McPrison

How a private prison brought jobs-and violence, corruption and scandal-to Burlington.

Ken Aragon's day was even worse. While waiting in the corridor, being sniffed by a guard dog and harangued, Aragon made the mistake of speaking to a female SORT member. Aragon says he merely asked how long the search was going to take. The officer, who had been brought in from CCA's Walsenburg prison to assist in the shakedown, berated him and ordered him up against the wall.

"She just pushed me into the wall and started handcuffing me," Aragon says. "I hit my face. The handcuffs were really tight, and she got me in some kind of wrist lock. The whole pod saw what was going on."

"Aragon seemed to be grimacing in pain," says another inmate who witnessed the incident. "The officer began marching him down the hall, presumably to segregation. He offered no resistance whatsoever. The officer put her leg in front of him and pushed him forward, clearly attempting to throw him to the concrete. He still offered no resistance but was able to maintain his balance. As the two of them came to the crash gate, she pushed him face-first into the gate."

Cold storage: The Kit Carson Correctional Center emplys mostly local workers  --  with no prior corrections experience.
Cold storage: The Kit Carson Correctional Center emplys mostly local workers -- with no prior corrections experience.
Cold storage: The Kit Carson Correctional Center emplys mostly local workers  --  with no prior corrections experience.
Brett Amole
Cold storage: The Kit Carson Correctional Center emplys mostly local workers -- with no prior corrections experience.

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The female officer was joined at that point by a male officer from Kit Carson, and the two of them escorted a bent-over Aragon out of sight of the rest of the pod. "They had their weight on me," Aragon says. "They both pushed me into the next crash gate, and I hit my head again. Then they ran me into the seg door, head-first, and slammed me into the bed.

"The lady got on my back and put her knee on my spine and continued to twist my wrist. I think she was trying to break it. The other one was trying to hit me in the ribs. They left me on the bed handcuffed and told me if I moved a muscle, they'd have the whole SORT team come in and beat me up worse."

Aragon spent a day in the hole but was never charged with any infraction. His right wrist is bruised and bandaged. Although no bones were broken, he says he still suffers dizziness and back pain and is scheduled for a CAT scan. He says officers have "torn up his house" and taunted him since he filed a grievance over his treatment.

"Yesterday one of the COs said I was dealing with this like a pussy," Aragon says. "Since I talked to you, I might get beat and harassed more."

Cold water and sewer service were finally restored to the cells Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday, inmates were allowed to shower, and on Friday, other operations began to return to normal. No gun was found as a result of the shakedown, although officials did report finding two homemade knives.

Two weeks later, Warden Alford was abruptly replaced. His successor acknowledges that the lockdown left a lot of hard feelings among inmates and staff alike. Waller says future shakedowns will be videotaped to ensure that they're conducted properly.

"I've heard a lot of the things you're talking about from the inmate population back there, and that concerns me," says the new warden, who habitually refers to the cell blocks as "back there." "Believe it or not, that concerns me. You got to manage these guys. You can't beat 'em over the head -- I'm using that term loosely now, don't quote me on that -- but what I'm saying is, you got to win their confidence to some extent.

"There are some issues that we're changing. Controlled movement, more freedom, a lot more activities -- recreation and hobby craft and those kinds of things. We're not about tearing up property and degrading inmates. That's not my management style. All it does is create problems."

Whether Alford's removal was a direct result of the lockdown is unclear. The KCCC kitchen manager was also relieved of duty around the same time, and state investigators are reportedly looking into allegations that the kitchen may have been a conduit for contraband. In addition, rumors continue to circulate that employees made under-the-table deals with vendors connected to inmates' families and converted food-service supplies to personal use. No charges have been filed in the matter, but District Attorney Mark Adams confirms that a criminal investigation is continuing.

In fact, despite a tide of firings and resignations, no formal charges have resulted from any of the alleged offenses by Kit Carson staff except one -- Shanna Turpin, a former corrections officer, is accused of introducing contraband into the prison. Her case is still pending. Other ex-employees say they're considering civil litigation against CCA.

Burlington attorney Wade Gateley represents three former employees, including a food-service worker who claims that her firing was the result of sexual harassment and her whistleblowing activities. "It's not just that things are wrong," Gateley says of Kit Carson, "but they seem to be consistently wrong."

Many inmates give Waller high marks for the changes he's made. "I think in another year, eighteen months, this place will be running smooth as Minnesota was," says Jack Carr. "But they do have a lot of problems. When you got private citizens that don't have a clue running a prison, you've got problems."

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