On the fifth floor of the Federal Detention Center in Miami, a short and stocky inmate stood sweeping the floor. Her name was Shonda Ross, and in her 32 years, she had seen the inside of more than a few prisons like this one — Tallahassee, Raleigh, and Danbury, Connecticut, among them. She had learned to survive in prison; she knew how to make friends with people who could protect her and get her the things she needed, such as the girlfriend in Tallahassee who smuggled in drugs from the back fence. But nothing prepared her for this place.
Built in 1995, the prison featured a Depression-era Art Deco exterior that was a cheery nod to South Beach, but other than that, everything was standard: a white-washed concrete shell for a room, a metal bunk with a thin mattress, a toilet made of steel. There were television sets in the common area, a rec room with Ping-Pong tables, and a place to smoke and get a bit of fresh air. But here in her room with the metal door shut, she was blocked off from all of that. She couldn't hear the traffic humming outside on NE Fifth Street; she couldn't feel the muggy summer heat or hear the music from cars going to the beach. She was sealed off, a stark fluorescent bulb above her, alone with her thoughts.
She churned her broom, picking up dust bunnies off the gray linoleum floor. She was an attractive woman, with disarming, fawn-like brown eyes that had attracted both men and women. The name of one lover decorated her right arm; a tiny red heart adorned her left breast.
sexual abuse in prison
She heard the door click open. Through the reflection of the stainless-steel plate that served as her mirror, she could see the figure of a large black man entering her cell.
He sported the uniform of a federal corrections officer: crisp white button-down shirt, neatly pressed gray slacks, sharp black tie, and shiny black shoes. He stood five-foot-nine — four inches taller than her — and carried 200 pounds of taut, sinewy muscle. She recognized him right away. He'd been here before, and every time it was the same thing.
As he moved closer, she could feel his hot breath on her neck. He unbuttoned her jumpsuit, pulled it off her soft shoulders, and let the red cotton garment fall to the floor. He led her to the bottom bunk and sat her down. He didn't have to say anything. They both know why he was there. She leaned back, closed her eyes, and waited for it to end.
Over the next two months, Shondra Ross (not her real name) claims, the same guard entered her cell and raped her 12 times. But that's not all. Ross says that during her four stays at FDC Miami between 2002 and 2005, where she was transferred to testify in two drug trafficking cases, she was sexually assaulted numerous times by four different guards. Yet despite her reports to prison officials and federal prosecutors, who were using her as a witness, the complaints were discredited and ignored.
In 2007, Ross sued the U.S. government and the four correctional officers, accusing them of making her strip, touching her genitals, and, in the case of guard Damioun Cole, repeatedly raping her. Three months ago, federal Judge Cecilia Altonaga wrote that although the statute of limitations had passed to award civil damages, the evidence suggested Ross had in fact been sexually assaulted by guards at the prison and that supervisors at FDC Miami and the Bureau of Prisons had done next to nothing in response. "S.R. was sexually abused on numerous occasions by the individual defendants," Altonaga wrote. "The BOP and FDC Miami did have notice of the illegal conduct taking place, and were woefully deficient in addressing it and giving S.R. protection."
One might consider it unlikely that guards would be allowed to have their way with female inmates at a high-profile prison such as the Federal Detention Center in Miami, where infamous inmates — including ex-Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, alleged dirty bomber José Padilla, the Liberty City Six, and disgraced former Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne — have been housed. Yet officers and employees sexually assaulting inmates without fear of any consequences is a widespread problem afflicting federal prisons across the nation.
According to a 2005 U.S. Department of Justice report, an estimated 12 percent of the 2,808 complaints received by the justice department's inspector general involved inmates reporting one or more incidents of sexual victimization by prison staff over a two-year period.
"When nearly one in 20 prisoners reports being raped or sexually abused behind bars, it is clear that prison authorities are not doing enough to prevent these serious crimes," said Jamie Fellner, senior counsel for the Human Rights Watch's U.S. program. "Prison rape is not inevitable," Fellner added, "but it is all too predictable when prison authorities fail to enforce a zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse."
Ross's attorney, Matthew Sarelson, says even though his client didn't win any money, she exposed some serious problems in the federal prison and justice systems. "On one hand, the federal prison system doesn't have the proper mechanisms to report and investigate sexual assaults by corrections officers against inmates," he says.
"Then you have the U.S. Attorney's Office dropping the ball. You had assistant federal prosecutors who knew what was going on yet did nothing. That is troubling."
How Ross ended up in Miami's federal detention center begins in Raleigh, North Carolina. The middle child among three siblings, Ross grew up in a splintered home. "I didn't come from a bad family," she says. "It was just broken."
After her parents separated when she was in elementary school, she lived with her mother in a suburb on the north side of Raleigh during the week and stayed with her dad on weekends. "He lived in the projects," Ross remembers. "That introduced me to a whole new lifestyle."
It didn't help that Ross's father showed no interest in raising his daughter. "The only thing he ever said to me was: 'Wassup, homegirl?'" Ross recalls. By the time she turned 14 years old, she had run away and moved in with her best friend. Not long after, she dropped out of high school and tried her hand at a couple of part-time jobs, including a Winn-Dixie cashier and a Pizza Hut waitress.
She then began dating a drug dealer 15 years her senior, a decision that would alter the course of her life. Both a father figure and a lover, he introduced her to the crack cocaine trade. "From that moment on," Ross says, "I was in the streets all day, every day."
Selling five- and ten-dollar baggies of crack in and around her father's apartment complex, she says she was pocketing $200 to $300 a day. When her best friend was shot down in a drive-by shooting, Ross sunk into a dark depression she couldn't shake, numbing her sadness with booze and weed, but it did nothing to hinder her from selling drugs. In fact, as she puts it, her path got worse: She quit school during the tenth grade in 1988, dated a string of drug dealers, and hopped from one friend's house to the next. Between 1989 and 1992, she was arrested 13 times, on charges ranging from using a fake ID to buy booze to carrying a concealed weapon.
In 1992, at the age of 20, she was found guilty of a felony hit and run and served almost a year in jail. Two years later, she was picked up on a drug trafficking charge and sentenced to seven years. She did two, earned her GED degree, and was released for good behavior.
For a while, it seemed like a fresh start — she landed a job as a receptionist and nail technician trainee at a salon in Raleigh — but before long she started to miss the easy money and the fast lifestyle that came from the game. "I knew I wasn't supposed to be doing it," she says. "But I went back to what I knew."
She hooked up with a mid-level dealer and began dating him and selling crack. In the summer of 1998, Raleigh cops pulled her over and found a half-ounce of crack under the floorboard of the car she was driving. Acting on a tip that Ross had a lot more than that, they sent her to the emergency room to execute a cavity search and removed a plastic bag with 30 grams of crack that Ross had stuffed into her vagina.
On December 7, 1998, Ross pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute 12 ounces of cocaine. Four months later, she was sentenced to 27 years and three months.
"They had essentially given me a life sentence," she says. "I thought I was going to die in prison."
Markell Milsap was an electrician working at a Federal Detention Center in Hawaii in September 2007 when he pushed a female inmate against a wall, forced down her pants, and had sex with the prisoner. He pled guilty to sexually abusing "a person in official detention" and was sentenced to one year in federal lockup. The victim has filed a $750,000 claim for damages against the government and her attacker.
Janine Sligar, a 47-year-old former secretary at the Florence Federal Correctional Complex near Denver — which houses Supermax, a prison building for prisoners who have killed other inmates — pled guilty this past October for "sexual abuse of a ward." A grand jury investigation uncovered Sligar had sex with inmate Eric McClain 10 to 20 times in a staff restroom between July and October 2007. She was recently sentenced to six months in prison and five years of supervised release.
Earlier this month, 39-year-old Michael Rudkin was sentenced to 180 months stemming from his guilty plea in a sex scandal at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dansbury, where Ross spent part of her incarceration. According to court documents, from October 2007 through January 2008, Rudkin engaged in a sexual relationship with a female inmate and planned with the prisoner to kill his wife. Investigators foiled the plot. Rudkin was sentenced to 10 years for the murder-for-hire charge and another 14 years for the sexual abuse of an inmate.
These are not isolated incidents. Sexual misconduct by federal prison employees is a problem across the country, according to a 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Justice. Between 2000 and 2004, the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General investigated 351 BOP employees accused of sexually abusing inmates. Roughly half of those cases were presented for prosecution.
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.
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.
Ross claims she reported Pollack after the third or fourth assault to a psychologist who treated her at FDC Miami. Indeed, Ross's mental health records from the prison indicate that in October 2002 she reported being "sexually victimized by C.O. Pollack." Yet it was never investigated. In fact, prison officials viewed Ross as a troublemaker. She was placed into solitary confinement on the fifth floor after she got into a screaming match with one correctional officer. Ross claims the guard insulted her about her weight.
Pollack resigned on July 31, 2003, less than a month before his first-year anniversary. He cited personal reasons, according to his file. At the time of his resignation, he was under internal investigation for allegedly playing dice with inmates and bringing in contraband to sell and trade. During Ross's civil trial, Pollack emphatically denied he forced Ross to strip and play with herself. (Pollack, whose last listed address is a gated community in Miramar, could not be located for comment. A security guard would not allow New Times in without Pollack's permission. The home and cell phone numbers listed in his employee file have been disconnected.)
In November 2002, while in solitary, Ross met guard Charles Jenkins. The then-33-year-old guard had been with the prisons bureau since 1996. By all accounts the North Miami Beach native was an exemplary employee. In 2001 he earned three time-off awards "for your dedication and loyalty to the Custody Department," according to a memo in his personnel file. The same year he was given a Superior Performance Award.
But Ross says she saw a different side to Jenkins. "He was mean," she says. "He harassed my friend who was in another cell, calling her a bitch and a ho." Ross says she doesn't know why Jenkins insulted her pal. But she claims Jenkins promised he would stop bothering the other inmate if Ross let him "see that ass." Ross says she initially ignored Jenkins. "But then he started refusing to give me clean T-shirts, panties, socks, and uniforms," she says. "I had no choice but to do what he asked of me."
In order to get her basic necessities, Ross says she had to strip and play with herself while Jenkins watched 15 to 20 times between November 2002 and January 2003. In one instance, Ross says, Jenkins inserted his fingers in her vagina. Jenkins, who is still employed by the prisons bureau, declined comment. He has vehemently denied Ross's charges in sworn statements to investigators and a court deposition last year. "I don't even remember who she was," Jenkins insisted in his 2008 testimony.
She also accused another guard, Lt. Antonio Echevarria, a former drill sergeant who had been a federal corrections officer since 1992, of penetrating her vagina with his fingers on one occasion during the same two-month period. Yet, Ross concedes she did not immediately report the incidents involving Jenkins and Echevarria, who was in charge of the floor where Ross was incarcerated. "I was too scared," she explains. "After all, they had put me in the special housing unit because I was making noise about what was happening to me."
(Echevarria has repeatedly denied assaulting Ross. He declined comment for this story. "I've never touched any female inmate," Echevarria wrote in a 2004 affidavit to the Justice Department inspector general. He resigned from the prisons bureau in December 2006 after he was caught selling a gun to a police informant who was a convicted felon. A year later, Echevarria was convicted of disposing a firearm to a prohibited person. He served a year in lockup.)
On January 7, 2003, Ross returned to the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, where she had first been sent after her conviction. She was brought back to Miami on August 13 of that same year to testify against her former lover Dowling, where she claims she endured another round of sexual abuse by Jenkins. Five months after the incident, Ross reported the abuse to Jenkins's superiors and then-warden Richard Stiff.
According to Ross's prison file, on December 8, 2003, she informed corrections supervisor Lt. Thomas Miller of her allegations. His job was to enforce the prisons bureau's rules and regulations inside FDC Miami, as well as report alleged misconduct by guards to the warden, the prisons bureau Office of Internal Affairs, and the DOJ Office of the Inspector General. After Ross submitted a written affidavit documenting her claims, Stiff referred the case to the bureau's internal affairs investigators.
Miller and the warden weren't the only prison employees aware of Ross's accusations. She also informed her psychologist, her case manager, and her counselor. "They knew what was going on but did nothing," she says. "Heck, Jenkins was already at my cell door 20 minutes after I reported him, telling me to be quiet and not to fucking tell on him."
Two days later, FDC Miami prison officials jotted down her allegations in a memo, which included an attachment noting Ross was "mentally ill." There are no documents in Ross's prison file indicating the internal affairs investigators followed up on her claims, not even a memorandum substantiating or dismissing her allegations. (Ross had suffered from documented mental illness for years. According to court documents, she was given Prozac and other tranquilizers in prison to help control her mood swings and to help her relax).
When Ross realized she was not going to get help from prison officials, she turned to federal prosecutor Rochlin, who had brought her to Miami to testify in the drug case against Dowling. In a handwritten letter to Rochlin, Ross recounted every incident involving Pollack, Jenkins, and Echevarria. "It's embarrassing, degrading, and I don't want to go through this anymore," Ross wrote. "I know I am not the only female they have done this to. I know four more besides myself."
Ross pleaded with Rochlin to help her leave the Miami prison "as soon as possible" and told her she wanted to "press charges on those officers that has (sic) violated me here." In court testimony last year, Rochlin acknowledged she received Ross's note but said she could not recall what she did about it. The Department of Justice has a policy that requires federal prosecutors to report allegations of abuse against incarcerated informants to law enforcement authorities.
On December 16, 2003, Ross was sent back to the Danbury facility. "That was their way of resolving my situation," Ross says. She decided to document her victimization to the judge who presided over her case. He passed on her correspondence to a deputy U.S. marshal named Mark McClish. A month later, McClish forwarded her complaint to the Bureau of Prisons. McClish included his own memo indicating he believed that Ross fabricated her sexual contact with the three prison guards. The prisons bureau did not investigate her complaint for more than a year.
Inspector general agents from the Department of Justice did not interview Ross until March 9, 2004, at which time she restated her allegations against Pollack, Jenkins, and Echevarria. Pollack was never brought in for questioning, while agents waited until 2005 to interview Jenkins and Echevarria. Both guards denied having sexual contact with Ross on March 16 of that year. The investigators ended the probe without substantiating Ross's complaint against the three guards.
Prison bureau spokeswoman Mercedes Feliciano declined to answer why it took so long for Ross's complaint to be investigated.
Had Ross's allegations been taken seriously, the prisons bureau could have prevented subsequent assaults Ross endured from a fourth guard, an ex-U.S. Marine named Damioun Cole, who had been a federal prison guard since 1997, and had been with FDC Miami since 2000.
According to his personnel record, Cole consistently rated exceptionally well in his annual evaluations. On June 21, 2001, his superior wrote: "Cole is a dedicated officer. With more exposure, he will be a great asset to the Bureau of Prisons." Two years later, Cole was lauded for displaying a "high degree of tact, diplomacy, and professionalism when dealing with inmates."
In a court deposition last year, Charles Jenkins, one of Ross's other alleged attackers, described Cole as a good person. "Cole was a jokester, you know," Jenkins testified. "He was just a person that was always smiling and laughing."
According to Ross, her first contact with Cole came during her fourth stay at the Federal Detention Center in Miami in 2004, when she was brought down to again testify against Dowling. Ross could not recall the exact dates, but she claims Cole assaulted her 12 times between March and August of that year.
The first two times, she said, he performed oral sex on her and she performed fellatio on him. By the third and fourth incidents, Cole was having vaginal and anal sex with Ross. "I felt like I had no choice," she says. "I did what I had to do."
Yet when Ross reported the assaults to prison officials, she was dismissed again. It wasn't until another inmate accused Cole of raping her that Ross's claims were taken seriously. FBI agent James Kaelin, who was investigating Cole, interviewed Ross in early 2005. She recounted for Kaelin the sexual acts Cole forced her to engage in.
On June 21, 2005, Cole was arrested and charged with sexually abusing the inmate identified in court records as B.P. The inmate had reported to FDC Miami officials that on September 25, 2004, she and Cole engaged in oral sex. Her statement was supported by another inmate, Monique Estimable, who witnessed the incident. Cole was crouched down facing B.P., who was on the bed. "I seen him," Estimable attested, "and her legs was spread open and he was between her legs. I seen him having oral sex with her."
Yet the prison's internal investigators did not forward the complaint to Kaelin until six months later. The FBI agent built enough evidence against Cole that in September 2005, the guard pleaded guilty and served one year in prison. (The light sentence is not a surprise considering just six years ago, the penalty for a prison employee sexually abusing an inmate was only a misdemeanor. Though it is now a felony, most federal prosecutors are more interested in pursuing high-profile cases.) FBI agent Kaelin, in a court deposition last year, noted he had developed sufficient probable cause to bring a separate indictment against Cole for assaulting Ross. But when Cole agreed to a plea deal, assistant U.S. attorney Alejandro Soto did not want to prosecute the prison guard for the alleged crimes against Ross, Kaelin testified.
According to his testimony, he advised Ross to retain an attorney and to sue the federal government to get access to his case file. "The FBI was willing and eager to continue investigating other misconduct by Cole and the other correctional officers," Ross's attorney, Matthew Sarelson says. "But it appears the U.S. Attorney's Office was satisfied getting the lone conviction."
On December 4, 2005, Ross was released to a halfway house. Seven months later, she was set free and started to get her life back in order. At her request, New Times is not disclosing where Ross currently resides. She went to work as a waitress at a restaurant and she says she stayed away from the drug game. "I knew what was coming my way if I got in the game again," she says. "So I couldn't do that no more."
What Ross couldn't leave behind, however, were the things that happened to her at the federal prison in Miami, and she sometimes shared her story with diners she trusted. One regular customer referred her to Miami attorney Matthew Sarelson, a raspy voiced litigator who initially had trouble believing Ross's story. "I had serious doubts that what she was telling me was true," he says.
On March 12, 2007, Ross filed her civil complaint against the U.S. government, which was initially dismissed on a technicality. She had not submitted an administrative complaint with the Bureau of Prisons seeking damages, which she subsequently did on April 12, 2007. Seven months later, she re-filed her lawsuit against the government, seeking $5 million in damages. She accused the Bureau of Prisons of "negligent hiring" and "negligent supervision" that led to the sexual assaults she suffered at FDC Miami.
During her summer trial last year, Judge Altonaga heard Kaelin's testimony as well as the testimony of various prison officials, law enforcement agents, and prosecutors who either claimed not to have known about Ross's allegations or could not recall what they did when they received her complaints.
Prosecutor Soto, who handled the unrelated sexual abuse case against Cole, claims he never met Ross, but he admitted to taking a pass on her allegations once Cole pled guilty on the other case. On the stand, ATF agent DeVito, the lead investigator in the government's case against the North Carolina ex-con's prison buddy Avonda Dowling, claimed he never spoke with Ross about her being sexually abused and that he never received her letter.
Assistant U.S. attorney Karen Rochlin, who was one of the first people Ross turned to after the alleged abuse began, testified that she recalled receiving a letter from Ross alleging the guards' sexual abuse but could not remember how she handled it. "I don't have a specific memory," Rochlin said. "Do I believe I did nothing? The answer to that is no."
Through a department spokeswoman, FDC Miami vehemently denied that Ross's complaints were ignored. The prison turned down a request from New Times to tour the facility and would not make available any guards or supervisors at the prison for interviews. In a written statement provided by prison bureau spokeswoman Mercedes Feliciano, she said: "The Bureau of Prisons takes these types of allegations very seriously, and all allegations are investigated, and, where warranted, referred to criminal prosecution."
"In this particular case, FDC Miami was not made aware of the alleged incidents until one year after they allegedly occurred."
Alicia Valle, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, told New Times on Feb. 26 that in Ross's case, "it appeared that the Department of Justice policy was not followed." The next day, Valle contacted New Times to amend her message. "Since this matter is several years old," she wrote in an email, "it has not yet been determined whether policy was violated in this instance."
The special counsel declined to discuss the case in any further detail.
"This is an internal personnel matter and will be handled accordingly," she wrote.
Today, Ross holds a lot of resentment toward Rochlin. "I was just her tool," she says, seething. "She didn't care about me. All she cared about was winning her case."
Adds Sarelson: "Rochlin knew what was going on and did nothing."
Former FDC guards Echevarria, Jenkins, and Pollack did not comment for this article. Cole denied Ross's claims. "She is a liar," he said. "And I got caught up in her lies." He declined further comment on the advice of his lawyer. He recently finished serving a one-year term for raping another inmate at FDC Miami during the time Ross was there.
Ross is trying to move on. Released from prison, she opened a beauty salon late last year in the town where she lives. Near the entrance to the shop, she has placed a handwritten journal documenting her life. "I leave it there so all the young girls can read it," she says. "I want them to learn from my experiences."
Her paranoia, she says, is worse than ever. "I lay awake until three or four in the morning. I pass the time writing down my thoughts. It is the only thing that gives me peace."
Ross takes some solace knowing that at least one of her tormenters was brought to justice. Since his release from prison in 2007, Damioun Cole has been living with his mother in Miami Gardens under supervised release. He is also a registered sex offender in Florida.
But his punishment will never heal her emotional scars, Ross laments. "Closure for me is seeing all four of those men who sexually abused me punished or dead," she says. She pleaded with New Times not to disclose her whereabouts. Even when goodhearted people offer to help her, Ross says, she has a hard time trusting them. "They can never undo," she says, referring to the guards, "what they done to me."
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