It took me about 10, maybe 15, seconds when I first set foot in this place to realize that it isn’t what some folks call it.
The William P. Clements Jr. Prison Unit in Amarillo is no “country club.”
It’s a place where more than 3,500 men serve their time as wards of the state. It can be a violent place. It can be a place of death.
A Texas Department of Criminal Justice corrections supervisor, Major Rowdy Boggs, has been recommended for dismissal after an inmate, Alton Rogers, was found unconscious in his cell after he allegedly was beaten by his cellmate. Rogers died Jan. 18 of the injuries he suffered.
Boggs and 17 other corrections officers face punishment; some of them have been suspended without pay, according to the Texas Tribune.
They’re all innocent, or so they claim, according to an assistant Clements Unit warden who took me on an extended tour of the place shortly after I arrived in Amarillo in early 1995 to start a new job as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.
Rick Hudson, then the assistant warden, walked me through the unit one day to show me the TDCJ lockup that was still quite new and in fairly pristine condition. He told me of the fights that erupt within the unit almost daily; in the summer, with the temperatures rising and tensions flaring, the inmate-on-inmate violence gets really serious, Hudson said.
I will add that TDCJ does not equip its prison units with air conditioning.
It’s a tough place to spend many years — let alone spending the rest of one’s life — paying for the crimes they commit.
Yet we hear the canard on occasion from the tough-on-crime-and-criminals crowd that prison life is “too good” for these individuals.
What’s their alternative? Take away the few privileges they get. No TV, no rec rooms, no library. Pack ’em in like sardines.
OK, then. You want more violence? Let ‘er rip! While we’re at it, let’s put the corrections officers — who many folks believe are woefully underpaid — into greater danger trying to break up the fights that are certain to erupt.
Texas got sued once in federal court by an inmate who alleged inhumane treatment. The federal court system took over the state prison system and in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the state embarked on a prison-building program that produced new lockups, such as the maximum-security Clements Unit and the medium-security Nathaniel Neal Unit nearby.
Life for these criminals got nominally more comfortable.
I am quite certain of one thing, though: They aren’t living in country clubs while they pay their debt to society.