Part 2 of 3
A Retired Prison Warden’s Reflections on Child Sexual Abuse:
Lessons Learned Managing a Large Sex Offender Treatment Program
Q: What Do Conservative Religions and Many Youth-Serving Organizations Have in Common?
A: They Permit, Are Blind To, or Even Support Child Sexual Abuse.
Part-2 of 3
At 5:15 p.m., his desk almost cleared for the day, Warden Biggie Biggins picked up the incoming alphabetical prisoner transfer list and scanned down stopping at ‘Richard Sandell.’ Warden Biggie Biggins phoned the West Shoreline Correctional Facility and asked the shift commander to bring Sandell’s prison file across the street to the warden’s office at the Brooks Correctional Facility. Warden Biggins ran both prisons.
“You wanted this file?” said Shift Commander Linda Talmage. A legitimate question since Biggie Biggins was not in the habit of having prisoner files delivered by shift commanders.
“Yes. Please sit,” said Warden Biggins motioning to an empty chair. “Give me a minute.”
Warden Biggins read the first couple of file pages, placed the file on his desk, and said, “Repack prisoner Sandell’s property, make sure he’s in state transfer blues, and park his ass outside the Control Center. I’m arranging an immediate transfer.”
“What’s up?” asked Linda Talmage.
Warden Biggins told the shift commander who Sandell was and how he, the warden, was associated with Sandell’s case.
“I don’t want him in any of my prisons. He’s got to go. If anything happens to him, he can blame me for retaliation. I’ll arrange the transfer myself. If anyone questions the transfer, have them call me.”
Warden Biggie Biggins then called Central Office, explained the situation, and got the transfer approved, though it didn’t matter one way or another what Central office said. The son-of-a-bitch was leaving. He then told Linda Talmage to have the transfer order cut and “get Sandell the hell out of here.”
“One more thing,” said Warden Biggie Biggins. “Please have a complete copy of Sandell’s file made and hand-delivered to me.”
About a year had passed since the Sandell news broke. Warden Biggins thought about John’s family moving out of state; about the therapy some families underwent if they could afford it; about the one family’s divorce; about shattered trust in previously venerable institutions such as BSA, and the Catholic Church.
The warden had a dozen ways to make Sandell’s life miserable: constant cell searches; lost personal property; cancelled visits; lousy work assignments; oh, there were ways alright. For the first time Warden Biggie Biggins felt victim anger. The need to strike. The sweet shudder of revenge.
Easy Biggie, easy.
First, get rid of the motherfucker. Then do what you always do: Put the whole thing at an academic arm’s length; find out all you can about these organizations that allow… indeed cause — -this shit to happen. Use what you learn to inform people, and shame and cripple these organizations. Every opportunity. Year after year. There’s no forgetting.
Every prisoner file contains a PSI, an extensive pre-sentence investigation that describes the instant crime using reports from police, witnesses, victims, and an interview with the offender. As far as the justice system in Michigan is concerned, if it’s not in the PSI, it didn’t happen. The PSI is bible.
Sandell maneuvered to isolate his victims. He arranged to be alone with his targets when driving them to and from BSA activities. He targeted single-mother families relieved to have another adult give them a respite from child care.
Sandell lived in the community all his life, graduated from its high school, attended its only Catholic church. He was an Eagle Scout, honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy where he was a corpsman, the equivalent of an Army medic. He was single and living a quiet unassuming church-centered life with his parents in a bland middle-class, overwhelmingly white church-centered community. He was in his mid-twenties and attended local university classes off and on. There was nothing in his history that a vetting process would red-flag.
On camping trips Sandell would have victims visit the Scout Master’s sleeping quarters, sometimes as a “reward” for achieving merit badges, other times to assist a boy in searching his body for ticks, or to administer “first-aid.” Sandell held and dispensed any medication boys had to take while on BSA trips, thus establishing himself as a helping friend, and responsible medical authority to “examine” and touch boys’ bodies.
Sandell worked slowly, methodically identifying vulnerable targets, building friendship trust, developing time and space in which to isolate victims. He gave his favorite victims little BSA related gifts such bandannas and insignia.
But Sandell did not do these things in isolation, he was not some lone trenchcoated creep flashing outside an elementary school. He committed his crimes within an organizational context.
Warden Biggie Biggins asked himself: “What organizational culture best permits, is blind to, or even supports, child sexual abuse?”