Prisoners Report Going Hungry Amidst State Lockdown

A peanut butter sandwich delivered to a Texas prisoner in September (Provided by Marci Simmons)

The heat crisis in Texas’ mostly un-air-conditioned prison system is finally abating, now that temperatures across the state have fallen below 100 degrees.

But that crisis has been replaced by a new one. Prison advocates say that, with a recently instituted statewide prison lockdown entering its second week, inmates are being provided sack lunches with meager amounts of food, some of it inedible. While about 40 units have returned to normal operations after searches for drugs, more than 60 are still in lockdown, meaning prisoners leave their cells only three times a week for showers, and even more rarely for other reasons.

“Dozens upon dozens of family members have reached out to me, concerned about the poor quality and low quantity of food their loved ones are receiving,” said Marci Simmons, director of Lioness Justice Impacted Women’s Alliance. “They are worried and confused about how long this might last.”

The messages, received in the form of online posts, were shared with the Chronicle by Simmons. They describe poor access to food in prison units across the state:

“Gibbs hasn’t gotten a sack lunch all day, no breakfast, and as of 5pm no food period.”

“My brother in law gets four pieces of bread with only peanut butter to last the whole day.”

“Coffield served hard boiled eggs and bologna sandwiches which sat out in the high temps all day. No, my loved one didn’t eat it.”

“My son just called me from Telford Unit. He is starving, not eating or getting water. I’m scared.”

“I was told yesterday that my boyfriend’s unit only got fed at noon, which was breakfast, and by 10pm never got lunch or dinner.”

The TDCJ did not respond to the Chronicle’s questions about those specific issues, but said via an emailed statement that prisoners get “three meals a day served at the appropriate times. At the beginning of the lockdown, there were some instances of food being delivered later than normal; these concerns have been addressed and resolved.”

A piece of cornbread with peanut butter and a boiled egg given to a Texas prisoner (Provided by Marci Simmons)

TDCJ Director Bryan Collier announced the lockdown on Sept. 6, stating that it was necessary to combat a rise in contraband drugs that prison officials blame for this year’s increase in inmate-on-inmate violence. Advocates asked why the lockdown couldn’t have been postponed, as temperatures were still very high when it was announced.

When the prison system is locked down, mess halls are closed and inmates receive what are known as “Johnny sacks” – sack lunches often consisting of peanut butter sandwiches, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Prison advocates have criticized Johnny sacks for years as almost inedible and cite them as one of the primary challenges faced by inmates who are held in solitary confinement.

In announcing the lockdown, Collier estimated it would take two weeks to search the state’s prison system for contraband. Simmons is doubtful. “Inmates say staff members are sending mixed messages about how long this will last,” she said. “Some report hearing it could be months.”

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