Prisoners of Sex

Colorado's costly program for violent teens was supposed to turn these girls around. Instead, they got turned out.

"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's part 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.

John Johnston
Former YOS resident Pene Carsen-Tate
Former YOS resident Pene Carsen-Tate

"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."

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