Two of them held me down while the other raped me . . . . I stayed in my cell all day, skipped lunch. I didn't say anything to my cellmate about it. I was so embarrassed I had let it happen to myself.(10)
Q. Do you know that if you would comply with the T.D.C. [prison] rules on shaving and cutting your hair, then you would be released from closed custody, right?
A. I feel after so much amount of time, and in that time period I would be assaulted. And the reason for my continuing to disobey the rules is to be placed in special cell restrictions where I stay in my cell basically 24 hours a day.(11)
S.M. was only eighteen when he entered Texas prison; he was twenty-one when he was first raped. But from the very beginning predatory inmates targeted him. S.M.'s strategy for avoiding victimization was to violate prison rules--to refuse to shave, to cut his hair, or go to work--so that, as punishment, he would be kept safe in a locked cell. For three years, he managed to protect himself in this way.
S.M. started out in March 1994 at High Tower Unit, a safe minimum security prison. He only stayed there for a few months and then was transferred to another unit to get psychiatric treatment for depression. Within a week, other prisoners were threatening him, trying to coerce him into giving up his allowance for the prison commissary. Although S.M. is six feet tall, he is not a fighter. He has a gentle, subdued personality and a young face.
S.M. was on the minimum custody level, but he was exposed to closed custody (maximum security) prisoners at his job working in the fields. Fearful because of threatening notes he had received, S.M. refused to go out to work one day and was punished by being placed on special cell restrictions, essentially, being forced to stay all day in his cell. But the disciplinary violation he received made his custody level drop down to closed custody, where he ended up with a much more violent set of prisoners. When S.M. entered the general population of closed custody after his thirty days under special cell restrictions, "the inmates swarmed me. They all wanted me to pay protection: the blacks, whites and Mexicans. I didn't know how to fight, couldn't stick up for myself."(12)
S.M. was forced to "ride"--to pay protection--but to escape to a locked cell he began violating prison rules by refusing to shave, to cut his hair, and to work. He spent nearly all of his three years at this facility locked in his cell under special cell restrictions. Sometimes other inmates were placed together with him but he spent much of the time alone.(13) Having complained to guards about his problems with other inmates, to no avail, he thought this was the best way to stay safe.
In January 1997 S.M. was transferred to another unit and placed on a medium custody wing. He wanted to manage with other prisoners and for a month or so this seemed possible. But soon some prisoners who knew him from the previous facility were moved to his wing. "They spread rumors about the fact that I rode," S.M. related. "Then the inmates started swarming. They knew I was easy."(14)
Under threat of assault, S.M. had his family deposit money into the bank accounts of people named by some Crips gang members who had targeted him. "And that apparently wasn't enough," S.M. later testified under oath. "And I had three of them run in my cell and sexually assault me."(15) Two of the gang members held him down while the other anally raped him. It was morning, and S.M. could hear the television on in the dayroom; although he yelled he knew the officers outside would not hear him. Before the prisoners left his cell they warned that if he told anyone they would eventually "get" him, no matter where he went.
S.M. was stunned, "in shock," he later said.(16) He skipped lunch, and then at dinner approached a sergeant to try to explain the situation, but he could not manage to describe it directly. He simply told the sergeant that he was having "serious problems"; he claims that the sergeant dismissed him.
The very next day he refused to go to work in order to be placed on special cell restrictions. He was locked in a cell with a Mexican gang member who, S.M. said, "had heard rumors" about him. One night a few days later, the other prisoner attacked S.M., pointing a shank at him and threatening to kill him. Out of fear, "I let him do what he wanted," S.M. said. "It was impossible to tell a CO because I was still locked in the cell with the guy. The CO could walk away and I'd get stabbed. It went on for three days in a row: we had anal sex two times--whenever the guy wanted."(17)
After the first rape, S.M. filled out a form requesting to see a psychiatrist, stating that he was contemplating suicide. Three days later, S.M. was brought in to see him. S.M. immediately broke down and started crying, telling him what had happened. After a medical examination, S.M. was brought to speak to investigators working for the prison's gang intelligence division. He told them exactly what happened. They asked if he wanted to prosecute the case and S.M. responded no. He was afraid of being labeled a snitch--of increasing the likelihood of being assaulted again.
The psychiatrist put him on single-cell restriction for his protection. At a hearing of the Unit Classification Committee (UCC) a few months later it was recommended that S.M. be placed on safekeeping in another prison. For four months, S.M. was in a single cell in "transit status," waiting for state officials to review the UCC's decision about safekeeping. In July 1997, the state authorities rejected S.M.'s placement on safekeeping, and he was placed back in medium custody with a single cell restriction.
The last time S.M. was raped was the worst, he later said: the most violent and the most painful. It was in October 1997, and the prison officials were insisting that S.M. return to the general population of closed custody. S.M. tried to refuse but they placed him in handcuffs and brought him to a cell. His new cellmate, an African American prisoner, told S.M. that he had "'heard about him'"--that he knew that S.M. was a "willing homosexual"--but that even if S.M. wasn't willing, they were still going to have sex.(18) S.M. was terrified but he tried to stall. He pretended to go along with his cellmate but put off having sex. At breakfast time, after his cellmate had left, he told the guards what was happening: that he was being threatened with rape. The guards locked him in a shower and called a sergeant. When the sergeant arrived, S.M. explained his situation, but the sergeant said, "that he didn't care, that he would force me back into the cell if he had to, that if I didn't come out of the shower that he would beat me himself."(19)
S.M. agreed to return to his cell but when the officers unlocked the shower he ran to the dayroom at the front of the wing. The sergeant then escorted S.M. to the front desk and handcuffed him, saying, "'you're going back to the cell whether you like it or not.'"(20) The officers placed S.M. in the recreation yard for a time, then informed him that he could either return to his cell voluntarily or be forced to return. S.M. replied that he was refusing housing.
I was begging them: "Take me to prehearing detention." They refused; they handcuffed me and carried me back to the cell, and threw me in it. By then it was around 3 a.m. My cellie started hitting me. He was a huge guy. I gave up.(21)
By then, because of his past assaults, S.M. was aware that proof of rape could be obtained by the use of a rape kit. He desperately wanted the prison authorities to collect evidence of the rape. Early in the morning, when his cellmate left the cell, he reported the rape to a guard, who told him that he would tell the sergeant what had happened. But for several hours, no one came to investigate. When S.M. was released from his cell for lunch, he found a sergeant and reported the rape. The sergeant handcuffed S.M. and left him on the recreation yard for an hour; finally around noon S.M. was brought to the infirmary and examined for rape. He was later informed that the examination showed no evidence of rape--unsurprising given the amount of time that had elapsed since the assault occurred.
Since the last rape, S.M. has been held in a single cell. When Human Rights Watch interviewed him, he was in a psychiatric unit, having tried to commit suicide in late January 1999. Because of the countless disciplinary cases he had accrued for violating prison hygiene rules, he still had several years of his ten year sentence left to serve, and was feeling depressed and scared about the future. His projected release date was August 2003.
i am a gay Spanish male. . . . back in "92" i was on the Hightower unit and i was Beating and Raped By Texas Syndicate gang members. So the officers Shipped me to Ferguson and Placed me on safe-keeping . . . . Then in "94" i got Removed >From safe-keeping because i had "3" fights in "9" months. Then i was Placed on Close-Custody Population and i was beating in the Cell Several Times by Mexican Mafia gang member's and then They Started Saling me to The Black inmate's and if i Refused i got Beat up. Well During this Time i Contracted HIV by a Black inmate . . . . Where in the middle of may i was Beating and "Raped" agian. i Reported it and went to the Doctor 2 Day's later and the Doctor Did not even Do a "Rape Kit." Then i Was moved to a Different Cell with a hispanic inmate who on August of "95" attacked me and Beat me for not Participate in sexual act's with him. Then i was moved to another Close Custody wing where i was Raped and was Paying Protection to another inmate. So That's when i Decided to Protect Myself and was Placed in seg for it.(22)
C.R. was only nineteen when he was sent to prison in Texas for violating his probation restrictions. He was first placed in a minimum security unit, which he remembered as a relatively easy, relaxed place. Because of disciplinary problems, he was soon transferred to a higher security facility. "I messed up," he admitted. "It was easy to get into trouble, so I did."(23)
A handsome, outgoing bisexual man, C.R. is originally from San Antonio, Texas. When he arrived at the new unit, he quickly understood that his origins would be a defining factor for his treatment there. Hispanic prisoners grouped themselves by hometowns: for each locality, the dayroom had a separate bench, or benches, controlled by inmates from the area. Unfortunately for C.R., he was the only prisoner on his wing from San Antonio. While other Hispanic prisoners had to fight once or twice--to be tested--before they were allowed to sit on a bench, C.R. was forced to fight constantly.
C.R. told Human Rights Watch that one day about a month after his transfer to the wing, when he was asleep in his cell, a group of six Hispanic prisoners slipped into his cell and raped him. They beat him up with locks and canned goods, and then held him down on the bed. Afterwards, C.R. told a guard what happened. According to C.R.'s account, he was not brought to a doctor for any testing, nor was any investigation done into the incident, but he was transferred to another prison and placed on safekeeping status.
Prisoners in "safekeeping," although they live in their own separate housing areas, still have a fair amount of contact with regular inmates; they meet them in the showers, the cafeteria, and at work. As many safekeeping inmates have emphasized to Human Rights Watch, these encounters are the opportunity for inmates from general population to harass and threaten them. The general population inmates generally despise prisoners in safekeeping, viewing them as weak, cowardly, and homosexual. C.R. explained:
If you were on safekeeping, the Hispanics didn't want anything to do with you. You couldn't even claim a hometown. They'd say you were disgracing their hometown . . . . Whenever we were around them, they'd tell us, 'get your ass out of here.'(24)
Prisoners from C.R.'s previous unit had been transferred to the general population of his new unit; he said that they were particularly aggressive toward him. C.R. ended up getting into several fights with general population inmates, he said, including one time in the cafeteria when a prisoner from general population tried to stab him. "I was young," C.R. remembered. "I didn't like being disrespected by the dudes in general population."
In mid-1994, C.R. was transferred out of safekeeping because of these fights. The hearing officers told him that if he was able to fight then he could handle general population. They placed him in a close custody (maximum security) unit. There, C.R. was constantly having to fight to protect himself.
I broke my hand fighting and lost my two front teeth. It was a very, very violent camp. You had to box; you weren't allowed to wrestle. I had to fight lots of guys back to back--one after the other. You get tired; you make mistakes. If you're knocked down and don't get up, you a 'ho'; you have to ride. The bosses will stand there and watch it.(25)
C.R. said that Mexican Mafia gang members ended up making him "ride" with them, then they "sold" him to a group of African American inmates. C.R. believes that he contracted HIV during this period. He claims that he reported the sexual abuse several times and finally, in March 1995, he was transferred to another prison unit. At his initial classification hearing at the new unit, C.R. said, he requested safekeeping, telling the warden that he was gay and vulnerable to abuse, but the warden replied that he "didn't care." C.R. was again placed in close custody.
In mid-May, C.R. said, he was beaten and raped again. A Hispanic inmate "popped" the door to his cell in the middle of the night, entered and anally raped him. A few hours later, C.R. reported the rape to guards who were making their rounds, but they did not remove him from his cell. The next morning, he went to the infirmary, but was not able to see a doctor for two days. By that time, it was too late to conduct a rape examination.
C.R. was moved onto a different wing where his problems continued. On August 31, 1995, he said, his cellmate badly beat C.R. because he refused to have sex with him. C.R. was then transfered to another wing, where he said he was extorted for money and was again raped. He filed a life endangerment grievance toward the end of the year but prison officials again denied him safekeeping. Finally, in February 1996, prison officials confiscated two homemade weapons from his cell and placed him in administrative segregation, where he was given a single cell.
C.R. filed suit against prison officials in federal district court, challenging their repeated failure to protect him from sexual assault. In a hearing before the court, C.R. testified that he wanted the court to "'make it known' to prison officials that they need to do a better job of investigating such incidents and to order prison officials to place him in safekeeping."(26) The court reviewed C.R.'s disciplinary history, agreeing with prison officials that "he was not a good candidate for safekeeping."(27) Without disputing the fact that C.R. had been subject to a year and a half of violent sexual abuse, the court then conclusorily stated that C.R. had "failed to allege facts showing the Defendants disregarded an excessive risk to his safety."(28) Not only did the court dismiss C.R.'s claim, the court deemed it "frivolous": lacking any basis in law.
10. Human Rights Watch interview, Texas, March 1999.
11. Deposition of S.M., Ruiz v. Scott, Civil Action No. H-78-987, January 20, 1999.
12. Human Rights Watch interview, Texas, March 1999.
13. S.M. said he had some problems with cellmates who threatened him, but was never raped during this period.
14. Human Rights Watch interview, Texas, March 1999.
15. Deposition of S.M., Ruiz v. Scott, Civil Action No. H-78-987, January 20, 1999, p. 40.
16. Human Rights Watch interview, Texas, March 1999.
19. Deposition of S.M., Ruiz v. Scott, Civil Action No. H-78-987, January 20, 1999, pp. 83-84.
20. Human Rights Watch interview, Texas, March 1999.
22. Letter to Human Rights Watch, October 30, 1996.
23. Human Rights Watch interview, October 1998.
24. Human Rights Watch interview, October 1998.
25. Ibid. "Camp" is prison slang for prison; "boss" is slang for correctional officer; "ho" is slang for prostitute (whore).
26. Memorandum Opinion and Order of Dismissal, R. v. Scott, Civil Action filed July 23, 1996, p. 6.