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According to Finch, staffer/inmate relationships generally start with a low-key approach by the inmate, most often with flattery. "They'll say, `You're beautiful. You have pretty eyes. I like your shoes. I like your dress. I like the way you walk.' Then it gets more personal. You can generally tell, and inmates know this, when it's affecting a staff person--they may start changing the way they dress or start wearing more perfume or aftershave, trying to please the inmate."
Then comes the setup. "One of the things I tell the staff is that they're going to set you up, but not to the extent that it will get [the inmate] in trouble," says Finch. "They'll do it to see what it is you will do. They may say, for example, that they really miss McDonald's hamburgers and they ask the officer to bring one in for them. And they figure if you'll do that, you'll do other things that are bigger." That could translate into a sexual encounter or bringing drugs into the facility.
Dr. Mary West, a psychologist and co-superintendent of the DOC's Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center, recalls one such incident that occurred in Illinois when she worked in corrections there. "It was a male officer, and an inmate told the officer that he had a sick wife," she says. "And he asked the officer to mail a letter to her for him [which violated regulations]. And the officer did. Eventually, the inmate asked the officer to please go visit her. And then the inmate had him, because he's already broken the rules. So he threatened to tell the officer's supervisors unless he brought a hacksaw blade in. The inmate escaped. Actually, four of them got out. It all started so harmlessly and it slowly escalated. And it was very well done."
Just last summer in Colorado, Evelyn Jones, a food-service worker at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, was arrested in Pueblo as she picked up a stash of black-tar heroin to take back to her inmate boyfriend. "Basically, she was in love with the inmate," says DOC investigator John "Smokey" Kurtz. "When she was arrested, we found a note from him in her purse telling her how to hide the drugs in her crotch." At trial, the inmate left Jones to twist in the wind, testifying that he'd only asked her to bring in some pieces of jewelry.
Some inmates seem capable of exerting an almost hypnotic effect on prison staffers. One convicted murderer (who also married while behind bars) says he was witness to a "torrid affair" between an inmate and a woman who worked in the prison chow hall. "He completely destroyed her life," says the man, who asked that his name not be used. "She has two or three little kids. He got her to bring drugs in, and he got her hooked. He even offered to sell her to the other inmates.
"She'd do whatever he wanted. He completely owned her. But, you know, the same thing happens on the streets."
West believes that it's the antisocial career criminals who seem to be most successful in deducing a person's needs and desires. "Career criminals such as rapists and murderers trust no one, and they have lived their lives manipulating their environment and the people around them," she says. "They know the right things to say and when to say them. And that can be very seductive."
The fact that men and women who work in prisons become involved with inmates shouldn't come as a complete surprise, says Dr. Sy Sundell, a forensic psychiatrist for Denver's city and county jails. "Police officers have been known to engage in criminal activities," he notes, "especially when they're on high-intensity teams such as vice and narcotics. Sometimes they become so totally enmeshed in that kind of activity and behavior, things begin to get a little fuzzy, and sometimes they step over those lines. [In prison], officers are locked in with inmates basically for an extended period of time, eight to ten hours a day, four to five days a week. Relationships develop, and sometimes maintaining those clear boundaries becomes hard for people."
The DOC's Cantwell goes so far as to compare lovesick corrections officers to hostages who come to identify with their captors--the so-called Stockholm Syndrome. "Corrections officers are really the ones who are locked up," he says. "You go to work and the gates slam behind you. You're assigned to a post in a housing unit, and who do you have to talk to all day? Inmates. The inmates get to move around, go to work, go to dinner, but you have to stay at your post. It's almost as if the officers are the ones on work release. You've got to stop and think about it."
Inmates aren't always the ones who initiate sexual relationships. Sometimes it's the staffer. And though some of those couplings may be romantic in nature, others qualify as criminal offenses.
Because prison guards are in a position of trust, even mutually voluntary sex with inmates can constitute sexual assault, says Cantwell. Some officers--if it becomes clear that they were seduced by an inmate--escape criminal charges. Others are prosecuted.