Unequal Justice

At federal prisons across the country, guards are preying on inmates. FDC Miami is no different.

The 2005 DOJ report concluded a majority of cases (55 percent) that were declined was due to insufficient evidence. However, the Justice Department noted that "even in many cases where there was sufficient evidence to prove that a staff member had sexually abused an inmate, the OIG has found that some prosecutors are reluctant to prosecute prison staff who do not use force or overt threats to obtain sex with inmates, often because the penalty is only a misdemeanor."

The report noted that of 65 individuals convicted of sexually abusing an inmate, 48 defendants received probation. Only five of them received prison sentences longer than a year. In addition, the report found that 120 sex abuse cases only resulted in administrative action taken against the prison employee such as reprimands, suspensions, and, in limited instances, termination.

In 2003, Congress created the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission as part of the National Prison Rape Elimination Act, which also increased the penalty for sexual abuse by prison employees on inmates from a misdemeanor to a felony. But, as the DOJ report shows, that has had little effect on the number of cases prosecuted. In a recent interview with New Times, Jamie Fellner, the Human Rights Watch senior counsel and commissioner of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, says not much has changed since the report was published two years ago. She criticized the prisons bureau and the U.S. Attorney's Office of "reckless indifference" when it comes to addressing sex abuse by guards against inmates. Ross's attorney, Matthew Sarelson, says that U.S. attorneys have little interest in prosecuting these cases.

Pat Kinsella
Pat Kinsella

After she was convicted of dealing crack in 1999, Ross was shipped off to the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee. There she quickly befriended an inmate by the name of Avonda Dowling, a reputed drug queenpin from Overtown who controlled incoming shipments of pot, heroin, and crack cocaine being smuggled into the prison. Dowling's reputation preceded her — according to the federal government, she was the leader of a violent Liberty City gang that warred with other drug crews including the Boobie Boys and the John Does during the '90s. She was awaiting trial on drug and murder conspiracy charges.

It didn't take long for Dowling to notice Ross — the two worked on the same night crew that cleaned the kitchen without supervision — and a romance blossomed. According to Ross, Dowling was bringing the drugs in through a back gate at the prison. Ross claims she didn't know how Dowling was getting the contraband past the guards, but that she and other inmates helped bag up the drugs inside the prison kitchen that were later sold on the compound. The Raleigh ex-con says she didn't do any drugs, but that Dowling plied her by having relatives put money into Ross's prison account. Ross says when she was transferred from Tallahassee to a prison in Danbury, Connecticut, Dowling would write her love letters that she received in envelopes postmarked with Dowling's sister's address. Prisoners are not allowed to correspond with one another. (Ross's accounts are confirmed in hundreds of pages of court documents that include testimony from witnesses.)

Then, in early 2002, Ross was transferred to Miami. She claims she did not know why she had been brought to Miami. "No one told me why," Ross asserts. "I found out when I ran into some of the women I had met in Tallahassee in Miami." According to Dowling's criminal court file, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives knew that she was running drugs inside the Tallahassee prison and were looking to add more drug charges on the Overtown drug dealer's then-pending indictment. Shortly after arriving in Miami, Ross claims, an assistant U.S. attorney from the Southern District of Florida named Karen Rochlin brought Ross in for questioning. Rochlin had already questioned her ex-Tallahassee cellmates, who informed the prosecutor about her relationship with Dowling, Ross says. According to court documents, Ross eventually cooperated with Rochlin by testifying about what she knew about Dowling's prison drug trafficking. "Rochlin knew I had been Avonda's girlfriend and she told me that she had witnesses against me. I cooperated so I wouldn't hurt my chances for a sentence reduction. I felt bad. I had never told on anybody in my life."

Word that Ross was assisting law enforcement officials on Dowling's case spread throughout the Federal Detention Center in Miami. Inmates, loyal to Dowling, confronted Ross in the dining and recreation areas of the prison. "I started having panic attacks," she says. "I was afraid."

In mid-October, Ross turned to a correctional officer named Isiah Pollack III for help. At the time, Pollack was close to wrapping up his first year on the job. A 34-year-old ex-Army nurse, Pollack had earned medals for good conduct and achievement during his tour of duty to Haiti in the mid-'90s when the United States intervened to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide back to power. "I went to him for help," Ross says. "I told him about the people questioning me about why I was in Miami."

"Don't worry about anyone," Pollack allegedly replied, according to court documents, "as long as you help me out." On several occasions, Ross claims, she had to perform sexual acts on herself in front of Pollack, but that she never had to have sexual intercourse with him. "I danced nude," she says. "I lay on the bed nude with my legs wide open." One time, she insists, he made her insert into her vagina a dildo she had made with latex gloves, an ace bandage, and a tampon. "He would come into my room and rub his hands on my body while I was in bed," Ross says.

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