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Pontiac Prison

The Pontiac Correctional Center in Pontiac, Illinois.

Robert Wildeboer

Illinois prison guards abused a gay coworker, according to a state investigation

Editor’s note: This article contains graphic description of sexual harassment.

In the fall of 2018, a guard at Illinois’ Pontiac Correctional Center, told his supervisor that an incarcerated man had masturbated at the front of his cell while staring at him. That supervisor, Lt. Adrian Corley, took the opportunity to play a prank on his subordinate.

Corley gave the recently hired guard a fake form to fill out and told him he had to draw a picture of the event. The employee, who is identified only as “Employee 1” in the state investigation to protect his identity, was confused about how he should render the explicit incident -- and received help drawing it from a co-worker, but still signed his name to the fake form. It quickly circulated around the facility as a joke and “Employee 1,” who is gay, said he was subject to ongoing harassment, including homophobic slurs and graffiti, and one incident where a co-worker rubbed his genitals against him.

Multiple high-ranking officers, including two assistant wardens, were aware of the fake form but failed to intervene. Instead, some of the supervisors shared the drawing with other co-workers and exchanged emails about how they thought it was funny.

The abuse is highlighted in a report released Monday by the Illinois Office of The Executive Inspector General (OEIG) which found multiple layers of oversight failed to address the complaint.

“Prisons are already difficult and dangerous working environments, where staff face challenges posed by inmate misconduct on a daily basis. It is entirely unacceptable that staff at Pontiac Correctional Center also suffer mistreatment at work by their own coworkers and supervisors, due to the unprofessional working environment that flourishes there,” the Inspector General wrote.

“Employee 1” told inspectors he dreaded coming to work and eventually left the department.

In a written statement, IDOC officials said the behavior was unacceptable and they took “the most severe disciplinary action possible against involved employees.”

Corley was fired for the incident, along with the two assistant wardens who shared the prank form. Three other high-ranking officers were fired, but then reinstated after filing grievances according to the OEIG. Warden Teri Kennedy, who is accused of turning a blind eye to the problem, retired before disciplinary action was taken. As WBEZ has previously reported, the department of corrections has struggled to terminate staff even when there is clear documentation of serious misconduct, including criminal activity.

The report from the OEIG, is yet another example of a culture of abuse that has gone unchecked in Illinois prisons, especially at Pontiac Correctional Center.

For example, two Black mental health workers from Pontiac Correctional Center told WBEZ’s Motive podcast their stories of suffering racist and sexist abuse from fellow staff. In one incident, Jimia Stokes and Demaria Bates allege a fellow staff member told them it was a good thing he had forgotten his gun when he saw them at a traffic stop. They understood his comments to be a joke about how he mistook them for criminals because of their race. After they reported continuing abuse, both women said they feared for their safety and left their jobs.

One of the high-ranking officers named in the OEIG’s report is former IDOC Major Susan Prentice. Prentice supervised a cellhouse where staff circulated the fake form and harassed “Employee 1.” She was on vacation at the time the prank form was created, but according to emails, she forwarded a copy to fellow staff and described her amusement.

It is not the only time Prentice’s emails have come under scrutiny. According to documents obtained by WBEZ she wrote emails about how she lied on reports to get an incarcerated man in more trouble. In another incident, a former guard wrote her about the time she had instructed him to bite her, so it would look like she’d been attacked by an incarcerated man which could justify beating him. In interviews with investigators Prentice and the other officer insisted they did not carry out their plan.

In another email Prentice wrote Corley about a mental health worker she called “horrible,” because she thought the worker was helping get her incarcerated patient access to a radio. Prentice wrote Corley: “get him a radio then smash it in front of him.” Despite a state investigation into Prentice’s emails, which concluded Prentice had committed misconduct by lying on a report, she retained her job. After 25 years employed at the department of corrections, she agreed to retire after the OEIG’s investigation.

The OEIG’s report says Pontiac’s environment is one where jokes are routinely carried out at the expense of fellow staff, and where the highest levels of management condone, or even join in. “Such unprofessional, irresponsible behavior and attitudes have no place in the modern workplace. It is clear that the only way this culture will change for the better is if serious consequences are imposed.”

Shannon Heffernan covers criminal justice for WBEZ. Follow @shanon_h

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