Prose and Cons

Prison scribe: Renaud has refined his craft during three stints in the pen.

It was almost 7 a.m., the hour Scott Nowell always set off for his accounting job at the prison furniture factory inside the Daniel Unit in West Texas. Every morning the routine was the same. He buzzed the guard on duty and waited for the familiar "pop" that meant the door was unlocked. Today he faced a solid steel door gone strangely mute.

Peering through the bread-loaf-sized window, he saw that the cell block, which usually pulsed with inmates in their prison whites, was still. Being late carried disciplinary action, but the slim 35-year-old could do nothing but stand and wait. When the silence persisted, he decided that the guards must be in the middle of some unannounced drill. Nowell crawled back into his bunk.

Hours later a corrections officer arrived with a brown-bag lunch and news that the prison was in a lockdown. Inmates would be confined indefinitely to their cells and all regular activities suspended.

The state of high alert seemed drastic. Daniel was a "laid back" minimum security unit, and nothing untoward had happened as far as Nowell knew. Not even the guard was sure why they were locked down.

The following days in March 2000 were a mix of uncertainty and crippling boredom. Without work, exercise or evenings in the law library, Nowell grew restless. Inmates were denied visits from family, and subsisted largely on watered-down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Anger seethed in the cavernous unit, erupting into an ungodly roar at the slightest provocation.

"It was a lot of confusion and wondering what the hell was going on," Nowell recalls.

In his cell, he heard a brief radio report that said the lockdown was systemwide. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice wanted to scour 86 prisons for weapons after a rash of violence. For the Daniel Unit, the shakedown began on Day Four. Inmates were ordered into the gym for a strip search while guards tore through their cells. On Day Six, they were allowed to shower.

The lockdown lasted for 11 days. When it lifted, a brief period of slap-happy bonhomie quickly gave way to fevered ruminations about what had passed.

The May issue of The Echo, the Texas prison newspaper, hit jails across the state with the force of a revelation.

The lead story "Analysis of a Lockdown" vividly described scenes from the event, and attempted to explain the rationale behind it. The writer, Jorge Antonio Renaud, described "unshaven, harried guards" sweeping away inmates' cherished possessions. He wrote of foul meals and of families who had traveled hundreds of miles only to be rebuffed at the door. Blow by blow, he examined the notorious episodes that led to the crackdown -- the Thanksgiving 1998 escape of a death-row inmate, the 1999 slaying of a corrections officer at a Beeville prison, the gang member who allegedly used dental floss to escape from his cell and stab a rival to death, among other events.

In each case, Renaud blamed the breakdown on derelict guards, and rued that well-behaved offenders had to pay the price.

"[I]f the incidents leading to the lockdown were due to officer error, why lock down more than 120,000 convicts?" he wanted to know. "Why not insist that TDCJ correctional officers display the professionalism and dedication to their duty that would merit the higher wages they demand?"

Sharply drawn and scathingly critical, the piece was unlike anything anyone had seen in the monthly paper.

"I immediately recognized that this guy knew what the hell he was talking about," says Nowell, who was serving time for beating a cop with a flashlight while a student and drug dealer at Texas A&M. "It changed the perception of The Echo, that's for sure, for both the inmates and the administration."

Indeed, where convicts found a collective catharsis, livid TDCJ officials saw a brazen challenge. From the moment the piece appeared, The Echo staff found itself in the crosshairs of an agency for which control is paramount.

Renaud, more than anyone, was at the center of the fight. A once-rising talent in Texas journalism, his facility for words was matched only by his flair for self-destruction. In prison he resuscitated his skills to spark a protracted skirmish that tested the limits of free speech in Texas lockups.

"Renaud hit prison journalism in Texas like a spotlight," says inmate advocate Ray Hill, host of KPFT's The Prison Show. "He gave people in his articles a view of their own experience that they had not afforded themselves. That's why it was so powerful; that's why it was so hated…"

The Echo first appeared in 1928 during an era of reform in the then-80-year-old Texas prison system. Businessman Robert Homes Baker, the chairman of the Texas Prison Board, crusaded against corporal punishment and was among those who supported an outlet for inmate expression. Lee Simmons, the legendary general manager of prisons and founder of the Texas Prison Rodeo, allowed the paper to expand markedly under his watch in the 1930s.  

Despite The Echo's history of attracting talented inmates, longtime observers attribute its longevity more to the soft-pedaling instincts of its editors than to any pursuit of lofty journalistic ideals. TDCJ spokesman Glen Castlebury, who oversaw the publication for five years until 1999, says The Echo essentially just drifted through the decades.

"Frankly, it never had a mission," he says.

Castlebury readily concedes that the newspaper was an afterthought for him and that some months he put the paper on hold when he was too busy.

"If I didn't have time to go over it, I just, by God, didn't go over it," he says.

The stepchild status changed instantly with the arrival of a dynamic administrator in May 1999. Sharon Keilin was the agency's assistant director for operational support and a member of its executive council. The Harvard-educated native Houstonian saw The Echo as a unique resource for opening a "vigorous dialogue" between management and inmates.

Few were more qualified to recognize the appropriate parameters of such an exchange. Keilin had more than 20 years in corrections and had been the regional director of 17 state prisons. A petite 57-year-old with short blonde hair, she oversaw six private prisons and headed risk management for TDCJ at the time she added the newspaper to her duties. She aimed to give her staff independence to speak directly to fellow offenders.

"The Echo needs credibility…inmates talking to inmates," she believed. "Frankly, I thought it would be fun to turn it into a paper worth reading."

Keilin arrived at a time when The Echo had just two full-time staffers toiling inside the state's oldest prison, the Huntsville Unit, commonly referred to as the Walls. David Hargrove, the editor, was a big, affable man with bum health and a history of armed robberies. His assistant was a devout Christian sex offender named Sheldon DeLuca.

Keilin initiated a weekly editorial meeting to visit with the staff and discuss future editions. Frequently, their talk turned to journalistic ethics and standards. Agency guidelines on the subject were as broad as they were vague, calling for content that "is both accurate and consistent with the sound journalistic and creative standards appropriate in a government agency publication."

"I saw it as an opportunity at the beginning, I'll be frank with you," she says of the dearth of regulations.

Borrowing from The New York Times, The Washington Post and others, the staff drafted standards to ensure fairness, accuracy and accountability. Keilin assumed a hands-off role as the publisher and left most editorial decisions to the staff.

"We had a working rule: Inside that room we were a newspaper, not inmates and correctional staff," she says. "I think that worked very, very well."

Her first move was to secure funds to replace ancient equipment with new computers, software and a laser printer. More pressing was the shortage of staff. For Hargrove and DeLuca, simply managing the mail from an inmate population of roughly 150,000 was a full-time job.

When the subject of adding a staffer came up, Hargrove didn't have to think twice. Jorge Antonio Renaud was a pro, he said, a man with experience at the Austin American-Statesman, and a hell of a writer. He had been trying to get on The Echo staff for years, but the administration hadn't allowed it.

"My first thought was what the hell is a copy editor for the Austin American-Statesman doing with a 60-year sentence in the TDCJ," Keilin recalls.

"I've never shot anybody, I've never hurt anybody, I've never killed anybody…I'm here because I'm an idiot," says Jorge Antonio Renaud, spitting out that last word as if it were a piece of rancid meat. Lean and craggy at 44, he is seated behind thick glass on this recent afternoon in a beat-up visiting area at the Ellis Unit north of Huntsville. His dark, burning eyes and full head of bristly, black hair contrast with his prison whites.

Renaud is thinking back to 1991, the year his marriage bottomed out and his career took off. He got hired by the Statesman. He received a grant to publish a book of poems. And he also got 60 years for putting a gun to a clerk's head at an Austin cleaners, tying her up and bolting with the cash.

"I can't cry about the time they gave me," he says.

The third of nine children born to farmworkers who ranged Texas and New Mexico, Renaud already had served two prison terms for armed robbery before this latest episode. During his second stint, which began in 1980, he discovered his love of poetry. He indulged and refined this passion until he got published in various journals and magazines, including The Texas Observer.  

Renaud also penned works for The Echo, and became poetry editor in 1985. That same year he enrolled in a poetry workshop taught by Lisa Trow, an editor at The Huntsville Item. When the class ended, the two stayed in touch. They married in 1987 just months before Renaud was paroled.

"I felt he had the intellectual skills and emotional commitment it would take to make it on the outside," Trow says. "I thought if he was given a chance he would create a different life for himself."

He appeared to be on solid ground when he got out in December 1987. He enrolled at Sam Houston State and worked as a freelancer at The Huntsville Item. A year later the couple moved to Austin, where Trow took a job at the Statesman and Renaud started classes at the University of Texas. He became editor of the campus's minority-run newspaper Tejas. In 1990, their daughter was born.

The marriage hit a rough patch when Renaud spent several months away on journalism internships. The slide continued after his return to Austin, and the couple separated in February 1991. On other fronts, the outlook was much brighter. Renaud was well-connected in the Hispanic arts scene, running around with other writers, giving readings in East Austin bars. The city of Austin awarded him a $1,000 grant to publish a book of his poems. He had aced a copy-editor test at the Statesman and the paper hired him in April. His bosses saw abundant promise in the ex-con. Before long they encouraged him to try his hand at editorial writing.

"He was very well-respected," says Maggie Ballough, the Statesman editor at the time. "I think there were a number of things he could have done."

But the sequence of events -- the pressure-cooker job and the domestic meltdown -- proved too much. Renaud started using coke again. Soon he was back to another bad habit: stickups.

"The cocaine shot me off into that spiral again," he says with disgust.

In November 1991, the Statesman ran a story about a robber "who does his homework" before picking off pizza joints, beauty shops and other small businesses. Police counted at least nine robberies in the spree. The Hispanic male "with facial acne scars" would target the employee responsible for opening or closing, the article said. Early the previous morning, he had paced the sidewalk in front of a cleaners, carrying three pairs of pants like any customer would. When the young female clerk let him in, the thug whipped out his gun.

No one at the Statesman ever imagined that one of their own was behind the heists. But Renaud's charade ended when officers showed up at the newspaper one late November day and hauled him off -- for unpaid traffic violations. Only later, with the copy editor in their custody, did they realize they had the wily bandit.

Prosecutors offered Renaud 40 years. He says today that he refused the plea because he wanted to give the victim, the young woman he tied up by her shoelaces, a chance to say her piece on the stand. He does not disclose that he took the unusual step of giving his own closing argument, hoping he could charm the jury into giving him a reduced sentence.

Instead, they gave him the maximum 60 years. Renaud is not eligible for parole until 2006.

"It was extremely devastating," Renaud says of his spectacular fall. "I was in a tailspin for a few years."

Severed from his baby daughter and a promising future, the three-time con festered in the notorious Robertson Unit at a time when a nasty gang war raged. He tried to numb his pain by sniffing glue. All that did was get him tossed into solitary where he found himself face-to-face with the pathetic creature he had become.

"At that point I snapped. 'Dude, you really can't go much lower here.' So I started writing again," he says.

"The ECHO believes that the rules of responsible journalism compel us to inform state prisoners of news that directly affects their lives and their attempts at rehabilitation, even if that information disconcerts some elected or appointed state officials." -- David Hargrove and Jorge Antonio Renaud, from a December 1999 editorial

Keilin heeded Hargrove's vigorous endorsement of Renaud and set up an interview in the summer of 1999. "We saw, we liked and we had him transferred," she says.  

Renaud's presence immediately energized The Echo. The bulk of the stories now were staff written -- not culled from other newspapers -- in issues that ran between 12 and 16 pages. The publication retained its folksy advice column, creative-writing pages and feel-good inmate news roundups, but it became increasingly enterprising. Topics like AIDS, hepatitis C, the legislature, and the swelling prison industrial complex became typical Echo grist. The editors made a point of frequently revisiting the watershed Ruiz v. Estelle case, a class action that opened Texas prisons to intense federal scrutiny and forced sweeping reforms in overcrowding, use of force, health care, access to courts, and other areas.

With no telephones or Internet at their disposal, the staff spent much of their daily 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. shifts banging out letters to sources. Keilin shrank distances by facilitating roundtable talks with TDCJ officials like Gary Johnson, today the agency's executive director. The 120,000-circulation paper, with an annual budget of about $100,000, afforded ample space for agency bosses to trumpet programs. It frequently highlighted positives like TDCJ community outreach initiatives. Editors got on fellow cons to avail themselves of prison services.

"[T]he programs offered to Texas convicts, while not what we would wish, are sufficient for us to address our educational, vocational, spiritual, mental and physical needs, if we choose to take advantage of them," Renaud wrote in one piece. "Anger and resentment and violence are a waste of time."

Yet, The Echo was no longer bashful about criticizing policies it deemed unfair or harmful. By January 2000, Renaud was railing against the agency for preventing many inmates from having contact visits with family. Later, he blasted a policy of withholding key rehabilitative services to inmates in medium and maximum custody.

"Learning to read should not be a privilege. Attending substance-abuse treatment should not be a privilege. Indeed, both should be mandatory, yet both are denied convicts not in minimum custody," he wrote in March 2000.

The paper's newfound sharpness became apparent to readers within and beyond the bleak brick walls and razor-topped fences.

As an ex-con and host of The Prison Show, Ray Hill believes the role of prison journalism is to stimulate thought beyond the confines of a cell. He calls such mental stimulation an "inherently rehabilitative activity," and says The Echo provided that.

"It was relevant, and that's not always true of The Echo and its published peers," he says.

"It was getting stronger and more people were reading it," agrees Robert Elzner, executive director of the Texas Inmate Families Association.

But for some agency officials, the very notion that a prisoner would criticize TDCJ is scandalous. Spokesman Castlebury does not even attempt to disguise his contempt for Renaud's pretensions.

"He, he, is one of 147,000 inmates, and he does not have a place at the policy table running this agency," he says with agitation. "I think he tends to forget that."

It was all about establishing credibility, Renaud says today. If The Echo was to serve any real purpose, if its denunciations of gangs or harassment of the mentally ill were to reach fellow felons, the paper had to show it wasn't spewing propaganda. He says he had to take a hard look at the system and report what he saw.

"What I was doing…was establishing bona fides by telling the truth," he says. "It's a fine line."

The May lockdown piece netted him a lifetime supply of credibility with cons, still stewing over the many days of immobility. The article also sparked a war with the administration. No fewer than four wardens refused to distribute The Echo at their units, even though it had been approved by Keilin as required.

Roughly 9,500 copies of the paper were suppressed, Keilin estimates. Letters came pouring in from prisoners demanding to know where their papers were. The Echo staff attempted to circumvent the blockade by mailing copies directly to people seeking them. Many of those were intercepted.

Keilin says the article came out at a time when TDCJ was urgently trying to recruit additional corrections officers and was "extraordinarily sensitive" to anything critical written about personnel. But she approved the piece because she believed it gave a truthful account of the lockdown from an offender's perspective.

She found the suppression of the paper so distasteful that she went to her boss Art Mosley, the deputy executive director, and threatened to resign. "I can't go back to doing The Echo the way it was," she told him. Mosley, a personable man with a military background, told her to stay put and they'd find a solution.  

In the name of journalistic balance, the June Echo ran a biting rebuttal to Renaud's article on the front page. Karen Ibarra, the vice president of the Texas Correctional Officers Association, decried his contention that guards were to blame for the killings and other episodes that occasioned the crackdown.

"Offenders are notorious for not accepting responsibility and always looking to blame someone else," she wrote in prose that proved she could give as good as she got. "TDCJ does not lock down an entire system for officer error…it is the result of offender action."

A vigorous dialogue was indeed under way. The ire only intensified when Renaud's old paper, the Austin American-Statesman, ran a condensed version of the lockdown piece in June.

Renaud responded to Ibarra's words with an olive branch, calling for corrections officers and inmates to empathize with each others' plight.

"[N]ot all inmates curse and spit. Not all officers sneer and slam doors. That must be accepted for the truth that it is, and individual behavior examined, before any retreat can be made from the atmosphere of accusation and finger-pointing that fogs relations between the two groups," he wrote.

Suppression continued to bedevil The Echo. At the sprawling Eastham facility south of Lovelady, warden Jimmy Alford would rifle through the paper on delivery day to decide if it was fit for distribution, according to Will Harrell, the executive director of the ACLU in Texas.

"He would go out personally to the trucks and flip through, and if he wasn't pleased he would censor the whole damn thing," Harrell says.

Keilin met in June with Gary Johnson, then-director of the Institutional Division, General Counsel Carl Reynolds and other agency officials. She argued that unilateral censorship set a dangerous, even primitive, precedent.

"I'm not a lawyer, but I cited every First Amendment prison case that I could put my hands on," she recalls. "To my mind the whole history of prison publications and inmates' right [to free speech] were being violated by the wardens' actions. It was antediluvian."

The meeting ended in compromise. Keilin would henceforth send proofs of the paper to Reynolds, the general counsel, to review before going to press.

TDCJ Executive Director Wayne Scott subsequently appointed a task force to chart a future course for The Echo. Chaired by Les Woods, a regional director, and comprising a handful of wardens and other personnel, the group had carte blanche to make recommendations pertaining to staffing, operations and editorial content.

Through spokesmen, Johnson, Reynolds, Alford and Woods declined to be interviewed by the Houston Press.

The Echo now faced unprecedented scrutiny, but Keilin preferred the heat to letting the paper die.

"I didn't want to lose the edge that we had because I thought the edge was good," she says. "As long as you walk the razor's edge -- that's where you want your paper to be."

A sense of excitement animated the Echo office in early September 2000 as staff members tidied up for the weekly editorial meeting. They were proud of the current issue with its probing look at solitary confinement, and eager to launch a forthcoming series about gangs. They had called for a moratorium on gang violence and asked members to share testimonials. The response was overwhelming.

The paper featured a new face. Scott Nowell had joined the staff as a writer, and took his place at the battered fold-out table as the meeting was set to begin. The mood changed when Sharon Keilin walked in. The normally vibrant supervisor look troubled and let out a heavy sigh.

"Look, these guys are mad," she said.

Keilin had recently met with the task force to determine The Echo's future. Though a nominal member of the group, she got grilled about exactly what kind of ship she thought she was running, anyway. She tried to explain to her colleagues that free speech within reasonable bounds elevated the entire agency and that, by tolerating an intelligent exchange of ideas, officials themselves would find inmates more willing to listen to them. She might as well have been reading from Das Kapital.

"It was probably the most horrendous hour and a half I ever spent in my life," she now says with a laugh.

The committee produced no specific recommendations. But the message Keilin took back to her crew was unmistakably clear.

"You guys need to make a decision," she told the staff. "If you continue this way they might shut the paper down."

Hargrove, who was known as the "friendly robber" during his Dallas-area crime jags in the '80s for his unfailing courtesy to those he stole from, saw no harm in laying low till the storm blew over. DeLuca agreed.  

Nowell, the newcomer, felt differently. The pensive, brown-haired man from San Angelo remembered The Echo when it made a better tablecloth at dinner than something to actually read. It was only after it became compelling that he applied to get on staff. He told his colleagues he'd prefer going back to sun-battered field work than become a mouthpiece for the TDCJ.

"I would rather be on the hoe squad with some integrity than serve on this paper and be a 'hook,' " he said, using a convict term for a suck-up.

Renaud still hungered to make The Echo "the best prison paper in the country," even better than the acclaimed Angolite in Louisiana. "If telling the truth is pushing the envelope too far, then it was only a matter of time [before The Echo got shut down] because I was not going to sugarcoat things for these people," he says today.

After the meeting, however, he approached Keilin and asked if he was the one drawing the agency's wrath.

"If I'm the problem…I'll leave," Keilin recalls him saying. The diminutive woman told him their problems were much bigger.

The Echo soldiered on, somewhat more cautiously, but still with enough nerve to print a piece in December entitled "Madhouse." The article lambasted the system for its "contempt for the mentally ill."

From December on, events assumed a peculiar logic as if designed to kill the paper. On December 13, seven inmates, abetted by lax supervision in a prison maintenance shop, broke out of the Connally Unit in Kenedy. During their six weeks on the lam they killed a police officer in Irving. The escape prodded TDCJ officials to conduct security audits of units across the state.

More ominously for The Echo, Jimmy Alford, the warden who banished the paper at Eastham, got promoted to regional director over some 15 prisons. It was a job that Keilin once held, and one that wielded considerable power. The stout official had the ability to make all manner of mischief for The Echo now that he had control over the Walls Unit where it was housed.

Strange things immediately began to happen. First, the staff discovered that someone was logging on to their computers when they weren't there. Then some software turned up missing. One day in January the safety manager arrived for an unannounced inspection. He examined the tiny office with a homicide detective's exacting eye. At last, he zeroed in on a black spot on an electrical socket. He marked it down as a cigarette burn, a serious allegation in a system where smoking is forbidden. An irate Keilin, who headed risk management for TDCJ, considered the charge "wild speculation." No one on The Echo smoked nor would dream of doing so, given the microscope they were under. To her, the mark looked more like carbon from a short.

"I saw no evidence whatsoever that any cigarette had been stubbed out there," she says.

The manager wrote up a damning report anyway.

In retrospect Keilin says she should have known. But she was so busy in her multiple roles at the agency that she was simply unprepared when her boss, Art Mosley, stepped into her office on February 8 and gently announced The Echo was dead. For security reasons. He cited concerns in the wake of the Connally escape. The paper would reopen when an appropriate location was found, Mosley assured.

But Keilin was done.

"It's very, very clear that you don't like the direction I've taken the paper in," she recalls telling him.

Weeks later, Keilin left the TDCJ to take a job at the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. She says the timing was coincidental, that she had wanted to move to Austin for a long time.

As for Renaud and his colleagues, they were shipped off to other units and given temporary new jobs -- washing dishes.

TDCJ officials last month announced the resurrection of The Echo, promising a decidedly less ornery animal. The paper would have a new home, a different staff, a new supervisor and a retooled purpose. The picture that emerged was of a reformed rebel, a hell-raiser like Randle Patrick McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, after a final round of electroshocks.

A pair of twentysomethings with little journalism experience would now deliver the Texas prison news. One was David Graham, the former Air Force cadet who murdered a 16-year-old girl at the urging of his jealous fiancée, in a case that became TV movie fodder. Graham is serving a life sentence. He was to share editing responsibilities with Clifford Barnes, who is doing 12 years for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Harris County.  

The paper, which has moved to the Wynne Unit in Huntsville, now falls under the umbrella of the Windham School District, the educational system for convicts. TDCJ spokesman Castlebury says that making the district responsible for The Echo sends a powerful message.

"That message is one of rehabilitation and education, because that is what Windham is exclusively devoted to," he says.

"Censorship" is the word that pops into Ray Hill's head. The radio host explains that under a Supreme Court ruling, school administrators have sweeping powers to censor student publications. Those powers go well beyond what a prison can do to an inmate newspaper, he says.

"They moved [The Echo] physically into the Windham School District shelter because they're sitting on this Supreme Court case," Hill says. Hargrove seconds that argument. In a letter to the Press, the former editor says he was invited to work on the new Echo but politely declined, fearing it would become a "highly censored…vehicle for promoting [Windham's] academic and vocational programs."

The paper'snew supervisor, Leigh-Anne Gideon, promises to lead The Echo in a kinder, gentler direction. Gideon, a former reporter for The Huntsville Item whose father worked for TDCJ, declined comment to the Press. But Lisa Trow, Renaud's ex-wife and Gideon's former editor at The Item, calls her very much "a child of that system."

"Will she represent the wishes of TDCJ's administration? Yes," Trow says.

With the overhaul, TDCJ officials have had to amend their original claims that The Echo was shut down because of concerns over the security of the old office site. Spokesman Larry Todd says that the previous staff relied too heavily on feel-good materials lifted from other newspapers.

"Knowledge is very important to an inmate just like somebody on the street. Maybe more so," he says. "Little warm and fuzzies cut out of a paper and put in there -- we didn't think that was appropriate."

The spokesman makes little effort to defend that argument when it is pointed out that the stories of the past year were mostly staff written, and not particularly warm or fuzzy. "I'm not going to discuss the reasons [staff members] were changed. There's no need to go into that," he responds.

Following the February closure, the ACLU of Texas threatened to sue the TDCJ for violating prisoners' First Amendment rights. But the agency effectively shielded itself when it revived the inmate publication, even under new staff, says the ACLU's Harrell. Prison jobs are privileges, not rights.

But for Harrell, there is little doubt why the agency pulled the plug.

"They got too effective," he says. "They were too good at what they were doing."

This year, David Hargrove took top prize in the prestigious PEN Prison Writing Awards for a story he wrote about the 1998 execution of Karla Faye Tucker. Renaud won awards in poetry and fiction. He also was honored in nonfiction for his article about the March 2000 TDCJ lockdown.

"It doesn't matter how good Jorge was," Castlebury says. "If the [TDCJ] deemed that David Graham, in supervision by Windham in location at Wynne, serves a greater benefit than the distinguished work of Jorge at the Walls Unit, then the agency was wise to go with that which was an even greater benefit."

The TDCJ may indeed have reaped great benefits with Graham at The Echo. No one will ever know for sure. Before a single issue appeared, agency officials yanked the ex-cadet from the paper this month, citing his notoriety and his long sentence.

They have yet to announce a replacement.

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