At the age of 32 I was received by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and placed in a women’s detention facility. I spent 17 years in prison and was paroled in 2013.
During the first year and half of my time in prison, in addition to dealing with my world being turned upside down, being separated from my children, and being alone in a prison 300 miles from home, I was sexually assaulted by a supervising nurse and a correctional lieutenant.
The supervising nurse used the threat of disciplinary action to mandate my presence in the infirmary on Sundays, when it is deserted. So I showed up and I was sexually assaulted. It happened six or seven times.
An officer who thought it was strange to see me there on a Sunday reported his suspicions. Two days following the last attack, I was at work and an officer took me to jail [administrative segregation], but wouldn’t tell me why.
I was placed in jail, unassigned from my job, and had all my personal belongings taken from me. The next day I was questioned by the Investigative Services Unit (ISU). I answered their questions, and they told me to lie about why I had been taken to jail. They didn’t want me to tell anybody.
Shortly after that, Internal Affairs came and questioned me briefly. The supervising nurse was terminated the same day that I went to jail, and he was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor — sex with a confined person — and now he is a registered sex offender.
I was also raped by a correctional lieutenant. He assigned me as the lieutenant’s clerk in the program office where he was my boss. Over the course of a year, he repeatedly raped me. The attacks stopped only when the lieutenant was sent away on an assignment for Internal Affairs.
I initially reported these rapes to my CDCR appointed psychologist, in confidence, and I told him that I didn’t want to come forward, that the lieutenant was gone and I wanted to get past it and couldn’t deal with it. He kept urging me to come forward. I just wanted to put it behind me.
But, a year later the lieutenant came back and he was assigned to the yard where I lived. After a lot of prayer, encouragement, and unconditional support from my husband, I went to the ISU and reported the rapes. I answered all of their questions regarding the timeframe and the circumstances, and then they asked me questions that I could only answer if this man had had his pants down in front of me. But they had no way to corroborate it because they had no way to get this man to submit to a physical examination. Again, when I left the Investigative Services, they told me not to tell anyone.
Nothing happened to the lieutenant. He wasn’t removed from the institution pending the investigation. He wasn’t terminated from CDCR. He worked for years at the facility, with access to 4,000 women. Ultimately he was given the choice to retire or face prosecution, so he retired.
About two and a half months after I reported the rapes to ISU, the Office of Internal Affairs got around to coming and questioning me. They said that the delays were because the lieutenant had worked for Internal Affairs. The people they sent tried to convince me that they were on my side. But after a four-hour interrogation where it was just me locked in a room with the two of them yelling at me, I didn’t believe them.
Shortly after I was questioned by the Office of Internal Affairs, I was transferred to the twin women’s prison across the street. I had been at my facility for three and a half years. I never had a day when I didn’t show up for work. I never had a disciplinary write-up. I was not a disciplinary problem. But the officials determined that it would be more appropriate to house me at the disciplinary dumping ground across the street. It was pretty clear when I got there that I was there for punishment, and the harassment started before I even got assigned a room.
A lieutenant came to interview me in receiving. He told me, “We both know why you’re here and this couldn’t possibly have happened, so just keep your mouth shut.” So, it was a direct order to keep my mouth shut about being raped and about the fact that an investigation was ongoing.
While I was at the prison, I became very depressed. I lost 12 pounds in a very short period of time. I wasn’t sleeping and I was scared because I didn’t know who anyone was and I was being harassed. I met with two doctors from Sacramento who recommended, for my safety, that I be transferred either to a facility they thought more appropriate for me in Southern California or to a federal prison. I ended up at a women’s institution in Southern California, and the U.S. Department of Justice picked up the investigation.
After my transfer I was treated with respect and compassion. People have been non-judgmental, very, very humane, and very professional. For the first time in a long time, I feel reasonably safe. I’m provided with one-on-one counseling and the opportunity for groups. They’re trying to help me work through this here.
I think the best prevention has to center around education; educating inmates as to what to look for and what to be careful of, and educating investigators so that they understand the victimization process and what they put us through.
CDCR should be forced to follow their own zero-tolerance policy. CDCR came out with a brochure in 2000 and provided it to all inmates that said, “Zero Tolerance. We’ll provide you medical care. We don’t want sexual predators here. We will investigate. We will prosecute.” And they don’t do that.
I used this victimization as an opportunity for growth. I vowed I would never be a victim again. I had the courage to testify before a joint state senate committee, and their findings were instrumental in changing the law so that it is now a felony rather than a misdemeanor to have sex with a confined person in California.
I currently serve on the Just Detention International’s Survivor Council and have used my experience to help others. I have found the courage to delve into issues from my past to really, finally, free myself.
– Nicole, California