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White men traded as 'sex slaves' of black prisoners
By Fergal Keane, in Illinois
WHITE male prisoners in American jails are being "sold as sex slaves" by
black fellow inmates for money, tobacco, drugs and alcohol, according to
campaigners who are urging action to end widespread homosexual rape
Damaging claims of complicity by prison guards are also emerging. Five
wardens at a Californian maximum security jail are facing charges
relating to the rape of an inmate by a notorious sexual predator. The
wardens allegedly forced a troublesome prisoner to share a cell with a
black gang leader, who was rewarded with extra food and clothes for
imposing "discipline" on the man.
According to the campaigners, the sex attacks often carry ugly racial
overtones, with many white prisoners claiming that they were sexually
abused after being placed in cells with black inmates. Most victims are
too scared to complain, it is claimed, and those that do say they have
been ignored by the authorities. The scale of the scandal has been
uncovered by the pressure group Human Rights Watch, which next year will
publish a report documenting the "staggering prevalence" of prison rape.
The situation is not just provoking concern among civil liberties
groups. In the state of Illinois, a prominent conservative figure,
Republican legislator Cal Skinner, is also pushing for tougher
government action. He claims that many of the rape victims have been
infected with the HIV virus and that American prisons are becoming a
breeding ground for Aids.
Mr Skinner said: "There are sexual slaves in too many prisons. People
are being given a death sentence." He wants to see the mandatory Aids
testing of all prisoners with the segregation of those found to be HIV
positive. He believes it is one of the few ways of protecting vulnerable
inmates from the potentially fatal effect of prison rape.
The renewed concern over rape in prisons has come too late for Michael
Blucker, 29, a white man from Crystal Lake in Illinois, who was
repeatedly gang-raped while serving a sentence for burglary. Blucker's
ordeal is almost too horrific to contemplate: he was forced to become a
sex slave to black prisoners at Menard State Penitentiary in Illinois.
Prison rape is not confined to white victims but they are particularly
vulnerable as black gang members make up such a large part of the
American prison population.
Blucker said: "I was the only white man in a gallery [wing] of more than
100 prisoners. Most of the guys were in for very serious crimes; they
were people who weren't going to be getting out of there any time in the
next 30 years." The first attack came when Blucker had been in jail just
two weeks. He was set upon by three black prisoners, stripped, beaten
"They would have killed me if I had refused. Killing means nothing to
these people," he said. Once it became known that he had been raped,
Blucker's life became even more of a nightmare. In the violent world of
American prisons, an inmate who "allows" himself to be raped is regarded
as fair game for every other inmate and is used as a sex slave, normally
under the direction of a senior gang leader.
In Blucker's case, one of the black prisoners sold him to other inmates
on a daily basis. "He would physically threaten me and threaten to have
harm done to my wife outside prison. Every day, I would be sold as a sex
object while he was given money and cigarettes and marijuana and alcohol
in return." When the threats of violence did not cow Blucker, his
tormentor would beat him into submission.
While filming in Butner prison in North Carolina, I met Ivory Rhodes, a
black prisoner, who was attacked within days of being placed in the cell
of a known rapist. The pattern he described was almost exactly the same
as that experienced by Blucker. A violent attack and the threat of death
followed by brutal rape. Rhodes's solution was to try to spend long
periods in solitary confinement, a deprivation he preferred to risking
his life in the main cells.
Rhodes managed to avoid being raped again, but whenever he was
transferred from one prison to another, the stigma of "rape victim" went
with him. After his rape, Rhodes never moved out of his cell without
carrying a knife. He described a world in which any weakness is preyed
upon by the tougher and older inmates. The young, the first-time
offenders, the middle class are especially vulnerable to attack.
Blucker said: "There are people who say that if somebody attacked them
in prison they would kill themselves or kill other people. That is bull.
It just doesn't happen that way."
What was almost certainly his worst experience occurred in the showers
when he was set upon by a large gang of prisoners. "They pulled bricks
out of the wall and they hit me in the nose and the eye and then on the
back of the head, which knocked me out." Then he was repeatedly raped.
"I couldn't tell you if it was one, three, 10 or 15 people. All I know
is that I felt very unwell."
At first, Blucker said, he was too frightened to report the rapes for
fear of being killed by the other inmates, but after the shower incident
he spoke to prison officials. The result, he claimed, was indifference.
"I spoke to officers and medical people and no one believed me."
Blucker subsequently took a court action against several prison guards
and the prison psychiatrist but was unable to prove his claims. What is
not disputed is that he needed extensive surgery for injuries sustained
in the attack and that while in prison he contracted the HIV virus.
Blucker was eventually transferred from Menard after lobbying a local
politician. Now a free man, he is looking for a job and is actively
involved in his church. God, he says, will save him from Aids.
Fergal Keane is a BBC Special Correspondent