Lock of Inmate’s Dead Parents’ Hair Could Be Soaked in PCP, Texas Prison Argues

you let a lock of hair in next thing you know there'll be drugs in prison!Andrew Bardwell/Foter.comWilliam Chance, an inmate of the Texas prison system since a 1992 conviction for aggravated sexual assault, has been in court arguing that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The prison banned peace pipe ceremonies (shared pipes can transmit diseases), indoor smoke-wafting (the prison installed a fire alarm in the gym where it used to be performed), and is prohibiting Chance from receiving a lock of his dead parents’ hair from his brother. Chance also argued in court that his unit, specific to Native Americans, did not offer enough religious services and ceremonies specifically to his brand of faith.

A district court previously entered a summary judgment in favor of Texas, but an appeals court in the Fifth Circuit disagreed with applying summary judgment in the case of the parents’ hair. The appeals court pointed to a previous ruling by the 8th Circuit, Fowler v. Crawford, which called for “deference owed to the expert judgment of prison officials” when inmates brought up arguments that other prisons permitted a practice theirs did not. RLUIPA allows a significant burden to be placed on an inmate’s religious beliefs if that was the least intrusive way to further “compelling government interests,” namely safety, and the appeals court decided that banning the sharing of pipes and the burning indoors of herbs satisfied that requirement. Chance’s argument about the frequency of ceremonies was dismissed because of the difficulty in a prison being able to accommodate every specific faith, and because the prison was willing to be more accommodating toward the frequency of ceremonies but found it difficult to get an adequate number of volunteers from regional Native American resource groups.

The appeals court disagreed with the lower court ruling that determined preventing Chance from possessing a small lock of his dead parents’ hair was not a substantial burden on his religious beliefs. The court also appeared to dismiss prison officials’ argument that any exception to a rule permitting prisoners to acquire items only from approved vendors would be an unacceptable security risk. According to the appeals court opinion, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice even argued that the hair Chance received could be dipped in PCP and smoked at a later point, despite Chance’s offer to allow  the hair to be tested and even to cover the cost. Throughout the opinion, the court was willing to defer to the expert opinion of the prison officials involved in the decision, but the appeal to security and public safety (“I mean, that is what we do,” the unit’s regional director testified) in defending a blanket ban on personal items from non-approved vendors, such as family members, from entering the prison was a bridge too far. “We have never gone as far as upholding an absolute, no-exceptions prison restriction on requests for outside objects,” the appeals court ruled.

Chance said he wasn’t happy with the court’s ruling because “the most important parts of Native American spiritual practices were dismissed,” but will continue the legal fight to be permitted to receive his parents’ hair. A scheduling conference is set for next week and the trial is supposed to start in January.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    According to the appeals court opinion, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice even argued that the hair Chance received could be dipped in PCP and smoked at a later point...

    He could then attack a guard and break every bone in his hand and not feel it for hours. There was this guy once, you see this scar?

  • AlmightyJB||

    well you know PCP is what gave ZOD his powers.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Yellow sun, but I take your point.

  • JeremyR||

    Apparently he's got a 65 year sentence. Just what did he do?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I found a white inmate named William Chance serving a 65 year sentence for aggravate sexual assault and a 20-year sentence for indecency with a child:


  • Ed||

    I believe that's the one. The court opinion refers to aggravated sexual assault, which I mentioned in the article

  • JidaKida||

    What a bunch of idiots in texas, amazing.


  • ||

    William Chance, an inmate of the Texas prison system since a 1992 conviction for aggravated sexual assault...

    Hmmm. Assuming the conviction wasn't a railroad job, how 'bout fuck you, do your time, it's not supposed to be pleasant? Hope you got buttfucked a lot while you were in there too.

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    You know, where I live, it's common practice for a divorce attorney to have a woman accuse her soon-to-be ex husband of sexually assaulting her, or her child if she has one. It gives her and her attorney another leverage point to use against the man in court.

    the Aggravated Sexual Assault charge could be serious. It could just as easily be made up. Either way, he should be allowed something as simple as a lock of hair.

  • uhclem||

    America is truly a barbaric nation.


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