Thursday, October 21, 2004

"The problem of prison rape is real"

"The problem of prison rape is real and we're committed to solving it," said Carl Reynolds, the head of Texas Department of Criminal Justice, in response to ACLU of Texas' lawsuit about which The New York Times reported on October 16 (registration required). An ACLU client was used as a sex slave by prison gangs despite repeated complaints to prison officials. Human Rights Watch, reported the article, has identified six additional, similar cases. Without question that's just the tip of the iceberg.

My college buddy Jorge Renaud was one of the most talented writers and poets I knew in my peer group in school. Tragically, he is currently doing time for armed robbery, but he wrote about TDCJ's attidude toward sexual assault in his excellent and highly recommended 2002 book, Behind the Walls: A Guide for Families and Friends of Texas Prison Inmates. As Jorge tells it, TDCJ "does not admt to any sexual assault within its walls," so the above admission takes on new import. (He points to the massive attempted suicide rate as evidence that prison rape occurs, arguing that is what the suiciders are trying to get away from. According to Jorge, "Free-world journalists have asked and been told the numbers aren't "readily available." Yet each TDCJ unit has, in its infirmary, rape kits to collect evidence of sexual assaults." If nothing else, this ACLU suit has now pried away more data, reported in the
Times article, though judging from Jorge's estimates it's still way underreported.

Jorge describes how weak inmates are forced to "ride" to survive -- to "ride" is to essentially become a sex slave in exchange for protection from beatings and other mistreatment. Latino gangs ban together to protect Latinos, especially from "riding" with blacks, Jorge reports. However, "on many units, the Blacks and Latinos vow that 'all white boys must ride,' so an Anglo who fights back will face regular beatings by increasing numbers, until he is broken, moved, stabs someone and is put in ad/seg, or somehow convinces the other inmates to leave him alone." What a nightmare.

If you're not aware of this landmark Texas prison rape case, please take a look at the Times article. If, as Dostoevsky said, the degree of civilization in a society may be judged by entering its prisons, Texas remains an uncivilized place indeed.


Anonymous said...

Just to let you know. I am a 37 year old white male who has been to prison in Texas twice. 6 years
and 6 months was the duration of my last time. I've been out for over 5 years now and have a few friends out here who have also done time.
In all of those years behind bars
I nor my friends have ever been
approached or witnessed a rape of
any etnic group.I'm sure it happens
but not near as prevalent as Jorge makes it out to be.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks, that's a relief to hear. To judge by the ACLU suit and anecdotal evidence, my sense is that a lot of this depends on what unit you're in and how aggressive the warden and guards are toward stemming prison rape.

Glad to hear you're out and have been getting on with your life for five years now. Buena suerte!

Anonymous said...

I was an inmmate in TDCJID Lopez unit after sending multiple statements that I was in danger I was assaulted by being kicked in the head by 5 mexican gang members I was one of three anglos in my tank 51 men were housed in one room I was urecognizable after the assault after being placed in a transit building my life was threatened I had informed the admin that there was serious trouble in the pod I had been housed in with in 5 days the entire unit rioted and the several that were injured in that Pod and one was dead, then I was transfered off the unit I still feel not for my safety but behind any legal/civil investigation behind the death of the inmate where I had been housed He was a hispanic guy seemed sick and was being made to ride By his own people...The pitting of the races against one another in Texas prisons is a tatic used to distract the inmates from noticing the low number of security and the lack of abilty found in your average CO

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