My worst natural disaster behind bars was hurricane Katrina
prisoners were crowded inside a cell. Each pod has 24 cells x 3 people which meant that 72 people were crammed inside the cells. One on each bunk, the other on the floor. So per 3 pods 214 people were in the cells (24 x 3 x 3). In each dayroom another 80 people from the neighboring transfer facility were stuffed together with mattresses and limited space. 240 prisoners per three dayrooms and additional the 214 prisoners in the 3 pods, made a total of 454 prisoners per building who were stuffed together. There are 8 buildings in total (4 buildings, 3 buildings and 1 building). So you can imagine how tough it was during Hurricane Katrina . As the hard wind continued and the flood waters rose, we hoped like hell the towering brick building would be swayed. Then the electricity and water stopped working. Our system continued to produce nerve wrecking stool and urine. So, the cell smelled like an old shabby club with a terrible sewage system. Each cell reeked! The kids in the day room only had one toilet that did not work. They took to corners to handle their business. Then the fights erupted. I watched from the 3rd floor as the nervous kids fought continuously one fight after another.
The chaos continued
Nothing stopped the flood! The wind continued to roar. The staff allowed the horses that were used for fieldwork to roam free, from moment to moment I could hear the ‘neighing’ of horses outside the thin window. It seemed these beast were looking for shelter as well. Days after the wind stopped, we could not take it being locked in the dark cells any longer. By chance we found a trash bag – swayed it and squeezed the top together, trapping air. I quickly wrapped the bag around the three day old feces and urine from 3 male adults. One of my cellmates squeezed the bag very hard and the air forced the crud down. The cell instantly seemed to smell a little bit better. It’s incredibly tough when every other cell and dayroom was loaded with human waste.
Guards would bring around MRE’s (Meal Ready to Eat) or military rations and several jugs of water. Some of us took grabbing hard plastic trash cans that we filled with the jugs of water to bath. The guards were doing their best to survive. They were forced to stay on the compound. If they left to help family evacuate, they would be fired. One lady did and her family was caught in traffic. They had to drive for miles, an inch at a time, with their deceased grandmother in the car. We shared our horror stories after the fact but during this entire ordeal we all suffered. That lady was lucky because she left before the ‘fired’ order was given. Others had to stay and hoped someone in their family managed their children and their affairs.
Back to normal
Eventually, the generators started working and the water returned but something was particular about the water. It was always cold and no matter how hard you persisted, the soap would not lather. I went on bar after bar but the soap did not start to lather. I would find out later that the water was mixed with salt water from the Gulf of Mexico. In Beaumont at the Stiles Unit the feel was sullen. It reminded me of the AIDS epidemic years prior. I survived them both
Texas Winter Storm
Today, I have relocated to another city and another prison. The Texas Winter Storm (February 2021) hit, around 9 inches of snow, no power and it was very cold. So no heat but there were blankets. This was not bad considering the well documented devastation of Katrina. I’m hearing the complainers barking about the cold, the T.V., Covid-19 checks and so on. Then my mind goes back to my grandmother. When I complained about the cushy bus ride to school, she always said: ‘Boy, I had to walk 8 miles to school and 8 miles back. Thank God you got a bus!’.
So here it is: I am not complaining about the winter storm …
Derrick L. Griffin, 28-02-2021