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"He decided to embarrass this guy in front of the others," Schuett says. "But on that piece of paper was my name and DOC number."

A few days later, Schuett was feeling ill and trying to get some rest after class. He heard other inmates talking about the report and saying there was going to be trouble. He got up from his bunk and went looking for a staff member. He couldn't find one. He was locked in the unit with the man he'd reported.

"There was no OC [correctional officer] on that floor for close to two hours," Schuett says. "I thought I would diffuse the situation by laying down. I didn't figure he would attack a sixty-year-old man over something as stupid as that. I woke up to a foot coming into my face."

Change is coming: Director Kevin Estep brought a new approach to the Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center, which requires inmates like Jay Lewis and Charles Cook (right) to forsake the convict code.
Change is coming: Director Kevin Estep brought a new approach to the Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center, which requires inmates like Jay Lewis and Charles Cook (right) to forsake the convict code.
Change is coming: Director Kevin Estep (above) brought a new approach to the Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center, which requires inmates like Jay Lewis and Charles Cook to forsake the convict code.
Change is coming: Director Kevin Estep (above) brought a new approach to the Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center, which requires inmates like Jay Lewis and Charles Cook to forsake the convict code.

When it was over, Schuett had a "pretty messed-up" face and shards of a hard contact lens in his left eye. He spent his remaining time at CMRC in administrative segregation for his own protection, where he says he met other inmates with similar stories of gang-related attacks. Now living in a halfway house, he maintains that the level of violence at the prison during his time there was much higher than officials admit.

Director Estep denies that any staff member deliberately put Schuett at risk, but the inmate's version is "kind of close" to his own understanding of the incident, which occurred before he took over. "We had a lot of training after that happened," he says.

CEC regional director Chris Petrozzi says that Schuett tried to use the incident as leverage to get placement in the community — a decision that isn't in CMRC's hands. Still, Petrozzi acknowledges that Schuett might have had a good reason for wanting to get out of CMRC. "We probably could have done things differently to minimize the perception that he had snitched," he admits. "But we believe there was some element of goal-directed behavior on his part."

Other inmates who spent time at CMRC in 2007 and early 2008 have similarly lurid accounts of gang violence and staff indifference. "CMRC is the only place I've seen a kid put a lock in a sock and open the melon on this dude in three or four different places," Bullard says. "There was blood everywhere. The kid went to the hole for nine days and left on parole three days later."

The number of reported assaults at CMRC isn't unusual for a prison of its size. But inmates say many fights go unreported. "I never personally felt I was in danger," says Stephen Valle-Terstege, who completed the re-entry program late last year — and who has the kind of size (6' 3", 250 pounds) that discourages harassment. "But the very first thing I noticed when I walked through the door was how many guys had black eyes. It was amazing, like they all just had a brawl yesterday. The staff was pretty blasé about it."

Yet even Bullard, one of the place's harshest critics — he's filed a grievance claiming that he developed a medical condition because of poor care at CMRC — concedes that the level of violence had dropped by the time he left two months ago. "When I first got there, people weren't just getting beat up," he says. "They were going to the hospital."

CEC's Palatucci says the operation faced a number of challenges in its early days, partly because officials agreed to help DOC house an influx of parole violators, sent back to prison for a short stretch. A separate "return to custody" facility that was supposed to be built in southern Colorado was put on hold, and at one point CMRC had more parole violators than pre-release inmates. It's not a good mix; the violators know they have a definite release date (usually 180 days or less) and are thus harder to manage and less likely to participate in programs. Cheyenne Mountain houses violators separately from the pre-release population, as if trying to prevent contamination, but inmates say the group was still a disruptive presence. "They have no incentive to do anything, and that attitude just feeds," Bullard explains.

Estep also blames the violators for CMRC's incidence of positive drug tests, which is higher than that of other private prisons in the state. One random urinalysis test last year produced seven positives out of 27 subjects — a 25 percent dirty score, far worse than at any DOC facility. But five of the seven were positive for marijuana, the other two for tobacco, and Estep denies that his shop has any serious drug issues. The number of parole violators coming back to CMRC with drugs still in their system skew the results, he explains, as does the program's aggressive use of baseline and "reasonable suspicion" tests. When the tests on new arrivals are removed from the equation, the rate of positives is actually below average.

But former resident Valle-Terstege, who has done time at three other prisons in the state, says CMRC had more drugs than he'd seen anywhere else — and not just weed and tobacco. "I saw heroin for the first time at CMRC, and cocaine," he says. "In an eight-man room, you can't get away from it. Their med line is the longest I've ever seen, too. There were a lot of prescription drugs that, taken in sufficient quantity, would result in an altered state of consciousness."

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