Sunday, March 11, 2001

Cruel, unusual punishment

What punks face in prison

        Andy Williams and his pals liked to smoke pot, hang out, drink beer, do skateboard stunts and wear baseball caps backward. Punks. And proud of it.

        If only they knew the punk job description, maybe Andy would have thought twice about buying face time on TV by shooting up his school on Monday, killing two students and wounding 13 others.

        “Punks — usually young, nonviolent offenders, and often pretrial detainees — typically fall victim to a series of gang rapes that may continue for anywhere from a few days to several years,” Eli Lehrer wrote in “Hell Behind Bars,” in the Feb. 5 National Review.

        Prison rape is a joke in Hollywood, but the real story is a frightening walk through the darkest, most brutal corner of society, where savage human animals are kept in cages that protect us, but don't protect the weakest sheep among them from the wolves.

        A prison punk is not a rebel without a cause in a backward Raiders cap. He's the small guy, the kid like Andy Williams. If he runs or backs down from a fight in the first few days on the inside, the wolves smell blood.

        Rape is so common in crowded prisons that rapes of men by men now exceed rapes of women by men, according to Mr. Lehrer.

        A case I looked at involving a prisoner from Cincinnati was typical. “It was a hoot-n-holler crime, young guys, smoking dope, they robbed someplace like cowboys and Indians and shot out a car window,” his lawyer said. He served his 11 years as a model prisoner until he was caught breaking paperwork rules and was sent to segregation.

        Through carelessness or cold indifference, prison officials locked him in a cell with a sexual predator who had spent nearly his entire adult life in prison, a repeat rapist who had attacked inmates for sex.

        The sheep — “very small, a little guy with little glasses” — was raped all night, choked and nearly killed.

        Prison officials took him to a hospital, verified the rape, then left him in a cell, with no treatment, no counseling, no shower, for two days. He begged for psychiatric help and finally got it 30 days later. The prison shrink played tapes that encouraged him to submit to homosexual rape for protection.

        “That psychiatrist is the most disgusting excuse for a human being,” the lawyer said.

        The rape victim was finally put in a cell by himself — right above the rapist. He was put to work in the cafeteria where all the inmates could haze him.

        Court records said he suffered “anxiety, difficulty sleeping, depression, shame, fear for his safety, fear that he has been exposed to the HIV virus, humiliation, taunts and threats by other inmates, as well as physical injuries from the rape itself.”

        He sued and won six-figures from Ohio taxpayers. But he still has vivid, violent nightmares and cannot tell his family what happened.

        “He goes away a boy and comes home a brutal man,” his lawyer said.

        We put wolves in with sheep, and we get more wolves that are paroled to prey on us.

        It's good to be tough on crime. The case I read made me glad some animals are locked away for life. But homosexual rape is not part of Ohio's sentencing guidelines. Torture by sexual assault and death by AIDs is pretty cruel and unusual punishment for kids who are caught boosting a car. It's harsh even for Andy Williams.

        Nobody wants to talk about such an ugly topic. So nothing is done to stop it.

        But I've seen a glimpse of hell behind bars in the court records I read. And I wouldn't recommend a visit to anyone except adults with strong stomachs — and kids who think about taking a gun to school because playing the punk looks cool.

        Contact Enquirer Associate Editor Peter Bronson at 768-8301; fax: 768-8610; e-mail: Cincinnati.Com keyword: Bronson.


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