A Letter from Prison: Diane Wilson Reports from Texas County Jail
    Chelsea Green Publishing | Press Release



Diane Wilson has written a book about her life that Molly Ivins
says “will become a classic, not just of the environmental movement,
but of American lit, as well. It is the rare, clear, moving voice of a
working-class woman goaded into action against the greatest massed
forces in the world today: globalized corporate greed backed by
government power.”

    Friday 27 January 2006

    Diane
Wilson, author of “An Unreasonable Woman,” is almost two months into a
150-day sentence in a Texas jail for a misdemeanor trespassing charge.
The conditions in the Victoria County jail are deplorable, according to
Wilson, a dedicated activist exposing injustice wherever she goes. Now
Wilson is breaking through the walls of fear that prevent so many
inmates from speaking forthrightly to the administrators of the penal
system. She has written a public letter, addressed to Victoria County
Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor, describing abusive conditions within the
jail, violations of basic inmates rights, horrifying reports of the
withholding of medical treatment from ill women who were jailed on
non-violent charges, and the lack of a functioning avenue for inmates
to address these problems within the system.

    Wilson’s
jailing stems from a political action at a Dow Chemical facility in her
hometown of Seadrift, TX, in 2002, when she climbed a tower at the
plant and hung a banner reading “Justice For Bhopal,” in reference to
the thousands of Indians killed following a toxic release of methyl
isocyanate in 1984 by Dow subsidiary Union Carbide.

    Wilson
is a longtime advocate for the victims of the Bhopal disaster, who
continue to seek justice for the deaths of their loved ones. Wilson has
been trying to meet with Warren Anderson, the ex-CEO of Union Carbide,
to demand he return to India to face outstanding criminal charges for
culpable homicide in the Bhopal toxic release. She had avoided
returning to Texas to serve time for her misdemeanor, demanding that
Anderson face up to his more serious charges before turning herself in.
Though India has filed with the US government for Anderson’s
extradition, he remains at large.

    On
December 5th, 2005, Wilson returned to Texas to infiltrate a fundraiser
in Houston for recently-indicted US Rep. Tom Delay attended by Vice
President Dick Cheney. While protestors outside waved placards opposing
the Iraq War, Wilson purchased a ticket, entered, and unfurled a banner
reading “Corporate Greed Kills-From Bhopal to Baghdad” as Vice
President Cheney was speaking. Wilson was removed from the event,
arrested, and subsequently transferred to Victoria County jail to serve
out her sentence stemming from her earlier protest at the Dow Chemical
facility.

    Wilson,
mother of five, former shrimp boat captain, and a co-founder of Code
Pink: Women for Peace, has been an activist since 1989, staging actions
and hunger strikes from Washington to Austin. Her environmental work on
behalf of the people and bays of the Texas Gulf Coast has won her many
awards including: Mother Jones Hellraiser of the Month, the National
Fisherman Highliner Award, and the Bioneers Award.

    Last
fall, Wilson published her first book, “An Unreasonable Woman: A True
Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters and the Fight for Seadrift,
Texas” (Chelsea Green Publishing). In it she details her discovery that
local chemical companies have made her county one of the most polluted
in the country, and her transformation from mother and wife to
environmental activist. She soon finds herself in a fight against
Formosa Plastics, a multi-billion-dollar corporation that has been
covering up toxic spills, silencing workers, flouting the EPA, and
dumping lethal ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride into the bays
along her beloved Texas Gulf Coast.

    Diane Wilson’s letter follows:

    January 20th, 2006
    Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor
    Victoria County
    101 North Glass Street
    Victoria, TX 77901

    CC:

    Sheriff B.B. Browning
    Calhoun County
    211 South Ann Street
    Port Lavaca, TX 77979

    (Additional CC recipients are listed at the end of letter.)

    Dear Sheriff O’Connor:

    I
am a female inmate in the Victoria County Jail, TX, though I was
arrested on criminal trespass charges in Calhoun County. I was given a
sentence of 150 days plus a $2,000 fine for protesting Dow Chemical
Company’s refusal to appear in Indian courts in response to charges
against its wholly-owned subsidiary, Union Carbide, and its treatment
of the survivors of the toxic-leak disaster in Bhopal, India, where a
catastrophic pesticide release has killed over 20,000 people to date.

    I
am a fairly new inmate and have only been here since December 10, 2005,
yet I have a number of grievances. Many of these come from other
inmates and you may ask why they don’t report them themselves. Well,
it’s pretty simple: there is absolutely no effective avenue to raise
issues and if there is, the inmates have certainly not been made aware
of it. There is a standard form that inmates can use to make an attempt
at communication, but the response can take anywhere between a week to
never.

    There
is no information available, no pamphlet explaining the procedures or
the rights of the inmates or even something as simple as “when is
commissary.”

    I
asked to see the law library since the inmates rarely see legal
counsel, but was told that there is not one available. If inmates ask
for legal counsel they are told, “You’ll see one when your trial comes
up,” and usually that’s ten minutes before one goes to trial.

    The
women in this jail are predominantly African American or Hispanic and
very poor. Most of their offenses are minor, for things like traffic
tickets or soliciting or violating probation – all non-violent, yet
they are forced to remain in the cell without counsel for long periods
of time. I don’t think I am bringing up any issue that you are not
aware of. I spoke with someone within the jail system (I will not name
him), and he is aware of the length of time inmates have to wait for
legal counsel and a trial. He has talked to a judge about the problem
and the judge apparently said something along the lines of, “Yes, we
got a problem.”

    So
you can understand my concern to at least have access to a law library.
Though jail personnel told me that the only time access to a law
library is provided is when legal counsel isn’t available, I have still
not had access to either.

    When
I requested, nonetheless, access to the law library on my title form, a
week later I got the answer, “We do not have a WRIT ROOM.” Well, that
certainly explains everything. No WRIT ROOM. No Law Library.

    Next,
I asked for the jail’s standards. These are the minimum standards that
jails have to maintain, and inmates have the legal right to request and
receive a copy of the standards. When I made my request I got a
response a good week and a half later asking, “what’s your concern?”

    My
concern is that inmates have no voice, no access to legal counsel, no
law library, no WRIT Room, no jail standards. That is my concern, but
you can bet I didn’t write that on the next form I dropped. I could see
I’d be “dropping forms” until this jail slid to hell in a breadbasket.
So this is partly why I am writing you. I figure that you are next in
the chain of command, and I am listing not only permission to see the
jail standards for ALL inmates – but other grievances and concerns that
have come up in the time I have been here.



Diane Wilson’s jailing stems from a political action at a Dow
Chemical facility in her hometown of Seadrift, Texas, in 2002, when she
climbed a tower at the plant and hung a banner reading “Justice for
Bhopal,” in reference to the thousands of Indians killed following a
toxic release of methyl isocyanate in 1984 by Dow subsidiary Union
Carbide.

    Health Care

    I
don’t know if you are aware of the series of investigative stories by
Mike Ward and Bill Bishop of the Austin American Statesman about the
dismal state of health care in the Texas state prison system. What the
reporters were able to discover was a systematic neglect and
mistreatment of ill prisoners, the use of healthcare as a means of
punishment, and stupid, dangerous mis-administration of medicine that
can lead to viral and bacterial resistance and potential epidemics –
epidemics that will hardly remain within prison walls.

    I
know that the state prison system is separate from the county jails,
but if you haven’t read this report, then you should, because similar
neglect is happening in your jailhouse. I have only been here one
month, in one cellblock, and have collected these three instances
directly from the inmates about their experiences with the Victoria
County Jail. The cases cover approximately 10 years, so you can see
this is a long-term problem and seems to be continuing a legacy that
the Texas prison system has built for itself. It seems to be downright
overkill to repeat that, yes, all these girls are very young and poor,
and either Hispanic or African-American.

    1. Mary DeLeon

    Ms.
DeLeon was jailed for 18 months in the county jail on drug charges. The
entire 18 months Ms. DeLeon was jailed, she was suffering due to
gallstones. The response from the healthcare of the jail was to
dispense Milk of Magnesia and tell her to lie down on her cot.
Eventually, Ms. Deleon’s condition got so bad that she was shaking and
had chills and fainting spells. Again, the response was Milk of
Magnesium. Finally, towards the end of her 18-month sentence, Ms DeLeon
collapsed in pain and an inmate called the guards. Mary was rushed to
Citizens Hospital, where it was found that her gallbladder had
ruptured. She was told that they almost lost her. Ms. DeLeon did not
file a lawsuit for criminal neglect because she was afraid that she
would be punished and lose her position as trustee in the jail.

    2. Lacy Leyva

    Ms.
Leyva had been arrested and jailed for one month. During that time Ms.
Leyva was suffering severe pain in her kidneys, but she was only given
ibuprofen every 8 hours for the pain. Pain and chills were a steady
diet for Ms. Leyva, but she was only given advice to lie down and take
ibuprofen. Finally, after one month, Ms. Leyva was discharged and she
went to the hospital and was immediately admitted for kidney failure.
After Ms. Leyva was discharged from the hospital, she got a call from
the jail on her cell phone saying, “Go to the hospital. We believe your
kidneys are failing.”

    3. Shandra Williams

    Ms.
Williams was picked up on a warrant even though her file stated that
Ms. Williams should not be picked up because she was 6-7 months
pregnant and she had a very rare uterine condition. However, Ms.
Williams was thrown in jail while pregnant, and her condition worsened.
She began bleeding, and the nurse was reluctant to believe her and
said, “show me your bloody pad.” So Ms. Williams was subjected to the
humiliation of proving that she was really in pain and bleeding.

    Eventually,
Ms. Williams was put in isolation where she was removed from contact
with people, which Ms. Williams hated. This was her first child and she
was very afraid since no medical staff was around. Eventually, to keep
her from complaining, Ms. Williams was given Benadryl.

    When
Ms. Williams was finally returned to the cell, her water broke. She was
told that she was hallucinating, that her water hadn’t broken. Then the
nurse told her that she shouldn’t worry, she wouldn’t have a baby until
a month later. Then they proceeded to put Ms. Williams back into
isolation, even though she was frantic not to go where there was no
contact with people. Ms. Williams was alarmed about the baby coming
early, especially since the nurse had expressed great disdain for even
performing a sonogram to determine the baby’s condition.

    When
Ms. Williams became agitated about going into isolation, the sergeant
told her that she was going into isolation “the easy way or the hard
way,” and the hard way was being shocked with a taser gun. A female
guard was so alarmed that she grabbed Ms. Williams’ stuff and coaxed
her to the isolation room.

    Sure
enough, Ms. Williams proceeded to go into labor without anyone present
and the baby was coming out breach! Worse still, the baby was arriving
while Ms. Williams was on the toilet; so to get help Ms. Williams had
to crawl approximately 60 feet to reach a button on the wall. After
three attempts to call and saying that she was in labor, a female guard
arrived. The baby was hanging with its feet first down around Ms.
Williams’ knees.

    There
was pandemonium followed by a rushed ride in the ambulance to the
hospital. The baby was dead and Ms. Williams was handed the dead child
in a blanket. She was not told that the baby was dead, and she only
realized the fact when she saw on her own that the child was not moving
or breathing. No attempt was made to call her husband. When, much
later, he got word, he rushed to see his new baby. He was handed the
dead baby in a blanket. Ms. Williams was not even allowed to attend the
baby’s funeral. Later, Ms. Williams said that you, Sheriff O’Connor,
called her into your office and told her that the unfortunate incident
was not your fault, but the fault of the jail administration under the
previous sheriff, Michael Ratcliff.

    Given
the long-term consequences and terrible suffering imposed on these
women, it is my hope that you will take this situation seriously and
give it the consideration it deserves.

    Cell Window

    Another
complaint is that the only window within our cellblock is either
covered with a Venetian blind or plastered with paper. We never know
the time but are told that we are on ‘short time’ and don’t have need
of another. You would think that locking a person in a cinder block
cell for months on end for a trespassing misdemeanor is sufficient
punishment, but apparently not! I feel that the stress levels of the
inmates would be reduced with more visibility through the window, and
stress is a real problem here.

    Reading Material

    This
might be a good time to point out a piece of paper plastered to our
window. It is a memorandum to all inmates that, henceforth, no books
bought from bookstores will be accepted. This is a jail where the
library consists of a single metal cart with about 30 dog-eared romance
novels.

    In
this county jail, few diversions are allowed – I might even say none –
and perhaps that is one reason why these women inmates make roses out
of toilet paper and create their own stationery out of toothpaste and
map colors. I am a little reluctant to tell you this in the fear that
the guards will make a run on the roses and confiscate them as
“contraband.”

    What
this jail administration hopes to accomplish by refusing reading
material to the inmates is beyond me. It seems counter-productive to
any form or rehabilitation and only exists to cruelly punish the jail
population.

    Access to High School Equivalency Program

    Since
most of the inmates are very poor, young and from minority groups, I
was astonished to discover that while GED (high school equivalency
program) is offered, it is also used as punishment. A 32-year-old woman
in my cell who is struggling to better herself and raise her
nine-year-old child, had entered the GED program, but was kicked out
because she passed a note in class. This is merely one instance I’ve
heard. But I know for a fact that many inmates do not have their GED. I
wonder about the jail’s reluctance to encourage the inmates to pursue
their GED. It is a well-known fact that a person with a GED receives
higher paying jobs than a person who doesn’t, they have more job
satisfaction, and they are less likely to get in trouble with the law
in the future. Kicking a woman out of a GED class for passing a note
sounds totally counter-productive!

    Humiliating Treatment

    I
realize that some of these grievances may mean nothing to you and you
may be thinking that the treatment meted out in Texas prisons is
nothing like the kind of abuse in Abu Ghraib in Iraq. That’s true, for
what it’s worth, but I want to inform you that I’ve read reliable
reports, and have experienced horrendous treatment myself. While I was
in the Harris County jail in Houston for five days, I joined fellow
inmates stacked into cold holding tanks for hours and hours so that we
were forced to sleep on cement floors strewn with trash and waste from
backed-up toilets, while guards showed up at periodic intervals yelling
“Pigs!” We were eventually shuffled into rooms where we were forced to
strip our clothes and ordered to parade in our panties, then
spread-eagled on the wall. These were women, some picked up merely on
traffic violations, who hadn’t even been produced in front of a judge
or seen a lawyer yet! Then 70 of us were packed into a 10- x 20-foot
holding cell for over an hour. A guard occasionally opened the door and
calls us “stupid bitches!” because the noise was loud.

    On
December 10th, I was transferred to Victoria County jail, where I was
kept in a freezing holding tank for over six hours, then put into the
cell where I am currently housed, with only one thin mat to sleep on a
concrete floor. I was not given a blanket or sheet or any type of
hygiene kit because I was told there were none available. I never
received a blanket from the jail. After 3 days, an inmate who left the
cell gave me her blanket. Then too, after about three days, I received
a hygiene kit so I could finally brush my teeth and comb my hair. All
prior requests for a towel or toothbrush were met with “Drop a form.”

    In
my experiences I consider myself relatively lucky, and because of my
activism I have supporters outside who have constantly supported me by
calling the jail and sending letters.

    Most
inmates are not so fortunate. This letter is partly for them. It is
said that a civilization is judged by how it treats its weakest
members. It is my hope that you will recognize the seriousness of your
job and of the issues raised in this letter and respond accordingly.

    Sincerely,
    Diane Wilson

    CC:

    Mr. Tim Smith
    Jail Administrator
    211 South Ann Street
    Port Lavaca, TX 77979

    Honorable Judge Michael Pfeifer
    Calhoun County
    211 South Ann St.
    Port Lavaca, TX 77979

    Honorable Judge Robert C. Cheshire
    377th Judicial District
    Victoria County Courthouse
    115 North Bridge
    Victoria, TX 77901

    Honorable Judge Donald R. Pozzi
    Victoria County Courthouse
    115 North Bridge
    Victoria, TX 77901

    Honorable Judge Joseph P. Kelly
    24th Judicial District
    Victoria County Courthouse
    115 North Bridge
    Victoria, TX 77901

    Honorable Judge Juergen Koetter
    267th Judicial District
    Victoria County Courthouse
    115 North Bridge
    Victoria, TX 77901

    Honorable Judge Kemper Stephen Williams
    135th Judicial District
    Victoria County Courthouse
    115 North Bridge
    Victoria, TX 77901

    Mr. Jerry Julian
    Executive Director
    Texas Commission on Jail Standards
    P.O. Box 12985
    Austin, TX 78711-2985

    Ms. Terri Dollar
    Deputy Director
    Texas Commission on Jail Standards
    P.O. Box 12985
    Austin, TX 78711-2985

    Mr. Shannon Herklotz
    Inmate Grievances
    Texas Commission on Jail Standards
    P.O. Box 12985
    Austin, TX 78711-2985

    Honorable Governor Rick Perry
    State of Texas
    P.O. Box 12428
    Austin, TX 78711-2428

    The White House
    1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
    Washington, DC 20500

    Office of the Attorney General
    P.O. Box 12548
    Austin, TX 78711-2548

    Mr. Greg Gladden
    Vice President Houston Chapter
    American Civil Liberties Union
    3017 Houston Avenue
    Houston, TX 77009-6734

    Ms. Jodie Evans
    Code Pink
    2010 Linden Avenue
    Venice, CA 90291-3912

    For updates on Wilson, please visit: www.chelseagreen.com/2005/items/unreasonablewoman/fromjail.

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