Bulls Behaving Badly

It wasn't Elizabeth Gardesani's idea to confront her tormentor this way.

She could think of a lot of places she would rather be than alone in an office with the man who she said had raped her repeatedly. She could think of plenty of things she would rather say to him other than talking casually about the sex they'd had, pretending to have fond memories of their furtive, painful and hasty encounters.

But talking about sex was required if she wanted any kind of justice. So three months ago, Gardesani paid a social call on Robert Donald Anderson. She wore her state-issued prison clothes and, tucked between breast and armpit, a hidden recording device, also issued by the state -- a wire, as they say on TV.

Gardesani is a petite 45-year-old former nurse. Anderson is several inches taller, seven years younger and considerably heavier. At the time of their last conversation, he was a corrections officer at the Pueblo Minimum Center, where Gardesani was serving a seven-year sentence on cocaine possession and related charges. The equation of power between the two, inmate and keeper, could not have been more unbalanced.

The wire was the great equalizer.

Gardesani's willingness to gather evidence on Anderson sparked an investigation by the Colorado Department of Corrections into numerous allegations of sexual misconduct by male staff at the Pueblo women's prison. The probe has led to the termination of three guards, the transfer of two others and the filing of criminal charges against Anderson and one other officer. Although the case has received almost no media attention since it began last winter, Gardesani and other inmates say it raises important questions about the ongoing problems the DOC faces with male guards in charge of female prisoners.

"People need to know what's going on," Gardesani says. "This needs to stop somehow."

Mike Rulo, the DOC's inspector general, says the Anderson case is an example of the department's zero-tolerance policy regarding staff who abuse prisoners or engage in inappropriate relationships with them. "We actively pursue any reports of this kind," he says. "We heard about it on a Wednesday, and by Friday, we had our case made and walked him off the facility."

But Gardesani says her ordeal wasn't as swift or painless as the investigation it produced. A native of Brazil who speaks four languages but is less than fluent in English, she admits she was reluctant to come forward at first. She was too shocked, she says -- and then too afraid of what the officer could do to her.

"Sergeant Anderson was such a cop -- go by the book and everything," she says. "People were kind of scared of him because he was mean with inmates. He write you up for anything. I was real surprised this happened, because he was the last person I expect it from."

According to Gardesani, she was reading in her cell one day when Anderson came in and "started running his hands all over me. I couldn't believe what was going on." He then left as abruptly as he'd arrived, she says.

On three subsequent visits over the next few weeks, Gardesani says, Anderson took her to the one area of the room not visible from the cell door, bent her over a chair, and had intercourse with her. "I didn't say a word," she says. "I was thinking, 'If I scream, he's going to tell them I'm crazy, and they're going to put me in the hole, put me in special needs, like happen with other inmates.' So I let him do it. I was almost paralyzed. He didn't say too much. He just pulled me to the chair. Then he had sex with me without no protection at all."

Anderson also summoned her to the shift office for private talks, she says: "He said I have a beautiful body, that I am sexy, he wants to fuck me, things like that." On one occasion, she adds, he unzipped his pants and exposed himself to her, but the arrival of a female lieutenant prompted a hasty zip-up. ("I got up and said, 'Excuse me, thank you very much,' and I just left. She saved me.")

Throughout it all, Gardesani says, she believed any complaint she might make would lead to retaliation. "He told me several times, 'I can't lose my job, so you don't say nothing,'" she says. "But he has the power, right? He can tell things that I done, and I didn't do it, you know what I mean?"

Eventually, though, Gardesani did confide in other female inmates. One was Robin Darbyshire, who'd become active in prisoners'-rights issues after allegedly being forced into a sexual act with a guard employed by a private prisoner-transport company ("Road Hazard," February 14, 2002). With the ACLU's help, Darbyshire had extracted a monetary settlement from the company and now serves on the national advisory board of Stop Prisoner Rape (

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast