In Graham's view, Howard was a smart con artist trying to game the system. Or, as he put it in one e-mail to another DOC official, "Mr. Howard is an admitted homosexual whose other talent is tax fraud...he made an unprovable report of past sexual assaults by 211's here [at Sterling] and at Fremont. I'm still working on that, but doubt if it will go far."
In another e-mail, Graham all but dismissed Howard's story as a ploy for leniency: "Mr. Howard seems to think he can just say the mean old 211 guys made him do it and walk away."
Yet Howard did have proof of gang involvement in the tax scheme and other businesses. He helped investigators locate a computer disk that contained evidence of falsified property sheets, payments to the gang by other inmates and other incriminating data. He turned over an intake sheet on another inmate that could only have come from a staff computer. But his allegations of staff involvement were deemed "bogus" just the same.
"Even after naming all the names, they just sent me back to my cell," Howard says now. "I told a captain these people were going to kill me if I didn't come up with $300,000 by March. Her response was, 'Let's see what happens in March.'"
Reluctantly, it seems, administrators made note of Howard's "custody issues," listing a couple dozen inmates he should not be housed with, and shipped him off to the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility. He stayed there for several months, filing a blizzard of grievances and complaining about sightings of gang members who might retaliate against him. One grievance challenged DOC's unwritten rule of making cell assignments by race; Howard figured he would be better off with a Hispanic or African-American cellie than a white one who might be in touch with the 211 Crew.
But word of his snitching at Sterling eventually drifted into Arkansas Valley, and Howard was transferred again. This time he was sent to one of the most violent prisons in the state.
"I was sent to Limon, God knows why," he says. "It was already all over the compound that 211 was going to kill me."
In a corridor at Limon, Howard locked eyes with Allen Hernandez, alias LBow — one of the names on the list of inmates from Fremont and Sterling who weren't supposed to be in contact with him. Howard fell to the floor and vomited. He lasted two weeks at Limon before he was shipped out again.
He was at Buena Vista only a few days when a 211 member from Sterling who'd been directly involved in the threats against Howard was moved into the same unit. That night he was subjected to a torrent of screams and taunts from neighboring cells. "They were calling me a snitch and a whore and a fag," he says. "They were making arrangements to sell me to the black dudes on the tier. The officer station is right there. They could hear it, but they didn't react at all."
The experience triggered another panic attack, a trip to the emergency room — and another grievance. "A mistake was made in moving the offender you mention to BCVF after you were already here," a supervisor responded. "This I can verify was a very unusual situation and should not have happened."
But unusual situations continued to dog Howard, right up to his last day as a guest of the State of Colorado. On September 18, 2007, while waiting to be picked up by federal marshals and start serving his federal sentence for tax fraud, Howard was escorted past several vacant cells at the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center to a holding cell containing one other inmate: Simon Shimbel.
"I can't go in there," Howard said, stopping dead at the door. "He's a custody issue."
The female sergeant escorting Howard ignored him and beckoned to the control center to open the door. Howard begged her to check the computer, which would show that he could not be housed with Shimbel.
The sergeant refused and told him to get in the cell. "You ain't on parole yet, you know," she said. Disobeying her order could delay his release from DOC indefinitely.
He went in. The door slammed behind him. Shimbel immediately got in his face. "I got ad-segged for that," he said, referring to the stretch in solitary that Howard's statements to investigators had cost him.
Howard curled up on top of the toilet, keeping his eyes down, while Shimbel berated him for being a snitch. Shimbel knocked him on the floor.