Last December I got a call from a man in San Antonio who wanted to thank me.
Jesse Mercado, having just been released from prison, said while he was locked up he had been the beneficiary of a free fan that had been provided by Texas CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants).
The TX-CURE Fan Program has operated since 2002, created to provide relief to indigent prisoners housed in cells that are not air-conditioned. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of the state’s 109 prison units — all except medical and special-needs facilities — are without air-conditioning.
I’ve supported the project most of those years, and readers of this column have joined me during the annual drive to help supply fans for inmates who have been certified as having less that $5 in their Inmate Trust Fund account for at least six months.
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Mercado said he was so grateful that he was raising money to contribute to the fan program.
Just a few weeks after talking to him, I was able to tell his story at a “Celebration of Life” memorial service for Ken Robison who, with his wife, Lois, started the project after hearing that a number of prisoners had suffered heat strokes.
The Robisons have been dedicated members of TX-CURE and, because they had a son in prison, knew first-hand about the extreme heat.
Since 2007 at least 14 inmates have died of heat-related causes, resulting in several families filing wrongful death lawsuits against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. A union representing correctional officers who have to work in the same conditions joined in a class-action lawsuit demanding that TDCJ air-condition its prisons.
“Warden offices, a few medical units and most visiting rooms are air-conditioned, but prisoners are kept in cells and dormitories without circulation and no air-conditioning,” said Michael Jewell, TX-CURE president. “Temperatures in the chow halls and living areas can reach 130 degrees.”
One diabetic prisoner wrote, “When I go to bed at night I feel like a chicken roasting in an oven … I fall to sleep sweating and wake up drenched. I’m so weak it’s all I can do to get up and pee.”
The fans, which cost $20 each and must be bought at the prison commissary, can bring some comfort, especially when the inmates wet down their skin and clothing.
Last year, with the help of Star-Telegram readers, TX-CURE provided fans for more than 700 prisoners, Jewell said. This year the organization has set a goal of 1,000. More than 8,000 fans have been purchased since the program began.
One recipient wrote, “Man, I can’t begin to tell y’all how good it feels to have this new fan! I haven’t felt this happy since I received my first bicycle for Xmas when I was 9 years old. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
I know a lot of people have no sympathy for people in the penitentiary, feeling that anyone who committed a crime ought to suffer.
Fortunately, many of you do care, and you realize that even felons don’t deserve inhumane treatment.
I’d like to see TX-CURE not only reach that 1,000 goal but exceed it.
So, here’s my annual plea: that you donate any amount you can afford. A $100 gift will pay for five fans.
And this time, in addition to contributing for the benefit of the inmates, I ask that you do it as a special tribute to those two special people who started the project: the beloved Ken and Lois Robison.
Bob Ray Sanders’ column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775
Send Donations To:
Texas CURE Fan Program
P.O. Box 38381
Dallas, TX 75238-0381
Online at http://www.gofundme.com/2sizgc