Praying for healing, working for change
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story contains graphic sexual content not suitable for all readers.
RAWLINS – Nathan Jones never considered himself a victim.
In fact, by many standards, most people would think him a bad person and forever label him an ex-con. Nathan served a total of 42 years in prison, more than half of his current age of 69 paying for the crimes he has committed. He first entered the prison system in 1974 when he was convicted of first-degree murder, and after he served his time and was out on parole, he was popped again on a charge of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and served another stretch in the Wyoming State Penitentiary.
“My life growing up was good, then it took a turn. I let it happen,” he told the Rocket-Miner. “It can happen to anyone, the warden told me.”
Nathan Jones never considered himself a victim.
Until he was a victim.
SEX CRIMES IN OUR PRISON SYSTEM
In this age of #MeToo, sex crimes gain top headlines and have made the population aware of an issue that has long been taboo, a subject that survived in shadow and was often talked about only in whispers.
Sex crimes in the United States prison system are, perhaps, a subject of discussion that still remains in shadow and needs to be brought out into the light of day, Nathan said.
And it’s not just prisoner-on-prisoner sex crimes that occur in prisons; it’s also about prison staff perpetrating such crimes, as in Nathan’s case.
A report by ABC News’ Liz Fields in 2014 referenced a study by the Justice Department, which stated that half of sexual abuse claims in American prisons involve guards.
“The study found 49 percent of the unwanted sexual misconduct or harassment involved prison staff as perpetrators, in acts ranging from verbal sexual harassment to the most serious nonconsensual penetration,” the study reported.
Wyoming is no exception. A story that appeared in the Feb. 2, 2019, edition of the Rawlins Times documented the case of former Wyoming State Penitentiary worker Shantell Ann Wyant, who was found guilty of three felony accounts of sexual assault last September. Wyant was charged “for engaging and maintaining sexual contact with an inmate in 2015,” the Rawlins Times reported.
Wyant’s sentence was waived by the presiding judge in her case, and she was given probation instead. The judge determined Wyant posed a “low risk for recidivism,” according to the Rawlins Times.
THE SEXUAL ASSAULT
Nathan knows only too well how that prisoner might feel. He knows this because he, too, was sexually assaulted by a guard while he was serving time at the Wyoming State Penitentiary
He reported it after it happened. The date and time are burned in his memory: Incident: 2-22-2010. Pill call.
Nathan filed a WDOC form No. 321, an inmate grievance form. On the form he wrote in longhand that the officer reached through the “bean shoot with his right arm and felt my penis and genitals with the palm of his hand, fondling with his fingers in a stimulating way with my penis and genitals.”
Nathan claimed this unwanted contact was witnessed by the accompanying nurse, who was there to hand out pills.
Nathan remembers he wanted to scream. He remembers just being scared, in the dark. He remembers that night as the longest of his life.
“I was alone, I was scared. I wanted my mother, but I was alone, I felt a lot of loneliness. You feel like you’re being isolated,” he recounted that night. “I was a wreck.”
Nathan waited until March of 2010 to hear what was being done about his grievance. He was assured his claims warranted an investigation and that “appropriate action will be taken.” He was also informed he would not be privy to what is termed in the business as “staff corrective action results.”
On April 8, 2010, Nathan received a letter signed by Vicki Smith, then-Wyoming State Penitentiary grievance manager, and then-Wyoming State Penitentiary warden Eddie Wilson. The letter was dated March 29, 2010:
Warden’s Response: While we understand your concern that the investigative process is taking an inordinately long time; however, we again want to assure you that your allegations have not fallen on deaf ears and your complaint is being investigated. … Additionally, your complaints were also referred to the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office; however, we have no control over their investigation and when they see each person involved. Your patience is encouraged and we are certain a resolution will be forthcoming shortly.
Conclusion: Grievance #10-0199 is resolved.
Nathan said to this day he does not know what happened to that guard, but knows he still resides locally.
One day this past January, Nathan was about to enter a hardware store in Rawlins to buy some plumbing parts. He saw the guard that had assaulted him so many years ago, in an aisle of the store. Nathan said he turned around and left.
CORRECTIONS POLICY AND REPORTS
Sexual misconduct and the fact that Nathan’s case is not an isolated incident at the Wyoming State Penitentiary does not go without notice by the Wyoming Department of Corrections.
Nor is it taken lightly, according to Mark Horan, public information officer with the Wyoming Department of Corrections.
“The Wyoming Department of Corrections is committed to protecting those individuals entrusted to our care. Sexual misconduct against offenders is an issue our agency takes very seriously, and we’ve taken a variety of proactive steps to keep our inmates as safe as inherently possible,” he told the Rocket-Miner.
Horan notes that WDOC is certified — and has been for over six years — as being fully compliant with national standards set forth by the American Correctional Association and the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
“All our correctional facilities undergo extremely thorough PREA and ACA audits every three years on a rotating basis,” Horan said. “All staff go through extensive PREA training during their pre-service instruction and on an annual basis.”
The results of the PREA audits (including the number of reported incidents, by facility) can be found in the PREA Annual Reports, which are accessible on the WDOC public website at corrections.wyo.gov.
The PREA 2017 audit reported:
- In 2017, there were a total of 26 incidents reported throughout all WDOC facilities.
This figure was categorized in the following manner:
- Sexual abuse, offender on offender, nine total
- Sexual harassment/voyeurism, staff on offender and offender on offender, 11 total
- Sexual abuse, staff on offender, six total
At the Wyoming State Penitentiary, reports made in 2017 included three substantiated claims of inmate on inmate sexual abuse and one unsubstantiated claim, and one unsubstantiated claim of sexual abuse by staff on inmate, with or without consent.
Horan said the 2018 report will be published this spring.
WDOC has a zero tolerance policy for sexual misconduct against inmates. This policy, entitled “Protection from Sexual Misconduct Against Offenders,” can be viewed with this story online at rocketminer.com.
THE SEARCH FOR HEALING
When Nathan found out — or didn’t find out, as was the case — the decision from the investigation into his sexual misconduct claim, he felt like his civil rights had been violated.
“I felt like I had been kicked in the side,” he said. “I felt like I was not allowed my due process.”
He changed course and contacted the Wyoming Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to help him find the justice he was hoping to get in his case.
The ACLU declined, saying, “The cases we accept must present significant constitutional issues and have a favorable chance for success in setting legal precedents that have impact beyond individual or organizational circumstances. Even if your case implicates a civil liberties issue, due to organizational constraints and priorities, we cannot help everyone who requests our assistance.”
The ACLU cited lack of resources and recommended Nathan contact a private attorney.
“That hurt bad,” he said of the ACLU’s decision to not take on his case.
LOVE AND FINDING PURPOSE
After Nathan was released from the penitentiary the first time and before he was sexually assaulted, he made a decision to change his life. He did not wish to remain in Rawlins, near the people he thought would be a bad influence on him once again, so he tried something different. He decided to move to Casper.
“I moved to take a difference stance in life,” Nathan explained.
And his life changed in a dramatic way — for the better.
Nathan had his parole transferred from Rawlins to Casper. Once there, his next task was figuring out what to do with himself. He thought he needed to educate himself, so he enrolled in Casper College.
It was in the bookstore on campus where Nathan met Carolyn. She had just lost her husband, and when she met Nathan, the two seemed to fit together like pieces of a puzzle.
Nathan knew he needed to tell Carolyn about his past, so on one date they went up to the falls on Casper Mountain. Carolyn remembers it well.
“That’s when he told me he had been in prison for murder,” Carolyn recalls, saying she was a bit concerned, but his gentleness and good nature did not seem to jive with that picture. She eventually asked her father if she should be concerned. “My dad said he’s done his time” and gave Carolyn and Nathan his blessing.
Nathan married Carolyn in July of 1993. Nathan said honesty has glued them together.
When he ended up going back to prison on the conspiracy to commit armed robbery, Carolyn said she would stand by him. And when Nathan told Carolyn about the assault, they supported each other in their distress.
“We cried together, then tried putting a plan together about how to proceed,” he said.
Carolyn researched how to help Nathan. Help was found first from the Fremont County Alliance Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and then later with Just Detention International. Nathan said JDI really helped him find his purpose.
“I went finally to JDI. They sent me the case law. They got me involved in communicating with others,” he said. “JDI was right there.”
JUST DETENTION INTERNATIONAL
JDI is a human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention. The organization has three core goals:
1) To ensure government accountability for prisoner rape,
2) To transform ill-informed public attitudes about sexual violence in detention, and,
3) To promote access to resources for those who have survived this form of abuse.
JDI Communications Director Jesse Lerner-Kinglake said JDI is dedicated to changing the attitudes society has about prison rape.
“No matter what crime they may have committed, no one deserves to be sexually assaulted,” he said. “It’s completely preventable, and it’s not only the responsibility of corrections to address the problem; it is also within their power to eliminate it.”
JDI receives about 2,000 letters per year from prisoners who have experienced some form of sexual abuse. Lerner- Kinglake said JDI provides these people with self-help material. They also advocate for prisoners and fight for their safety, he added.
“We try to be that voice for survivors,” he said. “Survivors guide our work, and we encourage them to speak out.”
Lerner-Kinglake has been in contact with Nathan and Carolyn Jones and helped Nathan find a voice to speak out about his abuse. He said Carolyn is stalwart in her support of Nathan, and Nathan is committed to helping others.
“He’s extraordinary,” he complimented.
WORKING TO INFORM
Nathan now lives a quiet life with Carolyn. They remain in Rawlins currently, and Nathan said he would want it no other way.
“My life is very confined, and I like that,” he said.
He’s also found purpose.
Nathan is writing a book entitled “Never Too Perfect, Never Too Bad,” in which he tells his life story — growing up,getting into trouble and his life in prison.
Nathan believes that by telling his story, other inmates who have been through what he has will realize they are not alone and can find a life beyond the abuse. It is his hope to become an activist and reach out to all persons in prison — and young people who have not gone to prison — to let them know that sexual assault can happen anywhere and to anyone, but help is there.
“This story is about the healing and getting beyond this,” Nathan said, though he admits some days the memory hits him right between the eyes. “I’m praying something can be done about the system, the carelessness that is passed on.
Bad officers can corrupt the good officers, and then the good officers leave.
“Some sad cases came from sexual assault at Rawlins. There’s a lot of hurt out in that penitentiary,” he added.
Nathan advises sexual assault victims to look for help everywhere possible and “in the best way you can.” He assures victims help is out there, and many people are willing to lend a hand to help victims find justice and healing.
For Nathan, he will continue to take it a day at a time.
“I want to heal with them.”
Originally posted here.