The following statements are taken from court records pertaining to a lawsuit that was filed by Helen Ann Caples, an inmate at the Hobby Unit, which is a women's prison located near Marlin, Texas:
"For the last several years, Marlin's water has been contaminated. At one point, the water was severely rationed until repairs could be made (none have as yet). In 2003, because our drinking water was determined to be contaminated, offenders of Hobby Unit were restricted to using three six-ounce cups of water per day for all purposes. Toilet flushes were non-existent for lack of water.
"The unit was using porta Johns, but close custody was not allowed to because we were not important. The toilets in our cells were backed up with urine and feces while fowl flies, and gnats had started to surface due to the toilets being unflushed. We were like this three to four days. Three-minute showers were added later. All this happened in 2003, but the problem originally began years ago.
"[Water] Pipes were supposed to be replaced. Funds were raised to rectify the problem, but matters have never changed. [Note: She's talking about matters not changing and continuing in the present time frame. Her lawsuit was denied by the federal court on October 16, 2006, and all the unresolved problems she's talking about still persist.] There's been reports of mercury, as well as dirt, rust, dead catfish, and even straight up sewage water in the water that is supplied to this unit [in the reservoir the water that is supplied to the prison comes from].
"This contaminated water should only be used -- if they just have to use it at all -- for the purpose of showering and flushing toilets. A better filtration system for our drinking water is the only solution to this problem, and according to risk manager Emily Davidson, this [filtration system] has been a long anticipated solution to be installed in the near future. [Note: We have been told in the past that a water polishing unit supposedly cured the contamination problem, but a risk management official has recently admitted to Caples that more filtration is needed! Until that extra filtration is installed, the Hobby Unit inmates remain exposed to contaminated water.]
"In August of 2004 [note: the temperature was running anywhere from 100 to 106 degrees every day at the time] offenders at the Hobby Unit went through several boil water issues. Some [boil alerts] lasted an entire month. But TDCJ officials claimed there was nothing wrong with the water. [note: there were 6 suicides and 4 deaths due to heat-related illness that same summer.] But there's more wrong with the habitat here at the Hobby Unit than just the water.
"In April 2006, a woman that I know died. She had colon cancer and lost control of her bowels. Three other long-time friends of mine have cancer: one has breast cancer, the other two have colon cancer and have to wear diapers. Another woman I know has fibrosis and is being seen, when conditions permit, by an special doctor. All these women are in their early 40s. There's also numerous problems with H-pylori that many inmates, including myself, have acquired while serving time here at the Hobby Unit. H-pylori is a bacteria found in the stomach and is known to cause ulcers. Here recently, I've been having blood in my urine, complicated by a high white blood cell count with cells that cause cancer also present in my urine. Besides that, my platelet count is always running between high and low extremes -- all of which cause conditions that continually threaten my health. All this has happened since I've been incarcerated at the Hobby Unit.
"Besides all that above stuff, our showers also have worms [maggots] that turn into flies on the floor along the shower stalls. In the winter, rats run from cell to cell looking for food, and roaches and water bugs are always in our cells. The chow hall has birds that fly in and out, and bird droppings can be found on the tables and floors. (12-7-05) Ms. Franzoni [a field boss] was working the chow hall when a bird flew in through a window near the ceiling and broke its neck. Franzoni picked the dead bird up and was looking at it. No one seems to think there's anything wrong about birds flying in and out of the chow hall. But birds carry lice, and some carry a kind of bird flu. Yet the doors to the chow hall stay open, and the birds think it's a big barn with lots of food in it. Some visitors (ACLU) were on the unit and they observed the birds flying in and out of the chow hall. However, they were just like the Hobby Unit staff and COs and didn't see anything wrong with it either.
"Dealing with the water issue and the prospect of [related] future health problems makes it scary enough in here without having to deal with worms [maggots] in the showers and birds flying in and out of the chow hall. (May 26, 2006) During chow time, a bird flew across the table of myself and Nicole Williams and did his business [pooped] on the table. A kitchen worker half-way cleared the table with a kitchen rag, but Lt. Scott wouldn't let us move to another table. He gave us the option to either set back down and eat or get the hell out."
The sworn affidavit of inmate Jessica Garza #1293892 reads as follows:
"I have dizziness, bad headaches, and it makes me really sick to my stomach when I drink this prison tap water. I never had these problems until I got to the Hobby Unit. I believe there needs to be something done about this water."
The sworn affidavit of inmate Kelley Courtney [no number available] reads as follows:
"The water here at the Hobby Unit makes me really sick at times. I keep a bad headache at all times. I have a stomach virus, diarrhea, and really bad stomach cramps. It gets to the point that I feel as if I am dying. Within the last two years, I've found out I have an over-active thyroid problem. I did not have this problem in the free world. I really feel that the drinking water is causing many of my health problems. The doctors have recently found a lump on my right breast that could be cancer. I don't know yet if it is, but Lord knows this water is killing me and many of my fellow inmates. Could this water be the reason that we feel dizzy and try to pass out all the time? Lord help us all be set free of this distasteful water."
For Immediate Release, as of November 27, 2006
By Helen Caples
To Whom It May Concern:
I've heard that only a strong prison reform movement can win and enforce significant legal victories. But the prison reform movement can also benefit from court action to build its political strength. A well-publicized lawsuit can educate people on the outside about conditions in prison. The struggle to force a court order can play an important role in political organization both inside and outside prison. Favorable court rulings backed up by a strong reform movement can convince prison staff to hold back so that conditions inside prison are a little less brutal. But to make a fundamental change in prison conditions, I can't rely on the lawsuit I currently have on appeal as a sole course of action. Therefore, it's important to connect my suit to the larger struggle. So I'm presenting this press release to explain my suit and what it reveals about prison and about the plight of American women who are serving time in prison.
We, the inmates of the Hobby Unit, are being exposed to contaminated water, and the results are CANCER: stomach and colon cancer. And nothing is being done about it because our lives mean nothing to the TDCJ officials who have charge of our confinement. All that matters is seeing to it that we serve our time, and controlling us until we die. And many of us are, in fact, actually in the process of dying a little more each day that we spend in Hobby Prison Hell. I hope and pray that this press release is more than just acknowledged; I pray that someone can please help us.
Helen Caples #535949
In solidarity with the women of the Hobby Unit,
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