These real stories are not necessarily intended to frighten you. While this article focuses on Alabama, similar tales are common around the nation. The realities conveyed in the article represent the consequences you and yours will be faced with, however, if you end up in prison.
Extortion of prisoners and family members of prisoners is common in Alabama’s prisons. Extortion by fellow prisoners is commonly reported by prisoners calling the toll-free number established by the Department. Investigators with ADOC’s I&I confirmed extortion of family members and prisoners is a significant problem in Alabama’s prisons.
All too often, the voices of the people directly affected by the prison system are not heard. Effectively cut off from the outside world, the lucky men have loved ones to advocate for their safety and welfare. Others have no one, can’t afford to make phone calls from prison, or have difficulty getting stamps to write.
Alabama’s inability to prevent and address the extortion of prisoners and prisoners’ family members leads to a substantial risk of serious harm. For example:
- In August 2018, a prisoner at Bibb called the Department’s toll-free number to report that he was forced into nonconsensual sex acts with other prisoners while being extorted for drug money. He reported that he was constantly sleeping in other dormitories to escape the prisoners. He told us that when he reported the matter to Bibb’s PREA resource officer, the officer told him that because he was in debt to another prisoner, nothing could be done.
- In May 2018, a prisoner at Bibb called the toll-free number to report that in February of that year, he had been held hostage in an open dormitory over the course of several days over a money debt and was severely beaten by several prisoners. When he was finally able to escape and notify a correctional officer, an incident report confirmed the severity of his beating by noting that he was immediately sent to an emergency room and required two facial surgeries.
- Over the course of several days in February 2018, a prisoner at St. Clair was repeatedly physically and sexually assaulted at night by his cellmate, as evidenced by fresh and healing bruising on his body. When he finally approached an officer, he reported that his cellmate had been extorting him to pay $1,000 and was forcing him into sex and payment of four packs of tobacco each day until he satisfied the $1,000 debt. ADOC placed both prisoners in restricted housing.
- In January 2018, the mother of a prisoner at Ventress called our toll-free number to report that she and her son were being extorted for money to pay off an alleged $600 debt to another prisoner. Because of his failure to pay, the victim was beaten and threatened with rape. His mother later called to report that she was being extorted by a prisoner at Ventress who texted her photos of a prisoner’s genitals from a cell phone. Through texts, he threatened to chop her son into pieces and rape him if she did not send him $800. In February 2018, the inmate called our toll-free line and affirmed what his mother had reported. The following screenshots were sent to us: Text messages attempting to extort a prisoner’s family member:
- Similarly, in December 2017, a woman reported that her brother, a prisoner at Donaldson, was being held hostage inside a cell. When a correctional sergeant sought the prisoner out, he was found with several bruises on his face and it was determined he had been assaulted. The prisoner told the correctional officers that he and his family were being extorted by his captor for money. During the investigation, the alleged perpetrator admitted that the victim had been “short on his payment,” and was placed in segregation pending disciplinary action. The victim was placed in the Restricted Privileges cell.
- In October 2017, a prisoner at Staton was moved by security staff to Bibb because he was physically assaulted and extorted for $10,000 by four prisoners who were members of the Crips Gang. The gang members targeted the victim after learning that he received an inheritance following his mother’s death earlier that year.
- In November 2017, a prisoner at Bullock called the Department’s toll-free number to report that he believed he would soon be killed over a debt. Later that day, a correctional captain questioned the prisoner about his call. The prisoner told the captain he was indebted to other prisoners and could not pay and wanted protection. The prisoner refused to provide the names of the prisoners who were extorting him. ADOC then required the victim to provide a urine sample and moved him to restricted housing while issuing him a disciplinary action for intentionally creating a Security/Safety/Health Hazard. Assaults in prison are thought to be vastly underreported due to fear of being labeled a snitch and because ADOC has a history of punishing victims, while allowing the alleged perpetrators to remain in general population.
Raped to Pay Off Drug Debt
Many of the prisoners interviewed painted a portrait of a system where drugs are ubiquitous, dangerous, and contribute to violence. Over 70% of the prisoners interviewed during the federal probe specifically mentioned the prevalence of drug use within the prisons. Many prisoners thought that part of the danger from drugs is that drug usage leads to drug debts, which leads to violence and sexual abuse when prisoners are unable to pay. Prisoners at different facilities reported seeing other prisoners smoke something, “wig out,” fall on the ground, pass out, or vomit. A common theme in our interviews of prisoners was that correctional officers observe the drug use and take no action.
An I&I investigator interviewed at ADOC headquarters, whose job includes investigating staff corruption, stated that, “without a doubt” the number one way contraband is getting into prisons is “by staff smuggling it in.” A former ADOC warden told us the same thing. Another investigator pointed to a recent I&I investigation into staff corruption that had already ensnared 11 officers at one prison. The investigator stated that he had not yet uncovered the end of the corruption. In another investigation at a different prison, it was discovered that a staff member made $75,000 bringing in contraband and his accomplice, a prisoner, made $100,000. Clearly, current ADOC policies have been unable to control or limit the drug trade in its prisons.
ADOC’s incident reports document sexual abuse occurring in the dormitories, cells, recreation areas, the infirmary, bathrooms, and showers at all hours of the day and night.
For example, in February 2017, a prisoner at Fountain was gang-raped inside his dormitory during the evening meal. Two prisoners held him down while a third “penetrated his anus,” then they “forced him to perform oral sex.” A nurse’s examination at the facility noted “several tears to his anus,” and he was transported to the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner’s Center for further treatment. ADOC substantiated the incident. Yet no ADOC staff reported the assault. Prior to the victim giving a nurse a note stating that he had been raped the day before, ADOC staff did not report the incident. Our experts’ on-site interviews of captains and lieutenants revealed that many ADOC staff appear to accept the high level of violence and sexual abuse in ADOC as a normal course of business, including acquiescence to the idea that prisoners will be subjected to sexual abuse as a way to pay debts accrued to other prisoners.
Many prisoners report that they were sexually assaulted because of debts they owed (or that the assailants said they owed), often related to drugs or other contraband. For example:
- In January 2018, a Correctional Sergeant and the Institutional PREA Compliance Manager separately questioned a prisoner at Bullock about “an incident that took place” a few days earlier. The prisoner admitted that he had been sexually abused. He stated that he was in debt to several prisoners and one of them told another prisoner “he could fuck me for what I owe him.” He told his assailant “no,” but the prisoner sexually assaulted him anyway. Because the victim refused medical treatment, stated that he did not want to press charges, and signed a Release of Responsibility, ADOC determined that no further action would be taken and released the victim to his original dormitory unit.
- In August 2017, a prisoner at Bibb reported to a lieutenant that he had been sexually assaulted because he was indebted to another prisoner and could not pay the debt. The other prisoner forced him to perform oral sex as payment.
- In June 2017, a prisoner at Bibb reported that he had been raped because he owed seven “Tops,” or packets of cigarettes, to several unidentified prisoners. The prisoner was transported to an outside hospital and ADOC substantiated the allegation based on the evidence from the resulting sexual assault kit.
- In April 2017, a prisoner at Bibb reported that he was anally raped by another prisoner to whom he owed money. While the victim was waiting at the Health Care Unit for transportation to an outside hospital, he cut his wrist with a razor.
- In March 2017, a prisoner at Fountain reported to a nurse that he had been physically assaulted and raped the night before. He was transported to the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner’s Center for further assessment and reassigned to segregation, pending the outcome of the investigation. During his interview, the victim stated that he owed a debt to another prisoner, and he “assumed [he] was raped due to the debt owed.”
- In November 2016, a prisoner at Fountain reported to a Mental Health Site Administrator that another prisoner had extorted him to engage in anal and oral sex over a period of two months. The victim was placed on suicide watch and the alleged aggressor was permitted to remain in general population. One month later, ADOC sent the victim a letter confirming that the allegation had been substantiated.
The theme of sexual abuse as a consequence of debt is so common that some incident reports specifically highlight a prisoner’s debt history. For example, in February and March of 2018, separate prisoners at Ventress each reported sexual assaults. The incident reports each note that a review of the victim’s incident history revealed that he has not made any previous PREA related allegations,” but does reflect a history of drug use and debt. Interviews with ADOC staff revealed an understanding that debt, particularly drug debt, can result in sexual abuse. This was a common point raised by the prisoners we interviewed on-site.
Submission to sexual abuse under the threat of violence resulting from the drug trade does not indicate consent. Many prisoners also report that they were sexually abused after being drugged, becoming incapacitated by drugs they took voluntarily, or when the assailant was under the influence. Some of the drugs that are widely available in Alabama’s prisons can have the effect of immobilizing an individual or rendering him unconscious, which makes him vulnerable to sexual abuse. For example:
- In March 2018, a prisoner at Holman reported that he had been raped after he had passed out from smoking “flakka.” He awoke to one prisoner punching him in the eye and then four or five prisoners put a partition around his bed and took turns raping him.
- In February 2018, a prisoner at Bibb reported to a mental health professional that he had been raped. At approximately 1:00 a.m. in a dormitory unit, an unidentified prisoner propositioned him to smoke a marijuana cigarette. While smoking, the victim “became incoherent” and awoke with the unidentified prisoner penetrating him from the rear.
- In December 2017, a prisoner at Limestone reported that two prisoners attempted to force him to perform oral sex, which resulted in a physical altercation, with a third prisoner coming to his aide. The incident was substantiated and the incident report notes that when one of the assailants was interviewed following the altercation, he had slurred speech and smelled of alcohol.
- In January 2017, a prisoner at Donaldson reported that a prisoner offered him a cigarette and, upon smoking it, he began “to feel funny and could not move.” Two prisoners then took him into the shower and sexually assaulted him. ADOC substantiated this incident.
- In January 2017, a prisoner at Draper reported that he had voluntarily used methamphetamine and blacked out. When he regained consciousness, he was experiencing anal pains and other prisoners indicated that he had been sexually assaulted.
Many of the assaults happen at knifepoint, with no indication that ADOC conducted a comprehensive weapons search in response. For example:
- In April 2018, a prisoner at Ventress reported that he had been forced at knifepoint to perform oral sex on another prisoner. The incident report notes that the victim was reassigned to another dormitory and the victim and assailant received mental health referrals, but there is no mention of a housing change for the alleged assailant or a search of his dormitory for weapons. The incident report does note that a previous PREA-related allegation had been made against the assailant.
- In April 2018, officers interviewed a prisoner at Elmore after his mother called to report that he had been sexually abused. The prisoner stated that he had been raped at knifepoint because he owed his assailant $250. The incident report notes that the alleged assailant “submitted a written statement and was allowed to return back to the population without incident.” There is no mention of a search for the weapon.
- In February 2018, a prisoner at Staton reported that the night before, two prisoners had held knives to his neck while a third prisoner forced him to perform oral sex. The victim alleged that the whole dormitory was aware of the attack. The victim was escorted to the health center for a medical examination and then transferred to a holding cell while the alleged assailants remained in the dormitory. There is no mention of a search for weapons.
- In December 2017, a prisoner at Staton reported that he was jumped in the shower by a prisoner who held a knife and penetrated him from behind. ADOC transported the victim to the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Center and ultimately referred this incident to the County District Attorney’s Office. There is no mention of a search for the weapon.
- In January 2017, the chaplain at Draper notified ADOC that a prisoner had reported to him that he had been raped that morning. At approximately 5:30 AM, three prisoners forced the victim into the shower area of the dormitory. Two of the assailants had knives. A blanket was hanging from the wall, blocking the area from view. The prisoner stated that the dormitory officer was in the hall outside of the dormitory escorting prisoners back from breakfast, which had been late that morning. One prisoner held a knife to the victim’s neck and another waved a knife in his face while the third penetrated him anally. The incident report confirms the victim’s transport to the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner’s Clinic and that someone would interview the victim and secure the forensic evidence from his examination, but there is no mention of searching the dormitory for weapons.
Some prisoners suffer sexual abuse in retaliation for having reported previous sexual abuse. For example:
- In March 2018, a prisoner at Ventress reported that he had been sexually assaulted on the gym porch by a prisoner whose cousin had previously sexually assaulted the victim at Bullock. The victim reported that his assailant told him he was going to get him back for telling on his cousin. A week later, the victim reported another attack by the same assailant, which required an outside Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner assessment. However, the second incident report makes no mention of the first report.
- Also in March 2018, a correctional lieutenant “received information” that a prisoner was “being tortured” in a dormitory at Ventress. The lieutenant located the prisoner and escorted him to the Health Care Unit. The prisoner reported that he was “tied up, burned, and tortured for two days and that a broom handle was stuck up his rectum.” The prisoner stated that the torture was in retaliation for his documented report of a prior sexual assault in February 2018.
- In February 2018, a prisoner at Bibb notified the facility PREA Compliance Manager that he had been “forcibly sexually assaulted” two days prior and that he had not bathed, so the perpetrator’s semen was still inside him. The prisoner was examined by the facility nurse and upon completion of the medical examination, the prison physician advised that the prisoner should be transported to an outside hospital for a Sexual Assault Kit. Although the prisoner named his rapist, the incident report confirms that upon conclusion of the investigation, the victim “stated that he did not desire to prosecute and signed a waiver of prosecution. Therefore, this allegation is unsubstantiated.”
- In May 2017, “several” prisoners reported to a captain that two other prisoners were held and assaulted in a dormitory unit at Fountain over the weekend by a group of four or five prisoners. One of the identified victims provided a written statement of allegations of sexual assault, while the other reported a physical assault. ADOC provided the first victim with written confirmation that the allegation of sexual assault was “found to be unfounded and exceptionally cleared due to your lack of cooperation with the prosecution of [his assailant] for reported Sexual Assault and you[r] signing of a Prosecution Waiver Form.”
- In April 2018, a prisoner at Bullock reported that over three days, he had endured extortion; punching, kicking, and beatings with a stick; and anal and oral rape by a group of four prisoners. He finally reported the abuse after one of the prisoners told him “he had more work to do.” Although ADOC identified all of the perpetrators, after the victim returned from the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Center, he was placed in segregation “per inmate’s request.”
- In January 2018, a prisoner at Bullock resorted to cutting his wrist after an attempted sexual assault and physical assault “because he feared being in population and needed to be placed in a single cell.” He reported that two nights prior, two prisoners had attempted to rape him but were unable to penetrate him because he defecated during the assault. The prisoners then poured hot water on him, causing burn marks to his buttocks and the back of his head. ADOC placed the victim in segregation and allowed the perpetrators to remain in general population. The incident report notes that the perpetrators would receive “disciplinary actions for assault,” and that no further action would be taken.
- In December 2017, a prisoner at Bibb sent a letter to the Assistant PREA Compliance Manager stating that he had been sexually abused at knifepoint. The victim reportedly requested placement in segregation because he feared for his safety, so the victim was placed in segregation while his alleged assailant remained in his assigned living area. ADOC substantiated this allegation.
Think about this article before doing something that may land you in prison. If these real stories don’t change the mindset of a potential criminal, I fear nothing will.
“I’ve watched the very ones who are trusted to keep us in custody, safe and prepared for returning home beat, extort, and even rape. My experience is one I’d never wish upon my worst enemy.”
“This place is like a killing ground. It’s like a killing field, and nobody is doing anything about it. When people do get murdered, they say ‘died from natural causes.’”
The information in this article was gleaned from the DOJ’s Investigation of Alabama’s State Prison for Men. Click HERE to view the original comprehensive document.