Activists demonstrated here Aug. 19 against a corporation, Royal Pacific International, because during this summer of dangerous heat it doubled the price for its bottled water sold in prison commissaries. RPI increased the price of a bottle of water from 15 cents to 30 cents and now charges $7.20 for a case of water. According to the protesters, this increase is price-gouging during an emergency.
It has been over 100 degrees around Texas most days this summer. Every day news reports warn people to avoid the dangerous heat and stay hydrated. Cell phones flash “Warning: Heat Emergency!” almost every day, but the public can go to the store and find a case of water for around $2.50.
Prisoners — who can’t go to the store — are literally being cooked to death. Media are reporting two prisoners die every day in Texas. Temperatures in cells are well over 100 degrees and go as high as 140 degrees. Staying hydrated is sometimes impossible, because the tap water can be so disgusting that incarcerated people refuse to drink it.
“It smells.” “It is brown like it came from a dirty lake.” “I cut up my sheet and make a filter and tie it to the faucet. The crud that accumulates is scary.” These are the comments families and friends are getting from those inside.
Most Texas prisoners have no money in their commissary account. If no one can help them, they are out of luck. Reason? Texas prisoners earn not even one cent an hour, even though they are forced to work.
Prisoners may work in the fields or in the kitchens or in laundries. They may get a “good job” cleaning inside the administrations’ offices, or cutting hair or working in the visitation area where they can get some air. But no matter their job, it is forced labor; it is slavery.
A man on death row told this reporter that a case of water usually lasts him a few weeks, but this summer, he needs much more. “I’m fortunate that family helps me with commissary money. Others either have to drink from the faucets, or they just don’t drink.”
Royal Pacific International boasts they have over 40 years of experience and are “your number one choice for the finest quality gourmet food and beverage products worldwide.” They sell to county, state and federal government institutions, dollar stores, restaurants, grocery stores, drugstores and fast food chains. They also sell to large-scale correctional institutions and their commissaries.
Demand free water in prisons
It is outrageous that RPI is the vendor for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and has doubled water prices. More outrageous is that the Texas Comptroller and the prison administration have agreed to this.
According to a 2022 USA Today investigation, at least 44 states lack universal air conditioning in their prison facilities. Across the South, including in Texas, there is no air conditioning in all prisons. This makes clean water a necessity for life.
Some Texas prisons are so old — and that includes their plumbing systems — they were built to accommodate the convict-leasing system implemented after the 1861-65 U.S. Civil War. All these older prisons should just be shut down.
The Aug. 19 protest was organized by the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement. The group will also be speaking before the prison system’s board meeting on Aug. 25 regarding the heat crisis and lack of air conditioning, as well as demanding that bottled water be given out for free during this crisis. The Texas legislature has a surplus budget and can well afford to give out free water and install air conditioning for all of the over 120,000 prisoners.
Gloria Rubac is a founding member of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement.