Prisoners of Sex

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

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.

Steve Chavez pleaded guilty last year to the lesser 
charge of sexual conduct inside a prison.
Steve Chavez pleaded guilty last year to the lesser charge of sexual conduct inside a prison.
Do the math: YOS director Brian Gomez defends the 
program, in which 200 adult employees oversee 200 
adolescent males -- and five girls.
Brett Amole
Do the math: YOS director Brian Gomez defends the program, in which 200 adult employees oversee 200 adolescent males -- and five girls.

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.

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