a. “What’s the best thing that’s happened in prison?”
b. “What’s the worst thing that’s happened in prison?”
I asked 30 prisoners and the answers are in the order I received them:
1a. Changed my way of life and grew up.
1b. Being in a riot where people were stabbed to death.
2a. Getting good at art.
2b. The roaches and spiders and other bugs that crawl all over me at night.
3a. My mother getting off drugs and the streets and writing to me.
3b. Being raped repeatedly and the guards and administration refusing to help me.
4b. Losing my entire family in a car wreck and then trying to kill an officer who was fucking with me after it happened.
5a. Being put in Metal Fab after I was told I couldn’t have a job.
5b. Seeing people get extorted, then beat, then killed.
6a. Learning to read and write.
6b. Getting old and losing years I can’t get back.
7a. Gained better decision-making through spirituality.
7b. Being away from my family. [from a man who was beaten by 8 people at once and whose girlfriend was sexually violated by guards and prisoners, at the guards’ provocation.]
8a. Learned self control.
8b. Found out I wasn’t really a good person.
9a. Being educated.
9b. Loss of loved ones.
10a. Quit smoking.
10b. Having my rights taken away.
11a. Coining my family [gang].
11b. Being segged [put in Administrative Segregation, a form of solitary] after me and some homeboys stabbed a punk who wouldn’t pay us.
12a. Being made a trustee and able to work outside the fence.
12b. My grandfather dying.
13a. Seeing family I have in here change for the better.
13b. Seeing prisoners being preyed upon sexually, financially, etc.
14a. Quit drugs.
14b. Seeing a man held down by same people who did something to him I couldn’t see which made his eyes pop out of his head.
15a. Found true meaning in life.
15b. The prejudice of the guards. [This was from someone who has been stabbed four times in a riot.]
16a. Not a damn thing.
16b. I’m not there for my family.
17a. [Finding] a higher level of living.
17b. Having to strangle one of my cellies because of something he was trying to do to me.
18a. Found God.
18b. Not being in touch with my kids.
19a. Realizing of things as they truly are.
19b. Being cut off by my family.
20a. I don’t know.
20b. Seeing the pain and suffering when people’s families pass away.
21a. Going through a change for better.
21b. Going through my daughter’s death ten days ago.
22b. A cellie [cellmate] I had dying in front of me from medical problems because security would not let the nurses know on time.
23a. Finding a perspective of rationality.
23a. People viewing me through a label instead of for who I am.
24a. Learned to appreciate life and love.
24b. Seeing a man hang himself with bootlaces while guards laughed at him.
25a. I get more sleep.
25b. I can’t leave.
26a. My family staying strong for me.
26b. When I lost my nephew on Mother’s Day.
27a. Being segged [put in Administrative Segregation, a form of solitary] so I don’t have to kill for my family [my gang] or be killed by them.
27b. Being forced to stab someone in their ass.
28a. Met the woman I love through the mail.
28b. My father dying and my son coming to prison.
29a. Seeing a guard who had raped me get his throat cut.
29b. Hating myself so bad I won’t look in a mirror.
30a. Outside volunteers showing me people still care.
30b. Being violated and looked down on because I’m gay.
Tracy Lee Kendall is serving 60 years in Texas for murder.
This is a maximum security unit and as such, movement is extremely limited as is access to other areas. Getting information from those in the [low-security unit] meant I had to catch them by chance as they came into the building for educational and other activities. [Administration Segregation/Solitary] was trickier, I had to send word back to them through other prisoners who have jobs which require them to go to Ad-Seg for work.
The 30 prisoners I interviewed have served for a variety of lengths of time; some for decades, and others for a few years or less.
This prison survey reflects the best and worst of prison life from the perspectives of a variety of prisoners in the largest prison unit in Texas, the H.H. Coffield Unit.
The risks I took are that I could receive disciplinary cases for trafficking and trading or I could be “segged” [put in Administrative Segregation/Solitary] if deemed a security risk for being able to orchestrate such a wide ranging operation at will in a maximum security prison by myself. Or if they construed any of my behavior as controlling the movement of offenders in a penal institution, I could get time stacked on this sentence [additional criminal charges served consecutively] which means that I would have to do the whole thing, [current sentence] without parole, then, when I’m 85, I’d start the second sentence. So, it’s a good thing that the administration will have no way of ascertaining if these are false or true claims.
I left everything anonymous for two main reasons: I wish this to be viewed outside of who or what these people are and according to only what they say. It also makes it easier for people to disclose things about themselves and also not attempt to make false statements to put themselves in a certain light.
Originally, I planned to include TDCJ employees as well, but the threat of termination and other forms of retaliation prevented their involvement. Anything released to the public from correctional officers or other employees of the TDCJ is normally censored or scripted beforehand to portray to the public whatever is politically, legally, or financially beneficial to those using their positions within the TDCJ for personal gain and/or job security.