Prisoner rape has been rampant in the American gulag for more than a century. Overcrowding mainly due to the war on some drugs in recent decades has exacerbated the problem. But in recent years, with the aid of civil and human rights organizations, enough survivors have overcome their extreme humiliation, have gone public and have even won lawsuits that the US criminal justice system is finally taking action.
As of July 1, 2002, bipartisan legislation is pending in both houses of Congress to halt or at least curb prisoner rape. Representatives Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Robert Scott (D-VA) have introduced H.R. 4943 and Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) have introduced S. 2619. I don't have enough confidence in government to have read the bills. Besides, I deplore legalese, a language deliberately designed to confuse and frustrate most people.
The criminal justice system, as I see it, is a vast pyramid of power with the president, governors and attorneys general at the top followed by those legislators who make the laws at federal and state level, then comes the judges and DAs and other attorneys who interpret the laws, and finally at the bottom is the huge army of police, sheriffs and their deputies and correctional officers including wardens who enforce the laws.
At best, criminal justice is an experiment that so far has failed. In the US as elsewhere in the world, with enough money a person can get away with murder or, if confined, at least pay protection from sadistic guards and predatory prisoners. White collar criminals who steal far more from the public get far shorter sentences than burglars, etc. etc.
So many stories of atrocities in the United States by the men in blue — police officers and guards — have been in the media in recent years that time is overdue for a long, hard look at the possible complicity between guards and prisoner rapists such as the infamous “booty bandit” of Corcoran State Prison in California. As long ago as 1985, someone — a legislator of all people — was indeed considering guards a major part of the problem of prisoner rape.
“Delaware State Senator Herman M. Holloway Sr. has introduced a bill establishing prison sentences for prison guards and health care workers who accommodate the sexual molestation of inmates or patients,” according to the Wilmington News Journal, April 1985. SB 13, that never got out of committee, would have established “maximum seven year sentences for any employee of the State's Correction Department...who either put individuals in their custody or care in an environment conducive to sexual abuse or withhold information about such abuse.”
But today many correctional facilities in many states have been declared off-limits to the media because, according to authorities such as California Gov. Gray Davis, prisoners lie as if officials never. Thus research won't be easy. But with bipartisan federal legislation pending at this time to curb prisoner rape, sadistic guards just might be outed.
Any form of rape is torture — the infliction of severe physical and/or emotional pain as punishment and/or coercion. Any form of rape is crazy-making. Survivors suffer rape trauma syndrome, a type of post traumatic stress disorder and some never recover especially men because of the macho factor. Many men on death row were sexually abused earlier in life. Beside severe psychosis, side effects of prisoner rape are murder, suicide, sexual slavery, AIDS, recidivism, racism, homophobia, and misogyny. Despite the jokes, this is serious stuff and expensive to taxpayers.
Rape Of Women Prisoners
When women prisoners are raped in US correctional institutions, it is usually by male guards, according to Amnesty International in reports in its “Rights for All” campaign in 1998. That year, for the first time since it was founded in 1961, AI focused on human rights violations in the US, namely by police and correctional officers. That's how bad things have gotten in the criminal justice system here. Now, not only does the US have the biggest gulag in the world (with more prisoners per capita than any other country), but it may also have the most violent, according to AI.
Cassandra Collins, a black nurse confined for bad checks, was raped by a captain of guards — Roosevelt Baker — in Florida a few years ago. Her complaints were ignored till a woman guard reported being raped by Baker. (Captain Baker also extorted money from Collins.) Collins not only helped put Baker behind bars, she successfully lobbied a bill through the Florida legislature to stop the rape of prisoners. The “Cassandra Collins Bill” was signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush last October. (Recently the Governor restored Collins' voting rights. Now she is working to get similar rights of other convicted felons restored.)
A decade ago at Frontera State Prison for Women in California, Correctional Officer Cindy Coglietti helped a prisoner escape. Jeanette Hughes, the prisoner, had been complaining to Coglietti that she was being repeatedly raped by a male guard. After enough of Coglietti's entreaties to Warden Susan Poole were ignored, the guard took action, according to the Orange County Register in a series about the escape and the prison that ran from July 1990 to April 1991.
The National Institute of Corrections now has a training program titled “Addressing Staff Sexual Misconduct with Inmates.” It's aimed mostly at male guards in women's facilities. (Why are they there in the first place? Answer: at the end of this report.) But what about male guards in male institutions?
Rape As a ‘Management Tool’
Now enough male prisoners and ex-prisoners have reported being set-up by guards to be raped that a study needs to be initiated of possible collusion between guards and prisoner rapists. Kennith Stube, a prisoner in Tennessee and vice-president of SPR, believes 80 percent of the rapes in his prison are set up by guards. It was established more than a decade ago by the late Stephen Donaldson, peace and justice activist, that prisoner rape is used by some correctional officers as a “management tool” — as (1) extra punishment, (2) to create informers,(3) to racially “divide and conquer” prisoner populations, (4) to destroy potential leaders, as (5) entertainment for some guards and (6) to justify more appropriations. To date these charges have been unchallenged. Even before being confined, prisoners are sometimes coerced by police into plea bargaining by threat of being placed in a cell with a known rapist especially of another color.
Guards also have been known to “auction” off prisoners as “punks” (sexual slaves) to “wolves” (dominant prisoners) who could pay cash from their extralegal activities such as drug trafficking. (And who is smuggling most of the drugs into prisons?) Punks are usually small, slightly-built, non-violent offenders who are treated like maids as well as sex objects, often forced to do their “man's” laundry. Thus they are called “Maytags” in some prisons.
EXTRA PUNISHMENT — For almost a decade, first a Republican and now a Democratic governor of California have helped delay justice for a victim of prisoner rape. After showing disrespect to a guard at Corcoran State Prison in 1993, Eddie Webb Dillard, who the Sacramento Bee described as “relatively diminutive,” was placed in a cell with Wayne Jerome Robertson, who one official called “a refrigerator with legs.” Labeled the “Booty Bandit” (prisoner rapist) by the media, Robertson regularly beat and raped other prisoners at six different California prisons over a period of eighteen years, according to Rob Bastian, one of Dillard's attorneys.
Five guards were indicted for setting up Dillard to be sexually assaulted but they were acquitted thanks to the very expensive help of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and the legislators the union owns. On June 28, Dillard's attorneys announced in a press release their most recent civil lawsuit has been “stymied for over seven months because Gov. Gray Davis' office has not signed contracts approving the defense attorneys selected by the correctional officers” who “conspired to place and keep Dillard in a cell for three days with a recidivist cellie rapist twice Dillard's size, and, thereafter, cover up their misconduct.”
TO RACIALLY “DIVIDE AND CONQUER” — John William King was not a racist when he first entered the Beto Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections on a charge of burglary, insist his friends. When he was first confined, members of a white supremacist group tried to recruit him but he refused. Some “Confederate Knights” then got a “friendly” white guard to place King in an all-black cell block. After a few days there, King was transferred back to his original cellblock, joined the Knights and when released made international news when he and two friends dragged to death James Byrd Jr., a black man, in Jaspar, Texas, in June 1998.
“Texas prisons turn violent criminals into violent racist criminals. Then they release them,” is the sub head of an article titled “Hardcore Hate” by a prisoner named “John Doe.” (Magazine and date unknown but photocopies available on request.)
“NEUTRALIZING” LEADERS — There is no telling how many other dissidents besides Stephen Donaldson and me that prisoner rape also may have been used to coerce or otherwise make ineffective. Donaldson, a Navy vet turned peace activist was small and white. Arrested at a Pray-In to end the bombing of Cambodia on the grounds of the White House in 1973, he was placed by Captain Clinton Cobb in an all-black cell block where he was beaten and raped for two days. In Will, The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy, the former FBI agent turned Watergate “plumber” described part of Donaldson's ordeal. The two had been in the same cell block until Donaldson was transferred.
Memos from my FBI files show COINTELPRO may have set me up to be raped to “neutralize” (their word) my work to stop the War in Vietnam in 1968. “Dirty tricks” is what the corporate media call such FBI abuse of power. I have a stronger term for it. In 1987, after being homeless for ten years, and as an Air Force veteran, I received a 100 percent, non-service-connected disability pension from the Veterans Administration for PTSD, the result of twenty-for hours of being beaten, gang-raped and otherwise tortured. I estimate I've cost taxpayers at least $150,000 in pension and health care the past fifteen years.
Not long before Donaldson died of AIDS in 1996, we agreed that especially as veterans, we felt betrayed by our country.
MORE APPROPRIATIONS — California Department of Corrections officials “don't want the violence to stop. They want to (use the violence to) convince the public that we need more money. more prisons and more security,” said Steve Rigg, a lieutenant at Corcoran from 1988 to 1995, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 28, 1996.
Way back in the 1930s, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover developed an extraordinary technique of not only making excuses for incompetence or wrongdoing but also getting more money out of Congress. Whenever he was called on the carpet by a Congressional oversight committee, he would turn the situation around by claiming lack of resources. More often than not, he would leave the meeting with more appropriations for his Bureau. Today so many government agencies use the Hoover Ploy, it has become a farce. This is especially true with the criminal justice system, the intelligence community and the military that can produce any number of horror scenarios to coerce Congress to loosen purse strings.
Like the FBI and others in the criminal justice pyramid of power, prison guards have little if any oversight; their accountability is practically zero. They are true “untouchables.” And, as if this isn't enough, in some states guards' unions, along with public officials, are seeking immunity from law suits. Thus crime pays for those who make, interpret and enforce the law.
Currently bipartisan federal legislation to curb prisoner rape is pending. Representatives Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Robert Scott (D-VA) have introduced H.R. 4943 and Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) have introduced S. 2619. But even if strong legislation is created, the government has always been very selective about the laws it enforces and how they are enforced. In Florida, for instance, the law Cassandra Collins help make only covers state prisons; city and county jails are exempt.
Guard Whistle Blowers
Because of the truly iron curtain around the American gulag. “plausible denial” is easy for corrections officials as well as everyone else in the criminal justice system where there is practically zero accountability despite Congressional and other “oversight” committees. Among prisoners, the life expectancy of a “snitch” (informer) is measured in minutes. Guards have their own “blue code” of silence to intimidate whistle blowers in their ranks. Thus a few corrupt guards are able to turn the rest into accomplices. “Misprision of felony” is the “offense of concealing knowledge of a felony by one who has not participated or assisted in it.”
One whistle blower guard who helped expose “greet the bus,” “gladiator fights” and the “booty bandit” at Corcoran State Prison in California, feared for his life and quit in disgust. Corrections Officer Cindy Coglietti who helped Jeanette Hughes escape Frontera State Prison for Women in California, caused an investigation that uncovered male guards smuggling drugs into the prison to be repackaged by prisoners into smaller quantities, then smuggled back out for street sales. One subhead in one of a series of stories about Frontera in the Orange County Register July 29, 1990, was, “The nation's largest women's prison is overcrowded, infested with drugs — a world where guards fear colleagues more than inmates.” Yet in other prisons, guards have been known to pay prisoners for protection.
Also in California, at Pelican Bay, a team of corrections officers investigating “rampant guard abuse of prisoners” was not only obstructed from doing its job, but also harassed by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. The CCPOA charged the team — headed by Captain Daniel R. Smith — “used force, false charges and forgery to blackmail witnesses” and initiated nine separate investigations of Smith's investigative team. Despite the team being cleared of charges, the Association continued to pressure the California Department of Corrections to remove Smith's investigators. Smith's group then sued the Association for defamation and interference. And on and on it may still be going. Meanwhile seven guards have been fired for assault, conspiracy, and paying prisoners in illicit drugs to kill or beat mostly those convicted of child molestation. (My cell mates in 1968 were told by a guard that I was a child molester and promised an extra ration of Jello if they “took care of me.”) The guards at Pelican Bay were fired but not jailed, proving the criminal justice system has a much, much lower standard for its own members among other things creating the worst possible influence on law abiding as well as law breaking citizens.
In Florida, a long-time prison guard, sickened by abuse of prisoners, documented what he saw and heard and was so stressed, he drank himself to death at age 43. According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, May 6, 2001, Captain Willie Hogan, a black, 19-year veteran at Lancaster Correctional Institution where he was appointed “prison inspector” in 1993, kept a diary of physical and verbal abuse, racism and official cover-ups. He wrote of “rogue guards who do as they please.” This includes beatings, unnecessarily spraying prisoners with mace and filing bogus disciplinary reports. “There appears to be no means to report (these abuses) any higher up the chain of command because all levels appear to know about this tactic,” he wrote on Aug. 4, 1998 and which was published in 2001.
It's important to note Captains Smith and Hogan weren't just do-gooders. They were high-ranking, veteran correctional officers specifically assigned to investigate misconduct within the ranks of fellow COs. Are the incidents described so far in this report isolated cases? I don't think so. And have you noticed all the guard captains mentioned in this report? What can we expect from the rank and file?
Guards Know Exactly Who They Are Guarding
Guards know who are the dangerous, violent prisoners. They have to know! Their own lives depend on it since they are most often unarmed when among prisoners so as not be disarmed and taken hostage or worse. One corrections officer at a maximum security facility viewed Stop Prisoner Rape's web site and was “touched.” He e-mailed, “I would like to reassure you that there are guards out there that truly attempt to protect inmates from sexual predators.” He went on, “I know who my sexual predators are, and I keep an eye on them every second I'm at work...I have been assaulted several times for interceding for prison punks.”
So not all guards are guilty of “deliberate indifference,” but we can see here they quickly learn to differentiate the predators from the vulnerable. A former guard e-mailed SPR he was a shocked at the rapes when he first started work at the prison in Huntsville, Texas, but soon became not only used to it, he developed “much the same callous and even amused outlook as my fellow guards.” But then he was raped by three trustees and was so ashamed, he didn't report it. His fellow guards learned from prisoners about the rape and ostracized him, claiming among other things, he couldn't be counted on to protect their backs in a confrontation. He quit and is now a police officer.
Many if not most correctional facilities boast of closed circuit TV cameras to cut down on the violence behind bars. But how effective are they? How many guards are used to watch how many TV monitors? What about blind spots? Where are the studies justifying purchase of these cameras? If effective, why aren't more in use? Or are these cameras part of the “pork barrel” of the “prison/industrial complex” like certain expensive hardware of the military/industrial complex?
San Francisco Protocol
In San Francisco, Sheriff Mike Hennessey established a protocol more than two decades ago to cut down on violence and especially prisoner rape. A nurse interviews incoming prisoners to ascertain if they are prone to violence. Then the obviously vulnerable prisoners are segregated from the obvious predators. Guards are also trained to be more vigilant.
This hasn't totally eliminated assaults in San Francisco City/County Jail, but it has cut way down on the violence. So why isn't this protocol — that is neither complicated nor expensive — used in every reformatory, jail and prison in the country? Why aren't violent prisoners segregated from non-violent prisoner everywhere?
‘Schools of Crime’
Is it any wonder prisons have long been called “schools of crime?” Undereducated prisoners with little hope for decent jobs when released, teach each other criminal skills. And to reinforce their criminal education, guards are setting a bad example either by outright wrongdoing or remaining silent about guard abuse of power. Instead of teaching prisoners to be upstanding citizens, the Criminal Justice System teaches them they have no alternative but to keep committing crimes.
And instead of helping rehabilitate the mental health of prisoners, the system has the opposite effect. Kennith Stube, SPR's vice-president reports, “After a Tennessee inmate has been in the system for more than ten full years, they allow you to be listed as mentally disabled.” Thus such a prisoner can qualify for a disability pension (SSI) from Social Security. And we know the US government doesn't award disability pensions lightly.
How many prisoners enter the system with minor emotional problems and exit much worse? Researchers have found most prisoners have learning disabilities. Prison Madness by Dr. Terry Kupers “exposes the brutality and failure of today's correctional system — for all prisoners — but especially the incredible conditions endured by those suffering from serious mental disorders,” according to the dust jacket. Chapter Six is titled “Rape and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” (Dr. Kupers is a member of the board of directors of SPR.)
Prisoners are sometimes called “convicts” not only because they are convicted felons but also because some are “con men” who tell tall tales to make their lives easier. But what about guards; why are they more believable and trustworthy? Most guards come from the same low income, working class, dysfunctional families as prisoners. Like prisoners, they tend to be undereducated and without the skills or talent necessary to make as much income doing some other line of work. (For years in California, high school-educated guards earn much more than college-educated teachers and Gov. Davis just gave guards a twenty percent increase in pay while laying off teachers.)
At the very least prisons, especially maximum security facilities and special housing units (SHUs) are totally dehumanizing, therefore crazy-making — not only for prisoners but also the guards. If the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) were to inspect prisons like they do factories and offices, some startling discoveries might be made such as the high incidence of PTSD and substance abuse among guards. One of the worst things about being a CO might be the constant adjusting from cozy home to harsh workplace. One study has shown career COs don't live very long after retirement.
But not all prisons are dangerous and stressful. Women’s correctional facilities tend to be much less violent. This is a major reason male COs have their unions fight so hard to keep them there, using equal opportunity laws to justify positions which some then abuse to the deafening silence of the rest of the staff. Then there are the very real “country club” prisons such as at Eglin, Florida, with unbelievable amenities. Supposedly for non-violent offenders, this is where many white collar criminals like Arthur Anderson go for their sentences which tend to be much shorter for much larger amounts of money stolen than common burglars who are more often mixed in with violent criminals.
The entire criminal justice system is so politicized, bureaucratic, racist, and classist, it needs a major overhaul that would transform it into something unrecognizable. At the very least, a study needs to be made — and soon — of how widespread is the collusion between correctional officers and prisoner rapists especially in light of the recent proposed Federal legislation to curb sexual assault behind bars. Please someone prove me wrong. Restore my faith in the US criminal justice system.
We shall one day come to look upon crime as a disease. Physicians shall displace judges and hospitals the gallows. We shall pour oil and balm where we formerly applied iron and fire and evil will be treated with charity instead on in anger.— Victor Hugo