Pubdate: Wed, 05 Apr 2000
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2000 Houston Chronicle
Contact:  Viewpoints Editor, P.O. Box 4260 Houston, Texas 77210-4260
Fax: (713) 220-3575
Author: Thom Marshall
Cited: Texas Inmate Families Association:
Bookmark: MAP's link to Texas articles is:


"Teary-eyed, panty-wearing liberals like you make me sick."

The fellow who tossed that e-mail barb was upset about a recent discussion
here regarding the growing number of people being warehoused in the growing
number of prison facilities and the frustrations of the growing number of
prisoners' families.

"If you polled the taxpayers," wrote the upset fellow, "you would find that
the majority, by far, would be in support of their tax dollars going to
improvement and expansion of the prison system over many other things. The
expansion will bring in thousands of new jobs for contractors, among many
other people."

No beating around the bush for this guy. He sees a prison boom as good for
the economy and doesn't mind saying it. And I know many who agree with him.

My old hometown up in the Texas Panhandle was one of the many a few years
ago to welcome a new prison facility with open arms. Competition for them
was fierce because of the boost to local economies from all those regular
paychecks for guards and support staff.

`Punishment Never Stops'

Last time I visited a crew of prisoners was doing some restoration work on
the brick main street. Parks in the town never looked better, thanks also
to prisoners' efforts.

In the hometown newspaper recently was a picture of the prisoners' choir
that was to present a Sunday afternoon religious concert. "The public is
invited to attend. Bring your lawn chairs and listen to our neighbors west
of town."

So when some people look at the penal system of so many units filled with
prisoners, they see many advantages.

"The candidates applying for those prison jobs are people that need work,"
said the upset fellow, " ... and it is damn sure we need to keep those
violent criminals and drug addicts you speak so highly of behind bars."

I got a call from a man who said he has been on parole for about a year
after spending 16 months locked up -- about four in county jail and the
rest in TDCJ in Huntsville.

He said his crime was possession of about three ounces of marijuana,
discovered in his car after he was stopped for a traffic violation. He said
that he has smoked marijuana for about 30 years, but the only other time he
had been in any trouble with the law was a DWI more than 20 years ago.

This parolee said that once you've been in prison, "the punishment never
stops." He said he and his girlfriend are being evicted from their
apartment because the manager found out he has a record.

Then there are the nightmares. About once a week he dreams he is back in
the pen and trying to escape even though he knows it is stupid because he
doesn't have that long to serve. He wakes up feeling depressed.

His time in prison, he said, "affected me more than Vietnam."

Families Can Get Involved

With only about seven months to go on his parole, he said he worries about
getting caught in some minor technical violation and being returned to
finish his sentence.

That happened to many of the fellows he was in the pen with, he said. And
it doesn't take much -- be late to a meeting with your parole officer, come
up short of money when a payment is due. The list of possible violations is

"They try to find some way to put you back in," the parolee said. "They
didn't build them to keep them empty."

He said several men he did time with were well-educated. Said they often
discussed what it will take to change things. Talked about the importance
of their families and friends getting involved, strength in numbers,
political power.

Many parents of prisoners have requested information about organizations or
support groups. While I lack any firsthand knowledge, others have written
to suggest the Texas Inmate Families Association, with chapters throughout
the state, and a Web site location of

And just to set the record straight, regarding the upset fellow's comment,
what I wear is Jockey brand cotton briefs.
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MAP posted-by: Eric Ernst