Interview with Alan Pogue

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People and Organizations 
Table of Contents 
  •  Introduction and consent  
  •  Local and student activism 1968 - early 1970s 
  •  Austin Prison Coalition 
  •  Charlie and Pauline Sullivan and the beginning of CURE 
  •  Watch Video 2, Video 3, Video 4, Video 5, Video 6, Video 7 of "Interview with Mr. Alan Pogue"  
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  •   ALAN POGUE: Good morning.  
  •  RAYMOND: Thanks for letting us visit. The voice behind the camera today is Virginia Raymond. I'm here with Gabe Solis, who is the photographer, and Alan Pogue who is the documentary photographer. And we're here in Austin at the Texas Center for Documentary Photography, 2104 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. with Alan Pogue in his studio. And Alan, you were just saying -- Well, before I ask that, we talked about you agreeing to do this interview with us today.  
  •  POGUE: Yes, I'm happy to do it.  
  •  RAYMOND: Thank you. And after, you review it, we intend to use it, with your permission, for public education, non-commercial purposes, to share with the Center for American History and other libraries or nonprofit collections as people are interested.  
  •  POGUE: I'm happy for it to have as wide a distribution as it can obtain.  
  •  RAYMOND: Thank you very much. So today is September 16th, Diez y Seis de Septiembre, 2008. And you were just saying that this is your 40th year.. 
  •  POGUE: Yes, I really date back to '68. I was just getting out of the Army and I was starting my photographic career and came to Austin, and I immediately joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. And I also, within a semester, was working with The Rag, the underground newspaper.  
  •  POGUE: And because I was working with the alternative press, with people who were against the war and many other issues, I managed to be arrested at least twice, merely for taking pictures because the police were directed to arrest me simply to harass me. And so I got to spend the night in jail, and some of my friends did.  
  •  POGUE: But then there were even worse more harsh cases, where people had drugs planted on them. Or that even if they had small amounts of marijuana, they would get harsh sentences for relatively minor infractions. And so I began to know about the use of the criminal justice system as a tool of political oppression.  
  •  POGUE: And then there are very dramatic cases, like Black Panthers who were murdered. There was the Chicago Seven trial where people who were against the war were threatened with decades in prison.  
  •  POGUE: And then myself, I was arrested with the Chuck Wagon incident, when students were protesting the fact that all of a sudden people who weren't students were not going to be allowed to come in for a cup of coffee in the Chuck Wagon in the Student Union.  
  •  POGUE: And I was arrested on a sealed indictment along with eighteen other people, two weeks after the demonstration at the University of Texas. And it was a perfectly peaceful demonstration.  
  •  POGUE: The people that were in the Chuck Wagon debating these issues were given permission to be there. It was understood that when the normal closing hour came everyone would... left. People had agreed to that, but Frank Erwin, who was chairman of the Board of Regents, was not satisfied with that and unknown to anyone else, he somehow was able to direct the Department of Public [Safety], the state troopers, to crash into the student union and cause an incident that would not have occurred otherwise.  
  •  POGUE: And then two weeks later, I was arrested along with others with this conspiracy to cause a riot. Well, of course, the riot was caused by Frank Erwin. And really there was no riot ever, at all. All that happened was dozens of armored state troopers crashed through the students who had gathered around the union and physically broke into the Student Union, which had emptied because everyone saw them coming.  
  •  POGUE: And one rather sort of sad, yet humorous incident; they went straight for the one African American in the room, but before they could beat him and handcuff him, someone pointed out to them that he was the vice-president of the student body. And so, actually no one was arrested inside of the Student Union that I know of, because no one had done anything.  
  •  POGUE: And so that was a very clear case of official oppression of free speech in the crudest way, except that it pales in comparison with what happened to members of the Black Panther Party and others. But that was my introduction, personally, and so I from there, started taking pictures for the prison reform movement.  
  •  POGUE: In Austin, Texas it was the Austin Prison Coalition, in 1972. But not too long after that, in 1974, Charlie and Pauline Sullivan came to Texas. And Charlie Sullivan was put in, I think it was the Bexar County Jail in San Antonio for protesting the war in Vietnam, and he too could see how repressive it was.  
  •  POGUE: And all of the prisons in Texas were north and south of Houston. And so no matter where you were in Texas and you were arrested, you were north and south of Houston. So he and Pauline started organizing bus tours, chartered buses, so that family members could visit their loved ones in Texas prisons.  
  •  POGUE: That was the beginning of CURE. But then they soon realized that there were lots of little groups all over the state who were interested in reforming the criminal justice system. So they had the idea that if they formed one group, that would be an umbrella group for all of these organizations, they could lobby, they could help each other, they could share information. So they came up with CURE.  
  •  POGUE: The acronym, and they worked really hard to get it, was Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants. Those who err. I always thought of currants, those little dark dried out fruits. But errants. So CURE started and it was fabulously successful.  
  •  POGUE: They organized all over the state for ten years, until 1985, when they just moved themselves to Washington D.C. to start organizing other states. But in those years, there was a lot of repression, and from the general subject of prison reform, rehabilitation, or the lack of it, I took lots of pictures for Malcolm Greenstein and others who were pursuing cases that had to do with bad medical care, lack of visitation, lack of representation.  
  •  POGUE: So after doing that, in 1978, many prisoners who were self-educated in the legal system -- they call them writ writers -- were making complaints and sending them to Judge William Wayne Justice. So Judge Justice decided to consolidate their complaints into one class action suit against the Texas prison system, called Ruiz. That was one of the writ writers, David Ruiz, versus Estelle, and Mr. Estelle was the chair of the Board of Directors of the prison system. So this class action suit began in 1978, but the actual trial lasted a full year. I don't know... more than three hundred people testified. There were thousands of pieces of evidence.  
  •  POGUE: Finally, of course, they decided that yes, indeed, the Texas prison system was using prisoners as guards. Prisoners were able to beat up and in some cases murder other prisoners. There was... I was brought in to photograph.  
  •  POGUE: And I photographed eight prisons very thoroughly. I saw things that even some of the guards hadn't seen, because, for instance, you'd be in a prison, a prison has different wings, different levels. But if you have two rows of cells facing each other, two rows of cells facing each other, between them there would be a metal door.  
  •  POGUE: When you open that door, that leads to all the water and waste water pipes going in and out. It leads to all the electrical wires leading in and out. But when you look down, it could go down three or four floors, and the only thing that there is, is a 2 x 8 board you can walk down, so that technicians could take care of the electrical stuff.  
  •  POGUE: But the guards were often direct the prisoners to throw full trash cans full of trash into that space and it would go all the way down into the bottom and then eventually there would be several feet of trash down there. And it was seething with roaches and I don't know what all, vermin, and rats. 
  •  POGUE: And the prisoners had nothing to do with this, except that they were ordered to throw trash into this space. But that meant that there was no way they could keep their cells clean. And no matter what they did there would be roaches coming in and out through the air vents. That's just one thing, you know.  
  •  POGUE: The prisoners told me they would clean it if they could. They were more than willing to clean their areas if they could. But they had no way to clean the trash out and they had no way to obtain cleaning equipment unless it was given to them.  
  •  POGUE: And other examples were maybe a third of the toilets didn't work at any given moment, and also I noticed that the ceiling fans were burned out, the huge ventilation ceiling fans, because there was no routine maintenance schedule. And there were not enough people, not enough civilians, to do the maintenance, and the prisoners were not allowed to do the maintenance.  
  •  POGUE: So when you take all of those things together, there's a massive, continual degradation of the physical plant. And my job really was to document the degradation of the physical plant along with overcrowding.  
  •  POGUE: Well, they had rows of cells, I mean rows of beds going down the walkway, where you were supposed to be walking there'd be rows of beds. And then the beds would be so close together in the dormitories that if a sleeping man would just put his hand out like that, he'd hit the bunk next to him.  
  •  POGUE: It was obviously overcrowded. People would ask me, Well if they knew you were coming, they would clean it up. And I said, there was no way. They couldn't do it. They couldn't sweep hundreds of prisoners under the rug.  
  •  POGUE: They couldn't fix every seal in every walk-in freezer. Like I went into many prisons where the seals around the doors in the walk-in freezers were all rotted out. So the food would freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw. They were growing botulism, literally. You could look at the canned goods on the shelves and see that the top of the cans were puffed out, 'cause botulism was growing inside the cans of food. Or I photographed rat feces in the beans. And it wasn't because the people running the kitchens were bad people or lazy. 
  •  POGUE: I remember I talked to one fellow who was running the kitchen, the food supply. We were sitting around having a cup of coffee while the lawyers for both sides were talking. And I asked him, I said, well, how'd you come to have this job? He said, well, I - he'd been a guard and he had quit for a while. He ran a little restaurant, little greasy spoon joint somewhere. And when he came back to being a prison guard, they said, "Oh great. You ran a restaurant. You're in charge of food service."  
  •  POGUE: And I said, Well, what if you wanted to learn more about running the food service? What if you wanted to learn more about hygiene in this situation? Where could you go for continuing education? He said, "Nowhere. They wouldn't give me any time off. There's no courses in this. They wouldn't pay me. Anything I wanted to learn, it was up to me."  
  •  POGUE: And so while I could see that the guy had worked hard. He had kept the place clean. He just didn't know what the techniques were or really what to look for. It was very sad. Because, when I mentioned these things to higher up officials, they always want to say, "well, let's just fire the guy." Well, that's not the answer. The answer is systematic. 
  •  POGUE: And so that was what the whole suit was about. The problems in the prison system are systematic and structural. It's not just that you have a bad guard here or there or a bad administrator or whatnot. It's -- there's just neither the thought nor really the intent -- and when that became really clear was when they changed the name. It used to be the Texas Department of Corrections, and now it's the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. I mean corrections is physically being taken out of it.  
  •  POGUE: And that's the other thing that I saw was that there are, on the books, classes that you can take, but the reality is that there are very few people in them and that a person who's taking a class may not be able to get to the class because he's been charged with some minor infraction or maybe there's a lockdown, any number of things can keep a person from getting to the class, which is— you can't run an educational facility that way.  
  •  POGUE: An example of a difference is that after CURE became nation-wide and I went to other prison systems outside of Texas. I went to Missouri and they had a program where people in prison could learn metalworking.  
  •  POGUE: They were sent to a factory and they worked in a factory and this factory made everything from aluminum bagel ovens to snowplows, huge snowplows. So the people that were in the program learned how to work with every sort of metal in all sizes and shapes, and they made a good wage and at the end of three or four years in prison, they would have five or six thousand dollars in the bank, and they would have the certificate of a professional welder. So they had - 
  •  POGUE: In Texas, you might leave the prison with fifty bucks and a new set of clothes and and three days later, well, you're broke. And you have no skill. You're no better off than when you went in. And what Missouri was showing with their program is, it doesn't have to be that way. There are alternatives to this.  
  •  POGUE: But simultaneously to this work, of course, I was very much aware of specific problems within the prison population, the most dramatic one being Death Row. 
  •  POGUE: Some of the members of CURE, for instance Ken and Lois Robison -- Ken ran a small printing company and Lois was an elementary school teacher, and their son, Larry, unfortunately had some serious mental problems.  
  •  POGUE: He was in the Air Force and the Air Force discharged him because of his mental problems. He was diagnosed as being paranoid schizophrenic with homicidal tendencies, but as -- in his actual life, he never hurt anyone; he never so much as cut in line at the movie theater.  
  •  POGUE: He hadn't done anything but he had these fantasies and he had these tendencies and the psychotic part was that he would believe these elaborate fantasies and so at some point there was the threat that he would act on them and in fact he did and he killed five people one night.  
  •  POGUE: It was in Dallas and it was a very grizzly murder and the assistant prosecutors wanted him to go to Rusk Mental Hospital, but the main prosecutor, because of the publicity, thought it would be politically expedient to have him found guilty of murder rather than being found to be what he was: mentally ill and needing mental services.  
  •  POGUE: So I don't know how the prosecutor was able to do it. He was somehow -- was able to suppress Larry's well-documented mental history. I think it was because poor Ken and Lois were simply not financially able to get the best representation. And then I think the head prosecutor was fairly famous for being cruel, really. "Overzealous" is I guess is the euphemism. 
  •  POGUE: And so Larry was convicted and he spent many years on Death Row, where he was successfully treated. Whatever, you know, the medications for schizophrenia have improved a lot and when he was taking his medication, he was completely lucid and friendly. And I went to visit him on Death Row and we talked about meditation, and different subjects, things that helped him in the prison, but eventually his appeals ran out and he was executed. It was very sad and totally wrong.  
  •  POGUE: On the other hand, at the same time there was the famous case of Karla Faye Tucker. And Karla Faye had indeed committed the crime she was convicted of, but the circumstances of her life were horrendous. She -- her mother was a prostitute. She was introduced to using heroin at maybe twelve years old. Her mother was, as they say, turning her out into the trade and to avoid all of this, at the age of fourteen, she ran away with a biker gang and then eventually, I think, when she was eighteen or so, 
  •  POGUE: she was with her boyfriend to collect some money, a debt from a fellow who was a lineman for a telephone company and Karla Faye's boyfriend picked up a small pick that belonged to the lineman and killed him with it and then gave it to Karla Faye and told her to kill the girlfriend, which she did. And in her testimony, she gave a graphic account of it all, but, once she was on Death Row, [Go to Video 2] 
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Title:Interview with Alan Pogue
Abstract:Alan Pogue is a photographer who has documented movements for social justice and the problems those movements seek to eliminate for four decades. In Video 1, Pogue explains his entry into the Texas prison reform movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s via civil rights, anti-war, and student organizing. A member of the Austin Prison Coalition, he soon met Pauline and Charlie Sullivan, founders of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE). Pogue's commitment to prison reform paralleled his growth as a documentary photographer: in Video 1, he describes photographing prisons in connection with Ruíz v. Estelle, the longest-running prison lawsuit in U.S. history. In Videos 1 and 2, Pogue mentions specific people on Death Row. In Video 3, Pogue discusses the philosophy of incarceration and capital punishment as a form of human sacrifice. In Video 3, Pogue also addresses the conditions on Death Row; general access to prisons; prison reform and anti-death penalty movements; and the theological doctrine of predestination in relation to criminal justice policy. In Video 4, Pogue discusses Vietnam and his personal intellectual growth. In Video 5, Pogue discusses documentary photographer Russell Lee and the purpose, politics, and aesthetics of photography. In Videos 6 and 7, Pogue shares what he saw in numerous Latin American countries when he traveled on behalf of CURE, which produced a 2006 evaluation of prisons in member nations of the Organization of American States (OAS). This interview took place on October 8, 2008 at the Texas Center for Documentary Photography in Austin, Travis County, Texas.
Sequence:1 of 7
  • Alan PogueRole: Narrator
  • Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
  • Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Interviewer
  • Gabriel Daniel SolisRole: Videographer
  • Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Transcriber
  • Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Proofreader
Date Created:2008/10/08
Geographic Focus:North America--United States--Texas
Geographic Base:North America--United States--Texas--Austin
Type of Resource:Moving image
    This electronic resource is made available by the University of Texas Libraries solely for the purposes of research, teaching and private study. All intellectual property rights are retained by the legal copyright holders. The University of Texas does not hold the copyright to the content of this file. Formal permission to reuse or republish this content must be obtained from the copyright holder.

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Continues with Video 2 of the TAVP Interview with Mr. Alan Pogue

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