By Amy Berberyan
OAKLAND, CA – A former Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) warden, Ray Garcia, was found guilty by a jury last week of sexually abusing incarcerated women—Garcia is one of a very few high-ranking prison officials who have faced backlash for this and similar unlawful actions, according to critics of the FCI.
Those who survived his abuse at FCI called for more change and accountability within the prison system.
The federal women-only prison, located in Dublin, CA, reportedly has adopted a toxic culture, in large part because of Garcia, according to one news report, which added the instances of sexual misconduct were so prolific that prisoners and workers referred to victims as being in the “rape club.”
Punishments performed by both the ex-warden and his mostly male staff kept the inmates from speaking up about their abuse, charged a coalition of inmate supporters: One inmate claimed her prison work supervisor assigned her with a maintenance foreman she’d accused of rape, then told her “let the games begin.”
The Dublin Prison Solidarity Coalition—a coalition composed of those currently imprisoned at FCI, those released from FCI, and their supporters—alleges Garcia’s verdict fails to address the larger issues concerning racial and sex-based violence in federal prisons.
Other instances of misconduct, the Coalition notes, include a worker claiming he wanted to impregnate the inmates, and the warden keeping, on his government-issued cell phone, nudes of a woman he is accused of assaulting.
The Coalition said inmates were traumatized by his behavior, with one claiming that she’d been “overwhelmed with fear, anxiety, and anger, and cried uncontrollably” after enduring both abuse and retaliation from the prison staff.
Another inmate claimed she’d contemplated suicide after her cries for help were ignored, leading to her current severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders.
A former FCI inmate and abuse survivor, Yvonne Palmore, attended parts of the trial and said, “My heart goes out to the survivors. I believe the painful stories they shared in court, because they reminded me of my own story.”
Palmore added, “What the warden did was disgusting, but he wasn’t the only one. Staff abuse was a problem at FCI Dublin the entire time I was there, and it will continue unless we see real changes to this terrible system.”
Deyci Carrillo Lopez, a supporter of the survivors and an advocate at Centro Legal de la Raza, stated, “The abuse people at FCI Dublin have endured cannot be seen as some reprehensible acts by a few bad actors.
“This conduct required the participation and complicity of staff across the facility,” Lopez said, “and was the product of a deep-seated culture of impunity and retaliation not only at FCI Dublin but within the Bureau of Prisons as a whole.”
The Coalition called for policy changes to help protect inmates from future abuse and hold abusive staff members accountable.
Among changes suggested are allowing sexual abuse survivors to interact with family and mental health professionals, equipping FCI with better medical and mental health care and giving people inside the facility better access to legal counsel and the community so that they don’t have to fear retaliation for speaking up about abuse.
The Dublin Prison Solidarity Coalition urged the Justice Department, Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Collette Peters, and the current warden of FCI, Thahesha Jusino, to take these steps towards systemic accountability and help the sexual abuse survivors heal.
“In the last year we have heard from dozens of people who have been abused by staff at FCI Dublin,” said Erin Neff, an advocate from the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.
“We must listen to survivors when they tell us that systemic issues require systemic solutions. The BOP and the FCI Dublin administration must take immediate action to prevent future violence,” Neff added.