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Cyrus Gray


Wednesday, March 29, 2023

I was introduced to the carceral system on March 5th, 2018 when my good friend Devonte Amerson and I were wrongfully accused and placed in Hays County Jail, where we faced seemingly insurmountable circumstances fighting for our justice and freedom. Unfortunately, this is the case for millions of Americans each day that have been subjected to the cruel criminal legal system that exists in this country and in our “Great State of Texas” for the past 50 years.

Texas has a population of about 30,345,480 people and locks up a higher percentage of its people than most countries, with an incarceration rate of 840 per 100,000 people. The United States is an extreme case when it comes to our carceral system. We don’t just have one carceral system, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems. Together these systems make up approximately 6,100 facilities that are all dedicated to the incarceration of your neighbors.The question is - what is all of this incarceration accomplishing? According to Gallup, 53% of Americans worry a “great deal” about crime and violence in the U.S and 27% of Americans worry a “fair amount”. Americans do not feel safe, yet 1 in 28 kids have a parent in prison.

We know that incarceration largely impacts people of color and poverty stricken people, but a report by the Prison Policy Initiative found that more than 43% of people who are incarcerated are mentally ill and over 66% of people reported not receiving mental health care while incarcerated. Incarceration can exacerbate mental health concerns, especially for those in solitary confinement.

Jose Garcia is a young hispanic man from Austin Texas, that grew up in San Marcos, with a history of mental illness that dates back to when he was 13 years old, and he is just one example of how our carceral system is not designed to help people with mental health concerns. At the age of 16 he was accused and charged with a violent crime and incarcerated pretrial for over 5 years in Hays County Jail, San Marcos, Texas. During that time he was sent to a mental health hospital where they did not address his mental illness and concerns, but did deem him competent to stand trial. He then went to trial and was sentenced to 23 years in prison. Jose has been trying to enroll in classes offered by the prison to such as GED Courses, business management, welding, CDL courses, cognitive thinking programs and more to better himself, and has been denied and told that he has to wait until he is 2 years away from being released from his 23 year prison sentence before he can apply for these classes.

1 in 3 of the people behind bars in these facilities are in county jails, and most are pretrial detainees like I was, that have yet to have their day in court, thus are “Legally Innocent”. Another issue keeping people incarcerated and driving up populations in jail is that people are held pretrial, like myself with oppressively high bonds. Myles Martin and Daniel Castillo spent several years incarcerated pretrial in Hays County Jail. My good friend Devonte Amerson is still incarcerated pretrial today, over 5 years from the day of our arrest and over 8 years from the crime that he and I were wrongfully accused of committing. According to the Hays County Jail Dashboard, 82% of its jail population were awaiting a criminal trial in jail as of January, 25 2023.

Myles went on to beat his case in trial after nearly 3 years of being detained in jail. After losing everything - including his children - he was released and was presented with a court fee of $10,000. Daniel was detained over 7 years pretrial, while he is now out on bond, he is still under the thumb of the criminal legal system that has failed him time and time again as he awaits his day in court.

Each one of these cases are sadly the norm of the criminal legal system and mass incarceration in this country. “Tough on crime” has not been proven to cause a decrease in crime or violence, and the majority of those incarcerated are not violent offenders. Nonetheless this system thrives on the back and heels of hard working citizens offloading the cost of incarceration on taxpayers like yourself, destroying family structures, draining community resources and capitalizing off of victims and their loved ones’ trauma at an unconscionable social cost. Mass incarceration has been a beacon of disparity for 50 years now, despite alternatives to incarceration and this cruel criminal legal system. Instead of utilizing funds for preventative measures and alternatives to this paradigm, our political leaders in support of mass incarceration are committing funds and promoting policies and procedures that will increase it.

Grassroots and criminal justice reform organizations such as Mano Amiga, Vera Institute of Justice, and the Sentencing Project continue to work tirelessly to shed light on the reality of this cruel system and offer alternatives to incarceration that are community based preventative measures, in their efforts to replace the flawed system that currently exists is doing exactly what it was designed to do. The question is what can each one of us do? I take inspiration from Coretta Scott King when she said; “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate action of its members.” As you read this, I challenge you to think about how you can join your community discussion about the dire state of the criminal legal system and more effective crime prevention, early intervention and public safety strategies. Then, I encourage you to take action to change the paradigm. After 50 years of mass incarceration, the time for meaningful and impactful change is long overdue.

Cyrus Gray is a 28-yearold black man from Houston. He has been charged with the 2015 murder of Texas State student Justin Gage. He was held in the Hays County Jail from March 5, 2018 until November 10, 2022 when he was granted bail following a trial that resulted in mistrial. A new trial has since been rescheduled from February until May. Since his arrest he has advocated for himself and others in Hays County Jail and has been working alongside the local organization Mano Amiga. He has worked with the Austin Justice Coalition, The Fair Defense Project and Professor Matthew Clair of Stanford University. He has spoken multiple times at Hays County Commissioners Court hearings and once at the Capital in front of the Criminal Justice Committee in regards to the importance of affordable bonds and a change in the criminal legal system.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666