A couple of days ago, when I mentioned “diesel therapy” on this blog, I ran across an article written for The Marshall Project by an ex-con, who was initially doing time in a minimum security camp. The author of the article, Michael Rothenberg, was a white collar criminal who had made the mistake of befriending another white collar criminal who escaped from their lockup at FPC Montgomery, in Alabama. Because he had associated with the escapee, prison officials figured he somehow knew the guy was going to escape. They decided to send Rothenberg to a harsher facility in Lovejoy, Georgia. He and other inmates were shackled and handcuffed, then put on a bus with an overflowing toilet for a drive that lasted several hours.
When Rothenberg got to his destination, he was kept in a crowded holding cell for hours. Then, he was shown a video about avoiding prison rape, which freaked him out. Rothenberg had never been to a “real jail” before. His camp in Alabama had been more like a dormitory than a prison. The idea that he might be raped while he was in prison was, naturally, very upsetting.
While I can understand why Rothenberg was unsettled by the video about prison rape, I thought it was kind of progressive. And then, completely by coincidence, I was watching YouTube the other day, and in my queue of suggested videos was a video made by the Alabama Department of Corrections. It was about how to avoid being raped or sexually harassed in prison, and how to make a report if an assault happens. I watched it, and was actually surprised by how respectful and well done it was.
Several inmates spoke about their experiences, and there were also comments by correctional officers and the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections. The commissioner explains that the video was made in response to the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA). PREA requires that federal, state and local correctional facilities maintain and enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual assault for both inmate-on-inmate and staff-on-inmate misconduct. Given that this is a law that applies to all facilities, I’m surprised that Rothenberg’s first encounter with an anti prison rape video was at the second facility.
Since Josh is going to a federal facility in Texas, at least initially, he’ll probably see a film much like this one, only it will be made by the feds. I’m not sure how much this video and others like it actually help prevent prison rapes and sexual misconduct. Based on what I’ve heard about prison, a lot of correctional officers don’t care too much about making sure prisoners avoid harassment. It could be that showing this video is just a way to comply with the law. I still thought it was an interesting video, though… and surprisingly well done. It would be nice if the correctional officers who say they want prisoners to get through their time safely really mean what they say. I don’t like Josh Duggar, and I hate what he did, but I don’t wish for him to meet violence. On the other hand, I don’t have high hopes that he can be reformed.
The above video, by the way, comes with a trigger warning. I didn’t think it was hard to watch. It was certainly a lot easier to watch than whatever Josh was watching on the videos that got him sent to prison in the first place. I’m sure it won’t make him as squeamish to watch it as it did Michael Rothenberg.
Rothenberg writes that after he saw the video, he was taken to solitary confinement, where he listened to other inmates scream. One guy passed him a note begging him to give him the food he wasn’t going to eat, since he was starving. Meanwhile, Rothenberg’s wife and children were in Alabama, planning to visit him in the prison camp in Montgomery. They didn’t know he’d been moved. Rothenberg was threatened at the Lovejoy facility, then sent to Oklahoma City, where he spent three weeks of hell before he was sent to South Dakota. On the flight to South Dakota, another prisoner begged to use the toilet, but was denied. The prisoner said he was going to piss himself, and the guard told him he’d tase him if he pissed himself. The prisoner said being tased would also make him piss himself. When he finally did pee on himself, he got tased, as promised.
Rothenberg was then moved to a private facility in Nevada, where he saw lots of ICE detainees. To comply with the kosher diet he maintained as an observant Jew, he was given nothing but celery and rice to eat. Then, from Nevada, he went to Utah, and on the way there, he was shackled to a Neo-Nazi, who had “white power” tattooed on his knuckles. The Nazi told Rothenberg that he was okay with most Jews. He just didn’t like the Jews involved with banking. Rothenberg wrote:
We remained stuck together for the next two weeks. Over that time he told me his story—how he dropped out of school and followed in the footsteps of his older brother, whom he idolized and who was serving time for a hate crime as well. His father had left them. He was not able to afford his mental-health medication. He took a gun and went to the local synagogue. It was empty; he was intending to kill himself. At the last minute, he decided he couldn’t go through with it and emptied his clip into the empty synagogue instead.
He asked me for forgiveness for what he did. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing.
When Rothenberg’s mom called to complain and demand accountability as to where her son was, the prison officials said they’d never heard of “diesel therapy”. Hmmm… As I mentioned before, I first heard about “diesel therapy” listening to Jim Bakker, of all people.
Rothenberg is now an ordained Rabbi and prison consultant. It sounds like he’s mended his ways. I hope he avoided being sexually assaulted. I hope Josh does, too. But it’s probably not very comforting to be welcomed to prison with a video about how to avoid and report prison rape. I bet it makes settling in a bit difficult.