Prisoners of Sex

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

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.'"

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

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.

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