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LENGTH: 2958 words
HEADLINE: Cruel Justice
BYLINE: Michael Blanding
With a report due out this month about abuses in state prisons, one inmate's case provides a glimpse
at what's wrong with the system.
When Mark Summers tells his story, there are certain details he says he remembers. The blue tails of the corrections officer's untucked shirt dangling in front of his face. The pungent smell of cologne, and the drone of the fan that filled the solitary unit 16 hours a day, preventing inmates' shouts from being heard outside.
Not that he didn't try to shout in the beginning. Summers says that when Sergeant Francis Ciaburri appeared at his cell at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute at Concord and tried to touch him during a strip search, Summers threw the guard against a wall. Ciaburri, he says, pushed him roughly back and reminded Summers about the panic button on his belt. One press and a dozen other guards would come running.
A prisoner could easily get time added to his sentence for assaulting an officer.
So Summers felt helpless when, he says, Ciaburri unzipped his pants and demanded oral sex. His ears burning, Summers heard himself refuse. I can make this very simple, he heard. Just do it, and I'm out of here. Summers became "like a zombie," he says, or one of those figurines you can bend into any position you want.
"I can just remember his T-shirt and his uniform and his hands just pushing on me," he says, "and his voice just telling me to do this and hurry up." This is the story Summers says he told prison investigators in November 1992, and which is coming to light more than a decade later as Ciaburri is set to be tried on criminal charges in Middlesex Superior Court next month. According to Summers, Ciaburri raped him repeatedly for years, while an indifferent prison administration stood by. Eventually fired, Ciaburri won't discuss the allegations, except to say that he was falsely accused. He did not offer a defense when Summers sued him in a civil case last year. His lawyer refuses to comment on the criminal charges. As a result, his story, whatever it may be, will not be told until the trial. Eyewitness reports filed in court say that Ciaburri was caught in a sexual act with the inmate, a felony since a prisoner is not legally able to consent to sex. In last year's civil trial, a judge found Ciaburri liable for $ 1 million in damages, saying he had "engaged in a pattern of repeated coercive sexual behavior . . . [that] culminated in repeated oral and anal intercourse."
It can be hard to feel sympathy for prison inmates.
That may be why stories like that of Summers, a drug addict and convicted thief, are so seldom reported. But once behind bars, inmates are among society's most vulnerable. Ninety-seven percent will someday return to the streets, forever affected by their treatment. The Summers case is what prisoner advocate Leslie Walker calls "the tip of the iceberg" in a Department of Correction now undergoing unaccustomed scrutiny.
When infamous defrocked priest and convicted pedophile John Geoghan was murdered by a fellow inmate last summer, investigators released a scathing report on prisoner mistreatment. It found that corrections officers at MCI-Concord were allowed to harass and physically abuse the former priest, then issued him "overzealous and unwarranted" disciplinary tickets that caused the transfer leading directly to his death.
The Geoghan incident caused a shakeup and appointment of a new prison system head. This month, a commission led by former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger will make findings on whether it was an isolated case
or an indication of a larger trend. "The question is: Is this systemic?" Harshbarger asks.
The cases of Geoghan and Summers "aren't everyday cases, but they aren't isolated cases either," says Walker, director of Massachusetts Corrections Legal Services, who calls Summers's claim "one of the most horrific" she has heard. Transferred after he first alleged abuse by the guard, Summers was, amazingly, transferred back to the same prison three years later, where he says the pattern repeated itself. "Mark received a much harsher punishment than the one that was decreed to him by the state," Summers's lawyer, Chuck Kazarian, says.
"All rape is a power crime, and behind bars power is magnified exponentially."
Urban myths notwithstanding, rape is not as common in prison as popular culture makes it seem. Modern security and surveillance systems have made assaults comparatively rare among inmates. And in the macho culture of prison, sexual relations between guards and same-sex prisoners are shunned. More common is verbal abuse directed at prisoners who are in jail for deviant sex crimes, like John Geoghan, or are gay, like Summers. "A homosexual prisoner is at the bottom of the totem pole," says Summers, sitting in the visiting room of Old Colony Correctional Center, where he is now incarcerated. "If a corrections officer were to harass a bank robber or a murderer, fellow inmates might say, Leave this guy alone. If he picks on a homosexual inmate, they might laugh and turn a blind eye."
Growing up in a middle-class family in Cambridge, Mark Summers was a handsome teenager with deep brown eyes set in a rectangular black face. His father had a decent-paying job as an MBTA inspector, and after high school Summers found work at a clothing boutique in Harvard Square. He spent his free time partying, doing lines of cocaine with the other employees. When the shop closed two years later, Summers lost his job--but not his habit. He took to freebasing almost daily in his Somerville apartment. To afford drugs, he broke into neighbors' homes and nicked TVs, VCRs, jewelry, and anything else he could get his hands on. Police finally caught him in January of 1992,
and Summers was sentenced to 15 to 20 years, ending up in MCI-Concord.
Aside from the maximum-security prison in Walpole, no place is dreaded more by inmates than Concord. Its staff has historically been known as the "40 cousins" since many are related; their insularity contributes to the prison's reputation as a "hub of dysfunction," as one source described it to the Boston Herald. "It's a sick subculture," a former corrections official told the paper. "If you didn't fit in there, your tires would be slashed on prison property."
A captain faces criminal charges that he sexually abused three fellow officers in 1998.
They have settled their civil claims for upwards of $ 100,000.
Records show that Summers had difficulty adjusting to this environment, racking up repeated disciplinary tickets for talking back to guards and fighting with inmates. Summers says most of the fights were in self-defense because other inmates harassed him for being gay--and that, like Geoghan, he was targeted by overzealous officers. At the top of the list was Sergeant Francis Ciaburri, a bulky 40-year-old corrections officer who wore his shirts unbuttoned, revealing a gold chain. Almost immediately, according to Summers's civil complaint, Ciaburri pushed things farther than the customary verbal taunts, pulling the curtain away while Summers was showering, groping and fondling him
during pat searches, and ordering him to strip unnecessarily.
Summers was temporarily transferred to the isolation unit for an infraction. It wasn't long, according to the complaint, before Ciaburri came to his cell demanding oral sex. After the first time it happened, Summers says he sat huddled on the floor, sick to his stomach. "I wanted to be alone and wither up and die," he says. Knowing a "rat" was even lower in the prison hierarchy than a gay, however, he kept his mouth shut and concentrated his hopes on getting transferred.
After months of this attention, Summers began to feel desperate. When another inmate was transferred after setting a magazine on fire, Summers went one step further and lit his entire cell ablaze. Instead of a ticket out, he got a trip back to isolation, where again, the complaint says, Ciaburri appeared demanding sex, the last time anally raping him.
When a mental health worker came to check on him, Summers blurted out his story, and an investigation was convened. It quickly came back with the results. Citing Summers's history of infractions and lying, investigators concluded that he made the whole thing up. Furthermore, they noted the assault took place on a night Ciaburri was not working, using that to dismiss the allegation. "The assumption is a con is a con, we're the good guys, they're the bad guys," says Kazarian. "They make their job easier by deciding inmates aren't worthy of belief."
Evidence shows that Summers may not have gotten the date wrong after all. He told investigators the rape occurred in the early morning of November 15; Ciaburri's time card shows that he checked in on the night of the 14th and never checked out. (A similar discrepancy in dates was cited in the Geoghan report after investigators dismissed
the ex-priest's claims he had been beaten.)
Told of the findings, however, Summers agreed to write a letter withdrawing his claims. At the same time, he was transferred to another facility out of the sergeant's reach--for the time being.
In Kelsey Kauffman's book about the Massachusetts Department of Correction, Prison Officers and Their World, she asked dozens of corrections officers whether they would testify against a fellow officer who had beaten or killed an inmate. Only one said that he would; others said they hoped they would, but didn't know. More revealingly, all of the officers questioned doubted any of their colleagues would rat out the killer. Based on her interviews, Kauffman put together a list of nine points she calls the "Officer Code." Among them: "Always Support an Officer in a Dispute with an Inmate" and "Don't Rat." Inmates, Kauffman writes, will almost always support each other against a guard, and officers show the same solidarity. After all, if they don't, who's going to come running when they press the panic button?
Steve Kenneway, president of the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, defends this loyalty. "Is there a culture in prison where officers always have each other's back? Absolutely. That doesn't mean officers are violating the law, beating up inmates." He concedes that the inmate grievance process could use reform, but upholds the existing disciplinary and investigation processes, saying the fact that officers have been suspended and even fired in the past is evidence the system works. "In terms of an inmate coming out and saying this happened to me," he says, "it's incumbent on an inmate to prove it. Nothing should be taken on face value from an inmate."
In the past, the union has had a hostile relationship with management, which it blames for staffing shortages. While Kenneway says he's "cautiously optimistic" about the new leadership, mistrust is still evident. When the new commissioner, Kathleen Dennehy, called an all-staff meeting to craft a new vision statement, the only union that didn't show up was the corrections officers'.
In her office at the Massachusetts National Guard building in Milford, Dennehy touts her vision statement as evidence of a kinder and gentler depart- ment. Dressed in a cranberry-colored pantsuit and chunky gold earrings, she emphasizes words like "openness" and "respect" when talking about the system. "Inmates should leave prison with a knowledge that there is a moral order with rules that are established fairly and applied consistently," she says. "Most of the people who work at the department do want to make a difference, but those faces get lost in the controversy." Nevertheless, she has been quick to make changes. After taking charge, she replaced the heads of the prisons in both Concord and Walpole. "I wanted to have two people there who were on my team," she explains.
Though Dennehy won't talk about the Summers case directly, she readily criticizes what she calls the "system issues" hinted at in the Geoghan report. Already, she has moved to implement more training in investigative techniques, and centralized supervision and auditing of reports to catch patterns of abuse before they escalate. "We have to ask ourselves, 'Is it a particular shift or a particular unit? How does that break down by staff or a particular inmate, or race, or gender?' Instead of just pushing paper, we need to map out any emerging trends."
A pattern certainly appeared to be emerging with Ciaburri by the time Summers was transferred back to MCI-Concord in 1995, for violating his probation. Another inmate, Paul LeShore, says he had accused Ciaburri a year earlier of sexual assault. In an affidavit written for Summers's civil trial, LeShore says he told investigators he had been raped by Ciaburri--and also told doctors at Beth Israel Rape Crisis Center that Ciaburri had "forced me to perform oral sex on him and forced me to participate in masturbating with him." (LeShore declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Despite Summers's prior complaint against Ciaburri, however, he wound up back in Ciaburri's unit. Almost immediately, according to Summers's civil complaint, the pattern began again--the groping, lewd comments, and calls to report to the office, where Ciaburri would demand oral sex. Feeling without recourse now, Summers complied with the demands for months. One night, Summers says, Ciaburri came to his cell and handcuffed him, led him to the office, threw him to the floor, sat on top of him, and demanded oral sex. "Before, I was helpless," Summers says, "but this was so much worse. I was more afraid than ever. My only thought was that I needed to get someone outside." Summers wrote letters to the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, then reported the abuse again to prison authorities.
Instead of opening another investigation, the authorities told Summers they would monitor his cell in an attempt to corroborate his allegations. On a sweltering July night, Summers says, he sat listening to the roar of the ventilation as he waited for Ciaburri. One way or another, he told himself, it would end that night. "Either they were going to catch him, or I was going to kill him," he says. Not long after, Summers heard Ciaburri open his cell door and call his name. Wearing just a T-shirt, Summers walked toward Ciaburri, who pulled him into an office bathroom. Caught in a flurry of zippers and flesh, Summers tensed for officers to burst in. But Ciaburri heard something outside and pulled up his pants.
Minutes later, Ciaburri demanded that Summers return, saying the noise had been just another guard returning to pick something up. Summers's heart sank--there would be no investigators, no sting. "He's grabbing my hair, and making me perform oral sex on him again," Summers says. "And I'm thinking, Let him enjoy this.
Maybe this will be the time to just chomp down."
Then the door swung open and the world exploded into bright lights and shouting, as other officers burst in and handcuffed both Summers and Ciaburri. "We know you are the victim here," Summers says one officer finally said as he led Summers away. Summers was flooded with relief. "I was like, Oh my God, they are actually believing me."
In the official Department of Correction report, the lead investigator says that when he opened the bathroom door, Sergeant Ciaburri was caught with his penis inside Summers's mouth. As he was led into another room to be read his rights, he allegedly implored the officers to let him go, saying he had a wife and kids. An affidavit by the superintendent who authorized the investigation says he thought Summers was a "willing participant" in the sting, an assertion Summers and his lawyer deny. "They knew they had a bad guard," says Kazarian, "so they solved their problem by using Mark as bait and letting him be raped again."
Kazarian says he's skeptical that the department could ever be held accountable for what happened to Summers. A civil case against MCI-Concord's two superintendents is still pending. By statute, meanwhile, the department as a whole can be held liable for only up to $ 100,000 in damages, a comparatively small sum when it comes to
sexual abuse cases outside the prison system.
Up for parole this month, Summers hopes he'll be released. He says he reminds himself every day that he is a person first, and then a prisoner. "They tend to forget that here," he says. "Any person of power here can basically do what they want and they will be supported by the system." Despite his victory in civil court, he resents the fact that it took so long for criminal charges to be brought against Ciaburri. "The only reason people care about it is because there is so much talk about how poor Father Geoghan was killed. This man was a convicted pedophile, but his life was valued more than mine. They didn't create a commission because of what happened to me. It was hushed up as much as possible."
The new corrections commissioner will have to deal with the department's history of "hushing up" problems if her reforms are to take hold. According to one officer who worked with Ciaburri, it was hardly a surprise that the sergeant was having sex with Summers. "In the week leading up to it, more people knew than not," says the officer, who defends the fact that he and his colleagues did nothing to prevent it. "Here's a news flash: In prison, if you reported everything you thought was happening, you wouldn't have enough paper. Ugly things happen in prison, because ugly people go there."