Here's what the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is terrible at keeping out of prisons: cell phones. Here's what TDCJ is awesome at keeping out: dead people's hair.
Native American inmate William Chance serving 65 years for aggravated sexual assault has sued TDCJ to get 4-inch locks of his deceased parents' hair for a custom called "Keeping of Souls."
"The hair is just the connection to their physical spirit," the 57-year-old rapist told the Associated Press.
Prison officials refused on the grounds that the hair is a security risk -- they were probably concerned he would weave the strands into a lasso to capture one of the guards and steal the keys -- and a group called the Texas Civil Rights Project filed a suit in 2011 on Chance's behalf. According to the AP
Chance was convicted in Denton County in 1992, and his parents died in 2008 and 2009. The AP reports that his grandmother was "a Cheyenne from Lame Deer [Montana]," but says nothing else about his Native American heritage, which makes us wonder.
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A Northern Arizona University anthropologist and expert in Native American religions told the AP that Chance's scenario is akin to "a Catholic wanting to go to church and take communion, and being told you can't have absolution and can't take communion."
As Chance says, "The spirit of a person remains in the remnant."
However, the AP reports that Chance has a "'medicine bag' approved by Texas prison officials that includes an 8-inch strand of horse hair threaded through a hawk's wing bone. According to court documents, those items were procured through vendors approved by the prison system."
Chance's brother is holding onto the hair for safekeeping.