By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Colorado's prisons received a passing grade earlier this year from a U.S. Department of Justice consultant hired to conduct a study of sexual harassment in the workplace. The results could have been a point of pride for the state's corrections system, which is badly is need of some positive press.
Instead, two former prison guards charge that the study isn't worth the paper it's written on because female prison employees were afraid to come forward--they'd been burned in the past for speaking out. And indeed, corrections officials have confirmed that, approximately one month before the Justice study was conducted, employees at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Ordway took copies of confidential interviews with guards--in which harassment was alleged--and leaked them to their accused harassers and other prison employees.
The Department of Corrections' inspector general, Wallis Parmenter, acknowledges that the leaks may have skewed the nationally funded study, adding that she's "heard through the grapevine" that some employees were ostracized for comments made in the course of the interviews.
"If people are ostracized for coming forward once," Parmenter says, "logically they wouldn't want to come forward a second time."
Henderson took a job with the prison system in 1990 after serving as an Otero County deputy sheriff. She worked at the Arrowhead prison in Canon City for a year before family considerations brought her to Arkansas Valley, in southeastern Colorado. She'd loved working in Canon City, she says, but that was not the case at Arkansas Valley, where, according to Henderson, a male officer greeted her on her first day with the words, "With an ass like that, you'll go far in DOC."
"I should have realized then," she says, "that it would just get worse." She says her attempts to fend off advances only caused more problems. Once, she says, a co-worker told her that her failure to date him would cost her dearly. "He said, `When you need help, it's not going to be there.'"
On February 28, 1992, Henderson needed help desperately. Early that morning, inmate William Sojka pushed his way into her office and, armed with a shard of glass, took her hostage. He held Henderson captive for five and a half hours, during which he cut her repeatedly and tried to electrocute her.
Eldred "Marty" Martin, Henderson's partner that day, claims his calls to a supervisor for backup were initially ignored. "I got on the phone and said, `The bastard's got Mary!'" Martin says. "He [the supervisor] hung up on me. I called back and said, `I got a hostage situation!' He hung up on me again." Martin says he was hung up on a third time before he finally was able to rouse help.
Henderson claims that the officer on the other end of that phone was the same man who warned her that no one would be there to help when she needed it. But, she says, when she informed District Attorney Gary Stork of the harassment and of the slowed efforts to come to her aid, he warned her against bringing that up during Sojka's trial. "The DA said [Sojka] would use it against me and he would walk," she says. (Sojka was later convicted of kidnapping, assault and attempted murder in his assault against Henderson.) Stork, however, denies having such a conversation with Henderson. "She never made any allegations whatsoever of sexual harassment," he says. "Absolutely not." Nor, he points out, did Henderson mention sexual harassment in her 1993 lawsuit against the Department of Corrections, in which she asks for damages due to allegedly negligent and reckless behavior by prison officials. (The suit was dismissed last January; it is now being appealed.)
Henderson quit her prison job in February 1993, mostly out of disgust with the system, she says, and with the department's apparent unwillingness to offer her a suitable position with little inmate contact. But after her departure, she became a lightning rod for other disaffected female guards. One of those seeking her help and advice was Sandy Haberman, who joined the DOC in February 1991 and moved to Arkansas Valley the following year. Haberman's first assignment was on the graveyard shift, where she was one of few women and, she claims, the frequent target of lewd and denigrating comments. One officer reportedly told Haberman that women are nothing more than "sperm dumps" and "ten-minute lays." She moved to the day shift a year later and then fell apart, a situation she ascribes to "post-traumatic stress."
Haberman, according to medical documents, awoke one morning last fall unable to remember how to dress herself. She spent days on the sofa, crying. Her doctor prescribed anti-depressants and diagnosed the problem as job-related stress. Haberman accepted a short-term disability leave.
In December Haberman filed an internal complaint about alleged harassment with the DOC's Office of the Inspector General. At Henderson's request, investigators conducted interviews away from the prison--Henderson says she feared that the men and women would be retaliated against if it was known they'd talked.
Investigators spoke to at least a dozen officers and, per policy, the results of the investigation were turned over to Arkansas Valley warden Bill Price. Only personnel with "a need to know" and employees slated for discipline are entitled to that information, says DOC official Parmenter, but someone at the prison released it.