CONDITIONS AT FLUVANNA CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTE

 

The following is excerpted from The Tallahassee Project, available in bookstores summer 2001. The excerpt is part of an update that informs the reader of events up to December 31, 2000.

 

The fate of many Tallahassee women, Drug War and non-Drug War prisoners alike, hangs in the balance. In a new development, the Bureau of Prisons has entered into a 12 month contract with the state of Virginia to dispose of overflow at federal women's prisons.

A report from Tallahassee on December 20 tells of shipments of Tallahassee prisoners to Fluvanna Correctional Institute, a facility run by the state prison authority in Troy, Virginia. To date, 120 women have been taken from Tallahassee, to join at least 150 from other federal prisons.

The first shipment from Tallahassee, occurring some time in November, included Frankie Delise. Frankie's condition is unknown. The most recent shipment, occurring on December 17, included Lorilee Leckness. Friends of Lorilee are worried. She has not been heard from since she left. Others have written but not Lorilee. Whether others among those whose words are quoted in this book have been included is not known.

"Overcrowding" is the official explanation. The report from Tallahassee describes waves of incoming prisoners, the majority prisoners of the War on Drugs, taking the place of departing prisoners as fast as they leave.

Word filtering back from Fluvanna Correctional Institute tells of brutal conditions facing new arrivals. Tallahassee staff advise those awaiting shipment to submit to shoulder length haircuts and cutting of fingernails when they reach Fluvanna, "or else." There is a report of a food strike, with the customary reprisals.

The new arrival at Fluvanna Correctional Institute faces perpetual lockdown. She gets 20 minutes out of the lockdown space daily.

Treated as a state prisoner, she is stripped of her federal registration number and given a Virginia state prison number instead. Mail addressed with a federal registration number may or may not get through.

Telephone privileges are severely limited. Since the success of the law suit four years ago claiming exploitation by phone companies, federal prisoners have made phone calls at a cost of $2.25 for 15 minutes, paid by the prisoner. At Fluvana Correctional Institute, phone access is limited to a collect call once a week, for which the receiving party pays $11 for 10 minutes.

The law library at Fluvanna Correctional Institute stocks a quantity of state law books, but only seven federal law books. Nominally a federal prisoner but now virtually a state prisoner, Lorilee Leckness will not be able to proceed with the federal case she was building in the law library at Tallahassee.

Fluvanna Correctional Institute has no work for its prisoners except "landscaping" for a few. There is consequently no way for a woman to profit from her labor. Price gouging at the prison commissary is nothing new, but here is liable to cause extreme hardship. A 5 inch TV set can be purchased from the commissary for $189 - if funds can be obtained to make the purchase.

Visits are limited to one hour once a week.

The report on which this information is based speaks of ominous developments in Bureau of Prisons thinking. Federal money will not be spent on building prisons to accommodate new prisoners. Federal prisoners will be transferred to low-bidding state authorities, swelling state prison populations at small cost to the federal government. If after 12 months the outcome of the trial at Fluvanna Correctional Institute is considered satisfactory, the contract will be renewed and the program of transferring federal prisoners to state prisons expanded.

Tallahassee women are afraid. No one knows whose turn will be next. The women complain of being "sold" and of the injustice of "doing federal time in state prison."

Members of the House of Representatives from Florida were contacted and asked to intervene, but none showed interest in helping.

The prevalence of sexual exploitation of women prisoners by male staff at Fluvanna Correctional Institute has been known for the past two years. The information was evidently of no concern to the Federal Bureau of Prisons when it decided to transfer federal prisoners to the custody of Virginia state officials for a price.

It is unknown how many Tallahassee Project women are presently incarcerated at Fluvanna. The following report was obtained by a correspondent at FCI Tallahassee from a web site printout and hand-copied for posting here. It consists of excerpts from a report dated October 10, 1999.

The same correspondent enclosed a copy of a letter received from an ex-Tallahassee POW of unknown identity who left for Fluvanna in the first November shipment, addressed to friends left behind. Name and identifying details were deleted by the correspondent to protect the writer from retaliation. The letter is undated, but was written before December 25, 2000.


SEX WITH GUARDS RAMPANT AT WOMENS' PRISON
SEVERAL GUARDS DISMISSED AT VIRGINIA INSTITUTION

 

 

TROY, Virginia, October 1999. Prisoners at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women -- which opened in April 1998 -- have stories of forbidden sex with officers, and inmates say they know of at least a dozen officers having sex with inmates at the prison.

There have been 25 complaints about sexual misconduct by staff during the first nine months of 1999, compared to nine during the final nine months of 1998.

Prisoners "have expressed a pervasive feeling of being trapped and helpless when a staff member depended on for protection is the one demanding or forcing them into these situations," said D. Michael Caudill, court-appointed institutional attorney who provides legal counseling to Fluvanna inmates.

"Officers can control ... how a woman does her time, including visitation privileges, programs, parole recommendations, and writing disciplinary tickets. The concept of (sexual) consent doesn't work in prison," said Giovanna Shay, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project. The ACLU is investigating alleged sexual misconduct by Fluvanna staff.

A 1998 study by the human rights group Amnesty International found that sex between inmates and prison staff "is virtually a fact of life for incarcerated women" in the United States, where about 140,000 women are in jails and prisons. It is "torture, plain and simple," the group concluded.

Yolanda Gross, 44, said three guards have sexually abused her at Fluvanna. An officer supervising Ms. Gross while she performed yard work outside the prison fence pushed her against a building out of view of security cameras, she said. "He started feeling my breasts and behind.

In July, Ms. Gross said, another guard came into her cell one night while she was sleeping. "He put his hand over my mouth so I wouldn't wake my roommate, and felt my breasts and felt my vagina."

Krystle Hill, 21, said she was sexually harassed for months by the same guard who assaulted Ms. Gross outside the perimeter. One day when they were alone in the staff dining room he exposed himself to her and put her hand on his penis, she said. Another time he pulled her against him and "shoved his hands down my pants," Ms. Hill said, tearfully. The guard was fired. His case will be presented on Oct. 25 to the Fluvanna County Circuit Court grand jury for possible criminal prosecution.

Thomasina Barbour said an officer also took a liking to her. "He said he ... thought I was cute" and started bringing her perfume and cigarettes, a violation of DOC rules. Last Christmas, he said he had a present for her, she said. He came into her cell and they had intercourse, she said. Ms. Barbour, 30, said she also had sex with the officer early one morning in a shower stall while other inmates slept.

Inmate Carol Arnette said she had a year-long romantic relationship with a guard. It started when "he would come by when I got out of the shower and look into my room and tell me all he could do to my body sexually," she said.

Later, he would thrust his hand through the food tray slot on her cell door and fondle her, she said. They also had sexual intercourse at least three times in her cell, she said.

Four Fluvanna staff members, three correctional officers and one maintenance man, have resigned or been fired this year on charges ranging from giving gifts to sexually abusing inmates, said Warden Huffman. Four other employees received lesser degrees of discipline and two resigned after allegations were made, she said. Investigations are under way in three other cases.

Inappropriate relationships are not limited to the Fluvanna prison, which houses more than half of the state's female inmates. In 1998 and 1999 there were seven cases at the state's three other women's prisons in which staff members were either fired or resigned, according to the Department of Corrections.

It is difficult to gauge how pervasive the problem is, however, because most inmates are afraid to file complaints because of fear of retaliation, Amnesty International found.

"If we speak out, other officers agitate you, write you tickets. Your job, your school, your visits are taken away from you," Ms. Gross said.

Inmate Bobinette Fearce said the number of reported cases are "the tip of the iceberg ... in this little cesspool (of) seductions."

Ms. Huffman said she encourages inmates to come forward. "I can't address what I don't know," she said. She noted that only a fraction of Fluvanna's 491 employees have been accused of misconduct and that the staff is constantly cautioned about inappropriate relationships with inmates.

But with men circulating freely in the living spaces of 900 female inmates, it may be impossible to stamp out romance and sex. Human rights groups say the answer is all-female staff in women's prisons. Ms. Huffman said that is impossible because of equal employment laws.


 

* * * Copy of a letter received from an ex-Tallahassee POW of unknown identity who left for Fluvanna in the first November shipment, addressed to friends left behind:

Hi Friends, What's up? Well, what can i say? First, let me say Merry Xmas and i miss you all a lot.

i guess you've been wondering why i haven't written. Well, here goes.

At the present moment i'm in the SHU [Special Housing Unit, the hole, segragation], but it doesn't matter bcause i have been on 24 hr. lockdown anyway & the SHU is much better because at least i know that it's because i did something why i'm here.

From the day we got here the whole thing has been a mess right now there are 19 people from Tallahassee that's locked up with me. We're under investigation for trying to start a riot or a food strike or something of the sort. Everything that you've heard about this place is so true. And all that shit about excessive force. Well, let me tell you all about that.

They came and started locking people up on the 29th [December]. On the night they came in It was a million officers, they came in with mace and barriers and locked up people one by one.

They left at about 1 AM and i thought i'd finally have some sleep. They came for my roommate at about six AM & called the lot of us out the room & cuffed us up. They took her and put me back in the room, then the motherfucking Asst. Warden gonna tell me that he'll be back later. i thought about it for a while and weighed my options. Either i was going to sit and wait and go quietly or i was gonna "buck" on those motherfuckers. Well, as you can guess i choose the latter so i told the fuckin AW [Assistant Warden] to go fuck himself & then took up the trunks and threw them bitches in the door. They ran back in there fully loaded and ready for me.

"Girls," How about this Cracker gonna send them to "hog tie" me. i cussed his ass out soooo bad that the idiot thought that i was gonna try to fight him or something. They eventually got me face down on the floor and about six of the[m] escorted me to this place i now call home. The investigator called me & told me that i'd be herre for a veeeeerrrrrry loooonnng time. i told him i don't give a fuck, he can keep me here for the whole eleven months if he choose to. "He said that's the plan."

Okay now that we've gone through the hard stuff let me tell you, who all's locked up with me. Then I'll give you easier stuff. Nicole, Manette, Paulette, Ida, Trina, Cheri, Libby, Tenora, Tiffany, Fufu, Nita, "J," two Spanish mommas & a few I don't remember.

Girl ths place is awful this lady came in yesterday. They "hog tied" her & broke her wrist. Baby we're talking excessive force here!!

Most of the officers are 23 & under. And guess what all this talk about the Feds taking care of us. BULLSHITTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

They [the Feds] were here the day we came here but we couldn't talk to them. They came when the last trip got here & they haven't had any contact with this institution after that. All that bull that Ms. Sutherland [Tallahassee's unit manager] told us none of it is true. This is as MAX as it gets. They house "death row" inmates. There is one girl i met in medical that has life + 150 years. Girls, you hardly get to see sun.

And guess what, there's more.

This is a medical and mental health institution. The people that cook your food has hepatitis & AIDS. YUP!!

My brother called an attorney for me so it's just a matter of time. Of time i'm now a hundred [rest of line illegible] decreasing.

For dinner yesterday i got eight minature carrots & two breakfast sausages approximately 4 inches in length and inch in diameter. "No Joke" that was dinner. i am trying to get a cassete player and some reggae tapes because i know i'll be here for awhile.

Well i'm gonna go ahead & close for now.

You all are my true friends & you're good people. i miss you guys a lot. I have not been the same person since i came here. i guess that is why i don't mind being in seg. There is nothing out there for me anyway. You are all a piece of my heart & i can't wait till all the pieces can be put together again.

I LOVE YOU

Now, Always & Forever Still me.

Love,

{Name blacked out.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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