"Scott, it wasn't your fault."
Just one year ago, this would have been unthinkable.
That's what ran through my mind on Monday, as I sat in a room full of corrections leaders, all members of the American Correctional Association (ACA), and listened to Scott Howard telling his story.
The ACA had invited us to its winter conference, attended by the nation's highest ranking prison and jail administrators. Scott was part of JDI's panel presentation on how corrections officials and community advocates can work together to end rape behind bars. Other panelists included Health Program Specialist Jodi Ramirez and Investigative Sergeant Charles Contreras, who have been working with JDI for several years to develop model programs to prevent and respond to sexual abuse at a California men's prison.
The audience was mesmerized as Scott described his harrowing experience of being sexually assaulted, beaten, and extorted by a white supremacist gang, while in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections. Scott had begged officials for protection, only to be called a "whiner," and told that, as a gay man, he should expect to be targeted by one gang or another. For several months, Scott -- even as he was surrounded by prison officials charged with protecting his safety -- was so afraid of other inmates that he refused to leave his cell, living on water and crackers.
When the workshop was over, after a long round of applause, a member of the audience -- the Deputy Commissioner of a state corrections agency -- embraced Scott, saying, "Scott, it wasn't your fault."
A year ago, I could never have expected the ACA to invite JDI -- much less a prisoner rape survivor -- to address its membership. But every day, more and more, JDI hears from corrections officials around the nation who want our help as they seek to stop sexual abuse in their facilities.
Our panel at the ACA conference made clear that advocates, inmates, and corrections officials can, and must, work together. If we do, we will be able to end prisoner rape once and for all, making sure that no one else has to go through what Scott did, ever again.
Thank you, as always, for your willingness to stand up for the safety and dignity of all people.