THE OLD BALL & CHAIN
part 2 of 2
Like so many women who have fallen for prisoners, Flo Orona insists that her man and her marriage are different.
Orona met the man of her dreams in 1987. She'd prayed to God for a man who would meet her ideals. That's why her two marriages had failed, she thought--because she never chose someone who could meet her needs. Her man had to be godly, she says, and well-respected. He had to be as strong and as intelligent as she was and be able to encourage her to be all that she could be and not be threatened by her.
But when she found that man and realized she was falling in love, she initially believed it was God's idea of a joke. Because Flo--who sprang from a long line of law enforcement officers and who'd been a prison guard for fifteen years (ten in Colorado and five in Missouri)--was taken with a man serving twenty years to life for killing his wife.
She was working at the Territorial Correctional Facility in Canon City when she met Larry Orona. She'd heard about him before--a fellow employee said he was a guy who didn't belong in prison--but she hadn't been prepared for the ambivalent feelings he stirred up in her.
"We got to talking," Flo says. "And I thought, `He is a godly man, and he is respected. But I am a professional corrections officer, and whether he belongs here or not, being with an inmate would never work.'"
Two years later Flo left the prison system--without, she says, ever acting on her feelings. She'd become disillusioned with the system and disgusted by what she perceived as corruption. When she was hospitalized to have an operation on her leg, she decided she would never go back to work for the DOC.
Flo opened an investigative agency in Boulder and began working for attorneys. And one of the first cases she accepted was Larry Orona's; she helped his attorney gather evidence for a hearing in which he planned to ask for a new trial for his client.
Larry Orona shot his wife in April 1983 following an argument in a motel parking lot. He has always claimed that his estranged wife had the gun and that the weapon discharged when he tried to take it away from her. After speaking with people who knew him--witnesses, friends and family--Flo decided he was not guilty of first-degree murder.
Larry's attorney didn't succeed in obtaining a new trial. But the relationship between Flo and Larry blossomed. They were married in the chapel at the state prison in Limon in April 1992.
Unlike the vast majority of inmates, Larry Orona is able to help his wife financially. He had earned an early retirement before he was arrested, and he has always worked in prison. He pays his wife's monthly car payment and keeps up her burial insurance. "He wants to take care of me," Flo says. "He's never asked me for any money. The only time I send him some is at Christmas, and he uses it to call his family, because he doesn't like to call collect."
Larry Orona is active in prison counseling groups and lacks just nine hours of academic credit for an associate of arts degree in behavioral counseling, his wife says proudly. She expects that when he is released, he will go to work in some kind of ministry.
Flo, now 57, has retained her independence--she manages an assisted-care facility in Caon City--but says she's preparing to share a life with Larry by seeking his input on all major decisions. The couple has vowed to hold a second marriage ceremony when Larry is released from prison, but that could be a long way off. His parole eligibility date is 2002, at which time he'll be 65 and his wife 63.
Flo says she knows relationships likes hers can be iffy propositions. However, she doesn't believe her marriage will fail. Since marrying Larry, she says, "my life has been nothing but beautiful and good."
When DOC officials screen job applicants, says Wallis Parmenter, superintendent of the San Carlos Correctional Facility for the chronically medically ill in Pueblo, "one of the things we try to look for is whether or not [that person] is looking for something other than a paycheck. Are they here to meet their own personal needs? Do they have their own personal problems? Are they divorced or maybe ten years and twenty pounds past their prime? Because what happens is that there are times in peoples' lives that they're vulnerable. Maybe they've had a catastrophic illness in the family and they're in bad financial shape and they decide to bring in some dope [to a prisoner]. Or they're lonely and they get involved with some sex issues."
The DOC attempts to guard against human frailties through intensive training and repeated warnings about the dangers of getting involved with inmates. Finch, for instance, tells new employees that inmates are "geniuses at figuring things out" and that prisoners are "good"--good at complimenting people, good at making someone feel confident or important, good at picking up on problems that staffers may be having at work or at home.
According to Finch, staffer/inmate relationships generally start with a low-key approach by the inmate, most often with flattery. "They'll say, `You're beautiful. You have pretty eyes. I like your shoes. I like your dress. I like the way you walk.' Then it gets more personal. You can generally tell, and inmates know this, when it's affecting a staff person--they may start changing the way they dress or start wearing more perfume or aftershave, trying to please the inmate."
Then comes the setup. "One of the things I tell the staff is that they're going to set you up, but not to the extent that it will get [the inmate] in trouble," says Finch. "They'll do it to see what it is you will do. They may say, for example, that they really miss McDonald's hamburgers and they ask the officer to bring one in for them. And they figure if you'll do that, you'll do other things that are bigger." That could translate into a sexual encounter or bringing drugs into the facility.
Dr. Mary West, a psychologist and co-superintendent of the DOC's Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center, recalls one such incident that occurred in Illinois when she worked in corrections there. "It was a male officer, and an inmate told the officer that he had a sick wife," she says. "And he asked the officer to mail a letter to her for him [which violated regulations]. And the officer did. Eventually, the inmate asked the officer to please go visit her. And then the inmate had him, because he's already broken the rules. So he threatened to tell the officer's supervisors unless he brought a hacksaw blade in. The inmate escaped. Actually, four of them got out. It all started so harmlessly and it slowly escalated. And it was very well done."
Just last summer in Colorado, Evelyn Jones, a food-service worker at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, was arrested in Pueblo as she picked up a stash of black-tar heroin to take back to her inmate boyfriend. "Basically, she was in love with the inmate," says DOC investigator John "Smokey" Kurtz. "When she was arrested, we found a note from him in her purse telling her how to hide the drugs in her crotch." At trial, the inmate left Jones to twist in the wind, testifying that he'd only asked her to bring in some pieces of jewelry.
Some inmates seem capable of exerting an almost hypnotic effect on prison staffers. One convicted murderer (who also married while behind bars) says he was witness to a "torrid affair" between an inmate and a woman who worked in the prison chow hall. "He completely destroyed her life," says the man, who asked that his name not be used. "She has two or three little kids. He got her to bring drugs in, and he got her hooked. He even offered to sell her to the other inmates.
"She'd do whatever he wanted. He completely owned her. But, you know, the same thing happens on the streets."
West believes that it's the antisocial career criminals who seem to be most successful in deducing a person's needs and desires. "Career criminals such as rapists and murderers trust no one, and they have lived their lives manipulating their environment and the people around them," she says. "They know the right things to say and when to say them. And that can be very seductive."
The fact that men and women who work in prisons become involved with inmates shouldn't come as a complete surprise, says Dr. Sy Sundell, a forensic psychiatrist for Denver's city and county jails. "Police officers have been known to engage in criminal activities," he notes, "especially when they're on high-intensity teams such as vice and narcotics. Sometimes they become so totally enmeshed in that kind of activity and behavior, things begin to get a little fuzzy, and sometimes they step over those lines. [In prison], officers are locked in with inmates basically for an extended period of time, eight to ten hours a day, four to five days a week. Relationships develop, and sometimes maintaining those clear boundaries becomes hard for people."
The DOC's Cantwell goes so far as to compare lovesick corrections officers to hostages who come to identify with their captors--the so-called Stockholm Syndrome. "Corrections officers are really the ones who are locked up," he says. "You go to work and the gates slam behind you. You're assigned to a post in a housing unit, and who do you have to talk to all day? Inmates. The inmates get to move around, go to work, go to dinner, but you have to stay at your post. It's almost as if the officers are the ones on work release. You've got to stop and think about it."
Inmates aren't always the ones who initiate sexual relationships. Sometimes it's the staffer. And though some of those couplings may be romantic in nature, others qualify as criminal offenses.
Because prison guards are in a position of trust, even mutually voluntary sex with inmates can constitute sexual assault, says Cantwell. Some officers--if it becomes clear that they were seduced by an inmate--escape criminal charges. Others are prosecuted.
Last summer, Lee English, a captain at the DOC's Diagnostic Center, was arrested for allegedly engaging in sex with a 31-year-old female inmate. The woman reportedly told the police that English had reneged on promises to her. According to one DOC staffer, the inmate claims that English told her he'd help her get parole.
Several months earlier, another diagnostic-center staffer, 49-year-old Valgene Armstead, was accused of having sex with a female inmate in a utility closet. He, too, was charged criminally.
Other cases remain in limbo. DOC captain Stanley Powell, a fifteen-year veteran, was fired last year after claims surfaced that he'd propositioned a former inmate. Those allegations arose as part of an investigation into whether Powell had used his position to obtain sexual favors from six or seven other female inmates at the Colorado Women's Correctional Facility. The Fremont County District Attorney's office has not yet determined whether to file criminal charges against Powell.
In most fraternization cases that are uncovered, the person blowing the whistle is the inmate. That's what happened to a fifteen-year DOC veteran who recently was terminated after officials discovered his relationship with a female inmate. "The female he got involved with [figuratively] cut his throat," prison superintendent Parmenter says. "We had suspected they were involved, and when we questioned her [earlier], she denied it. But the minute she got in trouble and faced losing fifteen days of good time, she told the truth and she gave us the evidence. She was so madly in love with him that she preferred that he lose his fifteen-year career to her losing fifteen days of good time."
Bob Roybal, a representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has represented at least four officers who became involved with inmates. "Most of them," says Roybal, a former corrections officer himself, "had tremendous futures and halfway-decent marriages" when they became involved with an inmate. "Then everything kind of goes to hell in a hand basket. It's an error in judgment, but that type of error basically throws their career down the tubes, and everything goes with it."
Even if staffers wait for an inmate to be released from prison, DOC rules prevent them from starting up a relationship until the felon has been out for a minimum of two years. "Even when an inmate leaves," Cantwell says, "they have a lot of ties back to the facility. A lot of their friends are still in. I just got a call today from an inmate who's getting out soon. He's being pressured by other inmates to do things for them, and they told him a staff member to contact. If they know someone who has a direct link to a staffer, they'll prey on them."
That corrections officials have the right to get involved in employees' personal relationships--even those that may take place outside the workplace--has been affirmed by courts throughout the country. It was tested in Denver in 1983, after the firing of David Alan Goodwin, a Denver sheriff's deputy.
Goodwin had worked for the city for more than six years when he was fired for violating numerous departmental regulations, all of which had to do with his relationship with a former jail inmate named Kay Meyers. Goodwin, it was charged, had left his wife and moved into an East Colfax motel with Meyers. Although he was warned by his supervisor to discontinue the relationship and claimed that he had, within six days Goodwin was again living with Meyers.
Goodwin appealed his termination on the grounds that it violated his right to association, guaranteed to him by the Colorado constitution. His case eventually went to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which affirmed his termination and the decision of the lower courts.
The law's intrusion into people's private lives has always rankled Mary Jane Eaklor, particularly so in the case of relationships between staffers and inmates. "It was always a matter of double standards," she says. "It seemed all the hanky-panky that went on between the employees, married or unmarried, was all right, but if an unmarried woman employee found an unmarried prisoner attractive, that was a no-no."
When Eaklor divorced Robert Kautz in 1985, he was already living on the edge. He was drinking too much, for one thing. And on March 7, 1986, after being out of prison just over two years, Kautz was back in jail, this time charged with investigation of attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault, committing a crime of violence and felony menacing. Sterling police officers said Kautz had attacked his girlfriend with a knife, then broke into her house to continue the attack when she fled.
Later that year, when Kautz was being transported to Fort Morgan for a hearing, he was charged with attempting to kill a police officer during what prosecutors described as an escape attempt. Kautz went back to prison to begin serving a 32-year sentence.
Soon after Kautz's return to Canon City, Eaklor again began visiting him. They married for the second time on December 7, 1988.
There were several reasons why she chose to remarry, Eaklor says. For one thing, Kautz had become a Seventh-Day Adventist, "and I think he's convinced that what the church teaches is the truth." She also believes that he will never again touch alcohol.
When Eaklor speaks of her second marriage to Kautz, she doesn't talk of love, though it is clear she retains feelings for her husband. "I'm not always sure it was the smart thing to do," she says of the remarriage, "but we have a very good relationship, because we do think alike, and we have a lot to visit about and talk about."
She doesn't see her husband often, visiting him in the Buena Vista prison less than once a month. But they speak on the phone at least twice a week, and she mails him articles and orders books for him, which they both read and discuss.
Unlike Flo Orona, Eaklor and her husband haven't made plans for a future together. "I'm not sure he'd be happy living here," Eaklor says of her Penrose home. "The daily grind brings out things that would not exist otherwise. You can feel that everything is perfectly good, and then, once you're in close proximity..." Eaklor's words drop off as she considers the possibilities. "In real life," she continues, "there's probably a lot of things I do that he doesn't like, and there's probably a lot of things that he does that I don't like."
end of part 2
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