civil rights Criminal Justice david ruiz frances jalet fred cruz Games george beto Longreads ronald novak solitary confinement texas department of corrections william bennett turner writ writer

The Love Story that Upended the Texas Prison System – Texas Monthly

The Love Story that Upended the Texas Prison System – Texas Monthly

However Beto placed on a appeal offensive, the one that often gained over reporters and different guests to his area. He was all the time on the lookout for “do-gooders,” and often managed to point out interlopers solely what he needed them to see. The press reliably sang Beto’s praises in glowing function tales, and there have been issues to reward: Beto had overseen the development of latest, extra trendy amenities and opened vocational studying and academic packages. Convicts might now earn their GEDs whereas in jail.

Of their first assembly, Beto felt obliged to warn Jalet of how inmates typically sought to con outsiders. He informed her she must be notably cautious of Fred Cruz. Cruz was typically in hassle for being a “writ-writer” and serving to different prisoners out with their authorized instances. Beto noticed him as artful,  all the time making an attempt to “out-snicker” him. He didn’t need Jalet to be taken benefit of by such a “nonconformist.”

“Is being a nonconformist a bad thing?” requested Jalet, who was, in fact, one thing of a nonconformist herself.

One Houston Chronicle reporter described Warden McAdams as a “big man with a velvet voice, a cherub’s face,” who, “despite the paunch,” might “move like a mongoose when there is trouble brewing.”

Beto in all probability didn’t like the sound of her remark. However he would have had no purpose to be involved about the arrival of a middle-aged feminine lawyer. He was one among the strongest males in the state, controlling an empire of 14 separate penal amenities, which held greater than 12,000 women and men. His prisons have been unfold throughout almost 100,000 acres of alluvial bottomlands shaped by the Brazos and Trinity Rivers, from Anderson County right down to the Gulf of Mexico. Resulting from the measurement of the land holdings and variety of staff and ancillary companies supported by the TDC, locals referred to as the space “the prison crescent.”

Beto favored to fly from one unit to the subsequent in his personal aircraft, typically displaying up unannounced early in the morning. He was referred to as “Walking George,” for his penchant for strolling amongst inmates throughout visits. Behind his again, inmates gave him one other nickname: “Promising George,” as their requests and complaints by no means appeared to go anyplace regardless of his assurances.

“He was an educated man of God, a wonderful guy,” stated A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, who served in the legislature. “We tried to get him as much money as we could.”

However it was the reality that the jail system didn’t want a lot cash that made Beto common. A lot of the land managed by the TDC was wealthy farmland, producing cotton, sugar cane, corn, and feed crops. The system had greater than 15,000 beef and dairy cattle, 17,000 hogs, and 112,000 chickens that produced greater than 800,000 dozen eggs a yr. Convicts not solely grew cotton—greater than three,500 five-hundred-pound bales a yr—but in addition processed it by way of gins and spun it into material, which was despatched to the Goree Unit in Huntsville, the place feminine inmates sewed it into linens and the white uniforms the prisoners wore. Prisoners have been additionally put to work constructing the stone partitions and fences that confined them. Beto dominated a veritable self-contained empire.  

Prisoners choosing cotton in Huntsville in 1968.

Danny Lyon

So there was little probability that this lone lawyer—notably one who barely knew a soul in Texas—might problem Beto’s authority. The Structure itself codified his proper to deal with his prisoners as slaves: the 13th Modification, adopted in 1865, had abolished slavery in the United States “except as a punishment for crime.” From that level to nicely after World Warfare II, Texas had merely swapped out slaves for inmates and stored on choosing cotton. In the mid-1960s, the federal courts in different states started to listen to prisoner’s rights instances, however little had modified in Texas, the place federal judges nonetheless held to what was referred to as the “hands-off” doctrine.

In the finish, Beto little question knew that if his appeal didn’t win over Jalet—if she turned an issue to cope with—he had loads of different playing cards he might play. All the prisoners’ mail, each incoming and outgoing, was learn and censored, so he might discover out what Jalet and Cruz have been as much as or simply minimize off their communication. He might have McAdams throw Cruz in solitary. And he had loads of political pull in Austin: it wouldn’t take greater than a few telephone calls to make Texas a really inhospitable place for Frances Jalet.


Jalet’s first assembly with Cruz left an impression on her, too. Writing about the expertise in a letter, she described Cruz as “an intelligent young man who has had a hard time.” For a poorly educated convict, he had a tremendous grasp of authorized points. “I find he has courage also,” wrote Jalet. And in her personal notes, there was a touch of one thing else. “Fred Cruz is handsome,” she wrote. “He can think. He can persuade. He can write. … It didn’t take much to arouse my interest in joining in with him.”

Jalet and Cruz started corresponding a number of occasions every week. They have been each prolific writers, Jalet clocking 110 phrases per minute on an previous guide typewriter that printed in cursive script. Due to the censors, letters typically arrived weeks late and typically in batches. Cruz and Jalet took to numbering their correspondence so they might know when letters went lacking.

On December 11, 1967, the day earlier than Cruz’s 28th birthday, he was again in solitary. A corrections officer with the Dickensian identify of Main Savage had accused him of disobeying an order to not share his Buddhist spiritual supplies with different inmates. When Cruz was let loose, he wrote in his diary, McAdams got here to personally warn him that if he stored writing individuals about issues that didn’t pertain to his case, he can be put in solitary indefinitely. The warden and Savage accused him of “agitating” the different prisoners. Cruz couldn’t fairly work out what they have been upset about, nevertheless it appeared to have one thing to do together with his new correspondent. McAdams advised Cruz he was fascinated by slicing off all visits from that lady lawyer.

However over the first few months of 1968, Jalet and Cruz began to write down one another virtually day by day, and she or he drove to go to him as typically as she might. They mentioned procedural points, constitutional issues, and the ethical underpinnings of justice. Jalet introduced Cruz regulation articles, together with one she had revealed in the UCLA Regulation Evaluate titled “The Quest for the General Principles of Law Recognized by Civilized Nations.” Cruz would typically write to Jalet all through the night time; one letter penned shortly after certainly one of her visits went on for twelve handwritten pages.

After a very noteworthy assembly, the place for the first time they’d been allowed to be in the similar room quite than separated by a barrier, Cruz wrote, “It was good to see you again, Mrs. Jalet. It took us a long time, but we finally got to shake hands didn’t we? During your visits … I often experienced the same frustrations Moses must have felt on the Mountain in being so close to godliness and not being able to make physical contact with it … You seem to have a very rare gifted capacity to employ your charm in such a tender fashion that while speaking with you a person feels very much at ease and comfortable in expressing one’s views.”

He needed her to know the good and dangerous of the man he was. Over the course of their first yr of contact, Cruz informed Jalet that by the eighth grade he had stopped attending faculty, sunk into the native drug financial system, and gone from smoking marijuana to capturing heroin. He had been out and in of the juvenile justice system and arrested a number of occasions. He additionally advised her of an incident that scarred him deeply: at 17, he was goofing round with an uncle’s pistol, displaying his greatest pal how briskly he might draw it from his waistband. The gun fired and his pal fell, mortally wounded. No costs have been filed; it was simply one other tragic accident in the dangerous a part of city.

“I have been reared and grown up in [a] community of criminals who are anti-social to the greatest extent,” he wrote. “My place has always been among the worst. … I’m telling you these things in the hope that by learning some of my past background you will have a better insight into the nature of my existence. I do not have anything to hide, nor do I have anything of which to boast.”

Jalet would later insist that whereas Cruz was in jail their relationship was strictly one in every of shopper and lawyer. Their deep mental kinship, nevertheless, was obvious from the begin.

The Masks of Respectability

Jalet turned more and more incensed by what she was studying from Cruz about his remedy in jail. His punishment for working towards and sharing his Buddhist religion, for one, appeared a transparent violation of his constitutional rights. What was extra elementary than the freedom of faith? The brutality of solitary, and the arbitrary means it was used to punish prisoners for sharing authorized recommendation, additionally appeared unconstitutional.

Prisoners elsewhere had begun to petition federal courts for constitutional protections; a couple of years earlier than, a black Muslim prisoner in Illinois had gained a Supreme Courtroom case after being denied permission to purchase spiritual supplies or meet with ministers of his religion. However at Ellis, Cruz and others continued to be punished—together with with solitary—for sharing their spiritual beliefs.

Cruz advised another prisoners about Jalet’s help and pursuits, and shortly she was assembly with two different inmates at Ellis.

She met with a Muslim African-American prisoner named Bobby Brown, who had been punished with months of solitary confinement for training his religion. A white prisoner named Ronald Novak, serving a twelve-year stint for theft and assault, additionally requested Jalet’s assist. Novak struggled with psychological sickness and hallucinations. He advised Jalet of being repeatedly crushed and starved in solitary, which had exacerbated a kidney ailment that dogged him. Novak was a troubled man and no mannequin prisoner.  Three years earlier than assembly Jalet, he had disarmed two guards, stolen a truck, and made his option to Houston earlier than being caught and thrown into solitary.

Based mostly on her interviews, Jalet started to compose a doc she referred to as “The Ellis Report.” From the very first sentences of its fifteen typed pages, it was an all-out indictment: “The prisoners confined in the [Texas Department of Corrections], most especially on the Ellis Unit … are deprived of their constitutional rights and subjected to a pattern of repression, harassment, and even torture that is shocking. Through abusive practices based on brutality and dehumanization, the ‘inmates’ live in constant fear.”

Prisoners return from the fields and obtain a shakedown at the rear gate of Ellis.

Warden McAdams performed a central position in the report. In Cruz’s diaries, he described McAdams as displaying an “unwavering belief in the efficiency of brute force,” and stated the warden’s intent was nothing lower than “to inflict as much mental anguish as possible, lower morale, and plunge men into darkest despair.”

Jalet documented the tales she had heard from prisoners of being made to face on a rail, of being hung from bars in straitjackets. She wrote of routine beatings with fists, baseball bats, brass knuckles, and blackjacks. McAdams himself typically led the motion, she wrote, notably if an African-American work squad confirmed indicators of malingering or “bucking.” She advised of 1 incident when a prisoner was made to shell peanuts for 5 days straight till his fingers have been so uncooked that he tried suicide by slashing his personal wrists.

She additionally uncovered the position of the “building tenders,” inmates who have been allowed to maintain weapons as long as they have been prepared to tune up troublemakers at the request of jail directors. That they had exceptional energy. “Building tenders are henchmen of the establishment and have authority to harass, intimidate and even to beat—possibly kill—prisoners,” Jalet wrote in her report.

The use of constructing tenders was being phased out throughout America, however Texas was a holdout. This was considered one of Beto’s soiled secrets and techniques: he might run his prisons cheaply not simply because he had free labor, however as a result of choose prisoners acted as his guards and enforcers. They didn’t value a factor; one simply wanted to offer them some weapons and some additional privileges.

Jalet started to flow into copies of the Ellis Report back to state businesses and civil rights teams. She despatched one copy to the NAACP Authorized Protection Fund, the place it discovered its strategy to a younger Harvard-trained employees lawyer named William Bennett Turner. Jalet turned more and more satisfied that the abuses in the jail—notably the use of solitary confinement and the restriction on prisoners serving to one another with authorized pleadings—wanted to be challenged in courtroom.

It couldn’t have taken lengthy earlier than Beto caught wind of the report. If he had any doubt about whom Jalet was more likely to sue, the first part cleared that up. The division’s “mask of respectability,” she wrote, “is furthered by the status of Dr. George J. Beto, a former Lutheran Minister and College President, who, though he cannot be blind to what goes on, manages to obscure the truth from interested eyes.”

The implications would have been apparent to Beto and his wardens: Jalet, utilizing Cruz as her key informant, was declaring conflict on the Texas jail system.

A constructing shakedown at Ellis in 1968.

Danny Lyon

The First Firing

In the spring of 1968, Beto determined it was time to go on the offensive. His first countermove was to lodge a grievance with Jalet’s boss at the authorized help workplace in Austin. What proper, he needed to know, did this out-of-state lawyer have stirring up the jail inhabitants? Jalet’s boss instantly took all her instances away. She wrote to her residence workplace again in Philadelphia, which managed to seek out her a brand new posting at a poverty regulation middle in Dallas.

Jalet was in her new job for less than half a yr when Beto phoned her new boss, Joshua Taylor, to say that his newest rent was a thorn in his aspect. Taylor dutifully instructed Jalet to cease visiting the prisons. Jalet refused. The bitter fights between the two—typically aggravated by Taylor’s late-afternoon consuming—turned the speak of the office. “If you don’t like the way I run this office,” he shouted at her at one level, “you know where the door is!”

In a memo, Taylor ordered Jalet to not help prisoners and to cease “attacking the policies” of the Texas jail system. When Beto obtained a replica of Taylor’s directive, he had a pretext to bar her from his prisons. He informed his wardens to take away Jalet from permitted visiting and correspondence lists. Abruptly, Jalet was utterly reduce off from her shoppers.

In response, Jalet filed an injunction and a restraining order towards each Beto and Taylor. Submitting a movement towards her personal boss, she certainly knew, can be the final straw—and on  Christmas Eve, Taylor referred to as her into his workplace and advised her he was firing her for “insubordination.”

That Christmas of 1968 was a troublesome one. On prime of being let go and never understanding how she was going to pay lease, Jalet got here down with the flu. It was additionally her first Christmas away from her youngsters, and her youngest, Frances, a university scholar in New York, despatched her a involved notice.  “Are you staying down in Texas for Mr. Cruz and the others?” she requested. “If so I think that’s not reason enough. There are minority groups up here too and, more important, there are your children up here who need you.”

The head of the fellowship program in Philadelphia provided to seek out Jalet one other poverty regulation middle to work at again east. Though she longed to be close to her youngsters, Jalet refused. “I can’t just walk off [from] my commitments to prisoners here,” she wrote to a good friend. She knew an excessive amount of about what was occurring behind the partitions. Prisoners’ constitutional rights weren’t theoretical—they might be the distinction between dwelling and dying. She additionally didn’t like the concept of giving in to bullies.

So Jalet needed to discover one other group in Texas prepared to take her in. By February, she had accepted the publish of managing lawyer of the Authorized Assist Clinic at Texas Southern College Regulation Faculty in Houston. Jalet discovered it to be small and poorly funded, however Houston had one benefit: it was solely eighty miles from the Ellis Unit. She would have time to maintain up together with her jail instances—if she might get Beto’s ban rescinded.

Jalet discovered that officers have been shifting her three shoppers between solitary and segregated isolation and pressuring no less than certainly one of them to signal papers accusing her of inciting violence.

Weeks glided by with no capacity to correspond with or go to her shoppers, and Jalet apprehensive for Cruz, Novak, and Brown. Would they assume she had deserted them? Luckily, she had the jail grapevine. She discovered that officers have been shifting her three shoppers between solitary and segregated isolation and pressuring a minimum of one among them to signal papers accusing her of inciting violence. She additionally discovered that Beto and McAdams have been protecting monitor of her. McAdams had bragged to at least one jail customer that he knew precisely when Jalet had arrived in Houston and the dates of her journeys to and from Dallas. She started to fret that her telephone had been tapped and typically imposed on her neighbors when she wanted to make delicate calls.

“It is all like a nightmare,” Jalet wrote. “Especially when I think that the three prisoners I’ve tried to help have such a hard time.”

Jalet additionally started to succeed in out to highly effective legal professionals in Texas. Jalet hadn’t been properly acquired by the state’s authorized group, however when her fellow legal professionals discovered that a state official had barred her from talking together with her personal shoppers, they started to return to her assist. One well-connected lawyer in Houston was so disturbed by Jalet’s stories that he referred to as the state’s lawyer basic’s first assistant, and satisfied him to intercede.

By the time the Texas lawyer common’s workplace negotiated a cease-fire—Jalet can be allowed to go to her shoppers if she dropped her authorized motion towards Beto—issues had gotten determined. Bobby Brown had for months been held in a strip cell with no sheets, pillow, or toiletries. Novak had been crushed savagely by two constructing tenders, and the weeks he had spent in solitary had additional broken his precarious psychological well being. As for Cruz, after a number of stints in solitary, he might barely put collectively a coherent sentence. His voice was weak from disuse; he hadn’t spoken various phrases in months.

However Jalet’s battle with Beto was a scorching matter amongst the jail inhabitants. Beto was not somebody who backed down, and but the diminutive Yankee lady was again. Out of the blue, dozens of inmates and their households requested for her help. 

Jalet at her publish in Houston in 1969.

Courtesy of The Jalet Household


On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. The correspondence between Jalet and Cruz makes no point out of the occasion—they have been far too busy pushing their first main lawsuit via the courtroom system.  Jalet helped Cruz and Novak write and file a lawsuit difficult each the TDC’s rule barring prisoners from serving to one another with authorized issues and the use of solitary confinement as punishment for prisoners sharing authorized recommendation. They have been lastly going to problem Beto and the jail system in federal district courtroom.

Jalet wasn’t a seasoned trial lawyer—in truth had no trial expertise—so she partnered with William Bennett Turner, the NAACP Authorized Protection Fund lawyer who had develop into fascinated by her jail advocacy after studying the Ellis Report. He flew out from San Francisco to assist her interview witnesses and put together for trial. His work ethic was a match for Jalet’s, and the pair toiled seven days every week. They did take a break and pay the one-dollar admission to witness the annual Prison Rodeo. Prisoners in striped outfits roped calves and rode bulls and broncos; others dressed as rodeo clowns. It was the first rodeo both of the two had attended.

A month earlier than the trial date Jalet was at Ellis assembly together with her shoppers. At midday, she left the jail to drive to Huntsville for lunch. She observed immediately that the steering in her automotive felt totally different. Rounding a curve, she misplaced management and crashed right into a ditch. Though she was badly bruised, the x-rays confirmed no damaged bones, and shortly after her night time in the hospital she was again at Ellis to proceed her conferences.

She questioned later whether or not somebody had tampered together with her automotive, and regretted not having it inspected earlier than it was repaired. “You are in redneck country,” Novak wrote her. “How do you know the incident was an accident?”

On December 15, the case got here to trial in Houston. The decide assigned, Woodrow Seals, was a World Warfare II Air Drive veteran and a Democrat who had been a marketing campaign supervisor for John F. Kennedy. He’d been appointed in 1966 by Lyndon B. Johnson, and although he didn’t have an extended monitor document, given the risk of different, good-old-boy judges in Texas courts, it appeared like a fortunate break to get him.

Cruz wore a go well with and sat subsequent to Jalet at the counsel desk. At the decide’s request, guards have been positioned all through the courtroom to help the U.S. Marshals. A number of reporters, tipped off to an excellent story by letters Jalet had despatched to their editors, sat with notebooks at the prepared.

The trial started and Jalet and Turner referred to as their first witness: Novak.  He described the brutality and psychological anguish of solitary. He advised the decide that over a three-month interval in the earlier yr he had spent greater than 78 days in solitary in 4 separate stints. The hunger and isolation in darkness had pushed him past his psychological limits. In despair, he stated, he managed to noticed by means of considered one of his Achilles tendons—a standard act of self-mutilation that prisoners referred to as “heel stringing”—with a view to keep away from future work in the subject and be moved to the hospital unit. The cause he had been punished so harshly, Novak testified, was that he had requested Cruz for assist in submitting authorized papers. The penalties turned much more extreme when he started to satisfy with Jalet.

Beneath cross-examination, he admitted that there have been occasions in the previous when he’d been positioned in solitary for extra critical offenses, together with the time he had escaped in a stolen truck.

“What are they supposed to do with you [instead], give you a medal?” Decide Seals requested, in the first of many hints that Seals’s task won’t have been such luck in any case.

Fred Cruz, circa 1973.

Courtesy of The Jalet Household

A Ethical Obligation to Resist

When Cruz took the stand, Decide Seals took over the questioning. If jail officers couldn’t use solitary, the decide needed to know, what punishment can be the only in reprimanding a prisoner who repeatedly violated jail laws?

“How about whipping?” Seals requested. “Would that deter people from violating the regulations in prison if you tied them to a stake in the prison yard and whipped them, not break any bones, not whip them unconscious, but whip them so that they know they’ve had a whipping?”

The decide appeared to need Cruz to confess that, on the scale of all potential penalties, solitary wasn’t the worst. Cruz, who had spent a whole lot of hours considering and writing about the nature of such punishments, gathered his ideas.

“When you use physical force on a man,” Cruz stated, “the only thing you do is breed hostility. … If you breach his respect for authority and he goes back in society, he takes that hostility and hatred with him, and that’s why a lot of people go back in society and commit more crimes and it creates a cycle.”

Decide Seals thought-about this reply unsatisfactory.

“Suppose, though, you have a prisoner who is not very smart and he might be a little emotionally disturbed,” the decide stated, in a possible reference to Novak. “Now, don’t you think that he should be punished so he will learn that he can’t keep doing what he is doing?”

“I believe those people should be helped through a psychiatrist and counseling so that they would be able to understand,” Cruz stated. “If they are not responsible for their actions, I don’t believe that they should be punished.”

“Is there any situation,” Seals requested, “where punishment does help a prisoner when he violates a regulation?”

Cruz admitted that typically a prisoner must be remoted if he have been violent, however advised that schooling and mediation can be higher than solitary, in the long run, to assist prisoners comply with the guidelines and perceive proper from mistaken.

“Suppose you give him another chance,” Seals pressed, “and he violates a valid regulation again? What would you do with him then?”

“I guess just repeat the process,” Cruz stated.

“Suppose it doesn’t help?” the decide requested. “Here is a warden with hundreds and hundreds of people. … Don’t you think if he didn’t have some way of punishing these people, that he couldn’t run the prison? … How can he enforce discipline?”

“I don’t have the expertise on that, your honor,” Cruz stated. “I can just say from my own experience and the effect this punishment has had on me.”

“What has that done to you?” Seals requested.

“For one thing,” Cruz started, “it has made me more resolute in trying to enjoin some of these unreasonable regulations that I feel are wrong.”

Seals wasn’t having any of this.

“The law did not give you the power to make the regulations, see?” Seals stated. “You are just an uneducated young man with an eighth-grade education. The law puts power to regulate the prison in experts’ hands like Dr. Beto. Why don’t you recognize that that’s what the people of Texas want to do and obey its regulations, even though you disagree with them?”

If Seals thought he might browbeat Cruz into submission, he was flawed.

“I recognize the fact that he does have a broad discretion in promulgating these rules and regulations,” Cruz responded. “But I also recognize the fact that he could not enforce a rule and regulation that is in contradiction of federal law. He is under the obligation of law, just like I am … He also has to obey the law and he also has to protect my rights in support of regulations that [punish] me for exercising constitutional rights.” As a result of Beto had not offered that safety, Cruz stated, “I feel I have a moral duty to resist it and that’s what I have been doing.”

Jalet already had nice admiration for Cruz’s thoughts, however his efficiency on the stand took her unexpectedly. He had appeared totally different, dapper in his go well with and tie. And his preternatural poise dealing with rapid-fire questions from a district courtroom decide amazed her. She had little question that, have been he given the alternative, he might be an incredible lawyer.

George Beto took the stand at the very finish of the weeklong trial. To Jalet’s eyes, he was clearly uncomfortable beneath oath. His solutions have been imperious mini-lectures about the difficulties of his job and the state of incarceration in America. As he had accomplished all through the week, Decide Seals took over a lot of the questioning.

Instantly after the shut of the trial, simply 5 days earlier than Christmas, the president of Texas Southern College advised the president of the regulation faculty that he’d have to fireside Jalet or the college would lose funding.

“Is there any particular reason why you do not want Fred Cruz assisting other prisoners in the preparation of writs?” Seals requested Beto.

“He could develop an unconscionable control over other inmates by setting himself up as a lawyer,” Beto advised the courtroom. “There are two types of prisons, those the convicts run and those the administration run. … I live in mortal fear of a convict-run prison.” In fact, what Beto actually meant was that he didn’t need his jail run by convicts who weren’t in his management; cell blocks throughout Texas have been already run by the constructing tenders.

Instantly after the shut of the trial, simply 5 days earlier than Christmas, the president of Texas Southern College informed the president of the regulation faculty that he’d have to fireside Jalet or the college would lose funding. The school and the college students at the faculty protested, however to no avail. “I’m deeply discouraged,” Jalet wrote in a letter. “[I] seem of late to be batting my head against a stone wall. Dr. Beto has almost succeeded in running me out of the state.”

It was little shock that she felt that approach—Jalet was taking over a person with unimaginable energy and affect not simply in Texas, however throughout the nation. As 1970 started, Beto’s public status was at its peak. He was in his second yr as the president of the American Correctional Affiliation and he quickly can be awarded the distinguished alumnus award by the College of Texas. He gave frequent speeches throughout the United States and internationally and was turning into generally known as “the grand old man of the cold gray walls.”

George Beto and an inmate.

The Texas Prison Museum

Counting on the Good Religion of Dr. Beto

After the trial Cruz was briefly despatched to the Wynne Unit, the place he was positioned in isolation and denied all privileges. Cruz was undeterred. Whereas he didn’t but know the consequence of the trial, he had challenged Beto and the jail system in entrance of a federal decide.

In the spring of 1970, Cruz managed to safe a pen and, utilizing his ration of bathroom paper, wrote a category motion lawsuit towards the State of Texas, stating that the jail system had punished him for making an attempt to train his spiritual beliefs. He managed to get the rest room paper out of jail and filed in a district courtroom. No matter the end result of the first case, Cruz and Jalet now had one other lawsuit in the works.

In October, Decide Seals’s ruling got here down: Cruz and Novak had misplaced. Seals dominated that prisoners had no want to assist one another in authorized issues as a result of the yr earlier than the Division of Corrections had employed an lawyer to offer help—one lawyer for 14,000 inmates. Seals parroted Beto’s testimony that writ writers like Cruz may use their authorized information to regulate different prisoners—regardless that there had been no proof that this had occurred.

As for solitary being a merciless and weird punishment for prisoners serving to one another out with authorized issues, Seals determined that jail officers ought to have nice leeway in selecting disciplinary measures, “lest the judicial stranglehold sabotage the entire system.” This reaffirmed the “hands-off doctrine” that gave directors like Beto such monumental energy over the lives of the inmates.

“Rather than define arbitrary requirements,” Seals wrote, “… we rely on the good faith of Dr. Beto and other prison officials to effect the spirit of the Constitution. …  It is clear to the court from the evidence that the Texas Department of Corrections is an outstanding institution in every respect. The court is further convinced that Dr. George J. Beto, Director, is a fair, kind, and just man and an excellent administrator.”

About two months later, the class-action freedom of faith go well with that Cruz had written on rest room paper was dismissed with no listening to at the district courtroom in Houston. The decide cited Seals’s logic in the Novak case: a Buddhist inmate counseling different inmates or sharing spiritual literature may “influence” and “control” them, resulting in a “convict-run” jail. The constitutionally assured proper to freedom of faith was, the decide wrote, greatest “left to the sound discretion of prison administrators.”

Jalet set to work interesting each losses, however they have been devastating blows to her shoppers. Novak, his physique lengthy racked with persistent well being issues, simply appeared to surrender. He couldn’t converse coherently, his pulse was speedy and irregular, and he was breaking out right into a rash. Alvin Slaton, one other of Jalet’s shoppers, who had educated as a nurse previous to jail, took on the cost of his care. When Novak began spitting up bright-red blood, Slaton begged guards to get him despatched to the hospital. He was informed that a physician can be round quickly for his routine go to. By December 14, Novak was in agony. He couldn’t defecate or maintain meals down. Slaton requested if he might at the very least administer some demerol to ease Novak’s ache. The guards refused.

A number of days later Dr. Sheldon, the jail psychiatrist, got here by on his rounds. He was appalled by Novak’s situation. He instantly acquired on the telephone, yelling: “I’m not bullshitting. Get an ambulance out here right now. … [This man] is dying.”

On Christmas Eve, Jalet wrote to her troubled shopper, worrying about his declining well being and telling him she would go to him quickly. Novak would by no means learn the letter. He died the day after Christmas.  

Wet day at a jail farm in Huntsville in 1968.

Danny Lyon


As 1971 started, Cruz and Jalet had little to point out for his or her three-year partnership. Seals’s choice was a spectacular loss. Cruz’s toilet-paper attraction for spiritual freedom appeared to be going nowhere. Beto’s energy and popularity had, if something, grown.

Jalet knew that setbacks and sluggish progress have been to be anticipated in civil rights work; battles for the rights of marginalized communities have been not often gained at the decrease courtroom degree. She was enjoying the lengthy recreation. She knew that every time she managed to get a consultant from the Division of Corrections to reply questions in a deposition or on the stand, she was making a report of their lies and obfuscations. That testimony, she hoped, would ultimately be their undoing. “Don’t worry,” she informed a good friend, “I’ll not give up the fight. But I’d sort of like to win a round or two.”

She had one more reason to maintain going: she was rising ever fonder of Cruz. “I know how deeply you love your son,” Jalet wrote to Cruz’s mom that spring. “I have grown to love him also.” Simply what sort of love she was professing was unclear, maybe even to her. She definitely had deep admiration for his mind and psychological power. She knew like few others how he suffered in jail—daily he stayed there elevated the probability that he’d endure a everlasting damage or be killed. She had to assist get him out.

However jail officers continued to make life troublesome. In the future Jalet confirmed up at the gates and was advised she wanted to discover a notary and attest in writing that she was a lawyer. She introduced her Texas Bar card however was advised that wouldn’t be sufficient. On different events she’d notify jail officers prematurely that she was coming to see a shopper, solely to reach and discover that he had been placed on a piece task out in the fields, or that there had been an “incident”—a code phrase for a battle or a beating—and the inmate was in solitary or the hospital. Typically they’d simply ship her the flawed man. It was a petty recreation, however Jalet dutifully documented every occasion as a way to have a report of all the methods she skilled Texas jail officers making an attempt to maintain inmates from their authorized illustration.

Warden “Beartracks” McAdams had been transferred from Ellis to a different jail, however the new boss, Robert Cousins, was simply as harsh. For Cruz, or any of Jalet’s different shoppers, no offense or signal of disrespect was too small to be severely punished. At some point, Cruz was referred to as out by a guard when he tried to place his footwear on in the hallway. Not being allowed to placed on his footwear in the hallway appeared silly to him, and he stated so.

Warden Cousins was referred to as to the scene and was advised that Cruz had disobeyed a direct order and referred to as the guard a idiot. Cousins declared Cruz was going into solitary “until he changed his attitude.”

“Don’t you want to hear what I have to say?” Cruz requested. Cousins grabbed Cruz by the throat and pushed him towards the wall. “I’m going to tell you something,” he stated. “I’m tired of putting up with you, and I’m tired of that woman coming down to see you. … You’d better tell her and those nigger-loving lawyers they better hurry up and get you out of here or learn to keep my name out of their God-damn mouth because if they don’t I’m gonna send you out in a pine box. … Somebody should have killed you a long time ago.”

Cruz was then thrown bare right into a solitary cell.

The Case Towards Jalet

Jalet started to get phrase that jail officers had began a concerted marketing campaign to show her few dozen shoppers towards her. They might name her prisoners in one after the other to persuade and threaten them; issues would go a lot better for them, they have been informed, in the event that they fired that woman lawyer.

Some buckled. Jalet would present up at the jail gates and be informed that sure shoppers not needed to see her. She started to obtain sharply worded letters from prisoners dismissing her assist and denigrating her character.

“Mrs. Jalet, I’m beginning to catch on to a few things,” wrote one prisoner. “Number 1 is that you have a personal grudge against the TDC and are using a few prisoners to help you get your foot in the door. … If you have any care or compassion for your clients, prove it to them by not returning and stirring them up.”

Donald Lock, an inmate she had met solely as soon as and didn’t symbolize, wrote to jail officers and the lawyer common that Jalet had ordered three beatings he’d acquired. Lock, who was younger and brutalized by guards and different prisoners, had been crushed repeatedly, however the concept that Jalet had ordered the assaults was absurd. Extra possible, Lock noticed an opportunity to realize the safety of jail officers by accusing Jalet. “I feel that Mrs. Jalet should be barred from the Texas Bar,” he wrote. “I’m hoping you could give me a lawyer to help me with this matter.”

That fall, Freddie Dreyer, a constructing tender, took issues a step additional by submitting a go well with alleging a conspiracy between Jalet and her shoppers to foment revolt in the prisons. Dreyer’s go well with claimed Jalet was “interfering with the prison’s orderly operation, causing a breakdown in morale, teaching revolutionary ideas, and threatening prison security” by encouraging and aiding a small jail inhabitants of “lazy, agitating troublemakers.” Quickly one other tender named Robert Slayman filed a go well with with remarkably comparable language. Lock filed a 3rd go well with and was promoted to “trustee,” the second strongest position a prisoner might have behind constructing tender.

Jalet started to get phrase that jail officers had began a marketing campaign to show her shoppers towards her. They might name her prisoners in one after the other to persuade and threaten them; issues would go a lot better for them, they have been informed, in the event that they fired that woman lawyer.

Reporters jumped to cowl the new lawsuits. A September 14, 1971 headline in the Houston Chronicle learn: “Inmate Claims Woman Lawyer is Agitator.” The instances, the paper reported, alleged that “a Houston woman lawyer was … teaching revolutionary ideas and threatening prison security.”

Jalet was sure that Beto was behind the fits. One prisoner Jalet had tried to assist had informed her that he had been provided parole if he would file an identical motion. This newest tactic was a brand new low in Jalet’s eyes. “I put nothing past [Beto],” she wrote that fall to a NAACP lawyer, “including murder.”

Jalet assumed the lawsuits towards her can be dismissed. Not solely did they lack any foundation in fact, they didn’t have any foundation in regulation. The prisoners have been suing her underneath the similar regulation that she was utilizing to sue Beto and the Division of Corrections—one that protected individuals from abuse at the arms of officers appearing with the energy of the state. Decide Carl Bue, nevertheless, didn’t appear to thoughts that Jalet wielded no state energy—he mixed the three fits into one and allowed them to go ahead.

Jalet had misplaced each authorized battle she had fought thus far. If she misplaced this one, she knew, it will be the finish of her lawyering days in the Lone Star State.

Guaranteeing Tranquility

Beto’s new plan to rid Texas of Jalet was probably motivated by different elements, similar to the nation’s dramatic rise in jail riots. There had been simply 5 in 1967, however that quantity had tripled the subsequent yr. There have been 27 riots in 1970, and 1971 was on tempo for much more.

On September 9, an rebellion by almost half of the 2,200 prisoners at the Attica jail in New York became a five-day siege that dominated the information. Prisoners took 42 jail officers and civilian employees hostage. By the time the rebellion was quelled, greater than forty individuals have been lifeless, together with ten jail guards and staff. The day the New York state police launched the bloody assault on Attica to retake management, Beto was a featured speaker at the nationwide governors’ convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico. That Attica riot, he advised the attendees, was a “tragic and horrible example of the convict-run institution.”

Not lengthy after he returned to Texas, Beto determined for the second time to ban Jalet from his prisons.

“Your continued and frequent visits to the Department of Corrections as well as your correspondence with inmates make it impossible for me to guarantee tranquility within the institutions and the protection of inmates,” he wrote to Jalet. “Accordingly, effective this date, I am requesting all Wardens of the Texas Department of Corrections to deny your admission to the institutions under my general supervision and to terminate correspondence between you and any inmate in the Texas Department of Corrections.”

At this level, Jalet represented near fifty prisoners. By fiat, Beto had disadvantaged all of them entry to their lawyer.

When Cruz heard what Beto had carried out, he doubtless knew he was in grave hazard. Positive sufficient, a couple of days later, a constructing tender named Jesse Montague, who glided by the nickname Bay Metropolis, appeared at Cruz’s open cell door.

“I guess you know they barred that woman lawyer from coming to see you,” Montague stated. He dragged Cruz out of his cell and, with the assist of one other tender who held Cruz’s arms behind his again, beat him savagely with a blackjack. “No fucking greaser is going to take over my cell block,” Montague spat.

After twelve days in the hospital, Cruz was accused of assaulting Montague and put in solitary. He misplaced the few good-time days he had collected. He was taking a look at one other seven years in jail.

As Cruz recovered, Jalet spent lengthy days at her typewriter and on the telephone making an attempt to get help from anybody who might assist her struggle Beto. Outstanding figures from the Texas Bar got here to her assist. They could not have had a lot in widespread together with her politically—certainly, they could not have even appreciated her a lot—however lots of them noticed Beto’s determination for what it was: an assault on the constitutional rights of legal professionals to defend their shoppers. After a collection of letters from outstanding attorneys objecting to the restrictions placed on Jalet, Beto reversed his choice and allowed her entry to the jail.

However Beto was removed from conceding the struggle.

“The line” of the jail farm in Huntsville in 1968.

Danny Lyon


In mid-November, Cruz was taken out of solitary and informed he was being transferred. He was put right into a automotive with Warden Cousins and pushed by way of the Ellis gates. After a couple of miles they stopped on the aspect of the street, the place Beto sat ready in one other automotive. Cousins received out, walked over, spoke with the director, then received again into the automotive.

“Do you know where you are going?” Cousins requested Cruz.

“I’m going in the right direction,” Cruz stated to the warden, “because I’m getting away from Ellis.”

“I’m taking you to a place where you can confer with your attorney,” the warden responded. “She wants to see you.”

Cruz wasn’t the just one being transferred that day. The strain on inmates to disavow Jalet had left her with about half of her fifty shoppers. The two dozen who had stayed loyal have been being shipped to the infamous Wynne Unit, on the outskirts of Huntsville.

Ellis might have been often known as brutal and violent, however the Wynne Unit was additionally despised. Amongst prisoners, it was popularly often known as the “broke-dick” farm as a result of it housed the mentally disabled and the mentally ailing. For years the unit had been run by a warden who was usually seen as compassionate. However that warden had been changed by none aside from “Beartracks” McAdams. As wardens typically did once they transferred, McAdams had introduced alongside his favourite employees—in his case, his most vicious constructing tenders.

Jalet’s two dozen shoppers have been put collectively on the fourth tier of the B wing and collectively designated the “Eight Hoe work squad.” They have been remoted from the remainder of the inmates, even consuming at totally different occasions. They have been allowed no entry to common leisure actions or instructional or rehabilitation packages. They labored six days every week and got the most disgusting and backbreaking assignments, like shoveling manure and stacking phone poles and railroad ties.

They have been additionally doped up. Usually not recognized for offering attentive medical care, jail docs started liberally prescribing highly effective psychoactive medicine reminiscent of thorazine and librium to the Eight Hoe. This nervous Jalet. Cruz, as a former heroin consumer, can be particularly hazard of falling again into habit, and Jalet endorsed him to withstand the medicine. This wasn’t medical remedy, in Jalet’s evaluation, however one other approach to debilitate her shoppers.

From Beto’s perspective, accumulating these inmates in a single place should have appeared like a savvy transfer: jail officers might regulate them and, by isolating them from different prisoners, hold them from spreading their seditious actions. They could possibly be punished as a gaggle and proven the error of their methods.

Beto and McAdams have been additionally conscious that requiring inmates of various races to reside collectively was thought-about by most Texas prisoners a punishment in itself. At each unit of the jail system, racial segregation was strictly enforced. Certainly, they thought, this combined bag of Hispanics, African People, and Caucasians would tear one another to bits. Prison officers made some cells unusable and “double-bunked us,” remembers Eight Hoe member Lawrence Pope. “They made it a definite point to mix the races and [put] black with white, black with Chicano, Chicano with white, and so forth—this was to cause friction … They thought we were going to get in all kinds of difficulties, but we didn’t. We were very cohesive … very much in solidarity with each other.”

This wasn’t Beto’s solely miscalculation. Grouping all the “writ writers” on the similar cell block would turn into an enormous mistake. Jalet hadn’t simply represented these convicts: she had taken the time to teach them about the regulation, to show them that it was a software they might put to make use of. Her shoppers started to share their information and work collectively.

“In effect,” wrote one historian, “the [Eight Hoe squad] would become one of the most successful prisoners’ rights law firms in the country.” Beto had inadvertently created a jailhouse lawyer dream staff.

There was James Grigg, who had served time in one other state and knew the guidelines and laws in different establishments. David Ruiz was a born road fighter who had no worry when it got here to bodily violence or taking the punishment that the TDC dished out. Lawrence Pope, a failed banker turned financial institution robber, was a middle-class white man with good organizational expertise and a exceptional reminiscence for particulars. Alvin Slayton, the educated nurse, would are likely to the Eight Hoe squad’s wounds and sicknesses.

“[It was] the worst thing that [Beto] could have done. He got all the best brains together,” stated Eight Hoe inmate Guadalupe Guajardo. “That’s where he messed up.”

These males have been intensely loyal to Jalet. They knew the struggling she had gone by means of to symbolize them, and noticed how tirelessly she labored. Many may need been enamored of her. However all of them knew that it was Cruz who had the really deep reference to Jalet. And Cruz led the group; he had principally been Jalet’s scholar for years and will quote her authorized reasoning on any matter.

Inside two weeks of being put collectively on the Wynne Unit, the two dozen members of the Eight Hoe squad had joined with Jalet and begun drafting a lawsuit: they have been suing Beto personally for denying them their constitutional rights by barring Jalet from the jail and for punishing their makes an attempt to entry the courtroom system via her. This time, Jalet can be named as a plaintiff, alongside her prisoner shoppers.