By William Breathes
By Patricia Calhoun
By Michael Roberts
By Patricia Calhoun
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
The night her roommate was raped, Angel Castro says, she had a ringside seat. She was in the upper bunk when the bed below her began to shake.
The man who came into their room that night had no worries about locks or the law. He didn't seem to care that his victim might try to summon help or that a witness was hovering five feet above his head.
Why should he? He worked for the Colorado Department of Corrections, and these girls were his prisoners.
Castro and her roommate were among a handful of females in the Youthful Offender System, the state's costly, controversial "last chance" program for adolescent felons. In YOS, juveniles convicted of violent crimes are put through a rigorous boot camp, followed by years of classes and counseling sessions designed to change criminal behavior, then intensive supervised parole -- all with the prospect of being sent to adult prison if they foul up at any stage.
The typical YOS teen is not simply wayward but deep in the woods, and Angel Castro, let's face it, was no angel. She arrived at the program's Pueblo "campus," on the grounds of the state mental hospital, in early 2001, after a crazy-ass carjacking that resulted in a woman being stabbed. Castro pulled the woman from the car and Maced her, but she did not wield the knife. The judge gave her sixteen years and then suspended the sentence, on the condition that she complete five and a half years in YOS.
Huffing and straining through weeks of boot camp, Castro figured she'd landed in some kind of super-sized "Scared Straight" program. But being one of only six girls in YOS, surrounded by 200 male offenders, made her uneasy from the start. Some of the boys were downright nasty, and nobody seemed to give a damn.
"They were always talking about your butt, harassing you, trying to grab you and stuff," Castro recalls. "And the staff would be like, 'It's no big thing.' They couldn't understand that a lot of us girls have issues with that because of our past history."
Angel Castro had issues, all right. She could handle the boys; they were no worse than the boys she knew on the street, the ones who would try to take you in a basement or a car, with a knife to your throat or a gun to your head. But the guards -- the grown men who were supposed to protect you from the YOS boys -- they were a whole different kind of threat.
In boot camp, there was a drill instructor named Duane Coleman who made her uncomfortable. Although he was 36 years old and married, his eyes seemed to be all over her. One day, when she asked a boy how to put a crease in her shirt, Coleman accused her of doing a striptease. She'd never known a cop who talked like that.
When she finished boot camp and moved into the girls' dorm, she was surprised to find male staff working there. "They were always in the dayroom, always going into your room, giving you little looks," she says. One of the most persistent was her former DI, Coleman. "He would make small talk, leave, and five minutes later he'd come back."
In YOS, the guards have tremendous power. A bad report from one of them can send you back to boot camp. They can drop-kick your ass to solitary confinement or even start the revocation process, which could lead to your serving your full sentence in an adult prison. You don't defy staff unless you really, really want to grow old behind bars.
So when the male staffer showed up in Castro's room one night, five months into her stay at YOS, she didn't cry out. Neither did her roommate. They just tried to pretend that the intruder -- later identified by both girls as Duane Coleman -- wasn't there, that this wasn't happening.
"I looked down, and Coleman was sitting on my roommate's bed," Castro says. "She had a pillow over her head, and his hand was down her pants. He looked up at me. I rolled over and looked at the wall. He left and came back. He said something about how his dick's too big, he broke the condom, but that's okay because he has a whole bunch more."
The bed began to shake. Castro looked at the wall. After it was over, she listened to her roommate sobbing quietly in the dark.
"She cried and she cried and she cried. I told her, 'I am so sorry,'" Castro says. "I was just sixteen years old. I didn't know what to do."
She didn't know what to do about her roommate's situation any more than she knew what to do about her own. The night before, in another dark room, she'd received her own grim initiation into the kind of "opportunities" YOS offered to sixteen-year-old girls. A 44-year-old corrections officer named Gary Neal had forced himself on her, Castro says, and she hadn't told anyone. Who was there to tell, she wondered, in a place like this?
"People don't understand that you can't always be telling staff what's going on," Castro says. "I didn't want to tell anybody that I was raped, you know what I'm saying? I really didn't. I was so scared."
Forged out of Denver's so-called "Summer of Violence" in 1993, YOS was a bold approach to a rising tide of youth crime. The core idea, hammered out in a special session of the Colorado Legislature called by then-governor Roy Romer, was to fashion a hybrid program -- tougher than juvenile corrections, but insulated from the harsh realities of adult prison -- that stressed discipline, education and responsibility.
As originally conceived, YOS would require young offenders -- known as "residents," not inmates -- to earn privileges and status through hard work and academic achievement. Rival gang kids would be expected to work together and confront each other over their bad behavior, establishing a "positive peer culture." Trained youth counselors would serve as role models and open up lines of communication.
Nothing quite like it existed anywhere. Corrections officials were wary of its experimental nature and its emphasis on rehabilitation. Other critics balked at the heavy staffing and staggering price tag; the average cost per resident -- now around $52,000 a year -- was double what it took to keep an adult prisoner in a medium-security prison, making YOS one of the most expensive corrections programs in the country. But supporters argued that if enough YOS graduates stayed out of the adult system, that would more than justify the cost.
Early results were encouraging. Through its first four years, YOS boasted a recidivism rate that was less than one-fourth of the rate in the adult prison system. But in 1998, the program was moved from its cramped quarters at the high-security Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center on Smith Road to the more expansive campus in Pueblo, and things quickly began to fall apart.
Although the move had been planned for some time, it resulted in a startling shakeup of staff, leadership and policy. More than 80 percent of the Denver staff refused to make the move or soon fled the program. Those who hung on found themselves in a demoralizing clash of cultures with corrections officers who'd transferred into plum jobs at YOS from other DOC facilities, often with little or no prior experience working with juveniles. The number of assaults, escape attempts and revocations -- residents failing the program and being shipped to adult prison -- shot up dramatically. Several YOS top administrators, including former legislator Regis Groff and psychologist Richard Swanson, the principal author of the program, resigned in disgust, publicly denouncing the DOC brass for transforming their innovation into a junior-varsity slammer.
Perhaps the most disastrous aspect of the YOS move to Pueblo, though, was the impact on its female residents. Girls hadn't been much of a factor when the program operated out of the Denver diagnostic center; the place simply didn't have room for them. The occasional female was put through boot camp alongside the boys for four to six weeks and then sent to an all-girl contract facility in another state to complete the remainder of her sentence.
One of the reasons for the move to Pueblo was to end the out-of-state placement. In theory, there would be room for the girls to have their own dormitory and lots of one-on-one attention. In practice, however, part of the building was soon handed over to male residents and male staff, and the one-on-one sessions that resulted were probably not what the administration had in mind. Other parts of the grounds that had been originally allocated to YOS, and the jobs that went with them, were soon assigned to an overflow of adult female prisoners, then to a group of adult male inmates, as the DOC made a series of dubious decisions to deal with overcrowding at other prisons.
Allegations of sexual misconduct within YOS were first reported in Westword more than three years ago ("What We Have Here...Is a Failure to Rehabilitate," December 2, 1999). The situation erupted into a major criminal investigation in late 2001, and administrators eventually acknowledged that there had been a series of "inappropriate" relationships, consensual or otherwise, between male and female residents, between residents and staff, and between YOS adolescents and adult prisoners.
One female resident was pregnant, and so was one adult prisoner; in both cases, the fathers were young males in YOS. Three girls claimed to have been sexually assaulted by male staffers, while at least three others appear to have been involved in an ongoing exchange of sexual favors for goods and services, ranging from candy and takeout hamburgers to favorable progress reports. Ultimately, at least three-quarters of the dozen or so girls who've been through YOS over the past four years have had sexual misadventures of one kind or another.
The DOC's response to this dismal revelation has been curious. On the one hand, the agency has fired five corrections officers, including one woman; four of them have since been charged criminally in connection with YOS-related incidents. But the DOC has also gone after several female residents in court, seeking to revoke them and impose their full adult prison sentences -- arguing, in effect, that it takes two to tango.
This tactic has bewildered and incensed judges presiding over the revocation hearings, most of whom have flatly rejected the notion that YOS's teenage bad girls are as much to blame for the sexual misconduct as the adult guards who were supervising them. Several have expressed their reluctance to return the girls to YOS or to send them to adult prison for engaging in relationships that were, at best, coercive. They have openly questioned whether YOS has taken any effective steps to protect its female prisoners or is simply trying to exact revenge on them for exposing the program's pimply flanks. The judge in Angel Castro's case, Arapahoe County Judge Gaspar Perricone, even ripped into YOS director Brian Gomez for what he considered an "appalling" lack of security.
"The court believes, from the testimony, that the problem must still exist in that facility," Perricone said. "I cannot send her back to a place where she's subject to further sexual assault and harassment by inmates and staff.... After hearing the testimony, it appeared to me that the youth services -- whatever this organization is -- that Mr. Gomez is running a private brothel for the benefit of his staff."
Gomez, who's been in charge of YOS since 1999, has tried to portray the entire affair as a chain of unfortunate, isolated events involving rogue employees. "I have 202 hardworking, dedicated staff," he says. "I had four employees who were inappropriate and didn't follow the rules. I feel comfortable that the situation was dealt with."
Yet the pattern of sexual exploitation may say more about the real culture of YOS, and how far it has strayed from the discipline-and-education approach of its founders, than DOC officials care to admit. For the girls involved, their experience has been a lesson in degradation and hypocrisy. How could these men claim to be mentors and counselors when they couldn't keep their pants zipped?
But several of them never got a chance to tell the judge what they thought. They've never spoken publicly about what they went through -- until now.
The girls' stories aren't always consistent; as with most cases involving sex in prison, there's more than one version of what occurred. But many crucial details of their accounts have been confirmed by the official investigation and subsequent court proceedings.
"At YOS, all [the administration] ever did was cover it up," says former resident Jessica Jiron. "I knew they'd never believe me if I told them what happened to me. The staff were supposed to be role models, but they never listened. It seemed like they were just there to get their paychecks."
After her first few days of boot camp in the fall of 1999, Pene Carsen-Tate had already recognized several familiar faces in YOS. There were boys from her old neighborhood, boys she'd met in elementary and middle school. Boys who used to drop by her mama's house for a meal. Hell, there were boys in that place she'd hooked up with before.
Carsen-Tate grew up in Montbello, mostly -- which, in her experience, wasn't the cool burb some people might think, all parks and barbecues and like that. The place had its war zones, riddled with crack and gangs. "A lot of people from the east side and Park Hill look at Montbello and say, 'Those are uppity middle-class kids; they think they're better,'" she explains. "So we have to fight them to prove we are not. People get hurt. People get jacked. We have to prove to ourselves we're not punks, so we're constantly doing something, you know?"
At sixteen, Carsen-Tate had already seen more of life's dark corners than many of the adult corrections officers assigned to YOS. Her file documented a long history of mental and emotional problems -- childhood physical and sexual abuse, depression, bulimia, self-mutilation, suicidal behavior, "sexually acting out" -- and involvement in one horrific, senseless crime.
Her family lost control of Carsen-Tate long before she wound up in Pueblo. "I couldn't do nothing with her," says her mother, Terri Tate-Smallwood. "She'd run away from home and I'd go find her. I asked social services if there was a home I could put her in until she could get her direction straight, and they said there was nothing they could do because she'd never been in trouble with the police."
Between the ages of six and nine, Pene was molested by a male relative. When the girl was thirteen, her mother sent her to live with other family members in Georgia, where a cousin tried to have sex with her. Carsen-Tate says she isn't sure how all this might have contributed to her wild adolescence, but various therapists have suggested a connection.
"People say that I was just used for men's pleasures," she says. "They say that's how I see myself, that I think that's all I'm good for. It's probably something I don't want to admit."
In 1998, Carsen-Tate was living with her twenty-year-old cousin, Natalie Murdock, who was involved in ongoing domestic battles involving fist and knife fights with her husband, Arthur. That summer, Natalie talked repeatedly about killing Arthur, who'd been arrested after one fight and then moved out. Carsen-Tate brought a recently acquired boyfriend, Terrence Wilder -- a troubled seventeen-year-old known as the "Iceman" because of his supposed expertise as a hit man -- into the discussions.
In August, Arthur was supposed to return to the Murdocks' house with the landlord, 24-year-old Promise Keepers minister Joel England, who was attempting to mediate the dispute between the couple. According to testimony, Natalie figured that would be a fine time to get rid of her husband.
The day it all went down, Carsen-Tate took the Murdocks' three young children to the park because, as she later explained, Natalie "didn't want them to see their daddy dead." But Arthur Murdock never showed; instead, England went to the house accompanied by another Promise Keepers minister, Rodney Marable. Accounts differ as to whether it was Wilder or Natalie Murdock who fired the gun, but both of the ministers were shot right after they walked in the door.
When Carsen-Tate came back from the park, she found England still alive, lying on the living room floor and calling out for help. She left, found Wilder and told him what she had seen. The Iceman returned to the house and finished England off with a baseball bat.
Natalie Murdock and Terrence Wilder were both convicted of the double homicide and received life sentences. Carsen-Tate, who wasn't present for the killings and testified against her cousin, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received 32 years. The sentence was suspended on condition that she complete six years in YOS. That arrangement had been worked out with the approval of Joel England's family, who hoped to salvage at least one life out of the tragedy.
"She was the last one to see my son alive who could have done something about it," says Joel's father, Gordon England, director of evangelism for Promise Keepers. "A simple call to 911 and he'd be with us today. Still, we had hoped that, because she was young, she could be rehabilitated."
Carsen-Tate says she went into YOS expecting to work on her problems, but she soon became disillusioned with the program. Three weeks into boot camp, a male friend of hers tried to confront a girl she was having trouble with. Carsen-Tate was "remediated" over the incident, which meant she had to start boot camp all over again.
"They threw it in my face, like it was my fault," she says. "And I had nothing to do with it. That's when I knew it wasn't going to work for me."
Girls, she realized, were at the very bottom of the pecking order at YOS. They were seen as trash, troublemakers, liars, a stumbling block to the boys. "Nine out of ten males go to prison behind females," one female officer was fond of reminding them. Some of the male guards were part-time preachers, always ready to unload a few choice words about how women were vessels of sin; more often than not, these homilies were delivered while ogling some female resident's sweet-peach behind.
"They were trying to make it easier for the boys and harder for the girls," Carsen-Tate says. "There were more of them than there were of us, so they took the guys' word over ours. You get boys touching your ass, and you can't say nothing. I finally said to one of them, 'If you touch my ass again, I'm going upside your head' -- and I got in trouble for threatening a boy, and nothing was said to him. So what was the point of telling anybody?"
The best way to avoid unwanted ass-grabbing, Carsen-Tate figured, was to have a boyfriend. Preferably a large, physically intimidating boy that the others respected. "If you didn't have one, or if he wasn't somebody who had status, you were fucked," she explains. "At any point, one of the boys could have got you in a back room and got you to do whatever he wanted you to do because he'd know he wasn't going to get into trouble."
Over the next two years, Carsen-Tate had at least five boyfriends in the male population at YOS, a situation that was bound to cause strife among the various rivals for her affections. Her first was a young man who met the physical requirements but was also abusive.
"I loved him, but I was afraid of him," Carsen-Tate says. "They made a bet on me when I first got there. He said, 'I'm going to be the first guy to get her, then I'm going to pass her around.' It didn't work the way he planned, and he tried to beat me. He was doing bad things to me, and I tried to tell on him, but it didn't go anywhere."
Carsen-Tate didn't consider herself particularly promiscuous. "I was one of the good ones compared to some," she says. But her behavior led to frequent confrontations with other female residents, who were concerned that she'd bring administrators' wrath down on all of them.
"I liked Pene a lot," says Jessica Jiron, who arrived on campus the same day as Carsen-Tate. "But she had a lot of issues with men, and she didn't listen to anybody. She was going to do what she was going to do."
Since she had a relatively short sentence, Jiron was determined to avoid the kind of sexual entanglements that might get her revoked. But she still had less intimate arrangements with boys, for her own protection if nothing else.
"We all had boyfriends," she says. "But Pene was the one who got caught."
The other girls weren't the only people concerned about Carsen-Tate's torrid romances. Her counselor, Sergeant Dwayne Evans, got on her case frequently about flirting with boys. But after a few months, around the time Carsen-Tate turned seventeen, Evans's attitude toward her changed, she says: "He was telling me how sexy I was, how great my ass looked."
One day Carsen-Tate had to get into a deserted classroom to work on the computer. Evans had the keys and agreed to escort her. Once they were alone, she says, Evans brushed up against her and "made it clear that there were things he could do for me."
A YOS girl with a friend on staff could find life inside a lot easier to manage. The friend could bring in all kinds of forbidden treats -- hair gels and perms, for instance, or Sonic hamburgers and Good Times fries. More important, the friend might look the other way when it came to having boyfriends or other infractions that could otherwise get a girl bounced from the program.
Carsen-Tate considered all this. She thought about the six years she had to endure in YOS and the 32 years she was facing if she failed. At some point, Evans's suggestion that he could help her out was no longer just an idea. "We had sex right there in that classroom," she says.
Although she denied the relationship when investigators first questioned her about it, Carsen-Tate would later claim that she had sex with Dwayne Evans at least fifty times during her stay at YOS -- in classrooms, bathrooms, on office desks, you name it. Toward the end, she says, Evans was even unlocking doors so a couple of her boyfriends could have conjugal visits with her.
Even if Carsen-Tate had been inclined to report the arrangement, she doubts any of the staff would have taken her seriously. "Evans had status over us and among the staff," she says. "With the trouble I'd been in, they wouldn't have believed me. They would have just said, 'No, she's just a little gang thug bitch off the street. She's not trustworthy.'"
Evans has denied having a sexual relationship with Carsen-Tate. But she insists it was common knowledge among the YOS residents. "Every black resident knew about it," she says. "For me staying in the program, it was worth it."
Jiron says Carsen-Tate made little effort to conceal the relationship: "I didn't believe it at first, but she was getting all this candy. Evans would give her big bags of Hershey's Kisses.
"She'd say she had to get schoolbooks and go upstairs, and she'd be gone for an hour. I eventually asked what she was doing, and she told me. But she didn't make it sound like she was being forced."
Pene Carsen-Tate's first boyfriend in YOS whispered to her that if he caught her even talking to another guy, they were going to have some issuesover that. When she got out, he added, he was going to keep her on a dog leash.
Despite such tender sentiments, the relationship was a tense and unhappy one. The boy had several fist-clenching confrontations with other residents, boys he suspected of trying to make time with his girl or friends of Carsen-Tate's who didn't like the way he was treating her. In August 2000, after Carsen-Tate had been in the program almost a year, the affair resulted in a rumble in the yard that one senior staffer described as "probably the most serious resident incident" he'd ever witnessed at YOS.
That day a young man named Micah, who'd known Carsen-Tate before she arrived at YOS, approached her boyfriend with the intention of "advocating for Pene's honor," as one attorney would later put it. The two teens had exchanged blows before, and the boyfriend's response to Micah's latest overture was to grab a brick and smash it into his face, knocking out several teeth. Other combatants -- accounts range from three to a dozen -- soon joined the fray. With many other inmates milling on the grounds, the situation had the potential to turn into a full-scale riot, and dozens of guards were quickly summoned to the scene.
Micah and the boyfriend were thrown in the hole. Neither one was cast out of the program, but there was talk about charging Carsen-Tate, who was regarded as the instigator of the whole mess, with the serious offense of "advocating facility disruption." Nothing came of it; still, the incident alarmed many officers, and over the next few months, they pushed to revoke Carsen-Tate from YOS.
"They said I had a sense of control over other inmates, and for them to succeed, I must fail," she says. "I was a security risk because boys were fighting over me, male staff were hitting on me, looking at my ass, looking down my shirt. They didn't like me there from the get-go."
In fact, Carsen-Tate had the disconcerting habit of admitting to carrying on with boys whenever she was confronted about her activities. She even tried to report the ones who hurt her -- protectors turned tormentors -- to no avail. (One entry in her file reads: "Refused to perform oral sex. Got a black eye.") But her disciplinary record also included numerous writeups for other kinds of infractions, including refusing to take her medications, unauthorized use of phone privileges, and threats to staff.
Carsen-Tate says many of the charges were overblown and that she was trying her best to get an education and complete the program. The "threats" complaint, for example, stemmed from asking a female staffer why the slaying of a police officer would "get you more time" than killing somebody else; the staffer regarded the inquiry as a personal threat.
"You can get written up for damn near anything," Carsen-Tate says. "I'll admit that I could be manipulative. I had to manipulate a few COs [corrections officers] to get phone calls to my mom. There are certain things you have to do to get what you need, but it's a two-way street."
Any effort to revoke a YOS resident must go through channels before it reaches a judge. In December 2000, YOS director Gomez denied the first attempt to revoke Carsen-Tate. She did, however, spend long weeks in RFP, or Removal From Population, the program equivalent of solitary confinement.
"Instead of trying to figure out why she was doing what she was doing, all they did was lock her up in a little-ass room for a month," says Jiron. "Pene was really emotional, really suicidal at times, and that wasn't good for her."
She was also required to take birth-control pills. The official rationale was that the pills helped to regulate her period, but Carsen-Tate says it was common knowledge among staff and residents alike that she was having sex; she was tested regularly for pregnancy and venereal disease while she was in the program. Other residents say that after another girl turned up pregnant, they were required to take the pills, too -- whether they were sexually active or not.
"They made all of us take birth control," says Jiron. "They knew stuff was going on. I was pissed off about it. I wasn't having sex, and the pills made me sick. They gave us all the same kind of pill, this super-high dosage that has all these side effects and wasn't right for me at all. They made Pene take hers in the med line, in front of the nurse."
YOS director Gomez says he was "not aware" of any directive requiring female residents to be on the Pill; he denies that the program has any policy on the matter. Staff sources, though, insist the practice continues today.
Whether the staffers who wanted to revoke Carsen-Tate suspected that she was involved with one of their own isn't clear. But the strong evaluations she received from her counselor, Dwayne Evans, probably didn't hurt her case. Evans wrote a total of fourteen entries in her progress reports, all of them positive. He noted, for example, that he was counseling her on her inappropriate relationships with boys: "We talked about her contact with male residents, and she knows she has a lot of other things to focus on."
One of the things Evans wanted her to focus on, Carsen-Tate says, was Evans: "He gave me counseling on how to be a good bitch."
Her progress reports also contain some encouraging words from Duane Coleman, the man accused of sexually assaulting Angel Castro's roommate. "Followed directions," Coleman wrote. "Gave one hundred percent."
Coleman "was always hitting on me," Carsen-Tate says. He once approached her in the girls' bathroom after she emerged from the shower, she says, urging her to drop the towel.
"He's sick," she adds. "There was a bad storm one night, and all the power went out. He kept coming into our room, saying he was looking for the cookie jar. He put his hand under my sheet. I told him there was no cookie jar there for him."
She refused, she says, to give him anything close to a hundred percent.
Some girls went into YOS with the idea of getting through the program as cleanly and quickly as possible, and they managed to do it without attracting all of the attention that surrounded Pene Carsen-Tate. But that doesn't mean they escaped unscathed.
Jessica Jiron was fifteen in 1998, when Lakewood police officer Peg Halpin visited Jiron's stepsister's apartment to inquire about a theft. Jiron, a runaway who'd been drinking heavily, became belligerent, grabbed a knife and barricaded herself in a bedroom. Halpin pursued her; Jiron threatened to kill herself. It's disputed whether the knife was poised at Jiron's own throat (as she claims) or over her head, as if ready to attack (as Halpin reported); in any event, Halpin felt sufficiently threatened to shoot Jiron in the abdomen.
Jiron originally faced enough charges to put her away for most of her life, including assault on a police officer and attempted murder. She wound up with a sympathetic judge and a six-year suspended sentence for felony menacing -- suspended, that is, on condition of completing three years in YOS.
She sailed through boot camp and worked hard on her classes. She pretended not to notice the leers and taunts from the boys, the calls of yo, ho and whassup, slut. "The staff heard it," she says. "They never said anything." She knew another girl who was tormented mercilessly by the boys, called horrible names because she couldn't afford basic hygiene items; the girl eventually lost it, got into fights and was revoked to prison.
Jiron kept her eyes trained on the calendar. Three years, maybe less if the judge granted reconsideration of her sentence. She heard about Carsen-Tate's exploits and the rumors that boys were sneaking over to the girls' side of the building late at night, possibly with staff collusion. She steered clear.
Three years. Maybe less.
Duane Coleman made remarks about her having a nice body. She ignored him.
Three years. Maybe eighteen months.
But she couldn't ignore Steve Chavez, a 38-year-old corrections officer who, like Coleman, often worked in the girls' building. One summer night soon after Jiron's arrival, Chavez came into her room and started touching her. She asked him to stop. He didn't.
"Basically, he assaulted me," Jiron says. "After it was over, I was crying. I told him I was going to report him for this. And he grabbed me by my arm and said, 'If you say anything, I will have you revoked so quick. I'm staff. They won't believe you.' And he was right. I was scared. I just wanted to get out of there."
Jiron never reported Chavez. Months later, she received a letter from him, listing his home phone number and "telling me that if I ever needed anything to call him. That he loved me. Just weird stuff. I showed it to another girl."
Eighteen months after she arrived in Pueblo, Jiron was out on parole, her sentence modified by Jefferson County Judge Brooke Jackson. But YOS wasn't done with her yet. More weird stuff: In the summer of 2001, while living in Fort Collins, she says, she received a phone call from Coleman, who'd apparently tracked her down through her parole officer. "He was saying things like, 'I want to come see you. I want to be with you,'" Jiron says.
She didn't want to see Coleman. All she wanted to do was finish parole and get away from these people.
A few months later, DOC investigators visited Jiron. They told her they had a signed statement from Steve Chavez, in which he admitted forcing her to have sex with him. She told them it was true.
They seemed quite willing to believe her. Something had changed since she'd left YOS. Somebody had finally decided to report the bastards.
Angel Castro never considered herself any kind of crusader. The few times in her life she'd tried to get justice for anybody, including herself, the results had been disappointing. You could say she didn't have a lot of faith that people in authority knew how to fix what was wrong, or even cared.
Despite all the violations she'd endured at the hands of boys and men -- the assault by one of her mother's boyfriends, the abuse by her own, the rapes by gangbangers who threatened her life -- she only went to the police one time.
When she was fourteen, she and another girl invited some boys from the Thornton City Players over to Castro's place, just to kick it, maybe smoke a little something. But the TCP members had ideas of their own. Two of them grabbed Castro's arms. The third pulled down her pants. They took turns on her. There were other people in the house, but the boys told her they had a gun in their car, and Castro didn't want to cause more trouble.
"I talked to the detective once, and he said nothing could be done because we were around the same age," she says. "These boys were sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, but they didn't do nothing about it."
The carjacking that put her behind bars was connected to another unavenged rape. This time it was a friend of Castro's who'd been raped, and her friend's sister wanted to even the score, to go to the rapist's house and raise hell. Angel went along to try to keep things from going bad, but first they had to get a car...and...and...well, things went from bad to hyperbad, and Angel ended up in Pueblo.
So when bad things started happening in YOS, Castro didn't see any reason to stick her neck out. Okay, so she was raped. So she watched her roommate go through the same thing. What was she supposed to do about it?
"I didn't want to think about it," she says now. "All these females are out here doing all this stuff willingly with male inmates and male staff members. If I was to bring this to the table, who's going to believe me? As far as they're concerned, I was just like every one of those other females."
But Castro couldn't stop thinking about it. There was too much anguish, too much anger over what corrections officer Gary Neal had put her through, what her roommate had suffered. A few days after the incidents, gang graffiti was discovered in a boys' bathroom. Privileges were being taken away campus-wide: In YOS lingo, everybody was getting "consequenced" for the misbehavior of a few. One of the new rules was that the girls, who usually tried to look as shapeless and slovenly as possible, were required to have their shirts tucked in their pants.
The girls revolted. At a meeting with Captain Angel Medina, one of the top managers of the program, they explained that they didn't want to tuck in their shirts because of the sexual harassment they'd receive.
This was news, it seems, to Captain Medina. Five girls, surrounded by 200 testosterone-charged boy-criminals, complaining of harassment? How could this be?
"Medina was like, 'Just come tell us, and we'll handle it,'" Castro recalls. "Pene was like, 'You've never handled it before.'"
The meeting touched off an alarm bell with YOS management, a bell that had remained silent for months -- despite the pregnancies, the birth-control pills, the fights. Soon the girls were being summoned individually and quizzed about whether anyone had touched them. Castro denied it at first, but she must not have been too convincing. A female staff member, one of the few she trusted, pleaded with her to tell the truth.
"I started crying so hard I couldn't breathe," Castro says. "Then she rushed me into a bathroom, and I was shaking and crying. And I told her what happened with Neal, and she sent me to the hospital that night to get a rape kit."
What happened with Neal, according to Castro, was this: Another girl had tried to get her to stay up with her, watching television, because the other girl was trying to put off the attentions of one Steve Chavez, the guard who'd assaulted Jiron months earlier. Then Chavez had showed up with fellow officer Neal, who struck up a conversation with Castro.
"He told me this is his birthday, and he was asking me would I give him a kiss," Castro recalls. "I kept telling him no. I didn't feel pressured till we went to the back. I was thirsty, so we went to where they had the snacks, and he gave me a soda and some candy. I was getting ready to go, and he grabbed my shoulder. I was up against the wall, and he was telling me, 'How come I can't get a kiss? I'm just trying to get a kiss.'
"He was touching me and stuff, and I was like, 'No, stop.' He kept kissing me and putting his hands down my pants, and I kept pulling them out and pushing him away. But he just kept forcing that on me; I felt like I had no control whatsoever, you know what I'm saying?
"I told him I couldn't do this, I hadn't showered today. So I took a shower and sat down with [the other girl] and watched TV. He was standing right behind me. He had me go into the office with him, and he was listening to the walkie-talkie to see where the other guards were. He went into the bathroom to put a condom on. I kept telling him, 'This isn't right. I'm an inmate; you're staff.'
"He told me he wanted to do it standing up, and I told him I didn't want to, I was ashamed. I just laid there while he was doing his thing, and I just cried. I wanted to block everything out. Then we went back to the unit, and I was sitting there watching TV until I couldn't handle it no more."
When Castro first told her story, many people were openly skeptical. They questioned her story about her roommate, too. Some of the other girls in the program, involved in a variety of sexual arrangements of their own, had a hard time believing that the pair weren't trying to cover up their own misconduct. Carsen-Tate even accused Castro of crying rape to get her sentence reduced.
"She said, 'You can't deal with the fact that you're a ho,'" Castro says. "I was like, 'Excuse me?' Everybody was trying to stop me from getting this information out. It hurt me a lot. Pene even had me thinking I had AIDS. They ripped my self-esteem so much, it wasn't even funny."
Carsen-Tate admits talking trash to Castro about her "relationship" with Neal. "If it hadn't been for her, none of this would ever have come out," she says. "She went to one of the few guards there that really care about our well-being."
Castro was asked to take a polygraph test. She passed it. As the investigation heated up, she received threats from guards, male residents and even other girls. "Everybody was trying to get me," she says. "They were telling me if I was smart, I'd keep my mouth shut."
After some dawdling by the administration, Castro was kept isolated from the other girls, then sent back to Arapahoe County for reconsideration of her sentence, where she languished in a medical ward for months -- without classes, without therapy. Investigators had promised to protect her. Instead, Arapahoe County prosecutors tried to get her revoked and sent to adult prison.
At her revocation hearing, YOS director Gomez conceded that it was possible that all six of the girls then in the program had been sexually assaulted. He said that he could not guarantee Angel Castro's safety but was unaware of any threats made against her. His testimony was followed by that of Castro's grandmother, who stated that she had personally met with Gomez and informed him of specific threats that had been made against Castro and her roommate for coming forward about the alleged rapes.
Judge Perricone had heard more than enough. He ordered that the rest of Angel Castro's sentence be served in a community corrections program, far from YOS.
Over the next few months, the DOC fired Steve Chavez, Gary Neal, Duane Coleman and Dwayne Evans. If the allegations against them could be proved in court, they faced the possibility of months behind bars.
Several of the girls they'd allegedly used were looking at revocation hearings that could land them in prison for years, even decades.
Prosecuting sexual misconduct within a prison is tough, concedes Rick Mattoon, the chief trial deputy district attorney in Pueblo County. "These girls are all convicted felons, so there is an underlying credibility issue," he notes. "Some of these men were saying that these girls were coming on to them, trying to take advantage. But all the same, the men had the ability to stop it."
Last year, facing charges of sexual assault, Chavez and Neal both pleaded guilty to the lesser crime of sexual conduct inside a penal institution. They both received sentences of eighteen months in the county jail and must register as sex offenders upon their release. When questioned by investigators, Chavez admitted having sex with two female residents; he made a tearful expression of remorse in court. Neal, too, told the judge that he'd made a terrible "mistake." The pair did not respond to requests for interviews.
Coleman was charged with sexual assault and sexual conduct inside a penal institution for the alleged incident involving Castro's roommate. He has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty. His trial is scheduled for next month. He, too, did not respond to an interview request.
Evans has not been charged in the investigation. (He could not be reached for comment for this story.) According to Mattoon, Carsen-Tate's story about her alleged relationship with the sergeant changed over time. "The victims in the cases we pursued were cooperative," he explains. "The one we didn't, the victim eventually said he'd done it, but at a point where it made her credibility worse."
Last spring, investigators built a case against a fifth guard, 35-year-old Alicia Bramall, who'd been visiting a YOS parolee in Pueblo and receiving calls at his residence from another male who was still in the program. Bramall was fired. In December she pleaded guilty to one count of sexual conduct inside a penal institution; because her relationships with the two males were consensual, with no evidence that she'd used her position to extract favors, she received probation.
So many cases at once puzzled Mattoon, but he says he's had no reports since of misconduct by other employees. "I certainly have questions about how they chose to staff the place," he says. "It just seemed to be a recipe for disaster, to staff the female residence with men and to put women working with the males."
Gomez says that at least one female staffer is now assigned to the female wing at all times. YOS has also placed cameras in hallways, added locks and beefed up staff training in "the pro-social values of working with mixed-gender populations," all in an effort to curtail the rampant fraternizing that went on. But some YOS veterans scoff at the new procedures, saying sexual contact is unavoidable in a place where a handful of girls are surrounded by scores of males -- including some of the guards -- who want to get at them.
"The camera can't see everything," says Carsen-Tate. "The staff can still come into our rooms all they want; the guys can still sneak in there. The locks? I can open them up with the end of a pair of safety glasses. Where there's a will, there's a way."
Carsen-Tate says that some of the efforts to increase security, such as replacing the adult female prisoners who worked on the grounds with adult male prisoners, just made things worse. At the time she was pulled from the program in late 2001, Carsen-Tate had several letters in her possession from male prisoners.
"You got all those males, and only four or five females? Come on," she says. "Half those men have nothing but a life sentence, and they're just horny dogs. And the men that's working there have no married life. Hell, there's pussy right there, so they're going to take advantage of it."
According to Gomez, there are currently no adult prisoners of either sex on YOS grounds. He maintains that he's unaware of any harassment of female residents before or after the misconduct investigation and insists that the "culture" within YOS remains a healthy one. "You always have concerns if it's a pro-social environment for the residents," he says. "But statutorily, we're mandated to have the females there."
Gomez's views on the soundness of the program weren't shared by the judges presiding over the revocation hearings, several of whom spurned efforts to ship the girls off to adult prison. The biggest battle was over what to do with the program's bad Pene, who kept turning up in the most unlikely places.
A second attempt to revoke Carsen-Tate began late in 2001; this time Gomez approved the move. That set up a year-long battle in which YOS and Arapahoe County prosecutors argued that Carsen-Tate should serve her entire 32-year prison sentence, while her attorney, Jason Meade, tried to establish that whatever violations his client had committed in the program were overshadowed by the environment of sexual coercion, in which savvy girls did what was necessary to survive.
"She is very manipulative," Captain Medina testified. "We have offered her a buffet of resources and opportunities, and she has failed to take advantage of them.... She's a contributor to a negative subculture."
"She'spart of the negative subculture," Meade shot back. "What are the guards?"
As the hearings dragged on -- postponed repeatedly because the DOC refused to comply with various subpoenas Meade had served in an effort to obtain witnesses and documents -- Judge James Macrum Jr. couldn't conceal his irritation with the program.
"When you've got three guards having sex with inmates," he said, "then you revoke her because she can't follow the rules, and the same guards are writing reports about this inmate -- it's an intolerable situation. This was brought about by the way YOS handles its inmates. The system doesn't work...but my hands are pretty well tied."
Macrum wasn't the trial judge in Carsen-Tate's case and was in no position to reconsider her sentence. His options were to send her back to YOS or to impose her full sentence, and he pressed both sides to come up with another solution. That meant consultations with the families of the murder victims and Carsen-Tate's relatives, all of whom thought they had found some kind of judicial resolution of the case four years ago.
Joel England's father was adamant that Carsen-Tate should not be allowed to benefit from her own misconduct by getting less time than she would have done in YOS. "What she's demonstrating is nothing new," says Gordon England. "Her manipulative tool of choice is promiscuous sex. She shacked up with Terrence Wilder for two weeks, and it got him life without parole."
Two months ago, Carsen-Tate sat nervously shaking her leg in Judge Macrum's courtroom while prosecutor John Hower recounted her crime once more, how she found Joel England alive and left him there: "She could have prevented this. She was involved in it from the beginning. She literally and figuratively closed the door on Joel England and sicced Terrence Wilder on him to knock his brains out."
An arrangement had been reached. Carsen-Tate would serve fifteen years in prison, with credit for time already served going back to 1998. Her family members wept. She turned to look at them and broke down herself.
Later, cooling her heels at the Arapahoe County jail, she seemed resigned to her fate, but she was still stewing over Hower's description of her. "I did not sic Terrence on that guy," she says. "I didn't want nobody to die. Where I'm from, you hear all day long, 'I'm gonna kill this person,' 'I'm gonna kill that person.' Nobody does it. It's just talk.
"I'd seen one dead body before, but that was an overdose. I've seen my mom get beat and I've seen blood get shed, but I'd never seen anybody with bullets in them. It seemed unreal. And when I went to tell Terrence, I don't know what I was thinking. I didn't believe he would go back and do what he did."
Carsen-Tate says she's sorry she ever took the deal to go to YOS. "If I'd had fifteen years from the get-go, I would have just gone to prison. I wouldn't have done this program, not if I knew what was there waiting for me. I only took it because I was facing so much time."
Gordon England expressed satisfaction with the sentence. "She'll do fine in a women's facility," he says. "She's a lot more streetwise than most of them."
Last fall, Angel Castro was granted a home visit from her halfway house. She didn't return on time and was arrested. Although the violation was a relatively minor one, she was charged with "escape" and is now facing years in prison -- the hammer of her original sentence coming down on her after all, despite her whistle-blowing effort at YOS and months of progress in community corrections.
"My granddaughter is going to prison, and the man who raped her gets eighteen months," says Castro's grandmother, Theresa Lucero. "Cops take care of cops. Angel would have been better off if she'd kept her mouth shut, I guess."
Castro still has nightmares about YOS. She sees the faces of male guards -- not just Gary Neal, but others, too -- and wakes up in a cold sweat. Because the assault happened in the dark, it is hard for her to be in a room with the lights off.
If YOS is going to help troubled girls, she reasons, then it needs "a lot of different staff." The problem wasn't just the molesters. It was the teachers who talked to her chest, not her face, the guards who didn't harass but tolerated the harassment. In the old YOS, "fronting" -- pretending to buy into the program when you really thought it was a crock -- was discouraged. Down in Pueblo, staffers encouraged her to "fake it until you make it."
"We go in there with issues," Castro says. "We're juveniles. We turn to people for help, and when we don't find it, we get angry. And then you get punished for that."
Jessica Jiron completed her parole successfully. She has a job and a boyfriend. She doesn't think much about YOS, or the troubles she endured there, unless something happens to remind her.
Not long ago, Jiron met up with a boy who had been in the program when she was there. The boy had been romantically linked to a female guard, a guard who was recently transferred from YOS to another prison for reasons that DOC authorities refuse to discuss.
Jiron asked him if he still saw the woman.
"He told me they were getting married," she says.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city