Good morning. My name is Necole Anderson Brown. I would first like to thank the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission for the opportunity to testify at this hearing. I hope that by sharing my very painful experiences of having been sexually abused in prison, I can assist the Commission in preventing this from happening to others. The corrections officer who did this to me has never been held responsible for what he did, and so I am here today still seeking justice for myself and the other women he has hurt.
I was initially incarcerated at Scott Correctional Women’s Facility in Michigan from 1996 until July 1998, on two counts of check fraud. There were over 1,000 women at Scott at the time. When I entered prison, I was only 24 years old, and had no previous exposure to prison or any idea how things worked there. And I had no concept of what I was about to suffer through. I was expecting to be locked up for a couple of years, and then to get out and go on with my life, and be able to finish school.
Derle Jones, one of the corrections officers at Scott, began expressing an interest in me and being overly friendly from the first day I arrived. At first, he just made general conversation, but it quickly progressed to the point where he had other male officers come get me from the housing units and bring me to him, wherever he was in the prison. Soon, conversation wasn’t good enough. He began to sexually abuse me in January 1997. In the spring of 1997, he began taking me to a storage closet where he would grope my breasts and genital areas, digitally penetrate me and, sometimes, take off and keep my panties. As the abuse became more severe, I found myself becoming withdrawn from everything around me. I was also extremely anxious because I never knew when Officer Joneswould show up, or when another officer would be there to take me to him. He touched and felt me in ways that just disgusted me. Other inmates told me that he had violated other prisoners in the same way. No staff or administrative people ever intervened, including when other male staff brought me to him, or when he took me to areas where prisoners were not supposed to go. Before long, Officer Jones forced me to have sexual intercourse with him.
On one occasion, Officer Jones arranged for me to get a pass to the prison health clinic on a weekend (although I had no medical need to be there), and it was clear that he was planning to force me to have sex. Luckily, someone else was in the clinic, Officer Jones’ plan was thwarted, and I was sent back to my cell. While these acts usually took place outside of the directview of inmates and corrections officers, it was well known around the prison that this was happening because Officer Jones involved other corrections officers in gaining access to me and made it obvious that he knew a lot of personal information about me that had nothing to do with his job.
To make sure that I went along with his misconduct, Officer Jones constantly threatened me—that if I told anyone, he would make sure that I would either be punished by being sent to administrative segregation, that I would lose privileges, such as time on the phone or visits with my family, and even that I would not be allowed to leave prison. He made it clear that either I do what he requests, or I do not go home. He had the ability to write me up for so-called ‘misconduct’ anytime he wanted, and the more tickets I got, the more good time I lost, meaning that my release on parole would be delayed. I felt like I had to do the things that he asked me to so that I could survive in prison and be able to come home.
When I was released from theScott Correctional Women’s Facilityin the summer of 1998, I was initially sent to a lower security correctional center for a short time. Officer Joneswas aware of my transfer to this facility because he had access to my institutional records. He kept track of my schedule and places I was required to be by speaking with the corrections officers working at the correctional center, who reported my movements to him. They never reported his improper calls or intervened on my behalf. Rather they would call me to the phone and make me talk to him. I even had to clear my plans with him ahead of time over the phone, because he wanted to make sure that he would be able to meet up with me when he was not working. Officer Jonesaccosted me outside the correctional center, and in various locations that I had to report to, and on several occasions, sexually assaulted me and forced me to perform oral sex on him. Each time, he reminded me that he would make sure I was returned to prison immediately if I dared report the abuse.
One day, when I was on a pass from the center in order to take an employment test, Officer Jonesconfronted me in a bathroom at the Addeco employment building and forced himself on me. On another occasion, the center allotted me some time to shop at a Wal-Mart store. During this trip, Officer Jones confronted me and insisted on walking with me throughout the store. He then made me get in his car, where he gropedme and tried to force my head downto perform oral sex on him. Fortunately, a Wal-martsecurity guard was driving around the parking lot. Officer Jones became nervous and dropped me off around the corner. Although I had greater freedom as a result of being at the correctional center, Officer Jones’ continued abuse and harassment left me feeling violated, trapped, anxious and depressed.
After I had been released from the custody of the correctionalcenter with an ankle bracelet (or tether), Officer Jones continued to stalk me. He called and came to my mother’s house where I was staying, and forced me to have sex with him by threatening to do something that would get me sent back to prison. I blamed myself for what happened, and my self-worth was extremely low. But I did not know how to escape him and at the same time escape going back to prison. I was working very hard to put my life back together at the time—working two jobs and going to college—but I felt so hopeless. At one point I thought I was pregnant. When I raised this with him he became enraged, and said something to the effect that, “I can’t have any kids. I’ll kill you if you tell anyone about this!” Fortunately, the test came back negative. This incident made him finally leave me alone.
I ended up violating the terms of my inmate status bygoing into a store(the terms of my release required me to be either at home, work or school)and was returned to Scott Correctional Women’s Facility in October 1999. I wasthen transferred to a newly opened women’s facility, the Western Wayne Correctional Center, for about three months. Unfortunately, Officer Joneshad also been transferred to Western Wayne. He continued to threaten me about reporting what he had done. He told me, “they won’t believe you.” One day, he had another corrections officer bring me to the prison chapel, where he was waiting for me. In the other officer’s presence, he asked me how my family was, addressing me in a very personal manner. Soon, everyone in the prison was aware of what had this officer had been doing to me at Scott. I was terrified to make any waves because I would be going before the parole board soon, and did not want to do anything that would jeopardize my release. At the same time, two female corrections officers began harassing me, apparently in a show of solidarity with a fellow officer.
As I heard about other women in the prison turning to lawyers such as Deborah LaBelle to get help with sexual abuse by the corrections officers, I finally decided to do the same thing. Once I spoke with her, she began to help me. However, the retaliation grew worse. Corrections officers would interrupt my attorney visits, withhold my mail, and search me or try to degrade me in front of other people for no reason. I was soon transferred back to Scott for my protection, and my ordeal with Officer Jones finally came to an end in 2000, after five years. When I arrived at Scott, one of the corrections officers blurted out something like, “Why did they send you over [to Western Wayne] when they knew [Officer Jones] was there?” A lieutenant who was present nudged him and snapped, “Don’t talk to her!”
Although I filed a formal grievance with the prison, it was denied, supposedly for a lack of evidence. This was sadly ironic to me, given that both inmates and staff knew what Officer Jones had been doing to me for years.
Although my case was presentedto the Wayne County prosecutor’s office in 2001, Officer Jones has never been prosecuted. Instead, the prosecutor declined to pursue the case and denied the issuance of a warrant for his arrest on October 4, 2001, citing insufficient evidence. This despite the fact that I offered to take a polygraph test a number of times, and that I was able to describe in detail what the officer’s personal vehicle—and even his genitalia—looked like. I knew personal things that I never could have known if Officer Jones had not engaged in inappropriate conduct with me—such as the timing of weekends when his wife was out of town, the location of the beauty shop his wife worked at, and his telephone numbers. I had also begun logging everything inappropriate that Officer Jones(and the other corrections officers who were harassing me) said or did. Investigators interviewed me but failed to follow up on the information about my complaint; the Michigan Department of Corrections did not provide the evidence to the state police or the prosecutor; and, the prosecutor didn’t bother to ask whether such evidence existed.
A check of phone records would have revealed that Officer Jones insisted on calling me when I was released with an ankle bracelet, and a search of his vehicle would likely have produced incriminating evidence. In addition, I later learned that three other women inmates had previouslycome forward and complained that Officer Jones had sexually assaulted them before I reported his abuse. Jones also tracked down and forced one of these women to have sex with him after she was released, and her mother took a photograph of him—in uniform—coming up to the front door of their house to find her daughter. My case was simply closed without looking into these other cases.
To my knowledge, neither Officer Jones nor the officers who brought me to him in prison and carried phone messages from him to me were interviewed about my allegations. State police contacted Officer Jonesin 2001, but he told them that it was a waste of his time to speak with them, and the police simply dropped the matter. Neither the police nor the prosecutor’s office ever followed through to obtain an interview with himnor sought the phone records or his duty logs which would have corroborated my allegations. The prosecutor’s office never interviewed other staff from the prison or the other women who complained to the prison of his abuse, both before and after I told them of my abuse.
Since coming forward to report what happened to me, I have decided that I must stand up and fight. While I have struggled to move on with my life in the past several years, I continue to contend with flashbacks of whatthis corrections officerdid to me, and the guilt, shame and rage that come with having been sexually violated for so many years. I felt lost for a very long time struggling with this, and I wasn’t trusting of anyone. I sill struggle with the memories of the ordeal, and tend to take it out on the friends and family who are trying to be there for me now. This corrections officer—and the corrections and prosecutorial systems as a whole—stole so much from me. In addition to damaging my sense of self-worth, hope and dignity, I lost nearly 6 months of good time as a result of the unfounded misconduct tickets this officer or others at his behestissued me. I have had to seek therapy to work through my emotions, and marriage counseling to stem the damage this ordeal has done to my relationship with my husband. I know that I didn’t ask for any of this and I didn’t deserve it. And I still don’t understand how this could have happened to me and other women—and how the Michigan authorities could have stood by and let it go unpunished—to this day.
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