By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Michael C. Hill is missing one testicle.
Regrettably, this fact is now common knowledge among many guards and prisoners within the Colorado Department of Corrections. According to Hill, a 48-year-old former correctional officer, "very intimate details about my genitalia" were divulged to other prison staffers and to loose-tongued female inmates by a sergeant with whom he'd had a brief sexual relationship.
The anatomical gossip, Hill says, was part of a harassment campaign that humiliated him, jeopardized his safety and ultimately cost him his job at the Colorado Women's Correctional Facility. He's since filed a federal lawsuit against the DOC, claiming that his supervisors tolerated female-on-male harassment in the women's prison and discriminated against him when he took a stress leave as a result of the harassment.
"Caught Off Guard,"
February 6, 1997
Sex harassment in the state prison system is no joke. So why is this man laughing?
"If I had an affair with a female officer who was missing a breast and started telling male inmates about that, I'd be down the road," Hill says. "We got an officer who just got fired a few weeks ago for patting a female officer on the leg. Well, you can't have a double standard."
Hill's alleged harasser, Debra Perry, denies any wrongdoing. She describes Hill as a "conniver" who has fabricated accusations in an attempt to obtain a legal settlement. "He's a liar," Perry says. "If anybody was discriminated against, it was me. I can't see our tax dollars going to pay this idiot. It makes me very angry."
Hill and Perry both left their jobs at the DOC two years ago after taking medical leaves. Although their versions of what happened are wildly different, both say that the DOC mishandled the investigation of their complaints. In the predominantly male world of corrections, cases of alleged harassment of men by female staffers are rare but increasing; recently, a New Jersey court upheld a $3.75 million judgment awarded to a male prison guard who claimed to have been harassed by a female co-worker for years. And Hill's case presents a particularly disturbing account of the hazards of office romance when the office happens to be a prison.
A Vietnam veteran, rodeo buff and former sheriff's deputy, Hill began working at the women's prison outside Cañon City in 1993. Twice divorced, he says he began seeing Perry socially in the spring of 1996; the two worked the same shift, and Perry gave him a ride to work one day when his truck had a flat tire. "A couple of days later, she called me up," he recalls, "and said, 'Hey, Mike, during your bull-riding career, did you ever learn how to give good backrubs?'"
Backrubs soon led to a more intimate relationship, Hill says. But he began to have second thoughts about the affair after Perry told him about her stormy relationships with previous boyfriends. She also made "repeated references" to the Demi Moore movie Disclosure, he says, in which a spurned female executive terrorizes a male coworker. "Every time I tried to break it off, she said she was coming over anyway," he says.
One day in April, Hill says, Perry called him repeatedly at his post in a control tower demanding to meet him at his home after work. When he stopped answering the phone, she used the prison intercom system to swear at him and threaten him. Seeking to avoid a confrontation, Hill asked other staffers to accompany him to his truck when his shift ended. When Perry showed up at his door that evening carrying a book and a birthday card for him, he called the Cañon City police.
"She's kicking the door, and I won't let her in," Hill recalls. "The cops came and hauled her off." Perry returned in the middle of the night, he adds, prompting another call to the police, but she was gone by the time the officers arrived.
Perry denies any misbehavior. In fact, she says her relationship with Hill was strictly social. "I never had sex with the man," she says. "At the time, I had a steady boyfriend."
Hill had asked her to return the book-study materials for corrections officers, she says -- and then "set her up" for the police by not answering the door. She left peacefully, she insists, and didn't return that night -- though DOC records indicate that she called her supervisor at 2:10 a.m. to give her version of events.
Perry wasn't arrested, and no charges were filed in the incident. But Hill's complaints about the alleged harassment prompted an inquiry by DOC officials into what had occurred at the workplace. One supervisor concluded that Perry had engaged in "name-calling, verbally abusive language and misuse of facility communication systems."
Hill wasn't satisfied with a simple apology from Perry. He argues that she had a habit of stalking and harassing ex-boyfriends; Cañon City police records indicate that Perry was questioned concerning complaints by two other men, and she was arrested for violating a restraining order involving her boyfriend's children from a previous marriage. (The case was later dismissed.) "I asked them to fire her or transfer her, anything to get her out of my face," Hill says.
Perry counters that her problems in her personal life, which she attributes in part to a head injury she suffered in an auto accident in 1995, had nothing to do with her performance at work. "I can't say all my relationships ended well, but I never had one with Mike Hill," she says. "If you knew me, you'd know that I'm not capable of doing the things he's been saying."