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women she counseled in jail, has filed suit against Cameron County and Sheriff Lucio for violating her constitutional right to free speech. While it asks for no money or damages other than attorney feesHanson is represented by local attorney Ed Stapleton, Scott Medlock of the Texas Civil Rights Project and the international firm of King and Spauldingthe suit seeks to restore her right to re-enter the jail as a volunteer chaplain. “This is an important test case says Medlock, both because of its free-speech implications and also because “not many like this have been litigated. And that is because most sheriffs are not abusing their power the way Sheriff Lucio is. This case tests the power of a sheriff to retaliate against those who speak out:’ Hanson’s case also highlights the troubled recent history of Cameron County’s jails, including corruption and sexual abuse by guards under the previous sheriff’s watch. And it shines an unusual spotlight on the role that chaplains play in troubled jails like Cameron County’s. In 2000, Gail Hanson had three grown sons and a case of empty-nest syndrome. Then as now, Hanson was teaching drama, speech and English at Valley Christian High School, which she and her husband, Paul Hanson found ed in Cameron County in 1973. The Hansons came from the University of Washington, where they had met, married and graduated. Their “Christian school without denominational connections” has about 7o students from both sides of the border. It’s known for innovative social justice projects as well as for its high academic standards. Motivated by her faith, which emphasizes actions as well as beliefs, Hanson felt the need to do more. By 2000, she’d begun studying counseling and thinking about the needs of people in crisisespecially those ignored by more traditional ministries and by the society as a whole. When she heard about local prison conditions from local chaplain Drew Vail, she knew where she wanted to turn her energies. Inside the jail, Hanson’s approach was based on a charismatic type of Protestantism. Her gentle questions about who wanted to talk with her, or who was “ready for a miracle struck the inmates as quite different from the authoritarian lectures offered by chaplains like Vail. \(Some women have complained to Hanson of being threatened with hellfire and damnation if they don’t The Cameron County women’s jail typically holds about 100 The number of female inmates in South Texas is rising, reflecting national trends; the number of incarcerated women in the United States has grown at double the rate for men since 1980. pre-trial detainees, a fair number of them held for months or even years before they are tried. Detention without conviction happens for many reasons: Inmates might be deemed flight risks, due to family ties in another country just blocks away; immigration courts suffer from a backlog of cases and a shortage of court-appointed counsel; and many inmates have no money for bail even if it’s granted. Only last year did Cameron County initiate an indigent legal defense program. Hanson worried over the waiting women who sunk into Sheriff Omar Lucio photo by Daniel Lopez depression and apathy. She took her students to sing to them. She listened to endless stories and hugged the women. She tried to make the case to the sheriff that they needed classes and activities. She also carefully wrote weekly journals on her visits and kept notes on the phone calls and emails while collecting about 200 letters the women have written her. The inmates’ letters are often concerned mainly with legal or family problems, but many also detail the lack of medical care, the deadly boredom and overcrowding in Cameron County lockup. “There is no air flowing through the facility and these women get no exercise,” wrote inmate Tammy Randolph in 2008. “Why:’ asked another of Hanson’s correspondents, “can’t these women get soap or a change of underwear?” At times, women told Hanson they were sleeping on the floor because NOVEMBER 13, 2009 TEXASOBSERVER.ORG 17