Friday, September 03, 2010

You guys know what's goin' on.

I told you that I'd post that appeal to the Windham School District individual who drafted and sent the letter detailing why I was banned from teaching on any Texas prison facility, which led to my first trauma a few weeks back. It's five and a half pages, so brace yourself. Here goes.

My name is Jeff Wilson, and until recently, I was a college professor contracted to teach History and Government at the San Saba Unit by Central Texas College. This letter is meant as an appeal of the charges leveled against me by the Windham School District (WSD) and Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) concerning my physical contact with a prisoner named XXX at the San Saba Unit in 2010.

I’ve been accused of “pushing an offender without provocation”, of violating several specific provisions of the TDCJs PD-22 General Rules, as well as the WSDs employee guidelines. As a result of these charges, I’ve been permanently banned from teaching at any TDCJ facilities in the future.

The official letter listing these violations, informing me of that ban, includes references to PD-22, Rule 7 (Substandard Duty Performance, Violation Level 4), Rule 24c (Use of Unnecessary Force: Non-Provoked Without Serious Injury Violation level 2), Rule 25c (failure on my part to report the alleged use of unnecessary force), and finally the WSD Handbooks rule against, “Using unnecessary force or coercion in dealing with offenders.

The letter asserts that I have “demonstrated clearly” a “lack of remorse” concerning the incident in question, and that I am therefore incompatible with the “mission of the San Saba Unit, of Central Texas College, and of the Windham School District.”

It also questions my safety on the unit, now that this incident has taken place, and the safety of other CTC and WSD employees, as well as the “substantive liability exposure” this incident has drawn to CTC, WSD and the TDCJ. It claims that, due to the nature of the violation, and what it asserts is my attitude about the incident, my permanent removal from the list of approved contracted personnel is a warranted punishment.

This appeal will attempt to set the record straight, as I see it, and answer the assertions and charges leveled at me concerning this incident. Accordingly, let me describe the incident in question, as I remember it, and answer the accusations dealing with the specific violations I’ve been accused of making.

First, I do remember the incident in question, but I don’t remember the specific date on which it occurred. I believe it was sometime around the week of May 3rd, 2010, but I’m not sure about that. On that date, as my noon-to-2:30PM class was letting out, I was walking out of the Education building at the San Saba Unit, headed for the first in a series of locked doors I would go through to exit the unit.

As I exited the door from the Education building, walking past several guards who were patting down inmates, I saw an inmate in my path that I’d had considerable contact with in the past. This inmate, Mr. XXX, had finished all four of the classes I taught at San Saba, and had repeatedly caused disruptions in the last of those classes. I’d been forced to write two cases on Mr. XXX in that last class, including one case for refusing to follow an order (to stop talking in class), and another case for assault (throwing a small object at me while I lectured, hitting me in the eye).

When the second case was written, Mr. XXX was facing serious consequences for that action. I was told at the time that it could add several years to his sentence. A day or so after the case was turned in, the sergeant of the guards, shift supervisor out at San Saba took me into his office and asked me if I thought Mr. XXX intended to hurt me with the object he’d thrown (it was ether a small, rolled up piece of paper or a piece of an eraser). I said that I didn’t think he had.

I expressed the feeling that as annoying as Mr. XXX was, I didn’t want to do anything to add years to his prison term. As much trouble as he’d been, I didn’t want to mess up his life any more than it already was. I expressed to the sergeant and others at that time that Mr. XXX was his own worst enemy… A smart kid, but he just couldn’t keep his mouth shut. The sergeant then reduced the severity of the offense, and the assault charge went away.

Mr. XXX was back in class a few days later, smiling, posing to the other offenders and acting like he’d gotten away with something. In retrospect, I wish I’d asked the sergeant something like “If he’d hit you in the eye with something, would you reduce the charge?” But the water has long since dribbled under that bridge.

Regardless, I still would have reduced the charge, because the punishment would have been extreme, considering the nature of his action against me. As I’ve related, Mr. XXX caused me considerable irritation in that last of the four classes that he took from me. But our interaction did not start out negatively.

One day, during the first of those four classes, as I began my lecture, Mr. XXX gave voice to the realization that he’d seen me before. It turned out that Mr. XXX had attended Florence High School, where I also teach (AP) college classes. He said he remembered me from there. It turned out that we knew some of the same people down in Florence. When I asked those people about him, they all remembered him. A few told me to tell him hello, and to give him encouraging messages.

At some later point, probably in an attempt to curry sympathy, he showed me pictures of his baby girl, and he told me about his offense and how he wanted to get his degree and change the path of his life. Mr. XXX, who has a pleasant, humorous demeanor, always did well in my classes. And he was never a significant problem to me, until that last, fourth semester.

After Mr. XXX finished with my classes, he moved on, trying to finish his degree and I moved on to continue teaching other offenders. We’d see one another now and then in the halls. There was often a lot of joking around, but there was never any serious animosity between us. Other offenders often made reference to the trouble Mr. XXX had caused in my class. The whole thing turned into a running joke, with offenders bringing it all up to have a laugh now and then.

People would ask me now and then if I still harbored any animosity for him, and I told them I didn’t. I’ve been teaching for 20 years, and I’ve had MANY students who acted up in class. It’s part of the job, and nothing to get excited about. But the offenders didn’t want to let it go. I even had one offender offer to beat Mr. XXX up in exchange for extra credit on his Final Exam. I laughed at the offer, treated it as a joke (like when they would, tongue in cheek, try to offer me stamps as a bribe on test day), and told the offender that I didn’t have any bad feelings for Mr. Vences. He was out of my life, and no longer a problem in my class.

However, after that semester ran its course, Mr. XXX began to openly refer to me in front of other offenders as his “Little Bitch.” He’d be standing in line in front of the locked gate, waiting to get back to his cell and he’d say something like “You gotta straighten out your little bitch now and then,” and then smile and look up at me. I’d laugh, riddle him with expletives, or say something like “Yea, stop dreamin’” and then move on as soon as the locked gate was opened.

Whenever those kinds of incidents took place, we would always end up laughing about it. He’d call me something, and then I’d call him something in return, and then we’d both laugh. Of course, I could have written him up for those words, but again, there was no harm being done. It was par for the course there at the prison, and it would have been silly for me to take any of it seriously. I’d moved on, and I didn’t want to cause ether of us any more trouble.

The environment there in San Saba is a very coarse, masculine environment. One in which there is always a lot of joking around, a lot of good natured barbs and insults traded, and almost constant physical contact between inmates. They joke around, insult one another and playfully shove and tussle with one another in class, all in full view of cameras, and no one ever comes rushing in to stop it. The very few guards stationed in Education do what they can, but if they had to run into every one of the half-dozen classes being taught at any one time, every time something like that happened, we would have very little time left for teaching.

So, despite my training, which was minimal to begin with, I guess, in time, I got used to the environment... the joking around, the playful insults, and the personal contact. I suppose, in time I began to take it all for granted. But my behavior at San Saba was always in line with the twenty years of experience I’d had teaching in every kind of environment there is, from teaching deployed Navy and Marine Corps personnel on an aircraft carrier during the 1991 Gulf War, to substitute teaching unruly 3
rd graders in a Ft. Worth public school. I learned early on in my career to adapt myself to the environment I was teaching in. Furthermore, I was always reliable, and I was always absolutely professional in the way I did my job there in San Saba, and the WSD officials there will tell you that.

On the day in question, as I was leaving the education building, headed for the next locked door on my journey out of the unit, I saw that Mr. XXX was one of many offenders who were standing along the sidewalk leading to the gate. Without thinking too much about it, I put my hand on Mr. XXX’s shoulder and gave him a shove, pushing him towards the wall. Mr. XXX said something like “Hey,” and the other offenders laughed.

It had been done as a joke, in the spirit of the moment, and in the context of the environment that existed there in the jail. Mr. XXX and I had been trading barbs, back and forth, and that was just my latest shot. It was done with humor, and I expected it to be taken that way. This was the environment that existed there in San Saba. There were several teachers and others there who regularly traded insults with inmates, but it was all just good natured fun. Nothing was ever taken seriously by anyone.

Furthermore, it was done in full view of the guards who were patting down inmates, and in full view of the cameras, and nothing was said to me. No one came to me at any time and said “Hey, don’t do things like that. It’s against the rules.” In the moment, everyone laughed, and I assumed the act had been taken as it was intended… as a joke.

I’m told that when I went through my original orientation in 2008, the orientation preparing my colleagues and I to teach in San Saba, I was told to never touch an offender. But I don’t remember ever hearing that.

I remember a very short orientation, consisting of several instructional videos, the main theme of which seemed to be that we should avoid engaging in personal, sexual relationships with offenders.
I remember being told, among other things, that I should never bring anything into the prison for an inmate, or take anything out of the prison for an inmate. Most of that stuff was obvious. I also remember hearing that I should never let the offenders know any personal information about myself, like my full name and where I live. Well, the offenders found out my full name right off the bat.

My employer, Central Texas College, insisted that we wear name tags displaying our full name on our chest. Furthermore, spending 95% of the next twenty or so months in San Saba with the offenders, I suppose I adjusted my self to the environment I was teaching in. I never forgot where I was, and I never considered any of the inmates to be my friends, or anything other than inmates. But the inmates were my students, and for the most part, I treated them just like I would the other students in my other classes.

When the time came for our follow-up briefing from the same WSD official in 2009, to keep my certification to teach on the unit, the briefing consisted of sitting in the Dean’s office on Ft. Hood for 20 or 25 minutes, talking to that WSD official about the kinds of things that were going on in San Saba. At no time did he say anything to me about not touching inmates. We basically chatted as a group for a brief time, discussing subjects like the difficulty CTC had experienced finding administrative staff to work in San Saba, and that was it.

So, in the context of what had been going on over almost two years, and the experience I’d had in San Saba, you can imagine my shock when what I’d considered innocent contact with Mr. XXX, contact that had been intended as a joke, began to turn into a major incident. It wasn’t until a few months later that I found out, from another offender, that Mr. XXX was having meetings with the Warden. No TDCJ or WSD officials ever came to me in person, immediately after the event or at any other time, telling me that I’d been in the wrong. Furthermore, since I had no idea that I’d done anything wrong, I had no reason to report what I’d done to the WSD or TDCJ.

Months later, while I was in Kentucky on vacation during our three week break between semesters, the CTC administrator in San Saba (who has since resigned), Mrs. Latona, sent me an email asking for my version of the events in question. I must say that I was a little shocked at getting such an email, and I didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation. The event in question had taken place in an instant, and that instant had been at least two months earlier, so I had to think back and try to remember everything.

Rather than wait to consult anyone and find out exactly what I should say, or how serious the situation really was, I jotted down my recollections of the events, including a little about my history with Mr. XXX. In that statement I expressed my feeling that Mr. XXX was blowing what I considered to be an innocent situation way out of proportion in order to retaliate against me for having written him up while he was in my class. I assumed at the time that this was his motivation. I said something about how I never meant to hurt Mr. XXX, and apologized for the contact, and then I sent the email back to Mrs. Latona.

A week or so later, after returning from that vacation, I had a meeting with the Dean of the Ft. Hood CTC campus, who is in charge of CTCs operations in San Saba. I was informed then that the TDCJ had permanently banned me from ever teaching on their facilities. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and neither could the Dean (who has known me for fifteen years). After a few more weeks, the Dean received the official letter from Don Lawrence, the Director of the Divison of Operational Support for the Windham School District. In that letter, listing my official offenses, several assertions are made:

First, Mr. Lawrence quotes me as saying that “I think it is silly to blow such a small thing out of proportion,” and asserts that these words on my behalf “demonstrate that Mr. Wilson firmly believes that instigating unprovoked physical contact, with respect to his role as an instructor, with an adult offender is an appropriate method of behavior management.” He then asserts that, based on this, I “clearly do not meet the standard of a professional educator.”

He goes on to say that it’s clear that I used my “position of authority to intimidate the offender and/or seek revenge.” He says that I further violated the rules by failing to report my contact with Mr. XXX to the appropriate authorities. He asserts that the conduct I engaged in is covered in the WSD Contracted Personnel Handbook, and is covered in the annual briefing, and that I should have known such contact was prohibited.

In response to these assertions, I would simply point out that, at no time, to my knowledge, was the issue of personal, non-sexual contact between offenders and instructors covered in the briefing. I would also remind you that the original briefing was just that… brief. I’m told that all WSD and TDCJ personnel who are trained to work on prison units in Texas receive a two to three day security briefing. My colleagues and I with CTC only spent two or three hours in a back room on Ft. Hood watching various short videos. And the follow up briefing in 2009 was nothing more than an informal conversation in the Dean’s office.

So, having received an abbreviated security briefing, being ignorant of the rules banning all physical contact with offenders, and having spent almost two years in an environment where there is regular physical contact, it was natural for me to view the physical contact in question within the context of the environment in which it occurred. In THAT environment, and in THAT context, the incident was easy to view as innocent and forgettable.

I would also say that at NO TIME did I ever intend this contact between Mr. XXX and myself to be a form of punishment or “behavior management.” It was something that took place in seconds, with no forethought, and was considered to be a joke, nothing more. Again, in the context of the environment there in San Saba and the things that had taken place between Mr. XXX and I, I can understand why someone would think that I had animosity for him. But I’ve been a professional educator, teaching adults and children for twenty years, and unruly students are a normal part of the job. They come and go, and I would NEVER seek retribution outside the school for such silly behavior.

Furthermore, on the occasions when I did have chances to exact some sort of retribution against Mr. XXX, when he’d been written up for assaulting me in class, or when one of his fellow offenders offered to beat him up for me in exchange for extra credit on his Final Exam, I quickly backed off and avoided such retribution. As I said before, when Mr. XXX was out of my classes, he was no longer a problem for me. End of story.

Finally, Mr. Lawrence states in the last paragraph of his official letter that my actions “were intentional and without remorse,” and that they “pose significant security and safety concerns for offenders and staff, as well as substantive liability exposure to CTC, TDCJ and WSD.”
He goes on to say that the nature of my offense has risen to “an egregious level,” warranting my dismissal from the approved contracted personnel list on a permanent basis.

As I have said before, my action toward Mr. XXX was intended as an innocent, incidental contact, without any intention to hurt him in any way. I will continue to assert that the action in question, considering the context of time and place, is being blown completely out of proportion. From the official wording of Mr. Lawrence’s letter, the reader would think that I cornered Mr. XXX in the classroom and beat him within an inch of his life. One would think I was a raving lunatic, bringing everyone around me into danger of life and limb. In fact, the opposite is the case.

If you interview any of my co-workers out in San Saba, or any of the people I’ve worked with over the last fifteen years at the CTC campus on Ft. Hood, they’ll tell you how shocking these allegations are. The notion that I would pose a physical threat to anyone is bizarre in its inception.

I’m at a loss to explain how these conclusions, laid out by Mr. Lawrence in his letter, could have been arrived at. At NO TIME has Mr. Lawrence ever sought a personal interview with me, or personally observed my conduct in an actual classroom setting. For him to assert, as he does in his official letter, that I “clearly do not meet the standard of a professional educator” is absurd and absolute slander, amounting to defamation of character, and is in itself worthy of legal action on my part.

Furthermore, the notion that what happened between Mr. XXX and I might pose a danger to other inmates or staff in the unit is equally silly. Everyone I know, including those I worked with on a daily basis in San Saba, who have been made aware of what has happened here has expressed shock at not only the response by the WSD and TDCJ, but also the severity of that response.

I’m even told by reliable sources that the other offenders in San Saba are just as surprised by these events as the rest of us, and that they are expressing anger at Mr. XXX because they are now unable to take my classes, and therefore unable to finish their degrees. They are also telling other instructors that Mr. XXX has been bragging since my dismissal about how he “Got my bitch ass,” and making other similar statements.

For my part, I’ve been a professional educator for twenty years, and I will continue to be fully employed as one in the foreseeable future. I enjoyed working in San Saba, helping to try to give those offenders who would apply themselves a hand up from the path their lives have taken. I thought Mr. XXX was one of those. He may well be. I would enjoy working there again. Accordingly, if the WSD and TDCJ ever change their minds about this situation, I will always be available for an interview.

Well, considering what's happened in the last few days, I doubt the letter will have the desired effect. But I sent it anyway. What the hell.

By the way, I've reset this blog to be open to the public. When it comes to the post in question, from the 17th, I believe I never did anything wrong, I have nothing to hide, and nothing to be ashamed of.

So be it (on advise of counsel, I've replaced the offenders name with XXX and made the blog private again. It'll probably stay that way).


kenneth said...

Good for you! A very good letter filled with good will and good sense. However, sadly enough, few professional education program administrators are impressed by intelligence of this nature.
Thanks for reopening your blog. I was having withdrawal issues.
You've left them in the dust. Now off to the next worthy adventure.

FHB said...

Kenneth - I wanted to send you an invite to the private version, but didn't have a way to find your email. But it's back open, for the time being.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the very few spots in life where a vicious trial lawyer can actually come in handy.
Lawyer up, and shoot for the moon.
And yes, you will have plenty of folks who will testify for you as to your nature.


FHB said...

Dick - Thanks man. I truly am blessed with wonderful friends.

kenneth said...

I thought it came with my comments, in case you ever go private again. I keep a journal online but have never opened comments Several years of poor quality pictures and excerpts from whatever books I'm reading, and I think my sisters are the only ones who read it.

FHB said...

Back to private, on advise of counsel.

*Goddess* said...

Amazing how the prisoner has more rights than you do.

JDP said...

Good Luck with the appeal.


FHB said...

Thanks folks. I'll tell you about it when I can.

*Goddess* said...

I wish there was a way we could just make certain posts private, like they do on LiveJournal.

FHB said...

Goddess - True.

BRUNO said...

I thought you'd said the PRISONER didn't have anything to do with it?

Tryin' to "railroad" ya', ain't they? And, they WILL, if you let 'em!

I don't know who's quote it is, but I think it applies here: "Hold your friends close, and your enemies closer."

I've been doin' it all my life---an' I STILL get "screwed", sometimes...!