In 1886 they called it Harlem Plantation. It was a state prison farm, essentially where black men unlucky enough to be arrested in the area were sent and then rented out to area farms to harvest sugar cane.
In 1913, according to the Texas State Historical Association, guards at Harlem State Farm shoved 12 black prisoners into the “dark cell” – 9 feet 3 inches long by 7 feet 3 inches wide.
“The inside temperature of the sun-drenched box rose to well over 100 degrees,” according to TSHA. “The confined inmates screamed for help, but the guards later testified that they had no reason to think there was anything wrong or that any of the convicts were in distress or suffering. Eight of the 12 convicts suffocated. The guards were charged with negligent homicide, but a preliminary investigation found that they had violated no law. A commissioners’ investigation suggested that the prison officials had exercised ‘bad judgment.'”
History, at least in terms of the quality of human judgment, apparently repeats itself.
Today, the first day on which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has relaxed the state’s stay-home orders designed to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus, I learned that Texas prison officials have decided what is now known as the Jester State Prison Farm is a good place to house prisoners from around Texas who have tested positive for Covid.
A low-security institution that you could drive into with your car, Jester had been housing men convicted of drug-related charges. The Houston Chronicle reported in February that the state intended to sell it.
A few days ago, prison officials moved the prisoners in Jester elsewhere, and moved in 35 prisoners who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus. It turns out, according to the Chronicle, that the state pulled the same trick in Brazoria County, sending 128 Covid-positive prisoners to two prison units there.
Needless to say, I am practically ecstatic to find that my county here on the edge of Houston has been chosen by the Abbott administration as a dumping ground for prisoner Covid-19 victims.
County officials were all pissed off about it, too, verbally stomping their feet but so far not doing much else.
“I am not going to put our citizens at risk just as we begin to recover from the pandemic and reopen for business,” Fort Bend County Judge K.P. George said in a statement to the press. “I demand that the State of Texas remove the contagious prisoners out of our County and transport them to another facility. I ask all Fort Bend residents to help by contacting their state legislators in Austin to demand the convicted criminals with coronavirus get sent someplace else.”
This reminds me of a time not so long ago when states were fighting with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission over where nuclear waste was to be stored.
No one wants nuclear waste in their backyard, and no one wants criminals who tested positive for the coronavirus in their backards, either, least of all me, as the Jester prison farm is located 6.3 miles from my home.
This is definitely a shitty move on the part of state prison officials, quietly dumping infected prisoners around the state, creating instant Covid hotspots in the process.
But the trouble with George’s demand is that there is no “someplace else.”