On the corner of 9th & 9th, the phrase "I want love" is scrawled in large black letters on a mural. When I see those letters, I think of an inmate in his mid-20s in the Utah state prison.
His story reminds me of how Gov. Gary Herbert proclaimed in 2014 that reducing Utah's high rate of recidivism was one of his goals when it came to reforming the criminal-justice system in Utah. But this goal stands in stark contrast with the state's refusal to fully implement federal standards designed to help stamp out prison rape.
I followed this young man's
struggles in the prison for a number of years. Other inmates and relatives have talked repeatedly about how he has been sexually victimized by a number of cell mates, but that there is nothing they can do about it.
After three years of occasional correspondence and frustrated attempts to get to see him, eventually interviewed him. We talked for an hour in the prison, but the following week he wrote to me, withdrawing permission for his story to be told. He felt that he was nothing more than a story to me and I was unable to convince him otherwise.
Earlier this year he was finally released. But after eight years of incarceration, much of it in solitary confinement, and alleged manipulation, physical, psychological and emotional abuse by other inmates, perhaps it is less than surprising that he is back in prison, after allegedly violating his parole.
When I think of him, and he often comes to my mind as someone cruelly abandoned by society, I think of all the other vulnerable inmates, and particularly members of the gay and transgender community
up at the Point of the Mountain, who are targets for sexual abuse.
At the same time, looming behind them, are those inmates who are perpetrators of sexual abuse, but who are rarely if ever held accountable
in a court of criminal law for their crimes.
Those faceless individuals take such behavior from prison culture and, in some cases, let it loose on the outside world.
I've heard numerous stories of felons released from the prison choosing to rape other men as a form of punishment for drug-related debts or other perceived slights, or simply to make a statement.
As I contemplate the young man's return to prison this summer 2015—he is shortly to appear in a hearing on his parole violation allegations—something came to mind that Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told me when I was doing research for City Weekly's Nov. 26 cover story "The Hurt Lock-up"
"How we treat our prisoners speaks volumes about the values and ideals we hold as a society," he said.