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writ writer Thus it was that the violent inmate Ruiz began, under her tutelage and with the aid of others she had influenced, to turn himself into Ruiz, the writ writer. Hitherto, his resort to law had been limited to the filing of habeas corpus petitions attacking his own convictions. Now, he learned to make use of federal civil rights statutes, state laws governing the operation of the prisons, and some provisions of TDC’s own regulations to challenge the obnoxious features of the system. He had finally learned a trade, and he applied himself to it with a will. Ruiz has had a hand in over a dozen of the inmate-initiated cases now pending against Texas prison administrators. He subjects these officials to a steady barrage of lawyerly correspondence, politely pointing out discrepancies between TDC’s public pronouncements and actual practices he witnesses at the Wynne Unit where he is now confined. He and his fellow writ writersinmates like Ernesto Montana, Salvador Gonzalez, Allen Lamar, Martha Quinlan, Lawrence Pope and numerous othershave gone about this business of holding TDC to accounts with great resourcefulness and relish. Amidst their allegations of serious wrongdoingmedical neglect, beatings, race discrimination, and the likethey even find room for a certain dry humor. Example: a May 6, 1977, affidavit signed by David Ruiz and others describes how a TDC officer tried to silence him as he spoke in a low voice to another inmate about the parole system. The officer pointed to a “no talking” sign in the hospital waiting room where the incident occurred; Ruiz replied by citing a federal court order specifically forbidding attempts to keep him from talking to other inmates. That order, said the officer, did not apply in the prison hospital. Ruiz demurred. The affidavit concludes: “The said officer then ordered Ruiz to shut up. Ruiz did not talk further.” TDC has yet to figure out an effective counter to the legal attacks mounted with such enthusiasm by the likes of David Ruiz. Prison officials could comfortably deal with the sort of rebel Ruiz used to be . But what do you do with an inmate who attacks you with legal arguments instead of physical violence, and whose case is heard in a court you can’t control? The burgeoning of the writ-writing phenomenon clearly caught the prison system off-guard, and the initial reaction was downright panicky: in 1971, thendirector of TDC George Beto had writ writers, including David Ruiz, concentrated on one unit where they could be kept away from other inmates, and he denied Frances Cruz any further access to them, accusing her of trying to foment an inmate insurrection and stir up litigation. Ruiz remembers how he was approached by assistant warden Billy McMillan of the Eastham Unit with an offer of assistance in obtaining parole in exchange for publicly renouncing his ties to attorney Cruz. Ruiz declined, and a federal judge later made short work of Beto’s scheme, denouncing it as a transparently unconstitutional attempt to deny the prisoners their right to sue and to deprive Cruz of her rightful access to her clients. Since then, Ruiz says, writ writers have been harassed as a matter of tacit, rather than explicit, TDC policy. One instance of harassment he alleged in a 1977 letter was at the level of petty vindictiveness: a painting he made and gave to another inmate was confiscated as “contraband.” Some of the reprisals he alleges, however, threaten his health and even his life: earlier this year, for example, he was given the job of scrubbing shower stalls, an assignment he claims he refused because of pain he experienced while doing the work. Result \(as and a subsequent diagnosis that he was, in fact, suffering from gall stones. Solitary confinement was also his lot for refusing recently to accept a transfer to a different part of the Wynne Unita transfer which would have put him in close proximity to an inmate he claims has openly threatened to kill him. Ruiz says he’s not naive enough to suppose that TDC will necessarily abandon these alleged tactics just because Z,I3TE-li Judge Justice may order them to be stopped when he decides Ruiz v. Estelle . The same goes, he adds, for the possibility that the federal judge will order an end to the building tender system which is, after all, illegal under Texas law already. But, he goes on to insist, “The only way you can communicate with TDC is through a court order.” Of course, TDC officials deny most of Ruiz’s particular allegations. As for the broad issues raised in the case to be tried next month, TDC annual reports make much of the progress toward a more humane system that’s been made compared to the way the prisons were run 30 years or so ago. Ruiz is willing to concede that there’s been significant progress even over the 18 years he’s been in”a little more education and training,” he says, “and nowhere near so much outright brutality.” He concludes wryly: “Maybe a hundred years from now they’ll be taking people through and showing them ‘the hole’ [isolation cell]. And they’ll say, `Boy, it used to be rough. That’s where we used to keep those writ writers to get them to drop their lawsuits.’ ” Maybe so. And in the meantime, maybe the folks at TDC can take note of the humane gesture made by Travis County Sheriff Raymond Frank when Ruiz was temporarily in his custody earlier this month. Frank simply let him out of jail for awhile so he could attend a family reunion. And David Ruizthat incorrigible violator of TDC rules, the writ writer whom former cellmate Salvador Gonzalez calls “the toughest of all of us”after seeing his whole family again for the first time in 11 years, promptly turned himself back in at the Travis County jail. Some pressing legal business to attend to, you see. 0 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7