In a written response denying the grievance, Clarkson acknowledged that Backer had been mistaken about requiring a taped statement. But Howard would have to identify who was bothering him before any action could be taken.

"We do have to have names," Clarkson wrote. "We cannot keep you away from all 211 members. We do not place inmates in administrative segregation to protect them from other inmates, so that is not an option, either."

But naming names, Howard insisted, would only expose him to more trouble. As the impasse continued and Howard filed more appeals, he was once again hit up by gang members for canteen items and pressured to raise money for the 211 leader's legal fund through tax scams. As a kind of test run, he filed a bogus income tax return under his own name and received a refund check for a few thousand dollars. The money went to 211 members and outside affiliates.

In August 2005 Howard finally was moved to another unit at Sterling — but not for his own safety. The official reason was that his security classification had changed, based on his convictions in other states. But Backer also told him he'd "filed way too many grievances," Howard says.

"He is a very needy inmate and is a strain on a case manager after awhile," Clarkson wrote in one log entry.

Howard admits that he was, in fact, trying to overload his handlers with grievances in order to get transferred. "If you file enough, they want to get rid of you," he says.

But the plan backfired. In his new unit, Howard was shaken down by a 211 shot-caller named Simon Shimbel, who informed him he would once again be paying rent: $25 a week.

Respectful at first, Shimbel's attitude toward Howard soon turned ugly. He showed him a letter he'd received from Ghost, essentially giving the Sterling chapter the okay to do what it liked with Howard. "Make him cover debts with his ass," Ghost wrote.

According to Howard, Shimbel took the directive to heart. He dragged Howard into the unit bathroom's back stall, punched him in the stomach and ordered him to sit on the toilet with his feet up, so no one could see him from outside. He then forced him to perform oral sex until Shimbel ejaculated.

Howard told no one. After going several rounds with administrators over naming names, he didn't expect any help from staff. He'd signed extradition papers that would take him out of Sterling for at least a few weeks to deal with court matters in Tennessee, and he was hoping to just hang on until the orders arrived. That 211 shot-callers could simultaneously proclaim their hatred of "fags" while engaging in sexual acts with said fags no longer baffled him. Logic was not the gang's strong point. Intimidation was.

A week or so after the bathroom blow job, Howard says, Shimbel and another 211 escorted him to a cell after the 10 p.m. head count, supposedly so that he could help a "homie" write a letter and get a discount on his rent. Howard had a pretty good idea what was about to happen but didn't see any way out.

The homie turned out to be Phuong Dang, a member of a Vietnamese gang. Dang began by demanding oral sex, Howard says. After a few minutes he stopped, pulled up his pants, and stepped out of the cell for a moment, asking the 211 lookouts for lotion. He found some, returned,and ordered Howard to bend over a desk and spread his legs. He sodomized him for several minutes, then withdrew.

"Not bad pussy," he said, and left the cell.

Told by Shimbel to get cleaned up, Howard retreated to the bathroom. He sat on a toilet and wept.

His orders for Tennessee arrived three days later. The respite gave him two months to try to figure out what to do. But the gang was busy in his absence, too. When he returned to Sterling, several 211 members surrounded him and showed him a single piece of paper. They figured it would persuade him to get busy raising the big cash needed for the defense fund.

There were two notable things about the document, an intake form from Howard's own file. It had to have come from a staff computer, which meant the Crew had a DOC employee working with them, either for pay or unwittingly. And it contained the names and address of Howard's parents, listed as emergency contacts. Someone was waiting on the outside, one of the group explained, to see if Howard was going to do what was expected of him.

Howard understood. "My family had never done anything to anybody," he says. "To know they could reach out and touch my parents — that was a big move on their part."

Over the next few weeks Howard collected personal data the group had stolen or extorted from sex offenders and other patsies. He even got the names and vitals of death row inmates in Tennessee. He filled out fraudulent W-2 forms until he had a vast array of them, enough to raise $275,000 in tax refunds, to be funneled to a phony tax-preparation company that Howard had created, and ultimately to the 211 Crew. The packet was sitting on his desk, ready to be mailed to an outside confederate, but Howard kept stalling for more time.

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