Letters from Prison


Tucked among the various constitutional amendments approved by Texas voters on November 6 was a shiny campaign vehicle for tough-on-crime officials to ride into the next election cycle-$233 million for the state to build three new prisons. So brazen was the political impetus for the new lockups that lawmakers didn’t set aside a penny to operate the facilities when they put the construction funding on the ballot.

Not that Texas has ever spent lavishly on such things. For enduring the danger, abuse, and thanklessness of their jobs, prison guards are paid from the low 20s to the low 30s. There aren’t nearly enough of them to watch over the 150,000-plus inmates in state prisons already. Now the state can build three more. As of June 2006, Texas had 687 prison inmates per 100,000 population, second only to Louisiana with 835, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics.

Those are the numbers. What of the voices?

Printed here are two submissions the Observer has received from inmates serving time in state prisons.

One, Andrew Papke, has appeared in our pages before. (See, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Screams,” May 4, 2007.) Papke is serving 40 years for intoxication manslaughter.

The second, Sidney Byrd, is serving a life sentence for aggravated assault on a state trooper and illegally carrying a weapon.

Their writing appears edited as necessary for clarity, accuracy, and in some cases, taste. To the extent possible, we verified their statements and descriptions. Under the circumstances, we can’t vouch for the purity, veracity, or motivation of their voices. But we do believe there is value in allowing different voices to be heard.