Screwed for Life

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No question, Kumbe Ginnane lied.

At least twice.

He lied when University of Colorado cops, and then the Boulder District Attorney's Office, asked if he'd had sexual contact with a coed on October 19, 1990. No, he said then, he hadn't had sex of any kind with her. He told that to a jury in October 1992, too.

And he lied in May 1993, when he told a judge that he'd actually sexually assaulted the woman -- an admission that got him out of Cañon City in exchange for eight years of probation. Or he lied in 2001, when he said he'd only confessed to the judge so that he could get out of jail, but then realized that eight years of probation as a convicted sex offender was really a lifetime sentence of never-ending hell, and that he'd rather go back to prison.

This is no lie: "Yes, I was an asshole," Ginnane writes in his self-published book, From Regret to Rape. "But I unquestionably did not deserve what was in store for thirteen years."

Here's what Ginnane says is the truth about that night in October 1990. His sophomore roommate, Detric Devonn Garvin, had gone partying at a sorority whose members were legendary for their sexual enthusiasms, then brought a female student back to their dorm room -- along with some tacos and condoms they'd picked up at a convenience store. "Threesome," Ginnane thought, every guy's fantasy. When Garvin went to get a condom, the woman -- who'd obviously been drinking but didn't seem that drunk -- put her hand down Ginnane's pants, then took his penis in her mouth. Fifteen seconds later, there was a knock on the door: Ginnane's girlfriend, Kristin. While his roommate ran interference, Ginnane collected his clothes and his books and then went to Kristin's room, where he spent the night.

It was because of his girlfriend that he didn't want to admit to even fifteen seconds of oral sex. So Ginnane was relieved when word seeped out that the woman had bragged to her sorority sisters about having sex with a black man but mentioned only Garvin, not Ginnane. She continued to occasionally stop by their room. Ginnane told her she was acting like a "ho."

Then, as now, casual sex is almost a rite of passage at college -- with a river of alcohol running through many of the stories. And then, as now, casual sex with athletes, often black athletes, is the stuff of constant campus conversation at the University of Colorado. In 1989, the year Ginnane left home in Denver to enroll at CU, everyone was talking about another football scandal -- this one involving then-coach Bill McCartney's teenage daughter, who was pregnant. Several football players took paternity tests; it turned out the baby's father was Sal Aunese, the Samoan quarterback who would soon die of cancer.

For black athletes -- or big black guys who looked like athletes -- sex was pretty free and easy in Boulder, and the identities of willing partners were common knowledge. "You were going to gain attention up there," remembers Greg Thomas, a football player who was in Ginnane's fraternity. "If you were an African-American male, people assumed that you were an athlete. Hooking up just kind of went with the territory."

But in the spring of 1991, right after Ginnane won a coveted spot as a resident advisor -- a job that the woman had also sought -- word began leaking out that what had happened in that dorm room six months before had involved more than hooking up. "I thought of how I wanted this fucking, spite-saturated, false rape allegation to go away as fast as possible," Ginnane writes. "I thought, 'What if I just deny the sex act?' I lied." He lied to a campus cop, he lied to his girlfriend. He told his mother that the cops were just interested in Garvin. He couldn't believe that what he considered clearly consensual could turn into an accusation of rape.

He talked to his brother, Tunde, who was two years ahead of him at CU, a resident advisor himself. Tunde couldn't imagine his brother getting in trouble for what seemed like common college behavior. "He wasn't the type of guy who'd force a girl to do anything," he says. "There are girls falling at his feet all the time."

And then one night in October 1991, Ginnane and Kristin went to Denver for his sister's eleventh birthday party, and "our phone started ringing," says JuJu Maisha Nkrumah, his mother. "People said that Kumbe was on the news. They were saying that he was wanted and 'at large.'" Not so "at large" that she hadn't been able to reach him at his dorm room earlier that day, but at large as far as the media was concerned.

She drove her son back to Boulder, to campus police headquarters. "They tried to minimize everything," she remembers. "I allowed them to talk to my son. If I had it to do over again, I would have had a lawyer be with him."

And a different lawyer than she wound up hiring after Ginnane, like Garvin, was charged with first-degree sexual assault. Ginnane kept going to classes -- he had to sue for the right to stay at CU -- and kept seeing his girlfriend, but it wasn't easy. "Boulder's reality was I had forced this innocent white virgin to suck on my dirty rapist penis," he says. He sold his motorcycle to pay his legal fees. "Don't let them break your spirit!" he remembers Garvin telling him. "If they can break your spirit, you are already conquered."

Ginnane went on trial in Boulder in October 1992. He'd been offered deal after deal -- some of which would have required testifying against Garvin, who'd been accused of holding down the victim's head for the oral-sex act with Ginnane, then assaulting her himself. The final offer was a plea to third-degree sexual assault, a misdemeanor that would have come with a deferred sentence, wiping Ginnane's record clean after a year if he behaved. But he refused the deal because it involved the word "sexual," and he believed he was innocent of sexual assault -- even if he still wasn't confessing to even consensual sex.

But Ginnane didn't feel too confident as he sat in the courtroom with the all-white jury, watching the white judge and the white prosecutors, listening to his white accuser say that she'd been forced to perform oral sex. Even as his defense committee -- several hundred members strong -- showed up to support him, feminist groups would come denounce him. Still, his lawyer had assured him that even if he were convicted, he'd get no more than probation.

And the jury did convict Ginnane -- the first instance of someone being convicted of acquaintance rape in Colorado, according to then-assistant DA Mary Keenan. The next day, Ginnane learned that the mandatory minimum for the crime was a sixteen-year prison sentence. It didn't matter that his victim would go to a case officer before sentencing to ask that Ginnane not be sent back to jail.

By the time he returned to court for sentencing, Ginnane had a new lawyer, David Lane, who says he tried to "unfuck the fucked." On the stand, Ginnane's previous attorney admitted that he'd done a bad job representing his client, failing to tell Ginnane of the consequences of a conviction or to put on much of a defense. He explained that he'd been handling personal problems -- including a divorce -- and had been basically homeless. (Later, it would come out that he was also addicted to coke.) After that, a parade of supporters -- friends and neighbors and community members -- testified on Ginnane's behalf, two days' worth, talking about his exemplary record, his supportive family, his work in the community. Judge Joseph Bellipanni sentenced him to eight years -- half of the mandatory minimum.

But even ninety days in prison -- fighting gangs, fighting homosexual advances, above all fighting boredom -- seemed like an eternity to the now 22-year-old. And at a sentence-reconsideration hearing that spring, Ginnane jumped through the loophole the judge had offered: He called himself a rapist. "He would have admitted to assassinating John Kennedy at that point," says Lane.

"I took the nuclear option, and I sold out," Ginnane says. "It hurt. The community was disappointed in me." (But when he told Garvin -- who'd also been convicted, and sentenced to ten years -- what he was going to do, Garvin had given him his blessing.)

Over Keenan's objections, the judge changed Ginnane's sentence to eight years' probation -- on the condition that he never deny his guilt or appeal the conviction. Ginnane was now out of jail, but in another sort of confinement: As a convicted sex offender, he had to comply with the state's stringent therapy requirements or risk being sent back to prison.

He finished college -- at the University of Colorado at Denver -- and started looking for a job. Not only did he want to get on with his life, but he had hefty, court-ordered-therapy bills to pay. Every time he admitted that he was a convicted sex offender, though, potential positions disappeared. He thought getting a master's in business might help, but it just prolonged the inevitable turn-down. At one point, modeling work kept him going -- but then someone called his agent and said that it was inappropriate for a date-rapist to be doing a cable ad for a dating program. Finally, he took a job moving furniture.

In sex-offender programs, he was lumped in with pedophiles, serial rapists. "We are the same," he writes. "I am grouped in the same category as the most horrible creatures out there. They tell you that in group, that all you guys are alike." To deny that he was like them was to be in denial.

At one point, Ginnane was put on the "peter meter," as Lane calls it, with an erection sensor placed over his penis while he lay in a reclining chair, watching graphic images overhead. "We began what consisted of an hour experiencing the most horrific, degrading, violent, sadistic, grotesque, morally reprehensible, sexually deviant, disease-infected perversions against women and children any sane man wouldn't wish on his worst enemy," Ginnane writes. "An eternal hour! I felt completely filthy.... At that moment, I truly believe I can understand, or at least relate, to what if feels like to be genuinely raped. Violated and filthy! But I had to pay several hundred dollars for it."

A few years later, he had to repeat the procedure. A few years after that, plathismographs were repudiated -- but the standards for sex-offender therapy in this state just grew more stringent. "I was really cooperative at first," he says, "because I thought I could complete this therapy. Then I realized that no one could complete this therapy."

Initially, he'd been able to have a beer or two, then those were forbidden. He had to report every sexual encounter. His new girlfriend had to report on their encounters. He could not be around children -- even his own nephew. Finally, after eight years, he realized that he would never be free -- that his probation was just another long guilty plea. "The way the sex-offender statutes are set up, if you are in denial, then you're a sex offender," Lane explains. "It's one size fits all. You can't be around kids, even if you've been convicted of touching an adult female. They were on his ass like a cheap suit. I must have gone to court a dozen times with Kumbe for bullshit violations of his probation.

"I got to the point," he remembers, "where I was leaving Boulder after a hearing, and I was going by the campus, and I was screaming, 'Don't have sex with anyone! You'll go to prison!'"

After yet another violation, Ginnane stood before a judge -- again. "I swear to God I've done my best," he said. "I've spent thousands of dollars. I've met with seven people a week. I've given it my best shot."

In 2001, at the age of thirty, Ginnane was sentenced to another four years in prison for that night back in October 1990.

"It's the biggest injustice I've seen in 25 years as a criminal defense attorney," says Lane -- and that includes ten years working as a public defender in New York City. "Once the beast gets awakened, it just runs its course. It's brainless political correctness gone amok."

Ginnane did his time and was finally released in March 2004. Now he's trying to get his life back on track. "He'd always been a very good student," his brother says. "He's done so many things in his life -- being a musician, racing motorcycles, modeling. He had such a promising future, and this has completely changed his life." He's still having trouble finding work, and is doing a driving gig right now. But Ginnane published the book he'd started during therapy, then picked up again during his second stretch in Cañon City (the mixed-up chronology makes it a convoluted read, but Ginnane never said he was Shakespeare -- just wronged). He founded a nonprofit, the Genesis:39 Foundation (genesis39.org), named after the first recorded instance of a false rape allegation -- in the Bible, and made against Joseph, when he spurned a married woman's advances -- with the goal of educating the public and minimizing false rape allegations. Date rape is a myth, he says. If it's rape, it's rape.

This past spring, he took his message and his books to the CU campus. "I did a brief reading," he says. "The Black Students Alliance received me with open arms. But some people wanted to spit on me. I was right next to a feminist student table. We got involved in a really intriguing debate."

To keep the debate going, he speaks everywhere he can -- before community groups, youth groups, athletic groups. Later this month he'll address the California college team now coached by former CU Buff Eric Bienemy. "I'll tell them that you need to be very careful about women coming on to you and wanting to have sex with you because you're popular and handsome, and there might be alcohol involved, and you have to be careful.... If you are going to have sex with women, don't be rude to them. Be aware of what can happen. What happened to me."

Although Ginnane is eager to talk about what happened to him, what could happen to anyone, he has yet to make an official appearance at CU -- where the talk has been all about sex, and student athletes, and racism, for the past several years. When he started out in Boulder, he remembers, the freshman class got a lecture on how to put a condom on a banana. Nothing about the dangers of mixing alcohol with sex. Nothing about how regret can turn to accusations of rape. "Guys need to practice safe sex," he says. "Use a condom and a camcorder." Record consent before engaging in a one-night stand.

His mother, who'd wanted her sons to go to all-black Howard University, offers more pointed advice. "I was raped," she says. "I know what it's like to have someone force you down and stick themselves in you. Some of us know what rape is. I would tell a young black man never to be in a room alone with a white girl.... I'd tell them to make sure there's someone in there who's white. I would tell them to keep their minds on their books, to study hard, to get all the knowledge, to ignore the racism. I would tell them not to give up who they are politically and culturally, but to be aware that they're in a hostile environment."

His own mother isn't the only one affected by his story. "I'm that guy you don't want to be like," Ginnane says. "Mothers all across the state tell me, 'My son needs to read this before he goes to college.'" Otherwise, he may get an unexpected education.

Kumbe Ginnane will always be labeled a sex offender. Under a new state law, he'll be included in Colorado's online sex-offender registry. He will never know what would have happened if he'd told the truth. Whatever it may be.

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