Life in the First Available Cell
Typically, most inmates begin their prison careers housed in cell blocks and living in cells, nine-by-six-foot compartments arranged in rows (or runs) along two and three story tiers. Most runs have between twenty and twentyfive cells, or “houses,” as the inmates call them. Texas prison cells house two offenders, and two steel bunks (one over the other) are attached to the wall. Each cell has an open commode. Personal belongings are limited and life in the cell is cramped, noisy, and virtually devoid of any personal privacy.
Hot in the summer and cold in the winter, cells have few creature comforts. Inmates must also endure the constant smell of sweat, body waste, and such disinfectants as Pine Sol and other industrial strength cleaners. Into this setting, as a result of Lamar, inmates are randomly assigned to the “first available cell.” Through this process, some cells are desegregated and some are segregated, all by chance. No matter: it is up to the “cellies” to figure out or adapt a routine whereby they can do their time. We devote this entire chapter to answer the question we posed in Chapter 1: What happened when Texas prison cells were desegregated?
From its onset, through its protracted path through the courts, Lamar was about cell desegregation. The cell was the target, and cell desegregation was no doubt the most contentious and drawn out aspect of the Lamar suit. To understand the impact of cell desegregation, one of the best barometers is by comparing the level of violence among inmates who were housed in a racially mixed first available cell to those who received a single-race cell. Tables 9.1 and 9.2 present the findings of this analysis. The focus is on one simple ques-