Tim Carpenter, Women's Prisons: Sex trade, The Topeka Capital-Journal, October 3, 2009
Vocational plumbing instructor Anastacio "Ted" Gallardo's clandestine meeting with an inmate in a dusty storage building at the state women's prison in east Topeka was to be a simple exchange of cash for sex.
Instead, the encounter indirectly pulled back the cover of a complex black market at the Topeka Correctional Facility catering to inmates' demand for contraband -- tobacco, pharmaceuticals, illegal drugs -- and the willingness of prison employees to engage in trafficking to gratify financial or carnal appetites.
"I managed to get pretty much anything into that facility that you could think of through guards or drop-offs along the fence," said former inmate Kendra Barnes, who served nine years at TCF on aggravated burglary, theft and robbery convictions before paroled in late 2008. "Sex for drugs? Sure."
Interviews with current and former female prisoners, past and present corrections employees, lawyers, politicians and civil rights advocates as well as a review of hundreds of confidential or public documents related to activities at TCF, including a 150-page transcript of court hearings from the prosecution of Gallardo, point to a workplace culture at the state's lone prison for women that leaves the door open to misconduct.
TCF inmates and corrections officers say as many as one-third of the Topeka facility's 250 employees have at one time been involved in contraband activities with prisoners, but top administrators of the Kansas Department of Corrections say that percentage is inflated. DOC officials say a more realistic estimate is 2 percent of the 3,000 employees at the state's eight prisons.
The system of exchange involving contraband for personal favors demonstrates lack of respect for prisoners by corrections employees, said Kenneth Maggard, a former heating and air conditioning supervisor at TCF.
"Deep down inside," he said, "they view inmates as garbage. That's why they're not trying to clean this up."
Roger Werholtz, the state secretary of corrections, said such sweeping characterizations were reckless. Kansas isn't much different from other states when it comes to unethical behavior by staff and inmates, he said.
"It's an issue everywhere in the country," Werholtz said.
Gallardo, who admitted in court that he had brought tobacco and drugs to prisoners at the Topeka facility and had sex with at least one inmate, didn't approach this phenomenon in terms of a broad national debate about prison management.
His interest was personal.
The teacher had his eye on plumbing student Tracy Keith, a petite woman with dark hair incarcerated since 2006 for manufacturing methamphetamine in Johnson County.
Keith wasn't fresh fish. She knew the score at TCF. And she was broke. She was making $14 a month at a prison job. Cash makes life more tolerable in the bonds of the corrections department. Documents and interviews detail how an intermediary explained to Keith that Gallardo was prepared to deposit money in her prison bank account if she had sex with him. Keith agreed to oral sex, she said, but drew the line at intercourse.
This type of backroom commerce is both a felony under Kansas law and forbidden by prison rule, but Keith knew other female inmates had avoided detection while trading sexual favors for contraband smuggled onto prison grounds by Gallardo and others. There was little chance of getting caught, she reasoned, since Gallardo's job gave the instructor free run of the institution.
"It was going to be easy money," Keith said during an interview at the prison.
Immediately after lunch on Oct. 2, 2007, Gallardo slipped behind the wheel of one of the prison's work vehicles. He drove Keith and inmate Sandra McMillan, another prison vocational student in a covert business relationship with Gallardo, a short distance to the prison's old two-story stone gym. The building functioned as a storage facility. Gallardo's crew of inmates went there regularly to pick up plumbing supplies. The locale had the advantage of being outside the prison's perimeter fence. No security cameras to dodge. Fewer prying eyes capable of raising an alarm.
McMillan, who told investigators that she brokered the arrangement with Keith on behalf of Gallardo, stood guard.
Keith began to fulfill her part of the transaction. Gallardo insisted on more. Keith balked. That wasn't the deal, she said.
"My exact words were, 'Ted, I don't think this is a good idea,'" Keith said. "That's a no."
The 6-foot-2, 300-pound instructional supervisor dismissed the protest. He brought her to a standing position and pulled down her elastic-waist pants. It was over in seconds.
On the drive back from the gym, Gallardo said he had to be mindful of a practical problem. He announced to Keith and McMillan that he should better prepare for sexual encounters with inmates by hiding condoms at the prison's plumbing shop. Evidence contained in court records and accounts offered by people incarcerated at the prison or working in the facility indicates Gallardo had sex with three to six other female prisoners. Gallardo attempted to keep a lid on his on-the-job sideline. He was apprehensive word would leak to his wife. Two inmates enrolled in vocational classes said Gallardo threatened to harm anyone who broke their code of silence.
"In the classroom or the trade skills training room, he's the authority figure," said Jason Hart, a former Shawnee County prosecutor. "He's in an environment where he can directly interact with the inmates. He has the ability to impact their liberty."
Threats aside, the scheme orchestrated by Gallardo unraveled in extraordinary fashion.
Keith realized she was pregnant about 10 days after hooking up with Gallardo. He reacted by plotting to destroy evidence of his conduct.
In violation of state law, he smuggled morning-after pills to Keith. She took them, but it failed to terminate the pregnancy. Gallardo went to great lengths in an unsuccessful bid to obtain the abortion pill RU486, a highly regulated medication in the United States. He tried to secure the drug from an associate in Mexico and from a TCF inmate who said she trafficked regularly in pharmaceuticals procured from Bernard Megaffin, a registered sexual offender who had been stripped of his Kansas medical license years ago.
In desperation, Gallardo had an inmate stomp on Keith's stomach in an effort to induce a spontaneous miscarriage. It didn't work. Gallardo repeatedly implored Keith to let him sneak her out of the Topeka prison so they could make a run to an abortion clinic in Wichita or Kansas City. Keith declined. She didn't trust him. If caught outside the wire, she said, a lengthy sentence for escape was a certainty.
TCF Warden Richard Koerner scoffed at the idea Gallardo could have eluded detection while secretly transporting Keith by car 65 miles to the nearest abortion clinic.
Gallardo, who declined an interview request, wasn't the only bad actor at the East Topeka prison to ignore the department's ethical code of conduct.
Koerner said the state agency referred to the Shawnee County District Attorney's Office another case against a corrections officer accused of "unlawful sexual relations" with a female inmate at TCF. District Attorney Chad Taylor declined in June to prosecute the officer because evidence didn't rise to the level required to file charges, a spokesman for Taylor said.
"He was allowed to resign," Koerner said.
Officially, the line between prison guard and prison inmate is wide. Inmates aren't supposed to know the first name of a corrections officer. They often do. The corrections department's code of ethics forbids attempts to "establish any form of personal relationship with an offender." The cold-shoulder philosophy is a security precaution to deny inmates avenues to manipulate guards and for corrections officers to coerce inmates. Still, personal relationships do develop.
Inmates caught crossing that line face erosion of "good-time" credits that shorten a sentence or the loss of other privileges. Employees caught violating TCF policies in the broad category of "undue familiarity" can be issued a warning, hit with a suspension, pressured to resign or fired. The more serious charge of "unlawful sexual relations" is an offense triggering dismissal and possible criminal prosecution.
TCF correctional officer Richard Short, a union leader at the prison, said some disciplinary cases brought against guards were ridiculous. He said corrections officers at the facility were being "held hostage" by inmates who know all allegations, even false claims, initiate internal investigations. He said the DOC reviewed charges in ways that intentionally turned officers against each other and weakened staff cohesion.
"They'll dig and dig and dig. Then they'll pick over the facts," Short said. "What is the biggest mistake of new employees? They're nice, civil."
Short, who has been suspended three times in seven years for violating policy regarding undue familiarity with prisoners, said zealous second-guessing of correction officers plays into the hands of inmates. He unsuccessfully disputed complaints that he "affectionately" stroked an inmate's ear, attempted to tape a prisoner's ponytail to a desk and gave a rose to inmates. None of those scenes was as bad as portrayed, he said.
"One of the reasons you have such a huge contraband issue is they allow inmates to make these complaints," said Short, who believes the steady threat of a DOC probe makes officers susceptible to pressure to break rules in an effort to appease prisoners.
Agency officials say the reality of past conduct among prison employees warrants vigilant investigation.
"What we want to do is stop sexual activity by employees with male and female inmates. Unfortunately, we've had situations involving both," said Charles Simmons, deputy secretary of the Department of Corrections.
At least eight instances of sexual misconduct at state prisons, including two at TCF, have been forwarded to prosecutors in the past three years, the corrections department says. Only three of those cases prompted criminal charges. Overall, at least three dozen prison employees were recommended for prosecution for crimes that include trafficking contraband, undue familiarity, aiding an escape, sexual battery and unlawful sexual conduct.
For corrections employees accused of infractions by their superiors, quitting is the easy escape. It quietly ties off the indiscretion in a confidential personnel file.
However, some corrections officers fight sanctions imposed by prison administrators.
These challenges of a personnel action, eventually, offer the public a glimpse of misplaced affection among staff members and inmates. Civil Service Board summaries of contested disciplinary actions against Topeka prison employees are reported four times a year to the Kansas Department of Administration. Names are redacted from reports, but each contains a brief summary of the personnel issue under review.
In January, an activities specialist assigned to oversee evening programs in the Topeka prison's gym decided instead to visit women in the facility's maximum-security living unit. He kissed or bit an inmate's hand. He allowed lewd behavior to occur between two inmates. He delivered fist bumps while socializing with prisoners. His firing was upheld by the state board.
The dismissal of a corporal, which is the introductory rank among corrections officers, was allowed to stand in 2006 after the guard was found to have permitted an inmate to telephone him at home 17 times, speaking for up to 30 minutes each time. He previously had been suspended for undue familiarity with an inmate. A sergeant was fired in 2003 for engaging in undue familiarity with an inmate after being warned three times to stay away from the same prisoner. Also in 2003, a TCF storekeeper specialist was sacked after a series of suspensions, including a seven-day sanction for bringing a camera into the prison and taking "inappropriate" photographs of inmates.
Back in Keith's cell, biological ramifications of her pregnancy continued to unfold. Uncertainty ate away at her. She agonized about when prison officials would learn of her condition. Keith was disappointed Gallardo never sent money as promised. She was bitter Gallardo turned the tables on her by insisting on intercourse.
She informed Gallardo she would not keep quiet about his involvement if prison or law enforcement officials started making inquiries. Gallardo confidently pushed aside the warning.
According to Keith, "He said: 'Nobody is going to believe you. You're an inmate.'"
Gallardo, who began work at the prison on Dec. 18, 2006, soon felt the walls closing in. Without serving notice, he quit showing up at his plumbing job at the prison a week after Halloween in 2007.
Gallardo's wife, Kari Johnson, said her husband had yet to confess to a fling with Keith or any other inmate at TCF. That heart-rending conversation did occur.
"He left the facility in November, so probably a few weeks later," said Johnson, who works for the Department of Corrections in a program to help offenders reintegrate into society.
Johnson's colleagues at the corrections department had been similarly clueless. TCF investigators had no idea of a cover-up until inmate Shari Bierman, serving a 25-year term from Wyandotte County for sadistically murdering her sister, tipped guards in mid-November that Keith was carrying a baby. Three people who were at the prison during this period said Bierman was motivated to share information about Keith's predicament because Bierman was a jilted former lover of Gallardo.
William Tabor, a top officer in TCF's internal investigation division, confronted Keith. He shoved across a table the informant's note, known in prison parlance as a Form 9. It said: "Give Tracy Keith a pregnancy test. It's Ted Gallardo's."
Keith, 35, could have refused to cooperate, but her womb would have eventually revealed its secret.
She identified Gallardo as the only person who could be the father. She provided information about Gallardo's method of bringing pouches of tobacco and other items to the prison in a lunch pail. She shared the names of other women involved in the enterprise. Keith was given a pregnancy test. It was positive.
Prison officials confiscated Keith's journal, which included details of her liaison with Gallardo. It has never been returned.
In the course of that interrogation, Keith said Tabor joked about the statistical improbability of getting pregnant from a solitary rendezvous with Gallardo.
"He said, 'Miss Keith, you have some really bad luck.'"
Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International in Los Angeles, said the problem at TCF and other U.S. prisons went far beyond an unlucky roll of the reproductive dice. The corrosive edge of sexual abuse in penal institutions is fueled by simplistic attitudes about the power differential between inmates and employees, Stannow said.
"There is no consensual sex between staff and inmates because one of the parties literally holds the key," Stannow said. "At Just Detention International, we consider any sexual activity between staff and inmates to be sexual abuse."
Werholtz, the state corrections secretary, said "there's no doubt that people enter into consensual relationships," but he also views those alliances as "inappropriate."
Gallardo's attorney, John Fakhoury, of Topeka, said the sexual adventure involving his client was a consensual affair orchestrated by prisoners intent on blackmailing a naive prison employee into trafficking in contraband.
Stannow said shaping prison employee attitudes about sexual abuse and sexual harassment is a responsibility corrections department administrators must take seriously.
In Kansas, this issue has evolved slowly. It wasn't until 1994 that Kansas passed a law making it illegal for prison employees to have sex with inmates.
"Prison management has to set the right tone," Stannow said. "Sexual violence is rampant in prisons with poor management, inadequate policies and bad practices."
Sexual abuse is an under-reported crime in free society. Barriers to reporting incidents in prison are formidable. Complaints aren't always taken seriously by prison officials, inmates say. The women of TCF are convicted criminals. There are credibility issues. Corrections officers accused of wrongdoing have ample opportunity to retaliate against prisoners. Convincing local police to investigate is a challenge. Obtaining consent from prosecutors to file charges is another hurdle. Inmates frustrated by the justice system rarely have financial resources to bring civil lawsuits.
One national study by the U.S. Department of Justice indicated inmates anonymously revealed to federal surveyors the incidence of sexual assault in prison was 15 times greater than the frequency reflected in prison files.
In September, the justice department's inspector general reported sexual abuse of inmates by staff members in U.S. federal prisons had doubled over the previous eight years. The report found 257 cases were uncovered and referred for prosecution, but only 102 actually were prosecuted. The cases resulted in 83 convictions against prison employees.
Werholtz said the agency takes a hard line on sexual misconduct among its employees. He said each verifiable case is reported to the district or county attorney.
"We refer every time," he said. "We have terminated and prosecuted male staff for becoming sexually involved with male and female inmates."
The secretary said unsubstantiated assertions by manipulative inmates or disgruntled employees, depictions of prison life in popular culture and well-meaning government reports packed with anecdotal accounts of promiscuous behavior generate an exaggerated profile of correctional institutions.
At TCF, he said, existing employee training and coverage by more than 120 security cameras and listening devices are adequate to keep the majority of employees from falling prey to temptation.
Werholtz said the state prison system's minimum hiring age of 19 and minimum educational requirement of a high school diploma or a GED aren't contributing factors to the problem. He said informal studies in Kansas show veteran prison employees are just as likely to be caught up in banned activities as young and inexperienced staff members.
Still, Werholtz said any campaign to root out this behavior was bound to fall short.
"I'm sure there are things going on that we're not aware of," the secretary said.
Maggard, the one-time prison heating and air conditioning supervisor at the Topeka prison, said he worked with Gallardo at the prison and socialized with him after hours. He said the 30-year-old Gallardo had viewed his job as an opportunity to lead a modern-day harem among vocational students in the prison. It went on for months without detection by TCF staff, he said.
"Candy store, so to speak," Maggard said.
Maggard was accused in 2008 of trafficking contraband and obstructing the legal process. Both charges were dismissed in February, but the nine-year employee was fired. He said the department's claims against him were based on his pro-labor union activism and willingness to point out problems at TCF to his superiors.
Barnes, the former inmate from Reno County who said trafficking in contraband was relatively easy at the prison, said she believes dozens of prisoners had sex with staff members at TCF during her nine-year stay in prison. It wasn't difficult to discern which guards were interested in playing the field and which were in it to profit from the contraband economy, she said.
"It's very easy to spot," Barnes said. "Instantly."
Barnes said one current guard regularly delivered to her a prescription pain medication if she put on a skin show while changing clothes in her prison room.
She also said prison employees caught participating in the underground economy might be penalized or ignored.
"If the Department of Corrections has a reason to, as far as they don't like the guard, then they do," Barnes said. "If they like the guard or if the guard's family works there and is prominent there, nothing happens to them. It gets swept right under the rug."
Gallardo and Keith were drawn together in a web of deceit. This intersection of commerce and desire set off a series of events thrusting both into a spotlight neither craved. Their lives would never be the same.