By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Editor’s note: Six women were interviewed for this report all are current or former inmates at the Tutwiller Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama.
Only three women are quoted to avoid confusion but all agreed with the others statements. All the names have been changed to protect the women’s identity.
MONTGOMERY–On May 22, 2012, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department alleging evidence of “frequent and severe officer-on-inmate sexual violence.”
The group’s Executive Director Bryan Stevenson has used the words “rape and sexual assault” as a description of what he believes is taking place at the Tutwiller Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama.
As of May 2012 the Justice Department has issued a statement saying they have opened an investigation into the allegations.
Few would disagree that rape is a serious charge. The very word can send shock waves of graft images though the mind and media.
“In all my years at Tutwiller, I have seen lots of sex but ain’t never seen anyone raped by a CIO [correctional officers],” says Monica. “I have seen a bunch of tit for tat (she laughs) but never seen nobody forced.” Monica who is serving a 20 year sentence at Tutwiller says she like many old-timers have become very familiar with the law and she has one question to ask, “If all these smart people outside have uncovered 50 cases of rape, then how come they haven’t uncovered 50 civil law suits?”
Six women where interviewed for this report who are either currently incarcerated at Tutwiller Prison for Women or have been in the passed two years. The women spoke on condition of anonymity.
The six agree that prison rape as described by EJI is an act they have never witnessed at Tutwiller.
According to the FBI rape is defined as “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
“You got to understand, most of us have been trading sex for favors all our lives, I learned my lesson at thirteen,” says Lucy, a middle-aged woman who says she has been in and out of correction facilities most of her life.
“My uncle is the one who taught me,” she said. “One Saturday, my uncle took me for a ride in his car. We went way out in the country. He had sex and I got some new high tops. That’s the way it works here too.”
While these women’s statements by no means excuses the acts of correctional officers or employees, it certainly paints a very different picture than the one the MSM and EJI have offered.
All of the women interviewed said they have witnessed consensual sex between inmates and correctional employees but that it is seldom and rare.
The report by EJI has set off a media firestorm but no verifiable analysis of the accusations is given by EJI or the media. The reports relies solely on word of the interviewees at the prison and the EJI.
The Alabama Department of Corrections in a response to the allegation made by the EJI states, “The ADOC maintains a policy of zero-tolerance for inmate sexual offenses and custodial sexual misconduct. Departmental practices and procedures are in place to help identify, monitor, and track alleged sexual assaults and sexual misconduct; to maintain statistics ensuring compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA); and to take appropriate actions against employees found in violation.”
The Commissioner of corrections makes a strong statement concerning the ADOC positions.
“This is a matter of grave concern to me. Sexual misconduct of any kind, including custodial sexual misconduct, is not tolerated by this Department,” said Commissioner Kim Thomas. “From the beginning of my watch, I have made it very clear to my staff that custodial sexual misconduct will not be tolerated and is an especially egregious offense to me. We take every action possible to prevent it from happening and if it does, we undertake prompt corrective employee discipline and pursue criminal prosecution where applicable.”
Of the six women in this report one admitted to sex with a prison official.
“I got there like many woman, I was hooked on drugs and I did some pretty stupid things,” said Eve, a thirty-something woman who today looks more like a school teacher than a former inmate. “I was an addict plain and simple, My then boyfriend and I used to get high for fun, just on weekends, the next thing I know we are cooking meth and selling it.”
Eve said that she got close to the CIO she had sex with, she says now she knows that it was wrong but that at the time she needed a man to look after her and to keep her safe and that the CIO was all those things to her.
“When I entered Tutwiller I still had an addict’s mentality, which meant I would do whatever I needed to do to get what I wanted and to feel safe,” said Eve.
Eve says many incarcerated woman have a history of bad relationships as well as a poor decision making skills. This she believes is in part a catalysts to sexual relationships with CIO.
“You don’t wake up in Tutwiller and start making all the right moves, all of a sudden,” says Lucy. “Tutwiler is a hellhole and most of us are just making it day by day.” Lucy continues, “If sex get you some nice or pretty things then some of these girls are going to put out for them.”
Monica says, “Some of these men want what a woman’s got and we know it, they [CIOs] are men, when you got men and women together you going to have sex going on, that’s the basics.” Monica continues, “Nobody, wants my **** ass, or I might get me some too,” she laughs.
According to the EJI report “More than 20 TutwiLler employees have been transferred or terminated in the past five years for having illegal sexual contact with prisoners. From 2009 to 2011, six correctional officers were convicted for criminal sexual abuse of women prisoners.
According to the ADOC, there are multiple ways for complaints of custodial sexual misconduct to be made, including the use of a toll free PREA hotline, or writing or talking to assigned PREA staff within each facility.
“It is never right for a CIO to have sex with inmate but it is also never right for the inmate to have sex with a CIO,” says Eve. “Yes, they have power but there is always a way out.”
In a report by the Montgomery Advertiser, “Since 2009, six Tutwiller employees have been convicted for crimes related to sexual misconduct. Five employees were charged with one count of custodial sexual misconduct, a Class C felony defined as engaging in sexual conduct with someone under the disciplinary watch of the state.”
According to the Advertiser, “Court records showed three of the defendants pleaded guilty to custodial sexual misconduct, one pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and two pleaded guilty to harassing communications.
Another correctional employee, served six months in jail after pleading guilty to custodial sexual misconduct after a DNA test proved he had impregnated an inmate. “
“In the past five years, numerous women have complained that they became pregnant after male correctional staff at the prison raped them,” EJI Director Stevenson said.
Monica an inmate at Tutwiller says she doesn’t buy Stevenson’s definition of rape. “I’m sorry, baby, but you can’t rape the willing.”
All the women agree that there are abuses of power at Tutwiller, however they all disagree with the report by EJI.
Eve, who says she is working toward a job in mental health says, “What is happening between the CIO and the inmate is consensual sex, but there is a real and inappropriate abuse of power in these exchanges.” Eve says that the ADOC has to work harder at rooting out correctional staff that commit such acts. She says there is a great need to educate woman to make better choices. “My time at Tutwiller changed me,” said Eve. “I never want to go back there and I never want to be the person I was then in their either.”