Every month as we start our story project, we will feature a different story from a family member.
August 22, 2018
by Jeff H.
It is 103°F in my dorm this evening. Not outside. Not in direct sunlight. It is 103°F inside my living area where I am currently sitting on my bunk. When the humidity is factored in (the common practice in Texas known as the Heat Index, or the estimate of what the temperature actually feels like on your skin), we have a feels-like temperature of 110°F. It feels like I am sitting in an oven. My fan is blowing an unceasing flow of hot air onto my body in my seemingly-futile attempt to stay as cool as possible. Other places in the prison are even hotter! It is really hard to imagine.
Most if the Texas population has no idea that there is no air-conditioning in the Texas prisons. I’m not sure how many would care if they did know.
The ultimate irony is that there is air-conditioning in this prison. It is just not where the prisoners live. It is about 7:00 PM as I write this, and several locations around me are comfortably cool: the Classification Department and Inmate Records are cool. The Wardens’ offices and Human Resources office are cool. The Mental Health Department and the Disciplinary Office are cool. All of these unoccupied areas are bearable this evening.
In a few hours the air conditioned Infirmary, Chapel, and Education Department will also close. There are also cooled offices sprinkled throughout the unit in the industries and vocational trade areas. All of these will continue to be filled with life-saving cool air, while over two thousand men and correctional officers suffer through tonight’s extreme heat.
These empty climate-controlled rooms are more valuable than the human beings occupying the areas around them.
Every summer is like this. Measures are taken to try to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses and deaths, but the proposal to install A/C in Texas prisons will be met with protests around the State. No matter how much Jesus reached out and touched “the least of these,” or claimed to have come not for the healthy, but for the sick, Texas – a very Christian state – still hasn’t learned learned to apply His example in its own backyard.
As a prisoner in TDCJ, I have been blown away by the amazing men I have met. When I was sent here 16 years ago I never dreamt I would have anyone to talk to. I have traveled the world, and in many cases the men I have met here outshine all others. These are not just fathers, brothers, sons, and husbands (and often grandfathers), but they are also amazing men of God who, despite having more tattoos than your average preacher, live out a truly Godly lives in conditions most people wouldn’t survive.
It was in these conditions that I learned about true honor. Jesus displayed it throughout the gospels. Paul often displayed it with his captors. John showed it to the world around him till the very end.
Honor is not reserved for those who deserve it. The first thing many people say when we speak of the difficult conditions of prisons in Texas is: “They’re criminals. They deserve whatever is happening to them.”
This is true to a degree. Prisons are full of people who have broken the law. Statistically speaking, they also hold a number of innocent people. Regardless of guilt or innocence, prisons are full of fathers, grandfathers, brothers and uncles. Prisons are full of mothers and sisters and aunts and grandmothers.
How society treats those it deems its worst does not merely speak to being tough on crime. It actually speaks to the moral character of the members of society.
I learned from Jesus’ example that he didn’t treat the people around Him with honor because they deserved it. For they were often prostitutes and thieves and sinners of the worst kind. They hadn’t done anything that should have attracted the attention of the King of the Universe. Yet, He treated them with honor anyway.
In my effort to live my life according to Jesus’ example, I have decided that I will no longer treat people with honor because they are somehow deserving of it. I will treat all people with honor because I myself am honorable.
How I treat others, no matter their situation, is not a reflection of who they are. It is a reflection of who I am.
Texas, and its people, should definitely take note.