Flooding at the Terrell and Stringfellow units during Harvey.
Flooding at the Terrell and Stringfellow units during Harvey.
Photo courtesy of TDCJ

Texas Prisoners Donated Thousands to Harvey Relief From Their Commissaries

They might have been locked up in prison while Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas coast, but that didn't stop prisoners from pitching in with Harvey relief in one way or another.

Namely, by donating more than $50,000 out of their generally limited commissary funds.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said 6,663 prisoners donated $53,863 to the American Red Cross, with the average donation being $8 and several offenders donating a couple of hundred dollars. This is money they would have otherwise used to buy themselves food, hygiene products and things like postage stamps or personal fans — money given to them by friends or family or earned through prison jobs.

The donations were all the offenders' idea, Clark said, and it started back in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Offenders had approached TDCJ administrators wondering how they could help, and started taking money out of their commissary for the relief.

Clark said, this time around, a simple flyer was placed near the commissary stations reminding offenders they could spend their commissary funds on donations to the Red Cross. And $53,000 was the result.

During Harvey, the prison system faced its own difficulties, as prisons near the overflowing Brazos River — the Terrell, Ramsey and Stringfellow units — had to be evacuated because of flooding.

Making matters more complicated, 710 inmates from Stringfellow were transferred to the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota — which is currently under federal court oversight after a judge found that the extreme heat in that unit amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Once TDCJ transferred inmates there, those inmates automatically qualified for relief under the judge's order that all heat-sensitive inmates have access to air conditioning. And even though TDCJ argued that this shouldn't count and was only a temporary move because of Harvey, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison disagreed, forcing TDCJ to accommodate roughly 600 inmates with A/C.

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