continues to work hard to ensure staff and offenders are safe” with gratuitous photos of executive director Brian Collier talking with TDCJ employees. There’s also a donation drive and resources extended to employees impacted by the hurricane in a video featuring Collier himself, however, no direct information was provided about resources or conditions for prisoners beyond evacuations.
Five units were evacuated due to threats of flooding as the Brazos River rose to historic levels, starting on Aug. 29. These units included Vance, Jester 3, Stringfellow, Ramsey, and Terrel. Yet both federal and state-run prisons in the port town Beaumont—located 90 miles east of Houston—doubled down on their refusal to evacuate carceral facilities, nor do they have any clear plan in place to ensure the safety of their captives.
When Harvey made second landfall on the coast of Port Arthur-Beaumont on Wed. Aug. 30, the city of Beaumont (pop. 118,000) experienced a voluntary evacuation, while those behind walls had no choice and remained subject to horrible living conditions, such as limited access to clean drinking water and food (in some cases, only eight ounces per day and one to two sandwiches), buckets to defecate in, and inaccessibility to proper hygiene. Jefferson County houses three state run facilities (Gist, LeBlanc, Stiles), three federal facilities, juvenile detention centers, in addition to private prisons.
Within the Federal Correctional Complex (FCC), Beaumont FCI Low and Beaumont FCI Medium (housing a combined total of 1,850 prisoners) operated by UNICOR and/or FPI, a wholly owned United States government corporation created in 1934 as a prison labor program for prisoners within the Federal Bureau of Prisons (a component of the Department of Justice). BASF Agriculture plant is located less than three miles east of the Federal Correctional Complex, and down the street from TDCJ facility, Stiles Unit. According to official statements from the Beaumont BASF plant,“water pollution from some facilities is also spiking: BASF’s Beaumont Agro plant, which produces agricultural chemicals,” and noted an “exceptional event” filing that its toxin-laden waste water “will continue to overflow to the ground until the rain stops.” Note: Kinder Morgan (gas refinery) and Sunoco Logistics are within a three mile radius of the prisons (see map below).
FCI Beaumont Low went on lockdown from Aug. 27 through Sept. 2, when incarcerated persons were let out of their cells for about an hour. Many called outside to talk with family and friends about conditions, and said some cells were flooded, they were not getting sufficient food or water, medicines were not being distributed, and unsanitary conditions persisted due to the inability to flush toilets. During the chaos, many units remained on lockdown, meaning prisoners were not allowed to access commissary or leave their cells, and in some cases were denied phone access.
In a report conducted by Left Voice a week after Harvey hit, a woman whose husband is incarcerated at Beaumont Federal Prison said, “they are using the restroom in bags so they can save the toilet water. They all have been drinking the toilet water since they have been low on water supply. He said that even though the toilet water has bacteria, at this moment he didn’t care and the other prisoners didn’t care either. They are really thirsty. He said he would drink anything. He told me that if this water didn’t kill him, the conditions were going to kill him. That’s how bad it is.”
Communication with prisoners has slowed down significantly. The TDCJ Mail System Coordinators Panel said mail was suspended until further notice for any units impacted by Harvey, contrary to the Ombudsman 24 hour hotline which said the suspension was state wide due to the main mail distribution hub being located in Houston. Additionally, visitations were cancelled the weekend of Sept. 2 for 29 units, and 14 units have cancelled visitation for the weekend of Sept. 9, with 13 additional units subjected to decreased visitation time. Phone privileges have remained inconsistent, or revoked entirely.
Similar stories have come from state units. The TDCJ Stiles Unit also reported inadequate food and water, lack of access to medical needs and staff shortages. One incarcerated person at Stiles said water in the building was up to his knees during the worst flooding, and as of Sept. 4 leveled at mid-calf. TDCJ spokesperson Jason Clark denied any flooding.
In the days and weeks ahead, unsanitary conditions alongside water shortages will likely continue and worsen, inevitably leading to illnesses and dehydration for many. Limited communications from inside the units will exacerbate confusion about conditions. Staff shortages will likely mean a continuation of lockdown conditions and failure to provide for medical needs such as heart and asthma medications and treatment for other chronic conditions. Prisoners will continue to lose hope as officials refuse to provide accurate information to media.
The Anarchist Black Cross calls for immediate action to take place to ensure the safety and well-being of those imprisoned in Beaumont.
1. Evacuate all units in Beaumont until proper steps are made to address contamination, mold, and other health hazards, as well as accessibility to clean drinking water.
2. Publicize all data documenting decisions regarding the Hurricane that took place between August 25, 2017 to present.
3. Resume communications between prisoners and outside supporters, including media.
4. Allow reporters to tour facilities to foster transparency.
5. Cease the operation of all institutions of confinement.
We are super excited to share that Houston Anarchist Black Cross will be coordinating the 2017 Houston Anarchist Bookfair! On Sunday, September 24, 2017, Houston ABC will host a one-day convergence to network, grow, and celebrate anarchist and anti-authoritarian projects in Texas and the surrounding region. There will be books, workshops, and discussion to celebrate and expand our southern radical communities of resistance!
The event is free, with no registration required. This will be a safe, welcoming space for all people who are genuinely interested in the Anarchist Bookfair, including gender diverse folks, people with disabilities, parents, children, femmes, women and people of color. If you experience harassment, abuse, assault, or any other kind of violation during the book fair, or if someone who has engaged in such behavior in the past is adversely affecting your participation at the book fair, or if you need support for any other reason, please contact the organizing committee at htxanarchistbookfair2017 [at] gmail [dot] com.
For more details about the book fair, and Houston ABC more generally, please visit https://houstonabc.wordpress.com/
Can’t wait to see you there ❤