Longform

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

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"You're going to suck that dude's dick to pay this off for me," he said quietly, "and for being a smartass to my brother."

Howard went to the cell of an inmate named Griego and did as he was told.

In mid-February 2005, Howard made up an excuse to see his case manager, Jerry Morris. Terrified of being labeled a snitch and what Ghost might do to him, he didn't say anything to Morris about the assaults.

"Outside this guy's office are twenty or thirty inmates waiting to see him," Howard recalls. "There's no way to close the door, so everybody can hear what you're saying."

Morris would later insist that Howard didn't advise him of any threats or problems that day. Howard claims that he asked for protection from 211, without going into any specifics, but Morris told him that "homosexuals usually have problems with one gang or another." Howard could do his best to "get along," or he could be a "whiner" and end up confined indefinitely in administrative segregation.

Howard didn't know what to do. He was afraid to tell even his parents, since phone calls were monitored. He decided to notify one friend on the outside about the extortion and urge her to write a letter to the warden, asking that he be moved to another prison. A few days later he was summoned to a meeting with another case manager, Dave Mason, who asked about the letter and if he was being threatened by 211.

Howard broke down and admitted it. He began to talk about the assaults, he says, when Mason interrupted him. "That's all I want to know," the case manager said, and made a phone call to a supervisor to relay the information.

Four days later, Howard was abruptly transferred. He went from Fremont to the Sterling Correctional Facility, a sprawling complex housing 2,500 inmates. Although technically a high-security prison, surrounded by an electrified "kill" fence, Sterling has a range of security levels for offenders classified from minimum to "close."

Howard had no problems at Sterling the first two months he was there. He was placed in a highly monitored unit, with limited movement and cameras and emergency call buttons in the cells. But when he was moved to a lower-security wing in late April, he discovered that he'd gone from one 211 stronghold to another.

Official DOC reports indicate that there were fewer than 25 members of the 211 Crew at Sterling at the time, all of them housed in either high-security units or administrative segregation. Howard says the actual figure was closer to a hundred, an assertion supported by internal documents and even some staff testimony. Many of them could be found in Sterling's less secure areas, readily identifiable by their shaved heads and copious tattoos of swastikas, shamrocks and even "211" and "CREW."

The group was running large football and baseball pools, collecting as bets the tokens inmates used to buy sodas. They had allies in the computer lab, including the notorious Simon Sue, who at seventeen had masterminded a triple homicide in the tiny settlement of Guffey. Although not a gang member himself, the diminutive Sue helped the gang produce authentic-looking property sheets, Howard says, to explain away the extra radios, clothing and other extorted goods in their cells.

Howard was recognized the first day he hit the yard. Two 211 members approached him. One, who'd been at Fremont, greeted him with a wolfish smile.

"Ghost has friends here," he said.

******

Based on surveys of jail and prison inmates, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that at least 88,500 adults endured some form of sexual abuse while incarcerated in the American corrections system last year. The surveys provide just snapshots of the inmate population on a given day. A just-released Department of Justice report places the total number of incidents in 2008 at 200,000.

The number of reported sexual assaults in prison is, of course, lower than the survey totals. Much, much lower. Extrapolating from the BJS figures, Colorado's prison system would be expected to have between 600 and 800 sex-abuse victims a year. Yet in a Prison Rape Elimination Act cost impact study, the DOC claims only twelve confirmed incidents of sexual assault in 2008 and five in 2009. That works out to about 25 to 50 reports a year, since fewer than 20 percent of allegations of sexual violence are ever substantiated by investigators.

Corrections officials protest that meeting the PREA standards could cost hundreds of millions of dollars; but reformers say that lack of aggressive enforcement in prison assault cases costs society in other ways, from the spread of sexually communicable diseases to lawsuits. According to a DOJ report, a 1 percent reduction in the annual rate of prison sexual abuse could lead to a "monetary benefit" to society of between $157 million and $239 million.

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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