Sexual abuse in federal prison isn’t’ limited to women. My story is an illustration:
I was at USP Lompoc in California in March of last year when Compound Officer Ochoa subjected me to a strip search that was both unprofessional and humiliating–so much so that I believe it constitutes a PREA [Prison Rape Elimination Act] violation.
This wasn’t the first time that Officer Ochoa treated me this way. In fact, it was the third. He was known among the prison population as someone who abused his authority, using his position to degrade inmates in physically forceful ways.
Although pat searches are routine, the manner in which they are carried out is supposed to preserve the safety and dignity of both officer and inmate. The first two pat searches he subjected me to occurred when I was leaving the dining hall after lunch. Officer Ochoa thrust his fingers inside my waist line in the pretense of a search. (Other officers simply feel for contraband without reaching into our clothing.) In both instances, Ochoa found nothing.
And then came this third time. I had just left the dining hall after lunch when Officer Ochoa called for me over for another search. I placed myself in the position to be pat searched: I turned away from him, spread my legs and stretched out my arms. Officer Ochoa then kicked my left foot to widen my stance, while placing his hand on my back and pushing me forward to throw me off balance.
I regained my balance and tried to give Officer Ochoa my watch, thinking that might be the problem. Ochoa ignored me and pushed me off balance again. At this point, I was afraid I would be used by Officer Ochoa as an example to intimidate other inmates. To go on record as objecting, I exercised my right to ask for the other officers’ names. Right away, I could see the reaction from Officer Ochoa; he was angry.
As I turned around to resume my stance, Officer Ochoa forcefully grabbed my collar at the back of my neck and aggressively forced me forward through the corridor, in front of all the staff and inmates in the area. Nevertheless, at no time did I resist an order or act aggressively.
I was taken into the lieutenant’s office and placed in a holding cell. Because of the attention the ordeal had attracted, about 10 officers had now joined Ochoa. He directed me to strip and I was forced to stand completely naked in front of every officer there. Officer Ochoa allowed the moment to linger for an uncomfortable amount of time, then ordered me to turn my head left to right. As I did so, I could see Officer Ochoa staring at my penis. He proceeded to order me to turn around and bend over. I complied. He told me to cough. I complied again. He told me to cough louder. Again, I complied. Remember, I was still bent over, with my rectum exposed.
Not yet satisfied, Officer Ochoa told me to do squats, an exercise to develop the legs, thighs and glutes. Yet I was directed to perform this movement while my genitals were exposed. Reluctantly, Officer Ochoa finally allowed me to get dressed, while still staring at my nakedness.
I felt violated. I was angry, embarrassed, humiliated and degraded.
I couldn’t believe this was allowed to happen in this day and age. There had been no reason for Officer Ochoa to strip search me and leave me exposed for such a long period of time.
After this incident, I was left in the holding cell with no toilet or water for about an hour. Finally, Lt. Galindo (who had witnessed my ordeal) came to the cell, unlocked the door and asked if I was OK. I informed him I was not and didn’t deserve to be treated like that. I said I wanted to confront Officer Ochoa about his justification for the strip search, but Lt. Galindo said Ochoa had left the prison for the day. I had no choice but to return to my housing unit.
I began the grievance process almost immediately, but have encountered obstacles every step of the way. A PREA complaint is a sensitive issue and is supposed to be handled that way. Yet my legal mail has been intercepted by staff and even my emails have been altered to cover that up. For example, in September of last year, I sent the assistant warden an email complaining about finding one of the officers with my legal mail on his desk, unsealed, without my consent. But when I referred to the message later, it had been modified to report that the officer told me he had received my mail by mistake. I don’t know how they did it, but someone somehow hacked into my email. Later, the assistant warden also claimed that I had never reported a sexual assault. Yet I immediately asked for help due to sexual misconduct by Officer Ochoa.
USP Lompoc posted flyers on the walls with specific instructions on how to file a PREA complaint and I followed them exactly. To this day, I am treated like a liar. However, I am persisting, and am almost ready to go to court.