Haiti’s Unforgivable Blackness
Laquita Davis: I live in a dorm with 204 women. You know what I mean? And it’s just on top of each other. And then, of course, they have the fans. But the fans are essentially blowing heat. It’s like driving down the street with your vent on instead of your air conditioner. There’s so reprieve from it at all.
Trymaine Lee: LaQuita Davis spent 21 years in Texas prisons. And for nearly that whole time, she didn’t have air conditioning.
Davis: Texas can get up to 107, 108 in August and September. And the facilities, how they’re made, you have to add 20 degrees.
Lee: Incarcerated people are living in cell blocks that trap the hot air, causing it to feel even hotter inside than those 100 plus temperatures on the outside. And LaQuita says it was bad enough during the day, but the nights were unbearable. It was so hard to sleep.
Davis: Like just getting through it, I used to have to wet my clothes and just lay on the floor. ‘Cause the floor is concrete. And it’d last for about 30 minutes. So you’re looking at about every 30 minutes getting up and just drenching yourself with water and having those clothes on and laying on the floor because, I mean, there’s no air conditioner.
Lee: Imagine wetting your clothes and resting your head on a concrete floor just to get a few minutes of relief. Texas is one of 13 states across the south and midwest that don’t have universal air conditioning in their state prisons.
There’s no national data on AC in prisons, so the problem is likely far more widespread. In Texas, one of the hottest states in the U.S., 75% of the 109 prisons don’t have AC in all the housing areas. These conditions aren’t just hot. They’re deadly. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says that 22 inmates have died from heat related illnesses between 1998 and 2017. But experts say that number is almost certainly higher.
Dr. Susi Vassallo: There is a perception, I think, that air conditioning is making a prisoner comfortable. This is not about comfort. This is about health safety.
Amite Dominick: We’ve seen temperatures, heat indexes as high as 150 degrees in the Texas prisons.
Lee: And like most of the prison systems across the country, Black people are over-represented in Texas prisons. One third of state inmates are Black, compared to 13% of its overall population.
Archival Recording: You’re, kind of, made to feel, like, less than human. Like you don’t deserve to be cool.
Lee: This summer, pressed by prison reform activists, the Texas State House passed a bill that would have required prisons to install air conditioning in every facility. But the measure stalled in the Senate.
Archival Recording: I wonder what is it gonna take for the Texas legislators to realize that we just can’t keep doing this to people?
Lee: Advocates say they’ll keep trying. And with temperatures rising in Texas and across the south due to climate change, the stakes have never been higher.
Archival Recording: Every year before the summer gets started, I start looking at temperatures. And I think, “Oh, my gosh. I wonder how hot it’s gonna get this summer. How many folks are gonna pass away this summer due to the heat?” And the climate change is gonna increase that problem.
Lee: I’m Trymaine Lee and this is Into America. As the planet gets hotter, our most vulnerable populations often feel the pain first and worst. That includes people behind bars. Today, the fight to get air conditioning into Texas prisons and the deadly consequences of doing nothing to beat back the heat.
Davis: My name is LaQuita Davis. I am from Texas. I’m 38 years old. And I am a former inmate. Yeah.
Lee: LaQuita Davis grew up in Tyler, Texas, a city in the eastern part of the state about halfway between Dallas and the Louisiana state border. Growing up, LaQuita loved to be outside.
Davis: But I’m a country girl. Deep country, too. East Texas.
Lee: But when she was just 16, LaQuita was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. She was sentenced to 40 years in prison and was released on parole in 2020 after serving 21 years locked behind bars.
Davis: And I just got out at 37. So I initially spent more time locked up than I ever have in the free world.
Lee: Adjusting to life in prison as a teenager was tough.
Davis: I really was, believe it or not, really sheltered. Like, I’ve always been, like, the popular girl in school. So to come to prison and the first thing you have to do, you have to see me and who you are, having to keep your true self, like, pushed down because any type of niceness, any type of empathy is, kind of, preyed upon. You know, it’s taken as a sign of weakness, unfortunately.
Lee: The physical space? That was also a shock to LaQuita.
Davis: The cubicle that I stayed in, like, I don’t think before I went to prison, I even had a closet that size. I’m gonna say, like, the size of a bike rack is probably about that long, that tall. And there’s nothing. There’s no type of privacy whatsoever. It’s just open space and it’s women on top of women on top of women.
Lee: LaQuita spent most of her sentence at the Lane Murray women’s prison in Gatesville, Texas. It’s a small city in the middle of the state near Waco. When she first got there, she noticed it was hot. But growing up in Texas, she could handle the heat.
Davis: It was not as hot when I first got there to where you couldn’t breathe. There wasn’t the stifling hot humidity like it was. Like I said, I used to go outside and play in it. You know, go play basketball, volleyball.
Lee: Then around 2015, things started to change.
Davis: I was probably about 31, 32 where it got to the point where I’m like, “I don’t want to do anything. I just want to sit here. I don’t want to do anything.” We didn’t used to even get cold water when I first got to prison. And by the time I left, they give you cold ice water every hour on the hour because it is so hot.
Lee: Ice water on the hour might have helped a little, but only so much, because most of the inmates at Lane Murray don’t have air conditioning in their unit.
Davis: Even being outside, like, some days, like, where, say, it would get up to 113 outside, there wasn’t really a choice but to go outside in the 113 instead of be inside in 126, 127 weather. So even without knowing, like, the things that were going on globally, I would always say, “Man, it’s a different kind of heat or I’m getting older.”
Lee: It was a different kind of heat. The last seven years have been in the top ten hottest ever recorded on Earth and this year is on pace to make the list, too. NBC’s climate desk looked at data for the town of Waco, around 40 miles from Gatesville.
The data shows that summers are now two degrees hotter than they were in 1990. In 2020, temperatures broke 95 degrees on 79 different days. That’s a 13 day increase from 30 years ago. And climate change means there will be even more hot days in the future. Higher end projections say that by 2050, Waco could have 101 days a year that rise above 95 degrees. As the heat got worse over the years, so did conditions behind bars. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice had to do something.
Davis: And you actually get a reprieve from the heat and you get to go sit. It’s on the floor, but you get to go sit in the vestibule with air conditioner because you cannot make it just nonstop in that heat.
Lee: The vestibule area called the respite used to be for guards to escape the heat. Eventually, they had to make space for the inmates to rotate through during the summer. But back in her cell, LaQuita could never catch a break from the heat.
Davis: The lights go off from 11:00 to 4:00 in the morning, but you can’t get any sleep. Like, you can’t even rest. Even if I laid down at 11:00 and I’m on my floor, this concrete, it’s not a bed down there or nothing. It’s just a cold floor. Cool.
I’m gonna say cool. It’s not cold. What you would do is, like, you put your gown on and these are polyester clothes, you know? And go and take your clothes to the sink and literally just soak ’em in cold water, walk back to your cubicle, get on the floor. It probably last about 30 minutes before you have to go do it all over again. It probably gets to where you can sleep without wetting your clothes at about 2:00 in the morning.
Lee: Our climate team at NBC found that summer nights in Texas are becoming warmer and the nights are heating up even faster than the days. They found that on average summertime overnight lows in Waco rose 1.8 degrees from 30 years ago. Hotter nights aren’t just uncomfortable. They’re dangerous. When nights don’t cool off, the body can’t cool off either.
Davis: So it’s no reprieve from it at all.
Lee: LaQuita remembers one time in particular when she says prison officials caused the heat to go from unbearable to unbelievable. Because trash collection was infrequent in parts of Lane Murray, she told me it was common for inmates to throw their trash out the windows.
Davis: There is a place in cell block and it’s a medium custody and closed custody. And because they’re in the cells all day and no one comes and picks up your trash, either you’re gonna flush it down the toilet, which is going to leave you without a toilet, or throw it out the window.
So in that situation, what do you do besides throw it out the window? If you don’t want to live with the trash, you know. Because there’s rats. You know, there’s bugs. And nobody’s going to come get it out. So you throw it out the window.
Lee: So to stop people from throwing trash out of the windows of some of the cell blocks, LaQuita told me officials bolted the windows shut.
Davis: They had us go in and screw ’em all down. Every single window. And you have that one little flow of air, you know. And they have the vents, but it’s blowing the hot air from outside. Even though there was chicken wire in front of the opening, that little bit of air made all the difference.
So it’s, kind of, like a brick oven where you would cook pizza at. Like, I literally could wash my clothes that I was going to wear, iron ’em out with that water on them, literally throw them on the wall, and within 30 minutes, they would be hard-pressed and dry.
Lee: We reached out to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the TDCJ, to confirm this story. A spokesman said they were not aware of the windows ever being screwed down at Lane Murray and told us the windows are currently open.
LaQuita told me the work she did in prison helped to take her mind off things, even though Texas is one of a handful of states that doesn’t pay inmates for their labor. Her favorite job was training dogs for disabled veterans. But even that could be a humiliating reminder of the conditions she was living in.
Davis: The first summer that I worked there, they made this big, oh, my God. Like, it was the biggest deal about the dogs being overheated. And this was before we got ice water. Like they would bring us ice to put in the dogs’ water bowl. And the fan that we had, like, you would have to unplug your fan to make sure that your dog had three pointing at it in its kennel.
And even though, like, training those dogs for those vets, like, that was a rewarding time for me. But sitting there and knowing, like, these people care more about these animals than they do us, you know, it was a sobering reality. I never was just like, “Oh, God. Get me out of here,” every day. I don’t even pay attention to time like that. But that’s when I started to change as far as, like, I had to get out of there, ’cause I know if I didn’t, I would have died. You know? I would have died.
Lee: LaQuita’s concerns about dying from intense heat are real.
Vassallo: In the general population who’s not incarcerated, after two or three days is when we start to see the deaths.
Lee: That’s Dr. Susi Vassallo. She’s a clinical professor of emergency medicine at NYU’s med school. And she has studied the effect of extreme heat on the body.
Vassallo: Not only deaths, people reporting to the emergency departments shoots up after a couple of days. And the reason is that there’s that heat stress ’cause we’re just not able to adapt quickly enough or sufficiently.
Lee: While heatstroke is the main concern, Dr. Vassallo says it’s important to understand how exposure to prolonged heat can put stress on the body in multiple ways, like exacerbating preexisting conditions.
Vassallo: The number of people coming into emergency departments from diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, all the kinds of conditions, confusion, weakness, dehydration, all of that shoots up more and more over time if they’re not in a cool environment.
Lee: Dr. Vassallo has monitored heat conditions in multiple prisons across the country. In 2014, she was the medical expert in a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice over dangerous heat levels.
Vassallo: The problem right now is that they don’t have ACs and people are held and they’re dying and worsening. And, you know, I’ve been in many of those cells where it’s unair-conditioned and very hot in Mississippi or Texas. And the heat is really devastating. Even to be in there just measuring temperatures with three or four other people, usually we’re traveling with a couple of people from the prison as well as a couple of lawyers.
Lee: Twenty-two inmates have died from heat related illnesses between 1998 and 2017, according to the TDCJ. When this happens, Dr. Vassallo says the impact on the body is brutal.
Vassallo: Well, basically the tissues are being cooked and that is primarily the brain. So the brain is heated and you cannot cool. Your temperature goes to 113, 115 degrees. And my own private practice in emergency medicine, we will commonly see patients with 110 degrees.
But when we see that, they may come from outside, have collapsed on the street, or whatever. We immediately cool them in the ice. And within half an hour, they’re back down to close to normal. So the threat is over. Then they have a seizure. Then they have coma.
And then they basically just cook. If you put an egg in a pan, it goes from that nice, yellow yolk and then it just suddenly turns into a fried egg. That’s what’s happened to your brain. The cells are absolutely dying. The cells of the gut, they die. They just die. So that’s what it is. It’s like having your brain in a frying pan and cooking an egg.
Lee: My goodness.
Vassallo: That egg is no longer.
Lee: For Dr. Vassallo, extreme heat in prisons is an infrastructure problem.
Vassallo: First of all, it’s really important to recognize that if you’re not in an air conditioned environment in a prison or a jail situation, incarcerated, the temperature just very closely tracks the outside temperature. So first, I don’t think most people realize that if you hold a person in a concrete block, it’s not to be compared to the shade. So the walls and the roof, everything is holding heat in.
Lee: But it’s also a racial equity problem.
Vassallo: There’s no question that structural racism that have contributed to those people coming into the prison system, there are more African Americans in the prison system than white or Hispanic people.
Lee: So more Black people are hurt by the heat. And Dr. Vassallo also says prison populations tend to be especially vulnerable to heat related illnesses.
Vassallo: And so, of course, in prison, there are many people who do have mental illness and many people are on medications that put them at risk. So if somebody suffers from heatstroke, what you see is confusion and then maybe even seizures. But just the confusion in and of itself impairs our ability to make the decisions or ask for help. Although in prisons, I have to say that with the heatstroke deaths, they’ve been asking for help.
Lee: Dr. Vassallo has studied records from prison officials in several cases of heat related deaths in Texas as part of her work with the lawsuits.
Vassallo: So they’re not not asking for help. It’s just that they don’t get help necessarily or it’s not recognized, because confusion or repeatedly asking for help can be thought to be manipulative or have some other purpose other than just really, truly getting help and being in trouble.
Lee: LaQuita brought up this issue multiple times. She says she knew people with preexisting health conditions who were denied help when they needed it most.
Davis: You know, this is really hard for me to talk about. I’m sorry.
Lee: It’s all good.
Davis: When you go to medical, you’re automatically thought to be lying. You know? They automatically think that you’re trying to get out of work because, you know, in TDC, you work for free. So you go there and you tell ’em your symptoms and they’re like, you know, “You’re fine. You’ll be all right. Go back to the dorm.” And I’ve seen so many people that I was close to that they went. They did the right thing. They went to medical and came back and, you know, they died. They died.
Lee: TDCJ says there have been no heat related deaths at Lane Murray where LaQuita was housed, but it’s possible that LaQuita could be right, that people died due to the heat. But the prison simply didn’t classify the deaths that way. Dr. Vassallo told me this is a widespread issue, that across the country, deaths from heat are likely undercounted because there isn’t a good way to track them.
Vassallo: We don’t report heatstroke deaths. There’s a national database called the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Lee: The bureau keeps track of stats for the DOJ.
Vassallo: There’s nothing for heatstroke and there’s no category called heatstroke. And there’s no category called heart disease made worse by heat. So we don’t have that reporting mechanism. And that’s the problem. And if you don’t put the word heat into the death certificate, it’s gonna be underestimated. So there’s no question that, yes, it’s definitely underreported.
Lee: As a medical professional, Dr. Vassallo says the way many inmates are treated during a health emergency is disturbing.
Vassallo: It really does shock the conscience. I mean, it is shocking to me as a physician and as a person. It is shocking. Because that would never happen in the community. Walking down the streets of Austin, Texas, Dallas, Texas, New York City, wherever you are, if you saw somebody in that kind of distress, you would never ignore that person, because the fact is that that’s part of the problem is the perception. If we could lay it out a little bit differently, that the sentence is the years, it’s not a death sentence by heat. It should not be acceptable that people die of heat related illnesses because they’re incarcerated. That’s not their sentence. There’s no such sentence as death by heat.
Lee: LaQuita remembers vividly what it felt like to be trapped in the heat. And she says it felt like punishment.
Davis: Like, it’s okay. I made a mistake. I made a mistake and I’m paying for it, because, you know, I’m away from my family. I’m locked up. I have no freedom. And you don’t have to continue to punish me. I still deserve, you know? It’s a lot.
Lee: We need to take a break. When we come back, the fight for Texas inmates to escape the heat. Dr. Susi Vassallo, who we heard from before the break, has been studying the issue of heat in prisons for several years. She served as a court ordered medical expert to monitor Rikers Island in New York City. And she’s examined state and federal prisons throughout the south in places like Mississippi, Louisiana, and her home state of Texas. But there’s one detail from a case she worked on that really stood out.
Vassallo: In the Texas prison system, they raise hogs, pigs. And those pigs are cooled and kept temperature controlled. They have access to everything that they need to stay healthy, because they want to feed the inmates, let’s say, with these hogs. So when you look at what was acceptable for the pigs in the Texas prisons and what was acceptable for the prisoners, it’s quite a shock.
Lee: The pigs raised for slaughter in Texas prisons tended by unpaid inmates live in climate controlled barns. Dr. Vassallo knows that what is deemed acceptable can be the difference between life and death. For her work on these lawsuits, she studies the reports of heat related incidents in Texas prisons.
Vassallo: For example, one man was actually sitting in front of a fan and almost hugging that fan, begging for help. So sitting in front of a fan begging for help didn’t alert the corrections officers sufficiently such that he collapsed of heatstroke and died.
It’s a very ugly process, this death. What makes it ugly is that there’s warning. There is opportunity. And often is the case that somebody has gone earlier in the day to the clinic and been dismissed. “Oh, the blood pressure is okay. You go on back. It’s hot. It’s hot.”
And then that person dies later in the day of heatstroke. I mean, this is heatstroke and not a heart attack or something. So they’re very ugly to read these reports. And that’s one reason that the plaintiffs, the families of the dead, have prevailed, because it’s horrific to read.
Lee: She’s talking about Cole v. Collier, a class action lawsuit filed in 2014. Prisoners in the Wallace Pack Unit, a medium security men’s prison outside of Houston, sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice over the heat conditions. They claimed it was a cruel and unusual form of punishment. Dr. Vassallo testified as an expert witness.
Vassallo: Basically, there were enough people that were part of the class. It’s a class action. It is an Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment kind of case. It’s the Eighth Amendment. And these were also a prison where there were elderly people with multiple medical problems held.
Lee: In 2017, a federal judge stated that the TDCJ has been, quote, deliberately indifferent in responding to this risk.
Vassallo: This is the first time in Texas that the plaintiffs prevailed. It’s, like, you cannot hold people in this unconstitutional environment. That was a big statement.
Lee: The plaintiffs didn’t officially win the case. But in 2018, the TDCJ settled the suit and resolved multiple wrongful death lawsuits that families of prisoners at the pack unit had brought against the state. The lawsuit also resulted in a rule mandating that the Wallace Pack Unit could not exceed a heat index of 88 degrees. But that rule does not extend to any other facilities. So it’s just one victory in this larger fight.
Vassallo: We still have unair-conditioned prisoners who are at risk in Texas. All over the country, we have that. So there’s more to be done in this area.
Lee: So in your time advising on prison conditions, do you feel like the heat conditions have actually gotten worse?
Vassallo: I was asked once in federal court a few years back, “Is it now that we need to change things or is it just with climate change?” The federal judge in Louisiana asked me. I said, “It’s now, because the temperatures are this now.” Now I do agree with the science. I mean, I believe the science. It’s getting hotter. So we had to fix it ten years ago. We have to fix it now. And we have to fix it looking forward.
Archival Recording: A hundred and almost 20.
Dominick: We got it up to 120 right now, folks. So it’s pretty darn hot in here. Steve, what do you think so far? We can’t keep ’em in here for too long.
Lee: That voice you hear is Amite Dominick, president of Texas Prisons Community Advocates, a group at the forefront of fighting for legislation to bring air conditioning to Texas prisons. As part of an ongoing effort to bring awareness to the extreme heat inmates deal with, Amite has a mock prison cell that she brings around to public events.
It’s essentially a small storage container the size of a solitary confinement cell that Amite attaches to a trailer. She cranks the heat up high to as much as 120 degrees, temperatures that have been measured inside some of the Texas facilities. And she sees how long she can get folks to stay in.
Dominick: It’s 101 degrees and I went in with a 97.2.
Archival Recording: So in two minutes, we raised four degrees.
Dominick: Imagine just roasting in there all day like our loved ones are doing all day, every day. I found out that there was no air conditioning in the Texas prisons. And that was just absolutely shocking to me.
Lee: Amite learned about the heat issues in Texas prisons in 2015 when her then-husband was incarcerated.
Dominick: I would go visit him during a time of day where that was the hottest point of the day so that he could have some air conditioning in the visitation area. And he has some really severe allergies. And when he walked in, he was pretty much so dripping with sweat. His face was beet red. Sometimes with his allergies, his eyes were almost swollen shut. And I would literally watch his eyes open up before me.
Lee: Amite’s ex-husband told her stories like LaQuita’s about inmates needing to soak their clothing if they wanted any chance of trying to sleep during the long, hot summer nights.
Dominick: And I just kept researching and kept looking and kept going, “Why is this continuing and how do we fight this?”
Lee: She went to family support meetings to learn more about the prison system overall. And then she started petitioning.
Dominick: And I would bring a letter that I typed up, I printed out. And I would bring it to the meetings and ask people to just sign the letter so we can send them to our legislators, because I very quickly found out that one of the solutions to this problem is going through the Texas legislators.
Lee: Texas Prisons Community Advocates was founded in 2018. And by 2019, the group had gotten sponsorship for a humane temperature bill requiring all Texas prisons to keep temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees. With climate change making winters colder in Texas, that 65 degree low is important, too. There’s already a state law that mandates jail temperatures be kept at that range. But legislators ultimately decided it was too expensive to extend the same protection to prison inmates.
Dominick: Texas is a very punitive state. So we’ve got that part of it. And then the money. That’s what their big argument, “Oh, we don’t have money. Oh, we don’t have money,” which is totally absurd. So in the 2019 session, TDCJ and LBB came back and said that it was gonna take $1.2 billion to put air conditioning in all those units.
Lee: The state said it would cost over a $1 billion to bring AC to all Texas prisoners. But Amite, along with some sympathetic lawmakers, were skeptical of that figure, partly because of that lawsuit from 2018 in the Wallace Pack Unit, the one Dr. Vassallo worked on.
Dominick: They estimated that it would cost $20 million to put air conditioning in that one unit. It only cost $3.9 million to do it. In the meantime, they spent $7.2 million in a pack lawsuit.
Lee: That’s right. Public records show that TDCJ actually spent more money fighting against installing air conditioning than it spent putting the AC in. Amite and her organization kept fighting. And earlier this year, they introduced another bill, asking for smaller chunks of money spread out through the next three legislative sessions. This time, the bill made it through the House with wide bipartisan support. Only 18 of the 150 House Republicans voted against it. But the sister bill in the Senate never got a hearing, effectively killing the measure.
Dominick: You know, looking at Texas recently, Texas can pass a bill when they want to. Right? But they didn’t want to pass this. The legislators did not want to pass this bill. So that was, you know, disappointing.
Lee: But Amite is ready to try again. This week, the Texas legislature went into a special session and Democrats filed House bill 88. It calls for the state to use federal stimulus money to upgrade the prison air filtration systems for COVID protections and add air conditioning at the same time.
Dominick: And basically what we’re asking for is the federal stimulus money to be associated with this. What we did was we said that there is a purification system that is utilized in some parts of TDCJ. And it has to be attached to the air conditioning ducts.
So at this point, we’re looking at not just the heat. We’re also looking at COVID because Texas is leading the pack in terms of deaths for COVID, particularly for the officers, but also for the incarcerated individuals. The past argument has always been, “We don’t want to use Texas taxpayer dollars.” You’re not anymore. So what’s your excuse? What’s left? There is nothing left.
Lee: Amite recognizes that it’s an uphill battle. When she brings around her mock cell for people to step into, she brings it to the state house in Austin, too.
Dominick: It’s so hot in Texas that some people will just stand at the door and they’ll say, “Oh, no. No. No. I know how hot it is. I’m not going in there.” The sad truth is we can’t seem to get our legislators in there. Representative Sherman is one of the few legislators who have actually even gone in the mock cell to experience that.
Lee: She’s talking about Representative Carl Sherman, who has authored bills around heat in prisons.
Dominick: Most other legislators, it’s too hot for them to go into. It’s a challenge to educate the public about the situation. It’s another challenge to get them to even experience that. We also have a visit a prison challenge that we put out there for the legislators.
And I think most of the Texas legislators haven’t even gone in to a Texas prison. So they don’t have any idea what’s going on. So we’re faced with a lot of challenges just trying to get people in that experience. But once they do that experience, they’re glad they did it. They’re very thankful that that existed and that their eyes are opened to that situation.
Lee: LaQuita Davis has heard about the mock cell demonstrations.
Davis: They even did a mock cell, like, on the capitol steps and asked the senators, “Can y’all step in there and just see how long you can sit fully dressed?” Nobody made it past ten minutes. But you want me to live like this every single day with no reprieve? Well, yeah, ’cause you’re an inmate. Why wouldn’t you?
Lee: I asked LaQuita about the political effort to get air conditioning for all Texas prisoners. I see you’re rolling your eyes. Do you not buy it? Do you not believe it?
Davis: Like, it’s not gonna happen. It’s not. Like, I’m just being as honest as I can. All the research in the world can point to it and it’ll still be denied. It’ll still be denied. And it’s crazy because it’s a multi-billion dollar industry, you know? Why not? It’s not even the question of why you need to do it.
Like, why not? What else are you gonna spend the money on? We work for free. So what else are you gonna spend the money on? Your humanity dies when you walk through those gates. So the nerve of you to want to be cruel, you know what I mean? The nerve of you to feel like you’ve got to have some air conditioning, and it’s not that. It’s just, come on, you can’t even sit in here. You know?
Lee: After 21 years in and dealing with the changes in heat, you said you felt it getting hotter. But now you’re home. How does it feel to be home? And how is this issue, do you think, still, kind of, with you?
Davis: I used to love to be outside. I’m a country girl. (LAUGH) I really don’t go outside, if that makes sense. Out to the store and back. I don’t sit outside. I don’t enjoy outside any longer. Like, my air conditioner stays on 69 degrees all the time because the suffering of it for so long and having no control over just that minute thing, you know? Just if I can be comfortable. I still deal with that, like, every day.
Lee: LaQuita is still thinking of the friends she has on the inside. And she still gets calls about the heat and about people getting stuck inside, not being able to get to the respite areas that have the air conditioning.
Davis: “We can’t get out to respite because there’s too many people out there. So they’re not letting us out. And, like, it’s hot. You know? It’s hot. You know how it was in here.” I have a hard time even being at home being comfortable, you know, having my air on because there are so many of the people that I walked that out with, you know, day to day. And I know what it’s like. And I just feel so bad because I know they’ll never see out here, you know?
Lee: We’ve reached out to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice several times for additional commentary for this story. After sending two emails with written answers to our questions, the spokesman stopped responding, telling us, “We have no further information to share.”
As we wrap up this week, please stay in touch. You can tweet me @TrymaineLee. That’s @TrymaineLee, my full name, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. That was intoamerica@nbc and the letters U-N-I dot com. Our reporting this week has been part of NBC News’ and MSNBC’s network wide coverage of climate change.
Head to our website to check out more on this topic from our colleagues. Into America is produced by Isabel Angell, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, Joshua Sirotiak, and Aisha Turner. Original music is by Hannis Brown. This story is produced in collaboration with Mohammed Syed from NBC’s social news gathering team along with Lindsey Davis, Tracey Eyers, and Aliza Nadi from our race, quality, and justice unit. Special thanks to Kathryn Prociv from our climate desk for the research support. I’m Trymaine Lee. We’ll be back next Thursday.