Rape as a disciplinary tactic

Prison guards often ignore inmate rape, and even encourage it to punish prisoners who step out of line.

Published August 23, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Eddie Dillard, a 23-year-old gang member from Los Angeles
serving time for assault with a deadly weapon in California's
Corcoran State Prison, was a prison malcontent. One day Dillard
made the mistake of kicking a female guard; for this sin and
others he was promoted to the top of the correctional officers'
shit list.

Dillard was transferred to the cell of Wayne Robertson, better
known as the "Booty Bandit." For a time, his vocation was
beating, torturing and sodomizing fellow inmates while prison
guards looked the other way. This psychopathic serial rapist was
the guards' resident enforcer, one whose specialty was reining in
abrasive young toughs.

Dillard protested the transfer, pointing out that Robertson was a known
predator. "Since you like hitting women, we've got somebody for
you," came the reply. There, in a tiny box with the Booty Bandit,
began the tragic re-education of Eddie Dillard.

Lessons commenced with verbal abuse and threats, soon
progressing to a violent and bloody assault in which Robertson
beat the smaller, younger Dillard into submission. For the next
several days Robertson beat, raped, tortured and humiliated
Dillard, tearing open his rectum in the process. Guards and other
inmates listened to the echoes of the young man screaming,
crying for help and begging for mercy.

When the cell door finally opened to let him out, Dillard rushed
onto the tier and refused to go back inside. But it was too late: He
had been "turned out." He was reduced to a psychologically
broken, politically servile "punk" -- in the prison argot, the lowest
form of life. Dillard was now jailhouse chattel, to be sodomized,
traded and sold like a slave. Robertson, on the other hand,
received new tennis shoes and extra food for his services.

When he was released from prison, Dillard told the Los Angeles
Times of the trauma he still suffers: "They took something from
me that I can never replace. I've tried so many nights to forget
about it, but the feeling just doesn't go away. Every time I'm with
my wife, it comes back what he did to me. I want a close to the
story. I want some salvation. But it keeps going on and on."

Dillard's case is not an isolated incident. Though using rape as a
management tactic may sound like an extreme concept, the
Dillard case appears not to have been an isolated incident. The
Boston Globe, for example, reported that guards in Massachusetts
prisons have used known rapists in the same fashion as their
California counterparts: "Several prisoners at Shirley [State
Prison] said that Slade [a notorious prison rapist] has had a long
history of attacks there, but that he is typically reshuffled by the
guards into cells with 'fresh fish,' or new inmates."

In the age of AIDS, such prison discipline often amounts to a
slow-motion death sentence. As one Massachusetts prison rape
survivor put it, "Nowhere in the book of rules was it written that I
got to be here to get raped, that I have to have them destroy my
mind, that I am supposed to get AIDS." This same inmate, who is
HIV-positive, said he went to the guards for protection, but their
response was: "Welcome to Shirley. Toughen up, punk."

The story is repeated across the country.

"Everything and everybody in here worked to keep you a whore --
even the prison," explained James Dunn, a prisoner and onetime
sex slave in Louisiana's notorious Angola prison. "If a whore went
to the authorities, all they'd do is tell you that since you [are]
already a whore, they couldn't do nothing for you, and [that you
should] go back to the dorm and settle down and be a good old
lady. Hell, they'd even call the whore's old man up and tell him to
take you back down and keep you quiet ... the most you'd get out
of complaining is some marriage counseling, with them talking to
you and your old man to iron out your difficulties."

A veteran corrections officer, also from Louisiana, described a
similar situation in a recent letter to a newspaper: "There are
prison administrators who use inmate gangs to help manage the
prison. Sex and human bodies become the coin of the realm. Is
inmate 'X' writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper and
filing lawsuits? Or perhaps he threw urine or feces on an
employee? 'Well, Joe, you and Willie and Hank work him over, but
be sure you don't break any bones and send him to the hospital.
If you do a good job, I'll see that you get the blondest boy in the
next shipment.'"

When asked to comment on prison rape, Massachusetts
Department of Correction spokesman Anthony Carnevale
explained: "Well, that's prison ... I don't know what to tell you."
Inmate-on-inmate rape in male prisons remains largely ignored,
despite the fact that it is central to the politics of incarceration.
The group Stop Prison Rape Inc. estimates that 600,000 men and
boys are raped every year in American correctional facilities.
(Other academic studies place the number much lower.)

Most state prison systems, as well as the Federal Bureau of
Prisons, lump all assaults, sexual and otherwise, into a single
category; thus, they have no idea how many rapes are reported.
Whatever the real figure, rape appears to be an integral part of
prison life and one of its most terrifying features.

Prison rights activists say the struggle to bring attention to prison
rape is often an uphill one. "Prison rape continues because it's a
management tool. It benefits the guards and wardens. There's no
way around that fact," explains Tom Cahill, of Stop Prison Rape.
Cahill should know. Thirty years ago, as a young political activist
in San Antonio, Texas, he was set up by prison guards and

"I was put in a gorilla cage. That's a cell organized by guards for a
'turning out party,'" says Cahill. "They told everyone I was a child
molester." Six of Cahill's 30 cellmates beat, tortured and raped
him for two days. And like thousands of other survivors, his life
was never the same.

"It's the ultimate humiliation, and it works on you for the rest of
your life," says Cahill, his voice raising with anger. "I still feel
mistrustful of people, and even among my friends I feel
stigmatized. I still have flashbacks and bouts of incredible,
consuming rage."

Cahill's inner turmoil led to the destruction of his marriage. He
ended up on the streets, and got involved in political fights that
often landed him back in jail. While proud of his left-wing
politics, Cahill now sees much of his sojourn as a macho and
quixotic quest for redemption. Today, at age 62, Cahill lives on
the bucolic north coast of California, where he channels his anger
into activism.

Many survivors are not so lucky. Some never pull out of the
psychological nose-dive caused by prison rape and crash into a
life of violence, self-destruction and sexual aggression.

Victims of prison rape often turn their anger against innocents
when they are set free. John William King -- the young white
supremacist who dragged African-American James Byrd to death
in Jasper, Texas, in 1998 -- is one such case. King was an ex-con;
he'd served 21 months for burglary in the Beto Unit, the toughest
joint in Texas. Shortly after arriving in prison, King -- then
5-foot-7 and 140 pounds -- was attacked by black prisoners and
raped, according to his attorneys. He emerged from the dungeon

Prison rape victims often implode psychologically after they
return to the outside world. Jeannette Eatton saw that happen to
her 19-year-old son, Alan. While serving time for petty theft and
under-age drinking Alan was befriended by an older convict
named "Cowboy, " who eventually raped his good-looking young
friend at knifepoint.

"Alan wasn't the same after that. He withdrew and started
disliking people. He'd always been a people person. And he
despised gays after that," says Jeannette Eatton.

Six months after his release, a drunken, bitter Alan Eatton
crashed his motorcycle and died. He'd just turned 20. In death,
the young man from central Illinois drew an unlikely comparison
to the famous T.E. Lawrence, who was almost undoubtedly raped
in a Turkish prison. Lawrence -- solider, author, adventurer and
champion of the Arab cause -- was a classic case of post-rape
self-destruction. His dissolution involved self-imposed isolation,
rage and depression; he abandoned his career and then died in a
motorcycle accident that looked suspiciously suicidal.

More often than not, prison higher-ups ignore the problem. Utah
prison officials, for instance, seeking accreditation of the
system's medical facilities, maintained that there had never been
a single rape in any Utah prison. Among the many nasty facts
deflating the claim was a detailed trial transcript in which one
inmate was convicted and sentenced to 15 years for raping a
fellow prisoner.

In Massachusetts, following the Boston Globe exposi, corrections
bureaucrats still felt free to deny reality -- even as a freshly raped
convict was in the hospital under going rectal surgery.

Such denials are perfectly rational: To admit that inmates rape
each other is to invite lawsuits. In 1994, the Supreme Court ruled
in Farmer vs. Brennan that penitentiary officials are responsible
for protecting prisoners from sexual predation. The case was
launched by Dee Farmer, a pre-op transgender person serving 20
years for credit-card fraud, who was housed in a tank full of
violent male prisoners -- where, to no one's surprise, Farmer was
promptly and viciously gang raped.

Since then, several other inmates have tried to sue for damages
after contracting HIV as jailhouse sex slaves. One Illinois case was
filed by Michael Blucker, a 28-year-old, married man serving time
for a nonviolent crime. Blucker says he was beaten, gang-raped
and then coerced into a form of sex slavery. In at least two cases
correctional officers allegedly escorted Blucker from cell to cell,
where he was raped and forced to service customers who paid his
prison-guard pimps with cigarettes, drugs and candy.

Despite the precedent set in Farmer's case, Blucker was not
awarded damages. Upon his release he became a devout
born-again Christian who treats his HIV with prayer rather than
protease inhibitors.

The transformation from convict to "punk" usually begins in one
of two ways. A younger inmate might be taken under the wing of
an older inmate; once debt and dependence are established the
older inmate will rape and "turn out" the young prisoner.

Alternatively, a gang of inmates may attack a weaker prisoner
with overwhelming numbers and "punk" their prey. Once the
victim has been "turned out," the aggressors announce their
control to the general population, which in turn cements the deal
through its tacit or active approval of the victim's new status.
The freshly minted punk will find himself vulnerable to assault
from all sides, as the prison grapevine informs everyone of his
subordinate status. In the interests of survival, the targeted
prisoner will usually choose one inmate as his "daddy" or
"husband." In exchange for control of the punk, the "man"
offers protection against other aggressors.

Although the "daddies" have sex with other men, they are, in the
hyper-macho cosmology of prison, not homosexual -- because
they are not sexually penetrated themselves. The cult of manhood -- and the struggle to defend, defile
and define it -- is the axis around which the prison sex system

The prison world's other subordinate "gender" is the "queens" --
transsexuals and cross-dressers who may embrace homosexual
sex and a sexually submissive position in the prison hierarchy.
Queens suffer sexual assault, but often they use their sexual
powers and feminine charms to play stronger inmates off one
another or to find a husband of their own liking.

By whatever route one arrives, the second sex of the Big House
are, like many women outside, forced into roles that range from
nurturing wife to denigrated, over-worked "whore."

The fatalistic logic of the joint explains away the workings of this
system with a sort of macho karma: "He must have wanted it or
he would have fought it off." The only one path of escape for the
punk or potential punk is to kill his persecutor. But for a young
man facing only five years it's a tough choice: be raped or
commit murder and face a potential life sentence.

Convict and writer Jack Henry Abbot took the latter path. "I was
even told by the pigs who transported me to prison that I was
being sent there to be reduced to a punk, to be shorn of my
manhood," wrote Abbot in his classic "In the Belly of the Beast."
"They felt I would be less arrogant once I had been turned into a
cocksucker ... Before I was twenty-one years old I had killed one
of the prisoners and wounded another. I never did get out of
prison. I never was a punk."

One of the few not-so-dark spots on the landscape is the San
Francisco county jail system, run by maverick former lawyer Michael
and his right-hand man, Michael Marcum --
whose risumi includes fratricide and five years' hard time at
Folsom Prison.

"The most important thing you can do," explains Hennessey, "is
have a thorough system for vetting prisoners. You have to
separate violent and nonviolent offenders and, within those
categories, the vulnerable from dangerous." San Francisco also
has a clear protocol that, unlike most jail and prison systems,
does not force victims to name their attackers. Hennessey has
also designed his two new jails to avoid "blind spots," the
standard terrain of assaults. In 1998 the San Francisco jail
system, with a daily population of about 2,000, had nine reported
rapes. When asked what he thought the real number of rapes was,
Hennessey paused. "I'd like to think it's not too much higher than

By Christian Parenti

Christian Parenti is the author of "Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis."

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