Alto prisoners testify to violence

16th November, 2004
Atlanta Journal Constitution
Carlos Campos

State sued for not stopping rapes, threats, especially at young Lee Arrendale inmates

Two inmates offered sordid, chilling accounts in federal court Tuesday of life in a northeast Georgia prison where prisoners fight to survive in a toxic atmosphere of threats, rape and violence.

Lawyers for the Southern Center for Human Rights are asking a federal judge to force the state Department of Corrections to take immediate steps to stop a string of violent attacks and sexual assaults at Lee Arrendale State Prison in Alto.

The prison holds some of the state's youngest inmates, including nine between ages 13 and 16 who were convicted as adults.

Among those who attended the hearing in a Gainesville courtroom were the parents and grandmother of Wayne Boatwright Jr., an 18-year-old inmate from Atlanta who was strangled in his cell at Arrendale in February.

The most dramatic testimony came from two Arrendale inmates. One is a 41-year-old man who testified that he was raped twice in October. The other is a 17-year-old who testified that he is so fearful of being raped that he lies in bed awake at night, fully clothed, prepared to fend off sexual assaults.

The men testified that inmates are able to "jimmy" their cell door locks with toothpaste caps and tobacco papers, allowing them to slip out undetected by guards. The 17-year-old, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 135 pounds, said he has seen inmates have sex in plain view and said he is taunted by inmates who vow to rape him.

The 17-year-old testified an inmate "told me that I was sexy and cute. I told him 'I don't play that game.' I said, 'You'll have to kill me first.' He said 'that can be arranged.' " The 17-year-old, serving a five-year sentence for child molestation, said prison guards have joined in the taunts.

The 41-year-old man, a repeat offender serving an eight-year sentence for robbery by intimidation, testified that he was forced to have sex twice by another male inmate with whom he once had a consensual sexual relationship. He acknowledged writing "love letters" — parts of which were read aloud in court by a lawyer for the state — to his alleged attacker, but said those were penned before the relationship  had ended.

Fighting back tears on the witness stand, the inmate said other prisoners threatened to kill him if he reported the rapes.

Arrendale Warden Tony Turpin, called to testify by the state, said prison guards and staff do the best job they can dealing with hardened criminals whose unlawful behavior does not stop simply because they are incarcerated.

"Inmates that come into the system bring in the same issues that they had on the streets," he said.

Turpin did not deny that occasional fights, assaults and rapes occur at the prison but said prison officials move quickly to segregate inmates who feel threatened.

The Southern Center for Human Rights is asking U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Vining to grant an order that would force the Department of Corrections to stop taking new inmates into Arrendale, move the inmates under age 21 to another prison and to fix cell door locks within two weeks.

Vining said he would rule by noon today.