HOUSTON — It’s a quiet morning in Houston as Rae Hoppe works remotely at home. As she types, she can’t help but think of her boyfriend, Charles Gholson, who’s in prison without air conditioning.
“I think it’s inhumane,” Hoppe said.
Hoppe is worried her partner will die during the heat wave. She says he wakes up in a puddle of sweat on a hot metal bed.
“At some point, the heat will damage your body. You cannot live in that type of environment over a long period of time,” she said. “They’re literally frying them from the inside. And the worst thing about it—they do not care.”
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) says about a third of prisoners have AC. In a statement to Spectrum News, the department wrote, “Each summer we continue to refine and improve our practices. What has not changed is our commitment to do all that we can to keep staff and inmates safe.”
While TDCJ maintains that there have been no heat-related deaths this summer, researchers found that 13% of deaths in Texas prisons without air conditioning between 2001 and 2019 could be attributed to extreme heat.
Some Texans who have recently lost loved ones believe they died because of the heat. Last week, they held a vigil in front of the governor’s mansion. They want Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to fund cooling units, but so far, he has not addressed the issue.
“We’re not talking about making it a Hilton hotel or a Marriott. We’re just talking about human decency,” said Rep. Carl Sherman, D-DeSoto.
Rep. Sherman, who’s called on the governor to put money toward AC in prisons, says he doesn’t believe in the “if you do the crime, you do the time” mentality.
“We should have a deep sense of empathy,” Rep. Sherman said. “We value the lives of animals, and we require by law that we must have AC in animal shelters. In fact, if the AC goes out, you get two hours to get it back on by law, or someone’s going to pay a price. But unfortunately, we don’t value humanity the same way. And I think that’s an indictment on our humanity.”
A bill to require prisons to be kept between 65 and 85 degrees failed in the regular session. It had bipartisan support in the House. It wasn’t heard in the Senate.
Gholson isn’t sentenced to life in prison. Hoppe doesn’t want him to die there in this heat.
“He’s a real living person that has family and loved ones,” Hoppe said. “I am astonished at the level of the way that they treat human beings in our country.”