Catch-22 for prisoner with disabilities

From the November-December 2013 issue of News & Letters:

Catch-22 for prisoner with disabilities

Woodville, Texas—I find myself in the Texas prisons doing a ten-year sentence. I had polio in both legs and I’m being housed in the Administrative Segregation Unit. The only way to get out of Ad-Seg and back to the General Population (GP) is by attending the GRAD (Gang Renouncement and Dissociation Process). I have signed up for this program since December 2007. There is a two-year waiting period before being allowed to attend. Being federally funded, this program is not supposed to discriminate in any way against handicapped offenders.

After the two-year period, I started sending requests to the Security Threat Group Sergeant to find out when I will be taken to attend the program.

After many months of filing requests and grievances for their refusal to respond, I was told that I could not attend this program because the two units where it takes place do not house inmates with wheelchairs and don’t have cells or showers for the handicapped.

This discrimination has been going on since way before I even signed up. But because of fear of retaliation by the prison staff, handicapped inmates have refused to speak out and are forced to do flat time in Ad-Seg.

I was approved to attend GRAD since May 2012. On June 17, 2013, I received notice that I was being removed from the list to attend due to being a wheelchair offender.

I filed two civil complaints against the prison system and the program director, accusing them of violating my civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Being indigent, I filed these complaints pro se, meaning I would have to advocate for myself rather than having a lawyer. It’s very hard because of my poor knowledge of the law.

In return for my complaints, I have received threats by sergeants and guards. I have had my things taken and been given false write-ups. This, I believe, is the main reason why other handicapped prisoners refused to speak out against this violation of our civil rights. I believe that even my incoming mail is being held back.

I’ve written to a lot of people who may help, but being pro se, a lot of lawyers won’t handle this case. The Texas Civil Rights Project is well informed of this discrimination, but doesn’t have the time to help, or that is what prisoner rights lawyer Michael Smith stated in a letter: “They help only less than 1% of all requests.”

I don’t know how News & Letters can help: you’re even in a different state, but the discrimination against handicapped offenders is very real in the prison system.

Being in Ad-Seg, there is no parole, there is no hope for a GED education, there is no hope for being allowed to attend church, no hope to make collect calls to family members. Mainly, there is no other way to get out of Ad-Seg and be released to the general population. Maybe by printing this letter, it will show the way taxpayer money is used to discriminate against the handicapped.

—Arturo Garza

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