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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Writ Writer on PBS Independent Lens

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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The PBS series Independent Lens features the documentary Writ Writer featuring jailhouse lawyer Fred Cruz.

By most measures, Cruz was an ordinary criminal. But in prison he studied law in order to file an appeal of his conviction and 50-year prison sentence. Before long the harsh field labor, brutal corporal punishments and arbitrary disciplinary hearings experienced by prisoners prompted Cruz to file lawsuits against the prison system. He was classified as an agitator and transferred to the Ellis Unit—“the Alcatraz of Texas”—a maximum-security prison overseen by C.L. McAdams, the most feared warden in Texas.

Under pressure from McAdams and his guards to drop his lawsuits, Cruz was subjected to long periods in solitary confinement on a bread and water diet. Despite the isolation and confiscation of his legal papers, he managed to help other prisoners with lawsuits. In 1968, when an inmate was caught with legal papers prepared by Cruz for Muslim prisoners who alleged that their civil rights were being violated by prison authorities, tensions mounted and came to blows. The uprising that ensued drew the attention of outsiders, including attorneys Frances Jalet and William Bennett Turner, who assisted in Cruz’s watershed case, Cruz v. Beto.

Told by wardens, convicts and former prisoners who knew Cruz, WRIT WRITER weaves contemporary and archival film footage to evoke the fascinating transformation of a prisoner and a prison system still haunted by their pasts.

The next showing in Houston ‘s KUHT (Channel 8) is Friday, June 20, 10:00pm

via the Fifth Circuit Blog

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