Message from Kevin Zeese
Day Two: The Journey for Justice Takes Huntsville
September 23, 2000
According to a prison guard at the Goree Prison Unit, Huntsville, Texas is a prison town of 30,000 that houses 10,000 prisoners. It is a town that lists as one of its few attractions “The Texas Prison Museum” which includes an authentic jail cell where visitors can imprison themselves. The museum recently added the Texas landmark affectionately known as “Old Sparky” – the electric chair.
The Journey for Justice stood its ground in Huntsville at three prisons. It was obvious at each that fear predominates and that a caravan of reformers has gotten their attention. We were joined today by three more cars as our caravan begins to grow. All are welcome. The bigger we are the less we will be ignored.
The first stop was the Goree Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The prison was built in the 1930’s, originally for women inmates. Today the prison grounds are miles square. They’ve built new sections of the prison around the original building. Goree now holds 1,500 male and female inmates.
At the prison the Journeyers demonstrated near the entrance gate. We tried to talk with them, but the two African American guards originally on the scene would not respond to simple questions. It showed how afraid prison guards are. This same fear was seen when Kay Lee tried to give flowers to the guards – their reaction was to move away. Prison guards know they are at the bottom of the food chain of law enforcement officers but at the same time they are desperate to keep their jobs. Saying nothing till the people higher in the chain of command arrived is the safest course for people so afraid.
Additional guards arrived and we were able to engage them in dialogue. Ann McCormack joined me in a conversation with one guard and told of her son being arrested in California for growing medical marijuana. Another guard came up to tell me the rules: stay out of the driveway and the road. I told him that was our plan so we had a mutual agreement on how the demonstration would be conducted.
We next circled the Wallace Unit, an old prison located in downtown Huntsville. They had obviously been warned by the Goree Unit to expect us as they had police lines blocking roads near the prison in an effort to prevent us from circling. We repeatedly circled the prison speaking through loudspeakers and blaring our car horns.
As we left Wallace we were joined by a police escort at the back of the Journey. Our escort stayed with us until we reached our next prison unit – the Holliday Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Holliday Unit is a mammoth barbed wire-surrounded campus of metal warehouse-like structures – with guard towers at the ends. Rows and rows of warehouses for humans, so many it is not possible to see the last warehouse when you stand at the first.
There were two signs outside of Holliday:
Be a Correctional Officer
Call Toll Free
We did not see any other signs in town – Be a Teacher, an Engineer, a Doctor . . . kids living in Huntsville see their future in the “Be a Correctional Officer” sign which appears at all the prisons in the area.
The other sign was more curious:
Tx Dept. of Criminal Justice
Windham School District
Habitat for Humanity
Of Walker County
Building Houses & Lives Together!
What’s that about? I asked a fellow Journeyer Mary Mackenzie, and she said she used to work for Habit for Humanity when her husband was incarcerated in Booneville, MO. When the prison warden told them of her husband’s incarceration he threatened to pull the Habit for Humanity “volunteers” i.e., prisoners from H4H. Is H4H using prison labor and not volunteers? If so, they may make themselves a target the growing movement to end drug war injustice.
Tomorrow we take Bryan, the woman’s prison. We received a call after 11:00PM last night that CBS wants to know when we are arriving. They called awfully late and while we appreciate their interest we wonder whether their interest was sparked by plans that the authorities may have for us. Is a conflict coming? We’ve heard that Bryan has been worried about our arrival as well.
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