Rape and coercion have long been regarded as an inevitable part of prison life, particularly among the most targeted populations — inmates who are young and slight of stature, effeminate or gay, the mentally ill and first-timers. Yet the national commission established by PREA found that a number of fixable problems, from poor staff training and inadequate screening of vulnerable inmates to overcrowding and an almost complete lack of prosecution of perpetrators, could and should be addressed to reduce the rate of assault.
Howard's journey through Colorado's prisons points to another problem the commission report scarcely mentions: the utter indifference of many staffers. Howard met with several case managers and supervisors at Sterling and filed grievances over his placement there. The officials have divergent stories about what happened in those meetings and how explicit Howard was about his plight. But their tendency to downplay his complaints and insist that he "name names" helps to explain why the system's number of reported assaults is so low.
The day the 211 member recognized him on the yard, Howard went to case manager David Backer to seek a transfer to another unit. According to Backer's own paperwork, Howard told him "he had a high profile case and that the 2-11 gang attempted to extort money from him in the past...He claimed he did not feel in danger or threatened by anyone at the time of our interview.
"He was also informed if he did have problems he would be asked to go on tape as to who was threatening him...He stated he would never do this and would pay them off first. He then left my office."
Howard says Backer ignored his claims of being extorted and prostituted at Fremont; the case manager told him he should have "kept a low profile." Howard filed a grievance, which led to another meeting with Backer and two supervisors, Joseph Halligan and John Clarkson. Accounts of what transpired at that meeting vary greatly; in a later deposition, Halligan conceded several times that Howard said he felt "threatened," then reversed himself and insisted that Howard did not express any concern about threats at that time.
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.