Reading their posts, I was reminded of my own experience with the jail's shoddy policies -- as an attorney, fortunately, rather than as an inmate.
Way back when I was a cub lawyer in Houston, a partner in my firm was appointed counsel for a Harris County jail inmate who had filed a pro se civil rights lawsuit. The partner promptly appointed me. The client was a Muslim who wanted to observe Ramadan, which required him to fast during daylight. The jail fed inmates during the day, though, and refused to bend the rules to accommodate this inmate. It thus gave him a blunt choice: forget about Ramadan, or starve yourself for a month. The jail also refused to let his imam drop off a Koran; it required inmates to order all books straight from the publisher.
By the time we were appointed, the federal judge, Sim Lake, had already entered a temporary restraining order requiring the jail to feed our client before sunrise and after sundown. Our job was to prepare for the permanent injunction hearing.
So I deposed Harris County Sheriff Johnny Klevenhagen. This was only my third deposition, and I must not have done it right, because I pissed off Klevenhagen so badly that he walked out midway through the deposition. And did not return. The county attorney and I just stared blankly at one another. He shrugged. I left.
To this day, I don't know why Klevenhagen got so mad. (Really, I do.) The line of questioning was innocuous enough: "Q. Don't you have inmates who spend all day at court? A. Yes. Q. Don't you have to feed them? A. Yes. Q. How do you do that? A. We prepare sack lunches for them. Q. You mean, sandwiches in plastic bags and such? A. Yes. Q. Well, why can't you set aside a couple for my guy to eat?" And he walked out soon thereafter.
We had a status conference with the judge a few days later. I told him about the deposition and the sheriff's answers (and sudden departure). The judge listened patiently and then turned to the county attorney. "You know, I'm not going to tell you how I will rule, but you need to settle."
And so the county promised to feed my guy before and after sunrise, let his imam give him a copy of the Koran, and kicked in $5,000 for his trouble.
I'd like to chalk this up to my Dershowitz-like skills but, really, this was a no-brainer. The standard, if I recall, required the jail to balance its administrative convenience and security concerns with the inmate's legitimate religious interests. Since feeding my client created no inconvenience or security concerns, the jail had no excuse. It was not a close call. The county attorney knew it, but had to put up a fight because that's what his client told him to do.
I wasn't really surprised, then, to see that the Harris County jail still can't get things right.