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Prison: Hot as Hell!

Have you ever wondered about the melting point of human flesh? Has there ever been a point in your life that you were fearful your blood might actually boil inside your veins? Have you ever felt as though you actually know what the inside of a preheated oven is like? If so, you likely either found yourself unprepared in the middle of a record breaking August heatwave, you were at the beginning of a military tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, or you were otherwise hanging out in the middle of a desert somewhere in the world. 

Or, you could just be spending the summer in a Texas prison.

There's only one thing worse than living in the concrete box of a prison cell. That would be living in a concrete box that has a temperature of 120 degrees, and rising -- not too different from a brick oven. When the temperature is in the low-100s as it is across the state of Texas right now, tens of thousands of the state's nearly 160,000 prisoners feel a heat that is more typically reserved for desert dwellers or baking pizzas. It's a place where, due to the lack of air conditioning in most Texas prisons, you can literally fry an egg on the metal of your bunk... or broil your insides.

Often the only way many Texas prisoners have to stay cool is to strip down to nothing and lay on their concrete floor. If they live on an upper tier where the heat especially gravitates, this action doesn't even work. Others try hugging their stainless steel toilet while they hit the flush button to get a rush of coolish water circulating around the bowl... unless the prison restricts toilet flushing. 

The extreme discomfort is not lost on prison staff, especially as the officers are required to endure the heat themselves in heavy suffocating uniforms. It's so bad for them, that they are actually taking the almost unheard of step of siding with prisoners in recent heat safety litigation in their state. But apart from the occasional ice water they distribute, there's nothing they can really do but wait for fall to arrive... even when the heat completely overtakes prisoners to a point of death.

Yes, death. A few weeks ago, Larry McCollum, a man who was convicted and sent to a Texas prison for passing a bad check, essentially received a death sentence as he passed away from heat exhaustion. He became the twentieth Texas prisoner to die from heat exposure in the 21st century... officially. The actual number of deaths is not quite clear, as the cause of death listed is often masked by what the victim died of, such as heart or other organ failure, dehydration, or other technical causes of death. But at the beginning of the days when these deaths occurred, the cells they woke up in that morning were already stifling and miserable, on its way to another thermometer breaking day of torture. 

Torture really does describe it. If you look at a heat index chart, a display of what the temperature feels like, it will show shaded areas of danger when the apparent temperature crosses into the range of 104 to 124. This is the temperature range the experts note that your life may be in danger if you don't take precautions. This i a common heat index in Texas. For that reason, every state building in there is cooled by air conditioners, with the exception of their prisons. 

Most prison facilities in the deep South provide air conditioning to their prisons for the simple reason that to not may constitute inhumane treatment. In one of the hottest places in the country, Phoenix, Arizona, where temperatures regularly lick the 120 degree mark, even the notoriously harsh area jail warden, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, ensures that the cells never breach a balmy 85 degrees. Of course, that temperature cap was forced through court action, but it highlights the point that making prisoners endure more than that violates human decency standards, and common sense.

Likely, there are many out there who would applaud the suffering being experienced in Texas prisons right now, since prisons aren't supposed to be pleasant. But where is the line that separates discomfort from abuse? Prison exists to remove certain freedoms. While a state might not be able to prevent all unnecessary anguish experienced inside of the walls of its prison system, it has a duty to ensure that it does not contribute to anything that amounts to cruel and unusual punishment for those forced to live there. 

When people actually die from the weather inside the state's prisons, especially when precautions have been taken for the rest of it's citizens to ensure this does not occur within any of their other buildings, a line has been crossed. Prison can be a figurative hell. It should not likewise be literal one.

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