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Raped and extorted by a prison gang, Scott Howard was called a "drama queen" by corrections officials

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Officially, the 211 Crew is far from a pervasive presence in Colorado's prisons, with roughly 300 "confirmed" members in a population of more than 20,000. Howard insists the actual numbers are much higher, and the gang clearly had a particular interest in him. Within a few days, three members approached him, beaming friendship, and asked about "all that cash" he'd scammed from big companies and the government. They seemed extremely well-informed about his attempt at a big tax refund, which had made headlines. Despite Howard's denials that he'd been any kind of financial genius, he was soon fielding daily questions about tax fraud.

The conversations quickly got less genial. Howard made little attempt to disguise who he was in prison — in one court filing, his attorneys describe him as "obviously gay" — and the gang members soon had their suspicions confirmed. They frequently intercepted other inmates' mail, on the lookout for money order receipts or other helpful intel, and one of the items they came across was a gay magazine a friend had sent Howard.

John Anderson, a veteran 211 shot-caller known on the yard as Ghost, informed Howard that homosexuals had to pay rent. That meant buying canteen items for 211 members and sending money orders to addresses Ghost provided. "In the beginning, it was twenty dollars here or there," Howard says. "Then it got more intense."

In Howard's second month at Fremont, Ghost demanded that he send out a $500 money order. Howard demurred; where was he going to get that kind of money? Ghost punched him in the stomach and the face and told him he had two weeks.

A few days later, Ghost was back in his face, demanding twenty bucks in canteen items to pay a debt the shot-caller owed to a rival gang member. Howard insisted he had no money.

"Find it," Ghost snapped.

The next day, when Howard failed to make the required purchases, Ghost told him they were going to go see Allen Hernandez, alias "LBow," the man Ghost owed. Once they were in LBow's cell, Ghost informed him that Howard was going to settle the debt with a blow job. While Ghost stood lookout, Hernandez forced Howard to his knees and told him to open his "faggot mouth."

Howard asked to be let go. Hernandez laughed. "You gotta beg me for it, bitch."

The assault lasted a few minutes, Howard says. LBow ejaculated, pulled up his boxers and sweatpants, and told Howard to "get your bitch ass out of my cell."

On the way back to his own unit, Ghost hissed at Howard, "Don't you say a fucking word to anyone, or I'll fuck you up."

Howard went to his cell. He showered. He cried. He felt sick and deathly afraid.

He couldn't escape the 211 Crew, but for the next few days they were oddly friendly to him. They approached him on the yard and at meals. Ghost introduced him to other 211 "brothers," who asked him more questions about his tax scam.

Just weeks earlier, prosecutors in Denver had issued indictments against 24 members of the gang, on charges ranging from a 2001 prison murder to drug-related street crimes. One of those named in the indictment was the group's leader, Benjamin Davis, who'd launched the gang at the Arkansas Valley prison in the early 1990s after a racial beating. (The name "211" supposedly refers to the robbery section of the California penal code.) Davis was now stuck in the state supermax and facing more time, so the Fremont contingent was working on a plan to raise cash and get him "a fucking great attorney," Howard learned. They wanted to file bogus tax returns, using the personal data of various sex offenders, minorities and other lowlife inmates that couldn't be traced back to them.

Howard told them he didn't think it would work. A fucking great attorney would cost a lot more money than the $17,000 he'd collected in Wisconsin. The gang members listened soberly, nodded and walked away.

But Ghost didn't care for Howard's tone. He told him so a few days later, pulling him aside after breakfast to let him know he'd been disrespectful to his brothers. He demanded that Howard settle another debt with canteen items, this time for fifty dollars. Howard said he didn't have it.

No problem, Ghost told him. Howard would settle the debt the same way he had with LBow. Frantic, Howard said he didn't feel well. Ghost pulled a shank out of his pocket and made it clear that it was Howard's choice whether it ended up in his ribs or not.

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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