* Even if they can’t help in your individual case, the ACLU needs to know what’s happening as far as the violence in the prisons and the classification issues go. When sending in complaints, prisoners should also ask the ACLU for a copy of the Parsons v Ryan case about their health care.
UPDATE: May 20, 2019
To all my AZ friends/family:
Thanks so much for your and likes and hope and encouraging words via FB these past 4 1/2 years. You helped me survive some of the loneliest days and hardest nights I've endured yet by keeping our connections alive across 2000 miles.
My 55th birthday is June 13, 2019, and I plan to celebrate it in PHX (details to be announced). I'm leaving Michigan (god willing) by May 25 - and should land in an undisclosed location in the Deep Southwest soon after.
Here's my PAYPAL link for anyone who wants to shoot me $10 bucks or throw a big impromptu anarchist talent show and pass a hat or something to help me make it home. Once I land I'll be back to work on my art again, and will send a homemade gift to everyone I can...
And don't forget to pick up PJ Starr's 2016 documentary film about the life and death of Marcia Joanne Powell:
SHARING IS CARING,
so please share with all our friends!!
THANK YOU and MUCH to all, near and far.
Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...
This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.
Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.
Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.
I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.
In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.
I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.
I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281. firstname.lastname@example.org
until all are free -
MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)
Thursday, August 29, 2013
* Even if they can’t help in your individual case, the ACLU needs to know what’s happening as far as the violence in the prisons and the classification issues go. When sending in complaints, prisoners should also ask the ACLU for a copy of the Parsons v Ryan case about their health care.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
I don't know if Miguel was assaulted or being threatened by other prisoners (gangs run ASPC-Florence), or simply couldn't live with the harm he had done another human being. Perhaps he just couldn't see a future worth living for, given the conditions in AZ prisons. Rape is routinely joked about by officers, while some of the most vulnerable, even mentally disabled men are being repeatedly pushed into harm's way on GP yards where they've been told by gangs they won't be welcome because they're gay, were witnesses to a crime, snitched on a co-defendant, just sat down with members of the wrong race at chow, or refused to do the gang's dirty work for them because they don't abide by their racialized politics or they just don't want to hurt anyone anymore.
Given Miguel's conviction and sentence, I'm sure the New Mexican Mafia (or whomever was leading his race in his pod) had a laundry list for him to do for them to prove his worth to them and his racial loyalty. If he said no and the DOC wouldn't put him into PC, he may have just figured he was better off dead. His only other option would be to do someone else harm to stay alive and be valued by the gang, and some men just won't compromise themselve that way, even though we think they have no values to begin with.
Some folks would say "good riddance" to this young man's suicide. I don't know - maybe he was another sociopath in whom there was no hope of cultivating compassion or social responsibility...they are the minority in prison, though - the real disturbed ones are "successful" CEO's destroying our planet and other people's lives quite freely. But I know a lot of lifers who have put their time to good use helping others inside, caring for the sick and dying, taking vulnerable prisoners under their protective wings to keep them from harm, and so on...and something about Miguel's confession of his crime suggests he felt remorse - not just fear of execution.
Not every life behind bars is a waste, or has to be. We all choose every day what kind of person to be in whatever hell we dwell in. Some of us turn out to be better people, with time, not worse ones. So a life sentence doesn't have to mean a long slow tortuous death in prison, if you can give your life to helping others, who might come out of those places as whole human beings if they meet some compassion inside.
In any case, I hope Miguel's family finds a good lawyer who will investigate his death - don't leave it to the state to do so, and take what they tell you with some skepticism. A prisoner by the name of Pete Calleros was murdered by his own gang at ASPC-Tucson a few years back. It was made to look like a suicide, which the DOC discovered soon after cleaning it up but never told his family, nor did they seek prosecution even though they identified the most likely killers. The DOC can't be counted on to tell the truth.
Fortunately, Pete's mom didn't believe he would commit suicide, and had a second autopsy done which proved it. So whatever you do, please get an attorney and demand all his DOC records - as well as records from the hospital that last saw him, if they got him to one. Get tape recordings of CIU interviews, too. Then do your own investigation. Be sure your lawyers get his confidential 805 (protective custody) file, if he has one, as well as his medical/psych records. The 805 file would show if he was being threatened and was denied protection before he did himself in, all too common an occurence at ASPC-Florence.
And feel free to contact me as well, if you need some support getting through this. I hear from all sorts of survivors of prison violence these days, and can help you connect with other families similarly struggling.
Finally, if anyone else out there knows what happened to this young man, please let me know. my name is Peggy Plews. I'm at email@example.com or 480-580-6807.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
People being released from custody have so many other health risks as well - Hepatitis C infecting about half the population of former prisoners is one of the biggest concerns, as they are routinely released back into the community without any insurance or treatment plans. That's why so many deaths in prison these days are baby boomers dying young from late stage liver and kidney disease, secondary to Hep C. Diabetes complications are also a big killer of prisoners and the formerly incarcerated, because prison food is so loaded with sugar and carbs, and the management of diabetes in custody is so poor.
Here's an interesting study on the issue of health, mental health, and substance abuse impacts on successful re-entry.(PDF)
There's no reason the AZ DOC can't do this for their chronically ill and Seriously Mentally Ill prisoners, too, instead of just dumping them out the door with nothing but a prison ID card, a check for $50, and an appointment with a PO. It takes more a change in policy and priorities than maney to implement the practice. The DOC is able to get their prisoners' outside medical bills covered by AHCCCS while they're in custody, so there's no excuse for releasing sick people from prison without signing them up for insurance and referring them to appropriate caregivers first. Anyone expecting to have a loved one released from custody who needs medical or psychiatric care in the community should be pressuring the prison staff to help them with enrollment before they leave.
Arizonans who do not currently have health insurance or feel they are underinsured can purchase policies under the new federal affordable health care program starting in October. That is also when the state will add hundreds of thousands of lower income people to its Medicaid rolls.
Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox said the county’s corrections workers will begin helping prisoners sign up for insurance right before they leave jail.
“It’s going to be to our advantage, because as they leave this system, and if we are treating them for diabetes or whatever we are treating them for, they will be able to continue their treatment, because they will have insurance, and we think we can also encourage them to get their families enrolled,” said Wilcox.
She said county corrections officials will meet with President Obama’s health care team this week to learn how the prisoners can sign up. Wilcox made the announcement in Mesa where federal grants were awarded to groups helping people enroll in the insurance programs.
A sizeable portion of the nearly 5 million ex-offenders who are on parole or probation at any given time will also be covered.
The expansion of Medicaid, a key provision of the health care reform law, is the main vehicle for delivering health insurance to former prisoners.
Researchers and those who advocate on behalf of ex-convicts hail the change as monumental, saying it will help address the generally poor health of ex-offenders, reduce medical costs and possibly keep them from sliding back into crime.
“It potentially revolutionizes the criminal justice system and health system,” said Faye Taxman, a health services criminologist at George Mason University. “We now have a golden opportunity to develop and implement quality interventions to both improve health outcomes for this population and also reduce the rate of criminal activity.”
Medicaid is the federal-state health insurance partnership for the poor. Under federal law, states must provide Medicaid to children, pregnant women and disabled adults who fall below certain income thresholds. The states are not now required to extend Medicaid to adults under 65 who are not pregnant or disabled. A small minority of states does so; most states do not.
Since most recently released prisoners are not pregnant or disabled, the vast majority of them do not have Medicaid or health insurance of any kind. As a result, studies show, many do not receive treatment for chronic conditions or continue on medications prescribed in prison. They also do not generally see primary care doctors, relying instead on emergency rooms, an expensive way of delivering medical care.
The ACA could change that. Beginning in January, states that agree to the Medicaid expansion will be required to provide Medicaid to all non-elderly low-income adults. For the first time, many of the 5 million ex-offenders on parole or probation will be eligible for the assistance. It applies to those released from either state or federal prisons. The exceptions will be former prisoners living in those states that currently have limited Medicaid eligibility for adults and that ultimately opt out of the Medicaid expansion, a choice accorded the states in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ACA ruling last June.
Ex-cons with jobs who make too much money to be eligible for Medicaid could still qualify for federal tax credits to purchase health insurance through the new state exchanges. Under the ACA, like everyone else, they will be required to have health insurance of some kind starting next January.
A Sicker Population
|Study: Mortality rates among former inmates of Washington state prisons compared to current prisoners|
Cause of Death
number of deaths
|Source: New England Journal of Medicine, study followed 30,237 people released from the Washington State Department of Corrections between July 1999 and December 2003.|
The study found that in the first two weeks after release, the rate of death among former inmates was more than 12 times greater than the rate for the general public. The leading causes of death for the ex-cons were drug overdose and cardiovascular disease.
Health insurance coverage for ex-prisoners by way of Medicaid should help reduce high mortality, researchers say. Given the high rate of addiction and mental illness among ex-prisoners, another vital law that helps them is the federal Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act, which requires health insurers to provide benefits for mental health and substance treatment that are on par with those they offer for medical and surgical services.
The corrections system is obligated to provide prisoners with health care, both physical and mental. New prisoners usually receive health screenings early in confinement. Although the quality of treatment varies across states, prison affords the best health care for many inmates that they’ve received in their lives.
Many of the 650,000 prisoners released next year will be eligible for Medicaid. To ensure continuity of care, researchers and advocates are urging states to help these prisoners enroll in Medicaid and link them to health care providers before they walk through the prison gates.
“When people are on their own, the likelihood of them taking that first step is not high,” said Paul Samuels, president of the Legal Action Center, which advocates for those with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS or criminal records. “Their lives are very disordered. Many don’t have an ID, so enrolling in programs can be very difficult.”
New York, Oklahoma, Florida, Illinois and California are among the states that already have pre-release programs aimed at connecting at least some outgoing prisoners with Medicaid. Some states, including New York, are also investigating ways of connecting ex-prisoners with full-service medical homes that coordinate health care services to manage patients’ care.
“The states that get out ahead of this, they’re going to have fewer people incarcerated and healthier societies,” said Joshua Rich, a professor of medicine and community health at Brown University, who studies the health of ex-offenders.
The Medicaid expansion will apply to prisoners getting out of jails as well as penitentiaries, although the turnover in jails is much faster with fewer pre-release programs. Those getting out of jail may be eligible for Medicaid, but they may have to find their way to it themselves.
Improved health can also afford former prisoners better prospects in the outside world. “Lots of times when people come up on supervised release, part of the conditions for their release is that they find employment,” said Anita Marton, deputy director the Legal Action Center. “We find people who try to engage in job searches but their illnesses prevent them from being able to succeed, whether it’s because of untreated addiction, HIV or mental illness.”
Treatment might not only help them land jobs but also keep them from a return trip to prison. Addicts who no longer use drugs no longer need to be involved in illegal activities to finance their habit. Those with mental illness who are taking medication or seeing therapists are less likely to act out in ways that land them back behind bars. Research has shown that health care, particularly in the areas of substance abuse and mental illness, reduces the likelihood of ex-offenders returning to prison.
Researchers and advocacy groups say the benefits of providing health care to ex-felons do not end with the ex-felons themselves. Prisons have high rates of hepatitis C, HIV and tuberculosis. Untreated former prisoners carry those diseases into communities on the outside and spread those infections.
Health treatment could reduce the infection rates in the areas where ex-felons tend to settle. Since prison populations are disproportionately high in African-American and Hispanic populations, the Medicaid expansion to former prisoners could also reduce the health disparities among those groups.
And finally, if former prisoners are linked up with primary care providers or community health centers, they may turn to emergency rooms less for their health care needs, which would contribute to an overall reduction in medical costs.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Dear Director Ryan;
Don't just take an anarchist's word for it - your LGBTQ prisoners are in danger all across the state, and there's no reason to not work with them and their commuity allies on a reasonable policy to minimize the risks they face in your custody. Your colleagues here don't have the best ideas for how to intervene in the problem, but at least they have the courage to recognize the realities unfolding in front of them. Your people are either lying to you about placing these prisoners in grave danger despite repeated requests for protection, or you have been knowingly complict in the harm befalling them. In any case, as AZ DOC director, you are ultimately responsible for remedying this situation - or paying for failing to do so. Your choice.
This web page has been developed in an effort to provide current and useful information to correctional agencies regarding the safe and respectful management of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) offenders. Relying on a best practices approach, this information will enable corrections staff to make better informed decisions about the safety, security, treatment and care of LGBTI offenders by providing academic, cultural and legal perspectives of the issues that make this group unique.
Particular topics for consideration include intake procedures, classification, placement and housing, medical and mental health care and treatment, suicide prevention, potential victimization, policy development, staff and offender education, and supervision in the community, as well as other related areas.
For example, surveys conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that non-heterosexual adult offenders report higher rates of sexual victimization while in custody, and similar surveys in juvenile facilities show even higher rates of sexual victimization among non-heterosexual juvenile offenders. Similarly, a 2009 research report cited findings that transgender offenders experienced sexual victimization at a rate thirteen times higher than a random sampling of offenders in the same facility. Such evidence indicates that LGBTI offenders are at increased risk for sexual victimization while in custody, and agencies that ignore this may be placing themselves at risk for litigation.
Changes in federal and state legislation, court decisions, settlement agreements and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards are also important factors in the management of LGBTI offenders in correctional settings and should be carefully reviewed.
Agencies wishing to examine and improve their response to the management of LGBTI offenders may apply for limited, short-term technical assistance to aid their efforts.
For a long time the only real information I could post about AZ prisons was what was already coming to light in mainstream media, or what I uncovered myself by investigating state records. In time, however, I began to receive distress letters from AZ Department of Corrections prisoners, calls from their distraught family members, and even anonymous emails from DOC employees reporting that racialized politics rule the men's General Population yards and gangs are perpetrating high levels of violence against vulnerable prisoners while extorting their family members. I also heard very troubling accounts of gross medical and psychiatric neglect. On top of that, I was hearing from the women who had lost their children, siblings, and lovers to prison suicide, homicide, or devestating neglect.
Virtually all of those prisoners contacting me lacked the economic resources to consult, much less retain, an attorney, though I've developed a list of those I know of locally who have taken on the DOC and encourage people to seek qualified legal help when they can. I've pressured the formal institutions that seem to have responsiblity for assuring the protection of human and civil rights in custody. I've also done what I can to engage mainstream media and legislators in efforts to investigate conditions in the state prison system, where the homicide and suicide rates doubled almost immediately once Charles Ryan became DOC director (January 2009, with the elevation of Jan Brewer to the Governor's office)
The ACLU of Arizona and others have since filed a class action suit (PARSONS v RYAN) on behalf of prisoners agaisnt the state over the dismal health care behind bars, as well as the damaging abuse of maximum security/solitary confinement to manage the symptoms of mental illness among prisoners - people who are thus being relentlessly tortured, not treated, for their psychiatric disabilities. Amnesty International investigated the use of solitary confinement and Supermax in Arizona and produced a scathing report.
Furthermore, staff at the Tucson office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC-Tucson) have long been tenacious in their efforts to put an end to mass use of isolation cells, to stop the new Supermax (along with the ACLU-AZ), and to oppose prison privatization. See their blog, Cell-Out Arizona, here. David's Hope has taken a leadership role in organizing the Arizona Justice Alliance with human rights advocates across the state to address the major failings of our criminal justice system - at least in the area of making systemic reforms.
Most recently, the House Minority Leader, Chad Campbell, has called for DOC Director Charles Ryan's resignation. Unfortunately, so far, Jan stands by her man. As far as she's concerned, all is well at the AZ DOC.
All of that and more is important, but at the end of the day the prisoners writing to me still didn't have anyone to help them with their crisis right then, so I began to figure out what I'd do if I was a prisoner or had a loved one inside myself. For the past year now I've been mailing self-help packets to prisoners dealing with complaints about their health care, assaults on their bodies, or repeated threats to their safety - I've responded to at least 500 requests for that kind of information already. I also work with families on involving their legislators in their struggles with the AZ DOC to assure that their loved ones make it home someday safe, coaching them both on the self-help material I give them, as well as on how to navigate the political scene.
In some cases prisoners have filed their own civil lawsuits against the state and its agents, and I've provided then with what materials I can in support of such efforts, while trying to refrain from giving anything resembling "legal advice." I do everything I can to connect survivors with attorneys for wrongful deaths, too. It's a fine line, perhaps, but a necessary one for somebody to walk in order to arm people with the material they need to really fight for their own rights effectively, instead of waiting for the ACLU or DOJ to ride in to resuce them...which is not going to happen the way we all want it to. Those kinds of interventions take years to produce solutions to problems that some prisoners may be able to negotiate or litigate effectively themselves.
Prisoner civil rights suits - even a whole mess of them - won't alone produce systemic change, of course. The correspondence I have with prisoners and contact with their families in the course of helping them has been vital in getting info about prison conditions out to legislators, other agencies, and the media, however - which is leverage for change, and at the very least informs the whole dialogue on crime and punishment with the thoughts and experiences of those most directly affected. I need to be kept posted as to what critical issues prisoners are struggling with most so that can continue to amplify those voices. But I can't sustain the cost of printing and mailing all this literature, nor do I have the time to meet the growing demand for it.
I also want to focus my energies more on alternatives to incarceration in our society now, not in making our jails and prisons better places to live or die in. Those places are built with the intention of isolating and punishing - that means tormenting - large numbers of people in the most efficient way possible, while leaving as few marks on their bodies as we can, which I think is sadistic and disturbing. When a woman embezzles from her employer, for example, how is exiling her to a bleak existence for 10years - when she could otherwise be raising her family and making amends to her community - any less brutal than cutting off her hands and letting it be at that? If marginalizing, isolating and torturing someone for years is considered a civilized response to ecomonic or drug crimes, I want nothing to do with it. From all I've learned from prisoners, though - and my observations of this voting public - cruelty seems to be the rule in Arizona.
For those reasons and more, I've decided to try to make what I've been doing for prisoners and their families more accessible for others to do as well. In the links on the sidebar here are a number of the resources I send to prisoners, depending on what their issue is. None of it should be contrabanded by DOC, though there are occasionally over-enthusiastic mailroom staff who enforce outdated policies. Please contact me at 480-580-6807 or firstname.lastname@example.org if any of this material is deemed "contraband" - or if you have other problems getting it delivered to prisoners, as well.
I've covered a number of issues that folks coming here will have questions about in my other blogs, Arizona Prison Watch and Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ. I've placed links to in the sidebar here to some of the more relevant blog posts, as well, but those blogs may be worth perusing if you have concerns about Arizona's prison conditions, deaths in custody, and the rest of the mess we have in the CJ system here. I plan to continue to maintain those sites, as well as to remain a resource to families and prisoners, if needed.
I just ask that people make this place their first stop for resource material and print and mail in what they can to reduce the workload on me. If you all need help crafting arguments for the DOC or questions you can't otherwise find answers to, let me know. If you want to hit DOC's Central Office with me to protest on occasion, too, friend me on facebook to stay tuned for word of direct actions. Again, my name is Peggy Plews, and you can reach me as noted above.
This Jailhouse Lawyer's Auxiliary Guild, then, will be made up of all of us who - in autonomous acts of disruption and resistance - take advantage of the resources here to help prisoners fight back against neglect and abuse. It takes so little from us to do this, and yet helps prisoners and their families so much.
If you want to donate postage stamps, Staples cards (for ink), or cash for the cause, the PO Box is to the right. Please know that we aren't an organization with a bank account or tax exempt status - as I said, I'm just a civilian here. That means this comes out of my pocket, with some support from folks in my small community, so anything you want to send this way helps. I believe in the priciple of mutual aid, though, so there's no charge to access these resources or my time, so call on me if needed. I'm pretty easy to find.
Monday, August 19, 2013
The thing is that I hate trying to make prison "more safe" - it's never safe for anyone, not even in protective custody. Exile and isolation only does violence to the mind and soul. What we need to do is abolish the prison industrial complex altogether, not just make the living hell we condemn people to more palatable for the rest of us...
here's good blog post that talks about that, from a friend in prison:
and here are some useful links re: surviving AZ Prisons:
guide to surviving prison for transgender women,
Sentenced to rape:
LGBT inmates face unusually high risk of sexual assault in prison
San Francisco Bay Guardian
December 24, 2008
BY MEGHANN MYERS
It's been 60 years since the United Nations General Assembly issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, affirming the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of all people. Yet prisoners are often denied the most basic protections of the law. Rape is still a brutal reality in prison, a problem that disproportionately affects LGBT inmates.
In 2003, Congress unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), creating federal mandates to fight sexual assault in prisons. But its implementation has been slow. This year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted the first national survey of violence in the corrections system. It found sexual orientation to be the single greatest determinant for sexual abuse in prisons — 18.5 percent of homosexual inmates reported sexual assault, compared to 2.7 percent of heterosexual prisoners. Though PREA aims to reduce these figures, prisoners and their advocates have been waiting on its official guidelines, which are set for release in 2009.
In an attempt to address California's challenges in protecting LGBT inmates, California Sen. Gloria Romero held an informational meeting Dec. 11 in San Francisco, bringing together former LGBT prisoners, advocates, experts, and representatives from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
"Nobody has it easy in prisons, and LGBT persons in particular experience unique kinds of harassment, discrimination, and violence when incarcerated," said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center.
Inherent flaws in our social institutions result in a disproportionate number of LGBT prisoners. Discrimination in employment, housing, and healthcare often force members of the LGBT community, particularly transgender individuals, to turn to the street economy to support themselves. A survey by the Transgender Law Center found that fewer than half of transgender adults held a full-time job, and one in five have experienced homelessness since becoming transgender (see "Transjobless," 3/15/06). These factors greatly increase the instance of criminal activity in the LGBT community. The Center for Health Justice reports that more than two-thirds of male-to-female transgender San Franciscans have been incarcerated; in six other major urban areas, one in four gay men had been incarcerated.
Once LGBT individuals enter the California prison system, says Linda McFarlane, deputy executive director of Just Detention International, they are 15 times more likely to experience sexual assault than the general population. In addition, she said, prison staff more often fail to protect these inmates than others, and are more likely to believe that assaults are consensual.
"There seems to be a belief among some corrections officers that rape is unavoidable in prison," McFarlane said. "It's been asked more than once in training sessions that if transgender inmates are at such risk, why are they still allowed to be transgender within the prison environment?"
Alex Lee, a co-director of the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project, read a statement from Bella Christina Borrell, a 56-year-old transgender inmate: "Female transgender prisoners are the ultimate target for sexual assault and rape. In this hyper-masculine world, inmates who project feminine characteristics attract unwanted attention and exploitation by others seeking to build up their masculinity by dominating and controlling women."
Of course, there are policies in place that should protect inmates from each other. PREA stipulates that sexual assault during incarceration can constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution, and mandates that facilities employ a zero-tolerance policy toward abuse. However, like many things in life, the theory and practice have little in common.
"We've heard multiple times about officers openly expressing a belief that gay and transgender inmates cannot be raped, that they deserve to be raped due to their mere presence in the environment, or that if they are raped it's simply not a concern," McFarlane said.
Joe Sullivan of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said policy dictates that gay or transgender status alone does not warrant specific housing arrangements. He said the department prefers to integrate inmates in a setting that most closely resembles what they will be returning to after being paroled.
When they arrive in prison, inmates are evaluated using a system called Compass, which is a set of guidelines to determine each person's specific needs. During this time, inmates are able to state whether they feel they need special arrangements.
"It's a framework that is followed by the staff at institutions," Sullivan said. "Some of the things I heard today suggest that how the framework is interpreted is one of the issues we'll have to go look into and do some further training on."
It has been suggested that the previously used designations Category B and SOR (sexual orientation), which include guidelines for "effeminately homosexual" men, might aid CDCR in their classification process. However, as Sullivan stated, the prison system's evaluation procedure largely ignores these special circumstances.
"The classification process is gender-neutral," Sullivan said. "We try to address the individual's specific needs, as opposed to having a policy for a group or a class of people. We really don't distinguish between transgender and non-transgender inmates."
While this policy is certainly egalitarian, it ignores the extreme vulnerability of LGBT inmates, something many prisoners don't realize until after they've been victimized. Then, all too often, they are placed in isolation cells usually reserved as punitive measures.
"If they have been a victim of a sexual assault, they can be and will be single-celled, at least for the period of time that we go through investigating the allegations," Sullivan said. "We try to do it in an expedient manner, so that the victim is not the one sitting in administrative segregation."
The panelists all agreed that eliminating sexual violence against the LGBT community requires some of our most precious resources: time, energy, and money. In the past, the general rule has been to increase spending for prisons while simultaneously reducing funds for social programs like housing, employment, and health care, which all have a lot do to with the amount of crime in the first place.
Advocates recommend that an effective classification system must be implemented. First, corrections officials have to acknowledge that factors like an inmate's sexual orientation or transgender status put them at an exceptionally high risk for violence. Second, steps must be taken to reduce the instances of harassment, abuse, and sexual assault suffered by inmates. Female transgender inmates must be issued sports bras and should be allowed to shower separately from the general population to curb humiliation and predation. If an assault occurs, victims should not be placed in punitive custody, the complaint must remain confidential, and assailants cannot be allowed the opportunity to retaliate. Finally, corrections officers should have to participate in an extensive training program to help them deal with these factors.
Bambi Salcedo, a transgender ex-convict who now works with transgender youth at Children's Hospital Los Angeles put it simply: "We have to realize that homosexual and transgender inmates must be treated with dignity in the correctional system."
This article originally appeared in the December 24, 2008 online issue of the San Francisco Bay Guardian; it is reprinted at Prison Legal News with permission of the author.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
Excellent article exposes the brutality of prison life for many gay and trans prisoners, while humanizing the remarkable spirit of survivors of prison violence. We're having a very hard time here in Arizona getting these prisoners protection, too.
Here's a page of resources for prison rape survivors in Arizona, if you or someone you know needs support.
Prison Legal News is the single best subscription deal for prisoners - $30 a year keeps them informed about their rights.
Prison Legal News
P.O. Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460
by Alan Prendergast
(article was originally published at Denver Westword News on February 3, 2011)
In January 2010, Scott Howard, a 39-year-old federal prisoner, made his way briskly into a hearing room in the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Building in Washington, D.C. He was neatly dressed in blazer, slacks and tie, and quite nervous about what he was about to do. He was determined to not think about it too much, to just get it over with – like so much else that he’d been through over the past few years.
The room was teeming with Department of Justice attorneys, law enforcement agents and corrections officials. Not exactly Howard’s kind of crowd; he’d tried to tell his story to such people before, only to be labeled a liar and a whiner. But the participants also included members of Congress, medical professionals, prison activists, counselors and sexual-assault survivors.
They’d all come to take part in a “listening session” on the wishfully titled Prison Rape Elimination Act. Passed in 2003, PREA created a national commission to study the causes and costs of sexual assault behind bars and to come up with federal policies to attack the problem. Seven years and several blown deadlines later, backers are still waiting for United States Attorney General Eric Holder to adopt new standards incorporating the commission’s findings.
Howard had been invited to join the discussion because of his experiences behind bars – in particular, the three nightmarish years he’d spent in Colorado state prisons, doing time for fraud. It would be the first time he’d ever discussed his ordeal publicly.
When his name was called he went to the microphone, trying to keep his hands steady as he studied the pages in front of him. “Thank you for allowing me to participate,” he began.
He explained that, although living in a halfway house, he was still in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons: “Before I was taken into BOP custody, however, I served time in the Colorado Department of Corrections, and it was there that I was repeatedly raped, assaulted and extorted by members of a large, notorious gang.”
The gang was the 211 Crew, a white supremacist group found in many Colorado prisons. 211 leaders pressured him for money and demanded that he help them in an ambitious $300,000 fraud scheme; their threats soon turned into physical attacks, then sexual assaults. He was forced to perform oral sex on gang members and anally raped.
“I spent well over a year trying to get protection by writing to officials,” he said. “My efforts to report were mostly fruitless – and often put me at greater risk. Because I am openly gay, officials blamed me for the attacks. They said as a homosexual I should expect to be targeted by one gang or another.”
Howard didn’t tell the whole squalid story. He didn’t mention the evidence of staff involvement with the gang that made his efforts to seek protection even dicier. He didn’t go into how, once he finally started “naming names,” as prison investigators demanded, they accused him of crying rape to cover up his own criminal activities. He barely referred to his last day as a Colorado prisoner, when, he says, he was put in a cell with one of the gang leaders and sexually assaulted again. Despite being a bare summary, the statement was still graphic – and powerful. At times his voice choked up, but Howard kept reading.
When it was over, he sat in the gallery and listened to other testimony by experts and survivors. Then the DOJ officials began asking questions, and some of the questions were directed at Howard. He was astonished. They’d actually paid attention. They’d even taken notes.
“That was very important,” he says now. “Having people listening to me and asking questions – it made me feel like I was being taken seriously at last.”
A lot of people are taking Howard seriously these days. Since his talk in Washington a year ago, he’s emerged as a highly visible “survivor speaker” for Just Detention International, a nonprofit active in the campaign to stop sexual abuse in prison, and a caustic critic of Colorado’s DOC and its treatment of rape victims. Last summer he settled a civil rights lawsuit against several DOC officials for $165,000.
The settlement came as Howard’s attorneys were seeking a hearing to investigate how and why the Colorado Attorney General’s Office had failed for years to produce a critical document in the case – a 2005 entry in Howard’s prisoner file that corroborated his claims of seeking help and being ignored. The document, which only surfaced after a private law firm got involved in the defense of a second Howard lawsuit, also casts doubt on the veracity of several sworn affidavits filed by case managers and supervisors claiming that Howard never told them that he was being threatened and extorted.
Winning his case was a major victory for Howard. Finding the proof that he wasn’t lying was even greater vindication, though. Behind bars, all kinds of crimes are committed in secret, and prisoners soon learn to keep quiet about them. Exposing the most heinous violations can be almost impossible when staff attitudes about rape and homosexuality are as convoluted as those of the predators – and Howard says that’s what made the Colorado prison system particularly dangerous for him.
“In Colorado, corrections officers labeled openly gay people as troublemakers,” he says. “You can’t believe them, they get in relationships and then claim rape – and so on. The message goes out to the inmate population that these are people to victimize because they already have a bad reputation among staff, and nobody’s going to believe them.”
• • •
Almost from the moment he hit the yard at the Fremont Correctional Facility in late 2004, Scott Howard knew he was in trouble. The medium-security prison was run differently from anything he’d seen before. And too many people he didn’t know already knew who he was and what he’d done.
Fremont wasn’t Howard’s first rodeo. He arrived there in the middle of a ten-year tour of state and federal prisons, the result of a fraud spree in Colorado, Wisconsin, Tennessee and elsewhere. His criminal history also involved jail stays in Florida and Texas, where he reportedly tried to post as bond collateral the car he was accused of stealing.
Howard grew up in a small town in Tennessee, where his sexual orientation was a poor fit with the prevailing Baptist culture. He left home, acquired a taste for gambling and the high life, and was busted in Florida in 1991, at age 21, after he stole a friend’s credit card and used it to hire a limo. He soon graduated to computer hacking and more sophisticated forms of identity theft.
In the late 1990s, Howard discovered major security flaws in the payroll systems of large corporations, which often relied on outside agencies to issue paychecks to temporary staff. He used a Trojan program to steal data from corporate websites, then submitted payroll requests to staffing agencies, either in his own name or someone else’s. It was a surprisingly simple and lucrative scam, as long as he moved quickly to the next pigeon before the fraud could be detected.
“It was a traveling crime,” Howard says. “It took me to thirty cities in a year. I was in my twenties, and it was fun back then. It was also very stupid and very high-risk.”
The scam unraveled in Wisconsin in 1999. A woman at a temp agency noted that Howard’s zip code didn’t match the address he submitted with a check request. When he came to pick up his money, he was arrested. A check for $40,000, issued by the Hershey Corporation, was found in his pocket.
Sentenced to eight years, Howard soon came up with an even more audacious plan to collect cash while behind bars. He filed a bogus tax return, claiming a $17,155 refund – and the Internal Revenue Service actually paid it. The next year he asked for $1.2 million, complete with forged letters on charity letterheads acknowledging enormous contributions.
This time the IRS took a closer look. Howard soon had federal time piled on top of his state sentence. But first he had another stint in Colorado, stemming from a payroll fraud in Denver that had been uncovered after his Wisconsin arrest. That’s what brought him to the yard at Fremont – and a sense of impending doom.
As a gay man who’d already spent substantial time behind bars, Howard thought he knew how to keep out of trouble. He’d seen plenty of intimidation and gang-related fights at other lockups, but nothing like the atmosphere at Fremont. Prisoners sporting black eyes in the lunch line were a common sight. Members of the 211 Crew commanded their own set of tables in the dining hall, known as the Four Corners, and charged weaker white prisoners tribute for the privilege of living in one of “their” units.
The 211s were particularly vocal about their hatred of homosexuals and sex offenders. Howard observed several openly gay and transsexual prisoners at Fremont. They were not in a good place. “All of these people were paying rent and being beaten,” he says. “If you were smaller, or suspected of being gay, or a pretty-boy type – anything of that sort got back to them.”
Gangs are a fact of life in prison. But Howard had never seen one that operated so openly, with so little official interference. “You had good officers and even overzealous officers, but most of them were older and very nonchalant about what was going on,” he says. “They told me, ‘This is prison. This is not a playground. If you don’t like it, you shouldn’t have come here.’”
Officially, the 211 Crew is far from a pervasive presence in Colorado’s prisons, with roughly 300 “confirmed” members in a population of more than 20,000. Howard insists the actual numbers are much higher, and the gang clearly had a particular interest in him. Within a few days, three members approached him, beaming friendship, and asked about “all that cash” he’d scammed from big companies and the government. They seemed extremely well-informed about his attempt at a big tax refund, which had made headlines. Despite Howard’s denials that he’d been any kind of financial genius, he was soon fielding daily questions about tax fraud.
The conversations quickly got less genial. Howard made little attempt to disguise who he was in prison – in one court filing, his attorneys describe him as “obviously gay” – and the gang members soon had their suspicions confirmed. They frequently intercepted other prisoners’ mail, on the lookout for money order receipts or other helpful intel, and one of the items they came across was a gay magazine a friend had sent Howard.
John Anderson, a veteran 211 shot-caller known on the yard as Ghost, informed Howard that homosexuals had to pay rent. That meant buying canteen items for 211 members and sending money orders to addresses Ghost provided. “In the beginning, it was twenty dollars here or there,” Howard says. “Then it got more intense.”
In Howard’s second month at Fremont, Ghost demanded that he send out a $500 money order. Howard demurred; where was he going to get that kind of money? Ghost punched him in the stomach and the face and told him he had two weeks.
A few days later, Ghost was back in his face, demanding twenty bucks in canteen items to pay a debt the shot-caller owed to a rival gang member. Howard insisted he had no money.
“Find it,” Ghost snapped.
The next day, when Howard failed to make the required purchases, Ghost told him they were going to go see Allen Hernandez, alias “LBow,” the man Ghost owed. Once they were in LBow’s cell, Ghost informed him that Howard was going to settle the debt with a blow job. While Ghost stood lookout, Hernandez forced Howard to his knees and told him to open his “faggot mouth.”
Howard asked to be let go. Hernandez laughed. “You gotta beg me for it, bitch.”
The assault lasted a few minutes, Howard says. LBow ejaculated, pulled up his boxers and sweatpants, and told Howard to “get your bitch ass out of my cell.”
On the way back to his own unit, Ghost hissed at Howard, “Don’t you say a fucking word to anyone, or I’ll fuck you up.”
Howard went to his cell. He showered. He cried. He felt sick and deathly afraid.
He couldn’t escape the 211 Crew, but for the next few days they were oddly friendly to him. They approached him on the yard and at meals. Ghost introduced him to other 211 “brothers,” who asked him more questions about his tax scam.
Just weeks earlier, prosecutors in Denver had issued indictments against 24 members of the gang, on charges ranging from a 2001 prison murder to drug-related street crimes.
One of those named in the indictment was the group’s leader, Benjamin Davis, who’d launched the gang at the Arkansas Valley prison in the early 1990s after a racial beating. (The name “211” supposedly refers to the robbery section of the California penal code).
Davis was now stuck in the state supermax and facing more time, so the Fremont contingent was working on a plan to raise cash and get him “a fucking great attorney,” Howard learned. They wanted to file bogus tax returns, using the personal data of various sex offenders, minorities and other lowlife prisoners that couldn’t be traced back to them.
Howard told them he didn’t think it would work. A fucking great attorney would cost a lot more money than the $17,000 he’d collected in Wisconsin. The gang members listened soberly, nodded and walked away.
But Ghost didn’t care for Howard’s tone. He told him so a few days later, pulling him aside after breakfast to let him know he’d been disrespectful to his brothers. He demanded that Howard settle another debt with canteen items, this time for fifty dollars. Howard said he didn’t have it.
No problem, Ghost told him. Howard would settle the debt the same way he had with LBow. Frantic, Howard said he didn’t feel well. Ghost pulled a shank out of his pocket and made it clear that it was Howard’s choice whether it ended up in his ribs or not.
“You’re going to suck that dude’s dick to pay this off for me,” he said quietly, “and for being a smartass to my brother.”
Howard went to the cell of a prisoner named Griego and did as he was told.
In mid-February 2005, Howard made up an excuse to see his case manager, Jerry Morris. Terrified of being labeled a snitch and what Ghost might do to him, he didn’t say anything to Morris about the assaults.
“Outside this guy’s office are twenty or thirty inmates waiting to see him,” Howard recalls. “There’s no way to close the door, so everybody can hear what you’re saying.”
Morris would later insist that Howard didn’t advise him of any threats or problems that day. Howard claims that he asked for protection from 211 without going into any specifics, but Morris told him that “homosexuals usually have problems with one gang or another.” Howard could do his best to “get along,” or he could be a “whiner” and end up confined indefinitely in administrative segregation.
Howard didn’t know what to do. He was afraid to tell even his parents, since phone calls were monitored. He decided to notify one friend on the outside about the extortion and urge her to write a letter to the warden, asking that he be moved to another prison. A few days later he was summoned to a meeting with another case manager, Dave Mason, who asked about the letter and if he was being threatened by 211.
Howard broke down and admitted it. He began to talk about the assaults, he says, when Mason interrupted him. “That’s all I want to know,” the case manager said, and made a phone call to a supervisor to relay the information.
Four days later, Howard was abruptly transferred. He went from Fremont to the Sterling Correctional Facility, a sprawling complex housing 2,500 prisoners. Although technically a high-security prison, surrounded by an electrified “kill” fence, Sterling has a range of security levels for offenders classified from minimum to “close.”
Howard had no problems at Sterling the first two months he was there. He was placed in a highly monitored unit, with limited movement and cameras and emergency call buttons in the cells. But when he was moved to a lower-security wing in late April, he discovered that he’d gone from one 211 stronghold to another.
Official DOC reports indicate that there were fewer than 25 members of the 211 Crew at Sterling at the time, all of them housed in either high-security units or administrative segregation. Howard says the actual figure was closer to a hundred, an assertion supported by internal documents and even some staff testimony. Many of them could be found in Sterling’s less secure areas, readily identifiable by their shaved heads and copious tattoos of swastikas, shamrocks and even “211” and “CREW.”
The group was running large football and baseball pools, collecting as bets the tokens prisoners used to buy sodas. They had allies in the computer lab, including the notorious Simon Sue, who at seventeen had masterminded a triple homicide in the tiny settlement of Guffey. Although not a gang member himself, the diminutive Sue helped the gang produce authentic-looking property sheets, Howard says, to explain away the extra radios, clothing and other extorted goods in their cells.
Howard was recognized the first day he hit the yard. Two 211 members approached him. One, who’d been at Fremont, greeted him with a wolfish smile.
“Ghost has friends here,” he said.
• • •
Based on surveys of prisoners in jails and state and federal prisons, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that at least 88,500 adults endured some form of sexual abuse while incarcerated in the American corrections system last year. The surveys provide just snapshots of the prisoner population on a given day. A recently-released Department of Justice report places the total number of incidents in 2008 at 200,000.
The number of reported sexual assaults in prison is, of course, lower than the survey totals. Much, much lower. Extrapolating from the BJS figures, Colorado’s prison system would be expected to have between 600 and 800 sex abuse victims a year. Yet in a Prison Rape Elimination Act cost impact study, the DOC claims only twelve confirmed incidents of sexual assault in 2008 and five in 2009. That works out to about 25 to 50 reports a year, since fewer than 20 percent of allegations of sexual violence are ever substantiated by investigators.
Corrections officials protest that meeting the PREA standards could cost hundreds of millions of dollars; but reformers say that lack of aggressive enforcement in prison assault cases costs society in other ways, from the spread of sexually communicable diseases to lawsuits. According to a DOJ report, a 1 percent reduction in the annual rate of prison sexual abuse could lead to a “monetary benefit” to society of between $157 million and $239 million.
Rape and coercion have long been regarded as an inevitable part of prison life, particularly among the most targeted populations – prisoners who are young and slight of stature, effeminate or gay, the mentally ill and first-timers. Yet the national commission established by PREA found that a number of fixable problems, from poor staff training and inadequate screening of vulnerable prisoners to overcrowding and an almost complete lack of prosecution of perpetrators, could and should be addressed to reduce the rate of assault.
Howard’s journey through Colorado’s prisons points to another problem the commission report scarcely mentions: the utter indifference of many staffers. Howard met with several case managers and supervisors at Sterling and filed grievances over his placement there.
The officials have divergent stories about what happened in those meetings and how explicit Howard was about his plight. But their tendency to downplay his complaints and insist that he “name names” helps to explain why the system’s number of reported assaults is so low.
The day the 211 member recognized him on the yard, Howard went to case manager David Backer to seek a transfer to another unit. According to Backer’s own paperwork, Howard told him “he had a high profile case and that the 211 gang attempted to extort money from him in the past.... He claimed he did not feel in danger or threatened by anyone at the time of our interview.
“He was also informed if he did have problems he would be asked to go on tape as to who was threatening him.... He stated he would never do this and would pay them off first. He then left my office.”
Howard says Backer ignored his claims of being extorted and prostituted at Fremont; the case manager told him he should have “kept a low profile.” Howard filed a grievance, which led to another meeting with Backer and two supervisors, Joseph Halligan and John Clarkson. Accounts of what transpired at that meeting vary greatly; in a later deposition, Halligan conceded several times that Howard said he felt “threatened,” then reversed himself and insisted that Howard did not express any concern about threats at that time.
In a written response denying the grievance, Clarkson acknowledged that Backer had been mistaken about requiring a taped statement. But Howard would have to identify who was bothering him before any action could be taken.
“We do have to have names,” Clarkson wrote. “We cannot keep you away from all 211 members. We do not place inmates in administrative segregation to protect them from other inmates, so that is not an option, either.”
But naming names, Howard insisted, would only expose him to more trouble. As the impasse continued and Howard filed more appeals, he was once again hit up by gang members for canteen items and pressured to raise money for the 211 leader’s legal fund through tax scams. As a kind of test run, he filed a bogus income tax return under his own name and received a refund check for a few thousand dollars. The money went to 211 members and outside affiliates.
In August 2005 Howard finally was moved to another unit at Sterling – but not for his own safety. The official reason was that his security classification had changed, based on his convictions in other states. But Backer also told him he’d “filed way too many grievances,” Howard says.
“He is a very needy inmate and is a strain on a case manager after awhile,” Clarkson wrote in one log entry.
Howard admits that he was, in fact, trying to overload his handlers with grievances in order to get transferred. “If you file enough, they want to get rid of you,” he says.
But the plan backfired. In his new unit, Howard was shaken down by a 211 shot-caller named Simon Shimbel, who informed him he would once again be paying rent: $25 a week.
Respectful at first, Shimbel’s attitude toward Howard soon turned ugly. He showed him a letter he’d received from Ghost, essentially giving the Sterling chapter the okay to do what it liked with Howard. “Make him cover debts with his ass,” Ghost wrote.
According to Howard, Shimbel took the directive to heart. He dragged Howard into the unit bathroom’s back stall, punched him in the stomach and ordered him to sit on the toilet with his feet up, so no one could see him from outside. He then forced him to perform oral sex until Shimbel ejaculated.
Howard told no one. After going several rounds with administrators over naming names, he didn’t expect any help from staff. He’d signed extradition papers that would take him out of Sterling for at least a few weeks to deal with court matters in Tennessee, and he was hoping to just hang on until the orders arrived. That 211 shot-callers could simultaneously proclaim their hatred of “fags” while engaging in sexual acts with said fags no longer baffled him. Logic was not the gang’s strong point. Intimidation was.
A week or so after the bathroom blow job, Howard says, Shimbel and another 211 member escorted him to a cell after the 10 p.m. head count, supposedly so that he could help a “homie” write a letter and get a discount on his rent. Howard had a pretty good idea what was about to happen but didn’t see any way out.
The homie turned out to be Phuong Dang, a member of a Vietnamese gang. Dang began by demanding oral sex, Howard says. After a few minutes he stopped, pulled up his pants, and stepped out of the cell for a moment, asking the 211 lookouts for lotion. He found some, returned, and ordered Howard to bend over a desk and spread his legs. He sodomized him for several minutes, then withdrew.
“Not bad pussy,” he said, and left the cell.
Told by Shimbel to get cleaned up, Howard retreated to the bathroom. He sat on a toilet and wept.
His orders for Tennessee arrived three days later. The respite gave him two months to try to figure out what to do. But the gang was busy in his absence, too. When he returned to Sterling, several 211 members surrounded him and showed him a single piece of paper. They figured it would persuade him to get busy raising the big cash needed for the defense fund.
There were two notable things about the document, an intake form from Howard’s own file. It had to have come from a staff computer, which meant the Crew had a DOC employee working with them, either for pay or unwittingly. And it contained the names and address of Howard’s parents, listed as emergency contacts. Someone was waiting on the outside, one of the group explained, to see if Howard was going to do what was expected of him.
Howard understood. “My family had never done anything to anybody,” he says. “To know they could reach out and touch my parents – that was a big move on their part.”
Over the next few weeks Howard collected personal data the group had stolen or extorted from sex offenders and other patsies. He even got the names and vitals of death row prisoners in Tennessee. He filled out fraudulent W-2 forms until he had a vast array of them, enough to raise $275,000 in tax refunds, to be funneled to a phony tax-preparation company that Howard had created, and ultimately to the 211 Crew. The packet was sitting on his desk, ready to be mailed to an outside confederate, but Howard kept stalling for more time.
On January 3, 2006, two officers conducted a surprise search of Howard’s cell. They found the bundle of tax return forms, listing 35 prisoners – some of them not even in Colorado. Howard says he didn’t tip off the staff himself, but he wishes the raid had been more discreet.
“They sent the gang coordinators,” he says. “The minute the 211 guys saw that, they pushed me in a corner and asked, ‘Who the fuck have you been talking to?’”
Howard, who has a history of heart trouble, suffered a panic attack that night – the first in a series of convulsive, paralyzing episodes that made him feel like “a mouse in a corner.”
Exhibiting high blood pressure and tachycardia, he was taken to the hospital for observation and remained there for several days.
During that time, Howard decided to name names and try to get out of Sterling. He met with IRS agents, staff brass and an investigator from the DOC Inspector General’s office.
He told them the tax scam was supposed to raise money to hire Harvey Steinberg, the prominent Denver criminal attorney, to defend Benjamin Davis. He told them about the extortion. And eventually he told them about the sexual assaults, naming Shimbel and Dang and Hernandez and Griego.
The last bit of information spilled out first in a conversation with a female IRS agent, who asked him what was “really” going on. “I started crying,” he recalls. “I told her, ‘I’ve been raped. I’ve been beaten. You people have no clue what’s going on here.’”
Larry Graham, the investigator from the Inspector General’s office, was highly skeptical of Howard’s claims. He thought it was suspicious that Howard made detailed sexual assault allegations only after the incriminating tax-fraud materials were found in his cell.
Graham first learned of the claims from a draft of the lawsuit Howard soon filed, acting as his own attorney, in a desperate effort to get a judge to order his removal from Sterling.
There was no DNA evidence, no contemporaneous outcry, nothing but “ice-cold” accusations that the accused prisoners could easily deny, if anyone bothered to ask them.
In Graham’s view, Howard was a smart con artist trying to game the system. Or, as he put it in one e-mail to another DOC official, “Mr. Howard is an admitted homosexual whose other talent is tax fraud ... he made an unprovable report of past sexual assaults by 211’s here [at Sterling] and at Fremont. I’m still working on that, but doubt if it will go far.”
In another e-mail, Graham all but dismissed Howard’s story as a ploy for leniency: “Mr. Howard seems to think he can just say the mean old 211 guys made him do it and walk away.”
Yet Howard did have proof of gang involvement in the tax scheme and other businesses.
He helped investigators locate a computer disk that contained evidence of falsified property sheets, payments to the gang by other prisoners and other incriminating data. He turned over an intake sheet on another prisoner that could only have come from a staff computer. But his allegations of staff involvement were deemed “bogus” just the same.
“Even after naming all the names, they just sent me back to my cell,” Howard says now. “I told a captain these people were going to kill me if I didn’t come up with $300,000 by March. Her response was, ‘Let’s see what happens in March.’”
Reluctantly, it seems, administrators made note of Howard’s “custody issues,” listing a couple dozen prisoners he should not be housed with, and shipped him off to the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility. He stayed there for several months, filing a blizzard of grievances and complaining about sightings of gang members who might retaliate against him. One grievance challenged DOC’s unwritten rule of making cell assignments by race; Howard figured he would be better off with a Hispanic or African-American cellie than a white one who might be in touch with the 211 Crew.
But word of his snitching at Sterling eventually drifted into Arkansas Valley, and Howard was transferred again. This time he was sent to one of the most violent prisons in the state.
“I was sent to Limon, God knows why,” he says. “It was already all over the compound that 211 was going to kill me.”
In a corridor at Limon, Howard locked eyes with Allen Hernandez, alias LBow – one of the names on the list of prisoners from Fremont and Sterling who weren’t supposed to be in contact with him. Howard fell to the floor and vomited. He lasted two weeks at Limon before he was shipped out again.
He was at Buena Vista only a few days when a 211 member from Sterling who’d been directly involved in the threats against Howard was moved into the same unit. That night he was subjected to a torrent of screams and taunts from neighboring cells. “They were calling me a snitch and a whore and a fag,” he says. “They were making arrangements to sell me to the black dudes on the tier. The officer station is right there. They could hear it, but they didn’t react at all.”
The experience triggered another panic attack, a trip to the emergency room – and another grievance. “A mistake was made in moving the offender you mention to BCVF after you were already here,” a supervisor responded. “This I can verify was a very unusual situation and should not have happened.”
But unusual situations continued to dog Howard, right up to his last day as a guest of the State of Colorado. On September 18, 2007, while waiting to be picked up by federal marshals and start serving his federal sentence for tax fraud, Howard was escorted past several vacant cells at the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center to a holding cell containing one other prisoner: Simon Shimbel.
“I can’t go in there,” Howard said, stopping dead at the door. “He’s a custody issue.”
The female sergeant escorting Howard ignored him and beckoned to the control center to open the door. Howard begged her to check the computer, which would show that he could not be housed with Shimbel.
The sergeant refused and told him to get in the cell. “You ain’t on parole yet, you know,” she said. Disobeying her order could delay his release from DOC indefinitely.
He went in. The door slammed behind him. Shimbel immediately got in his face. “I got ad-segged for that,” he said, referring to the stretch in solitary that Howard’s statements to investigators had cost him.
Howard curled up on top of the toilet, keeping his eyes down, while Shimbel berated him for being a snitch. Shimbel knocked him on the floor.
“The only reason I don’t choke you the fuck out is I’m leaving,” he seethed.
Shimbel checked the window to make sure no one was watching. Then he unzipped his pants. “Do what you do,” he said.
Howard says Shimbel struck him on the back of the head until he started performing oral sex. After a couple of minutes he knocked Howard to the floor again and ejaculated into the toilet. “Can’t give you any of this,” he muttered. “You’ll go to the pigs.”
Howard jumped up and hit the cell’s emergency button. When a voice came on the intercom asking him what the trouble was, he shouted that he needed his dress-out clothes. The door opened. The marshals were already coming down the corridor.
Howard and Shimbel were transported to the marshals’ office in the same car. He didn’t get a chance to report the alleged assault until Shimbel was gone – bound for Australia, to serve time for a prison escape there. Shifted temporarily to the Jefferson County jail, Howard spoke to several officers and medical personnel before someone took a report.
A jail sergeant called corrections officers at DOC to check Howard’s account of being sexually assaulted while in their custody.
“The guy’s a drama queen,” he was told. “Don’t worry about it.”
• • •
Howard’s lawsuit was thrown out by U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham, then reinstated by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which concluded that there was evidence that prison officials at Sterling knew Howard “faced an ongoing risk from a prison gang with a substantial presence” and failed to take reasonable steps to protect him.
After that ruling came down, Howard managed to get the civil rights law firm of Killmer, Lane & Newman, whose client list ranges from Ward Churchill and Richard Heene to several death row prisoners, to represent him. The case soon became a costly, heels-dug-in wrangle over who had bigger credibility problems: convicted fraud Scott Howard or see-no-evil, cover-your-ass corrections officials.
It was the state’s position that Howard had never told case managers at Fremont and Sterling about ongoing gang threats, extortion or sexual assaults – not until after he was caught red-handed with the tax data in 2006. His transfer from Fremont to Sterling had not been for security reasons, but because he was accepted into a “life learning program” at Sterling. His complaints about his placement at Sterling were not because of 211 threats, but because he wanted to get back to his “paramour” in another unit.
The official version took some bizarre turns. One officer maintained that 211 members at Sterling had such an aversion to homosexuality that one of their members was stabbed over a forbidden tryst; thus it was unlikely that gang members would sexually assault Howard or pimp him out to other gangs. Case manager Backer maintained that complaining about custody issues – for example, saying that gang members are trying to kill you – is somehow different from snitching. Backer had “never seen an inmate get retaliated against” for seeking protection, so why didn’t Howard speak up?
Case manager Halligan insisted that extortion was no big deal, either. “In my experience, threats of extortion and extortion itself rarely leads to violence in DOC,” he stated in one affidavit. “Nearly all such activity is resolved by the inmates themselves.”
After months of discovery and depositions, Howard’s lawyers found numerous holes in the official story, but nothing that proved Howard’s version. “That was a weakness in our case,” attorney David Lane says. “We had no corroboration of any kind that he’d ever made a report. But then lo and behold, there was a memo from his case manager that the attorney general’s office never gave to us. And it was the smoking-gun document of the entire case.”
Howard had filed a second lawsuit after his encounter with Shimbel on his last day in the DOC. A private law firm defended that case, and it produced many of the same documents the Colorado Attorney General’s Office had handed over in the original case – with one glaring exception. A transfer form signed by Fremont case manager Dave Mason had surfaced in the second wave. The form states that one of the reasons Howard was being moved from Fremont to Sterling was because “other offenders” were pressuring him for money. Handwritten and circled on the form is a number: 211.
Weeks before that document was found, Mason had filed an affidavit in the case denying that Howard had ever told him about any threats or extortion. Other officers filed similar affidavits, insisting that nothing in Howard’s file or their discussions with him pointed to a gang problem. Yet the form backed up Howard’s account of his meeting with Mason and the reasons for his subsequent move to Sterling.
Howard remembers seeing the form for the first time last spring and realizing he was on the brink of vindication. “That was the healing point for me,” he says now, “to find this document that shows I wasn’t lying.”
Lane was more furious than elated. In thirty years of practicing law, he insists, he’s never seen a more serious violation of discovery rules. “In the entire world of documents, there was only one that we did not get – and it was the one that blew their case out of the water,” he says. “I believe the attorney general’s office intentionally hid this document. But no one’s been held accountable for this.”
In a court filing, the AG’s office maintained that the omission was “inadvertent,” the result of a copying glitch by a paralegal, who omitted several other less relevant pages when copying Howard’s DOC file. “If Mr. Lane believes there was an ethical violation, he has an obligation to file a grievance,” says AG spokesman Mike Saccone. “If he’s still carping about this and hasn’t done that, I think that speaks volumes.”
Lane did push for an evidentiary hearing in the matter, but within a few weeks the parties quietly settled the case for $165,000. “I was disappointed in the amount,” Lane says, “but Scott wanted to move on with his life.”
Moving on has been difficult for Howard. While the lawsuit was under way, he was inundated with materials reminding him of the details of his assaults. He still suffers from post-traumatic stress. He has bad reactions to encounters with white guys with shaved heads, and for a time avoided contact with white people whenever he could.
“Some days are good, some days are bad,” he says. “Part of my healing process was to forgive people. Am I mad at staff? Do I think they could have prevented it? Absolutely. There were times when I was so upset, I didn’t know if I could go on with it. But I either had to let them get away with it or continue the fight.”
DOC officials didn’t respond to requests for comment on the Howard settlement or any policy changes it may have inspired. In 2007, 211 Crew founder Benjamin Davis, despite his insistence that he’d distanced himself from the gang, was convicted by a Denver jury on charges of racketeering, assault and conspiracy and had an additional 96 years tacked onto his sentence. But the 211 Crew and other gangs continue to be active in Colorado prisons – even if many of their activities are, as the man says, “resolved by the inmates themselves.”
Howard now works as a production manager for a company in the Midwest. He’s been invited to speak at an upcoming gathering of the American Correctional Association as well as a national convention of sexual assault response teams. After years of being afraid to speak out, his name and photo and battles are showing up in Just Detention International fundraising appeals and on the New York Review of Books blog.
“This has turned into my fight,” he says. “I know a person at Fremont who’s going through the same thing right now and is being ignored. I really didn’t seek this, but I can be a voice for those who aren’t being heard.”