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That was not the way I wanted to see him: I had wanted to visit his cell, his pod, to observe how he passes his time — to see how he lives.

But the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) doesn’t allow reporters beyond its visiting rooms, and it forbids taking pictures inside the prisons.

After his parole in 1974, allegedly under the influence of two of his brothers, Pedro and Adolfo, he delivered a pair of pistols to a warden’s trustee who then smuggled them into Huntsville’s Walls Unit.

San Antonio gangster Fred Carrasco used those guns in an 11-day hostage-taking and stand-off that culminated in a shootout.

But because federal courts have ruled that states must guarantee the safety and health of their inmates, Texas will have to pay.

Alonzo frets that because of the expense, prison bureaucrats will stall the treatment until it’s too late.

But the upshot, Hernandez charges, is that prisoners whose mobility is limited cannot use handrails to get on or off of the “chain” buses that transport them.

Alonzo spends his exercise time “walking around in circles — like a psych patient,” he says with a grin.According to TDCJ spokesman Robert Hurst, the average cost of housing Texas inmates is about ,000 a year, but medical and end-of-life expenses hike that figure to some ,000 for elderly inmates. A 2012 report from the ACLU calculates the average national expense for keeping a prisoner at ,000 per year — and twice that much, ,000, for inmates older than 50.Both demographic factors and get-tough sentencing have transformed what were once mere penal institutions into hospitals, assisted living centers and nursing homes, too.For a year I corresponded with Alonzo and a dozen other elderly inmates, querying them about their circumstances. When I asked Alonzo, in Spanish, if he thought prison authorities could monitor our conversation in that language, he chuckled and said, “And in Japanese, Arabic or Russian.” We conducted the rest of our chat in English.Alonzo has been waiting since at least March for the start of a 12-week course of a new liver drug that might keep him alive for years to come.

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