Washington, D.C., June 14, 2005
My name is Linda Bruntmyer, and I am here today to tell you about my son, Rodney Hulin.
When Rodney was 16, he and his brother set a dumpster on fire in an alley in our neighborhood. The authorities decided to make an example of Rodney. Even though only about $500 in damage was caused by the fire, they sentenced him to eight years in an adult prison.
We were frightened for him from the start. At sixteen, Rodney was a small guy, only 5’2 and about 125 pounds. And as a first-time offender, we knew he might be targeted by older, tougher, adult inmates.
Then, our worst nightmares came true. Rodney wrote us a letter telling us he’d been raped. A medical examination had confirmed the rape. A doctor found tears in his rectum and ordered an HIV test, because, he told us, one-third of the prisoners there were HIV positive.
But that was only the beginning. Rodney knew if he went back into the general population, he would be in danger. He wrote to the authorities requesting to be moved to a safer place. He went through all the proper channels, but he was denied.
After the first rape, he was returned to the general population. There, he was repeatedly beaten and forced to perform oral sex and raped. He wrote for help again. In his grievance letter he wrote, “I have been sexually and physically assaulted several times, by several inmates. I am afraid to go to sleep, to shower, and just about everything else. I am afraid that when I am doing these things, I might die at any minute. Please sir, help me.”
Still, officials told him that he did not meet what they called the “emergency grievance criteria.” We all tried to get him to a safe place. I called the warden, trying to figure out what was going on. He said Rodney needed to grow up. He said, “This happens every day, learn to deal with it. It’s no big deal.”
We were desperate. Rodney started to violate rules so that he would be put in segregation. After he was finally put in segregation, we had about a ten minute phone conversation. He was crying. He said, “Mom, I'm emotionally and mentally destroyed.”
That was the last time I heard his voice. On the night of January 26, 1996, my son hanged himself in his cell. He was seventeen and afraid, and ashamed, and hopeless. He laid in a coma for the next four months before he died.
Nine years have gone by since we lost Rodney, but my family still suffers the consequences of what happened to him. My children are not the same as they were before.
One of my children will start crying for no reason at all. My sweet little daughter has a “don’t mess with me,” angry-at-the-world attitude all the time. She was very close to Rodney and, to this day, we have to watch what we say about him to her. She hasn’t learned to let go. When we go to the graveyard, it is very hard for her to leave. Sometimes she tries to dig up the grave with her fingers.
When it first happened I was very angry too, at everyone. I still sometimes go to bed crying, or I wake up crying. I wonder, “What could I have done differently to prevent this from happening?” But I’ve learned to let myself sit back and focus. I understand why Rodney did what he did. If I was in his shoes, I probably would have done the same thing - just to escape.
I tell people not to feel sorry for me. I’ve learned to deal with it by using my anger to help prevent this from happening to others. But I know that it is still happening.
We know that what happened to Rodney could have been prevented. There are ways to protect the vulnerable inmates, and ways to respond to the needs of prisoners who have been sexually assaulted. Even so, vulnerable prisoners are being sexually brutalized across the country, every day. Rodney tried to ask for help, and I tried too. But nothing was done.
Rape in prison should not be tolerated. It destroys human dignity, it spreads disease, it makes people more angry and violent. It kills.
It’s too late to help my son, but there is hope for countless other prisoners in his situation. Rodney did not deserve to be beaten. He did not deserve to be raped. He did not deserve to die. Please make sure that what happened to Rodney never happens again. Thank you.
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