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Behind the Walls: A Guide for Families and Friends of Texas Prison Inmates

by Jorge Antonio Renaud, University of North Texas Press, 2002, soft cover, 218 pages, $14.95

Review by Michael Rigby

If you or someone you know is one of the nearly 150,000 people incarcerated in a Texas prison, then Behind the Walls: A Guide for Families and Friends of Texas Prison Inmates is for you. It is an essential guide to understanding the myriad rules and regulations integral to any prison. Unsure of what to do in case of a family emergency? See the chapter titled Emergencies. Want to know what the visiting hours are? Then Visits and Phone Calls is the chapter for you. Need to know if you can send a package? Check out Chapter 10, Mail.

For the newly incarcerated, Jorge Antonio Renaud details the daily routine of Texas prison life, including information on benign topics such as food, clothing, and work, and on more serious topics such as racism, gangs and violence.

After beginning with a short history of the Texas prison system, Renaud covers everything from intake at the diagnostic unit to release and beyond. As a Texas prisoner, I found the information accurate, informative and surprisingly in-depth. Renaud's writing is peppered with personal anecdotes and practical advice garnered from his 21 years inside the walls.

For readers with legal interests, major court decisions affecting Texas prisoners are referred to throughout the book, including the historic Ruiz lawsuit which changed nearly every facet of Texas prison life. An overview of libraries and law libraries is given in Chapter 13 and Appendix C contains a list of law library holdings. There are also chapters on discipline and administrative segregation.

Other helpful appendices include: a list of Texas prisons with pertinent information; administrative offices; parole officials; medical and dental services; custody levels; commissary spending limits; recreation requirements; and a resource list.

Perhaps one of the most useful items in the book is a glossary of Texas prison' terminology. Prison-speak really is a language of its own. We eat "johnnies" (sack lunches), we go to "lay-ins" (appointments), and we wait on "in and outs" (hourly opening and closing of the cell doors).

This book is a must read for all newly incarcerated Texas prisoners or for anyone wanting to know more about the day-to-day life of a loved one in the Texas prison system and the rules governing their interaction with them. Behind the Walls: A Guide for Families and Friends of Texas Prison Inmates is published by University of North Texas Press, P.O. Box 311336, Denton, TX 76203-1336.

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