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Texas Prisons Heat Up As Parole Hopes Fade

By Ronal Young

The summer continued to heat up in the Texas prison system even before the season officially began.

On May 5, 2000, guards at the Stiles prison near Beaumont overpowered an armed male prisoner after he briefly held two female medical workers hostage in a failed effort to obtain money and cigarettes. Robert Richardson, 32, is serving a life sentence plus twenty-five years for burglary, assault, and possession of a weapon in a penal institution. During negotiations, Richardson told prison officials he wanted $100 cash, cigarettes-which are banned at all Texas prisons-and improved conditions of confinement, said TDCJ spokesperson Larry Todd.

Richardson was holding the hostages in a glass-walled psychiatric evaluation room when prison guards fired tear gas into it as he attempted to release a hostage. Two prison guards and Assistant Warden Rick Thompson sustained stab and slash wounds which were described as not life threatening.

During a one week period in early June, two prison guards on the Connally Unit near Kennedy were hospitalized after being attacked by prisoners in two separate incidents.

On June 7, 2000, Irene Fonseca, 35, a prison guard at the Connally Unit, was attempting to confiscate a contraband coffee pot that prisoner Bryan Thomas was allegedly using to hide food and toiletries in excess of what the prison allowed. Thomas, 40, beat Fonseca unconscious. She suffered fractures and severe swelling around the brain, and had most of her teeth knocked out. She is expected to recover. Thomas is serving a life sentence for raping and beating a 91 year old woman whose home he broke into in March 1990.

On June 13, 2000, prison guard Scott Jendrzey, 21, was escorting a group of prisoners to the Connally Unit chow hall when one of the prisoners, 20 year old Rayland Ladon Tyner, stabbed him six times with a sharpened 9" piece of metal, authorities said. Jendrzey was treated at an area hospital for his injuries and was also expected to recover. Officials said Tyner arrived at the facility in October 1999, to begin serving a sixty-five year sentence for aggravated robbery.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, the number of assaults on TDCJ prison guards increased to 2,044 in 1999. That was up from 1,674 in 1998 and more than double the 918 staff assaults reported in 1996.

1996 was the first year a Texas law went into effect which ended the use of good time credits and mandatory early release for prisoners with new convictions for crimes committed on or after September 1, 1996. There appears to be a correlation between the skyrocketing assaults and draconian parole laws which cannot be ignored. In Tyner's case, for instance, he will have to do three hundred twenty-two years just to become eligible for parole.

When you take away the carrot, there's not much incentive left for prisoners doing hard time to refrain from using the stick. The increasing incidence of assaults on TDCJ prison guards is just a harbinger of worse things to come in a prison system that grows increasingly vicious under George W. Bush's oppressive policies.

Sources: San Antonio Express-News Houston Chronicle

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