THE GRIEVANCE JOKE
THE GRIEVANCE JOKE
Violations occur on Texas Death Row everyday; whether it is by this administration, or the prisoners. The difference, however, is that it’s the prisoners rule violations that are thoroughly documented, big or small. In return, should the condemned prisoner get a reversal on his capital murder conviction, and goes back to trial, the DA will most likely demonize this prisoner with this thorough documentation: “ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you see, even on death row, facing execution, this person is still a problem! You must assess his punishment at death; he’s incorrigible!” And murder is all she wrote.
What’s not thoroughly documented are the violations much more serious than a prisoner being out of compliance with grooming standards; much more serious than a prisoner being found with home-made wine in his cage. We’re talking about constitutional violations, where this administration (minus a small few) conducts business over and despite the power of the Supreme Court. This administration is not stupid though. They know if they’re going to violate prisoners, policy-wise or constitutionally, they need to suppress the only means by which we are given a voice – the mailing and grievance systems.
There are two grievance officers that are supposed to come around, picking up grievances. Then, the grievance office supervisor, officer Worthy, said he “deputized” 2 mailroom officers so they may pick up grievance s when they pick up our mail in the mornings. So it’s supposed to work like this: on days these two mailroom officers “deputized” to pick up our grievances are not working, the two grievance officers are supposed to come around and pick up our grievances, But they don’t; and officers that work the pods as well as prisoners can attest that they don’t. What makes things even worse, we have 15 days to file a grievance from the time off the incident. These 15 days may fall on any day of the week. But they don’t pick up grievances on Sundays, and this administration has made Saturdays perpetual holidays (no mail is picked up or passed out), so that’s two days out of a week we can’t file a grievance. Any more days subtracted seriously hinders our ability to utilize this 15-day grace.
Therefore, what is a prisoner to do when nobody comes around to pick up grievances? (read my 12-05-05 report for what I had to do). Prisoners take chances, sending grievance through people unauthorized to handle grievances, just to get grievances filed. Yet, many times grievances are still never filed. And we don’t find out the grievance wasn’t filed until after 40 days, when the grievance should have been returned to us with a response. Then we have to argue why we should be allowed to re-grieve a 55-day old issue (the 15 days we have to file, plus the 40 days the grievance office has to respond). If – and that’s a BIG “if” – grievances are filed and responded to, they are returned to us at mail call (when mail is delivered to prisoners in the late evening) by officers working the pod who are also not only unauthorized to handle grievances but could be the officer the grievance was written on! Not implying there is mishandling on their part, but many times grievance responses aren’t received by prisoners. Which in return becomes time consuming when trying to find out the status of a filed grievance. This frustrating process is what we have to go through just to get a grievance filed. It doesn’t include the superficial, sometimes irrelevant responses we get.
The following is an exchange I had with the grievance office in February and March of 2003 through a step 1 and 2 (step-2’s are appeals to a step-1 response):
Step-1 Grievance I filed
“… it is held that we are to shave everyday. If we’re lucky we will get one razor for a week’s time. We’re to shave for seven days with one razor! After about the second shave with the same razor, the razor starts to pull hair out of our face, rather then cut them out. These cheap razors aren’t made but to use them one time, and then throw them away. Not, surely, use them seven times.”
My requested resolve:
“That when we are handed out razors, we can shave in front of the officer, and then don’t have to worry about shaving for the rest of the week, or are given a razor for each day of the week.”
Grievance Response By Administration:
“You are issued one razor for seven days per policy. You are allowed to purchase razors from commissary as a level-1 offender.”
Step-2 Appeal to step-1 response
“I know we are allowed to “purchase” razors from commissary as a level-1 offender. We are also required to stay shaved everyday. However, y’all do not provide us with a razor everyday, nor a razor that can be used for 7 days. So what you’re telling me is in order for me to stay in ordinance with Polunsky’s grooming rules, we must “purchase” razors, or use a cheap “disposable” razor 7 times?”
Grievance response By Administration:
“Investigation reveals that policy dictates that you are to be issued one razor per week. Records indicate that you are being issued a razor. You were instructed in you’re step-1 that you may purchase razors from the commissary. No violations noted, no further action warranted.”
I wasn’t disputing the fact that we’re being issued 1 razor per week. In fact, this was the problem. And how absurd was the administrations response that I could purchase razors off commissary to be in compliance with their policy? We have to spend money to follow rules on Texas Death Row!
In a recent (12-5-5) request form I sent to the grievance office, the following exchange took place:
“Because I hadn’t seen a grievance officer in some time, and needed to file a grievance on November 1st of 2005, I had Sgt. Poole personally deliver a grievance of mine to your office. I haven’t received any word on the status of that grievance. Did y’all receive it?”
Grievance Office Response
“Then you need to put your grievance in an envelope so the mailroom will pick it up.”
Two years had passed since the filing of the previously mentioned grievances and this request form above, yet the Grievance Office is still vomiting absurd responses to the issues at hand. I was alerting them of why I had to file my grievance through a Sgt (a person unauthorized to touch grievances) while asking them if they had received it. I didn’t need to know how to send it! Their response basically told me to conceal my grievance in an envelope so an unauthorized person from the mailroom will be tricked into filing a grievance they’re unauthorized to handle. Sadly these aren’t only my experiences, but the experiences of Polunsky Death Row community. Essentially, this grievance process is merely a hurdle, a superficial process we must go through to “exhaust all administrative remedies” before being allowed to file civil litigation. In other words, in order for us to get a fair investigation into our grievances, we must go through the grievance process to get a civil court to be our grievance process! What prisoner will go through all of this to get their grievance heard? Most Death Row prisoners are poor, and don’t know anything about the law; let alone how to file civil litigation to the proper court. Because of the faith prisoners have lost in the grievance system, they’re discouraged from filing grievances. And who can blame them?!!
These suppressive tactics of the Grievance Office only demonstrates how thorough the oppression is that created the initial need for a grievance system./ As DRIVE continues to combat these injustices, the first line of defence this administration, specifically Cpt. Dickens & Major Nelson has used to refute our argument against the grievance procedure is: “Well, nobody else is complaining about it.” This comment only reveals their indifference. Their first response should have been: “That’s absurd! I refuse to allow such nonsense in my administration!”
We want a sound grievance filing procedure, with just investigations into our grievances. We will accept no more the losing or throwing away of our grievances, nor the superficial, indifferent responses we’ve gotten over the years. We – DRIVE, are complaining for the whole Death Row community. Complaining as loud as the crowd-control gas they spray on us burns! And we will continue to burn… consciously, scourging away the darkness of the indifference of this administration, while a beacon of light for our discouraged brethren. WE understand, your pain is our own. You don’t have to take it any longer! The silverback gorillas are in the elephant grass, pounding the ground, sounding like a stampede of elephants, driving out the snakes!
Omari Huduma, AKA,
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351.