The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin: ‘Cynical and Devious’ Male Inmates Abused Female Guards

Last year, the Department of Justice completed its study of sexual abuse in adult prisons and juvenile facilities.  It wasn’t a happy time for feminists.  The studies showed that most of the sexual abuse of inmates is committed by guards and most of that is committed by female guards.

Female wrongdoing, particularly sexual wrongdoing, is the type of thing feminists prefer to keep out of sight since it contradicts their narrative of female innocence and male corruption.  Worse, coming as that information did, in studies not subject to their censorship, readers were able to draw conclusions free of feminist instruction.

So, what to do?  Well, if you’re Adèle Mercier, you simply drop all pretense of intellectual integrity and claim that, in the case of boys abused in juvenile facilities, “they were asking for it.”  Yes, if the sexes were reversed and a male commentator said the same about girls abused by male guards, Mercier would be screaming for his head on a platter.  But one of the many privileges of being a feminist is freedom from the inconvenient strictures of intellectual honesty.

So much for the juvenile facilities, but what about the adult ones?  We now have our answer.  It appears in a New Yorker article by Jeffrey Toobin.  Now, Toobin barely mentions the DoJ studies, but his article is plainly an answer to the uncomfortable questions they raise about the sexual abuse of male inmates by their female guards.

Unsurprisingly, Toobin peddles the standard feminist line that somehow the sexual contact between the men in cages and the women who held the keys was a matter of – what else? – male power and female helplessness.  He doesn’t waste much time getting to the point.  Just 600 words into a 5,200-word article Toobin says, “Cynical and devious men succeeded in dominating women who were nominally their keepers.”

How does he manage the feat of turning the base metal of facts into the gold of feminist mythology?  It wasn’t easy.  Indeed, I’d say he failed altogether.  His “evidence” for the proposition is the thinnest gruel, but I suspect it’ll be enough to nourish those who’ve swallowed the feminist Kool-Aid.  Against a backdrop of women clearly acting in their own self-interest, Toobin cobbles together a sorry mishmash of self-contradiction and intellectual hocus-pocus that would make anyone but a feminist blush.

The Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) is over 200 years old.  It’s located in a high-crime part of the city and houses over 2,000 male inmates awaiting trial, sometimes for months or years.  Those inmates are overseen by 650 correctional officers.  Almost all inmates and guards are African-American and the most powerful gang in the place is called the Black Guerrilla Family.  Guards are mostly culled from the surrounding community, and few men there qualify.  The job requires a high school diploma, clean urine and a clear criminal record, leaving most local men looking elsewhere for work.  About 75% of the guards – about 487 people – are women.

There’s currently a federal investigation under way into the criminal activities inside the BCDC and nine inmates and 27 guards have been indicted.  Much of Toobin’s article relies on information gleaned from that investigation including wiretaps of cellphones used by inmates.

From the look of things, the BCDC was the Wild West.  Inside the walls and out, pretty much anything was for sale.  Into the jail came tobacco, marijuana, prescription drugs, and food, most of it under the control of the Black Guerrilla Family and its head man, Tavon White.  Payment by and to the gang was handled via cell phones – also controlled by the BGF – and the use of Green Dot MoneyPak debit cards.  As the major mode of communication, cell phones too became valuable contraband inside the jail.

Under the indifferent eye of the jail’s administration, business boomed with inmates often making more money than they could on the outside.  Tavon White, for example, bought a BMW and a Mercedes Benz while in the BCDC.  One intercepted phone call revealed him saying he netted over $15,000 per month.  Not bad for a man living in a cage.

But of course none of the contraband that was the heart of the inmates’ enterprise made it into the jail without the guards’ help.  Guards enthusiastically participated in the sale of contraband inside the BCDC.

Female guards smuggled the contraband into the facility, concealing it “in their underwear, hair, internally and elsewhere,” according to a government filing.

Plenty of guards took part.  Between 60% and 75% of the female guards were involved in the smuggling and sale of contraband.  That’s between 292 and 365 female guards joining in the fun.

Why did they do it?  Money, of course.  The limited supply of all types of contraband inside the prison meant prices were stratospheric.  A single gram of pot fetched $50, or $1,400 an ounce.  Female guards supplemented their regular incomes by buying cheaply on the outside and selling dearly inside the walls.  One guard, Adrena Rice was recorded by the feds thus:

When I came back in the jail, I’m like, shit, I’m not going to stop making my money.  You feel me?  I seen what the fuck was going on, asked a few people what was up and who was what and what was what.  I am just about my money.   You hear me?  I love money.  I love it.  I swear to God.

The BCDC was just the place for her.

Rodney, a thirty-nine-year-old former inmate, said, “They can buy a ten-dollar pill on the street and sell it for a hundred dollars.”  Others spoke of cigarettes sold for a dollar apiece…  Guards would buy Percocet on the street for five dollars a pill (or obtain it free through Medicaid fraud), then sell it inside for fifty dollars a pill.

With a (literally) captive market and huge mark-ups for all goods sold inside, it’s no surprise that so many guards got in on the action.  Nor is it a surprise that some of the guards became sexually involved with inmates.  Some percentage of women will always be attracted to the wealthy, the powerful and the famous.  That’s true in everyday life and it was true in the BCDC, where a clear hierarchy of inmates ruled as virtual potentates, and some of them, like Tavon White, were affluent as well.  As White bragged on the phone one day,

“I got elevated to the seat where as though nobody in the jail could outrank me….Like, I am the law….So if I told any motherfucking body they had to do this, hit a police, do this, kill a motherfucker, anything, it got to be done.  Period.”

With power and money like his, it’s no surprise that female guards would be attracted to White.  And of course his immediate subordinates benefited from much the same type of privilege.  Guards made good money in contraband that no one bought or sold without the permission of the BGF.  Therefore, guards and the gang’s chiefs had important financial relationships.  That those led to sex was like one domino knocking down another.

The guards seem to have been very enthusiastic about sex with inmates.  One of White’s paramours, Jennifer Owens was recorded saying this:

Me and my sisters we was talking right….So I said you know what makes me stay with him?  Sex!  It’s that I have two babies by him.  Leave him for what?  No one’s going to give me sex like that.

One law review article described the attraction inmates had for guards this way:

In reported narratives of women who became sexually involved with men in custody, they spoke of all the benefits of partnering that they were denied in relationships outside of custodial settings and that they had access to inside…  They described male inmates’ physical and emotional availability.  They also described feeling in control of the relationship…

(Astonishingly, neither Toobin nor the author of the law review article notices the obvious – the stark difference, clearly described, between love on the outside and love on the inside for those guards.  Why would guards enjoy better relationships with inmates than with men in everyday life?  Because they had greater control over the inmates.  They said so themselves and it’s intuitively true.  After all, there were 2,000 inmates to choose from and if one didn’t express the right kind of love and affection, another surely would.  The guards had the inmates under their thumbs in ways that were impossible elsewhere.  But, because those facts interfere with his narrative, Toobin misses the obvious.)

In short, female guards, according to objective facts and their own descriptions of their motivations, had a pretty good thing going.  They rather lavishly supplemented their salaries, got good sex with men they liked – or in some cases loved – in relationships they felt good about, and that they couldn’t have on the outside.

To many, including the guards, that looks like a win/win situation.  Adult women sized up a situation and made rational choices about how to behave to bring about the greatest benefits to themselves in the context of the jail.

And we can’t have that.  The idea of women acting autonomously in their own perceived self-interest is not favored by much of our news media and popular culture.  So it fell to Jeffrey Toobin to convince New Yorker readers that, far from the female guards making their own autonomous choices, “Cynical and devious men succeeded in dominating women who were nominally their keepers.”

He makes a hash out of it.  Against all the evidence that contradicts him, Toobin offers little to support his thesis.

He begins his thankless task by taking us in The Way-Back Machine to the 1970s when murderer, thug and revolutionary philosopher, George Jackson founded the Black Guerrilla Family.  He had a low opinion of women.  Toobin quotes him thus:

Women like to be dominated, love being strong-armed, need an overseer to supplement their weakness…It is for them to obey and aid us, not to attempt to think.

He also quotes a Jackson letter saying “The white theory of the ‘emancipated woman’ is a false idea.” That is, women prefer subordinate status because they lack agency, so any notion of emancipation, i.e. that they can be different, is false.  (Do I need to point out the obvious irony?  While Toobin rightly disdains Jackson’s take on the female half of society, his article embraces precisely those ideas.  Jackson saw women generally as weak and feckless; Toobin describes the female guards exactly the same.  But again, he fails to notice.)

Jackson was killed in prison in 1971.  Because he founded the BGF, because he held disdainful views of women and because the BGF exists today in the Baltimore jail, Toobin hopes readers will conclude that leaders of the BGF hold the same views of women.

But, sadly for his narrative, he offers only the barest hint that they might.  His sole evidence for the proposition is that a Jackson follower and BCDC inmate, Eric Brown, in 2010 wrote a manifesto called The Black Book in which we find, “The Black Woman naturally serves the Black Man by…Consoling him, Cooking for him, Rearing their Children.”  He goes on to say a man is entitled to discipline his wife by use of first, verbal reprimands, second, refusing to have sex with her and third, “he beats her lightly.”

Did anyone in the BGF follow Brown’s recommendations?  If they did, Toobin doesn’t let on about it.  That may be because The Black Book lays down a lot of other laws for black men that the BGF ignores.  For example, Brown “condemns the use and sale of drugs,” practices that make up the major activity of the gang inside the BCDC.  Since the BGF ignores the rule against drug use and trafficking, why should we believe they adhere to Brown’s take on women?  Toobin makes no effort to answer the question, for what I suspect are obvious reasons.

But the core of Toobin’s argument is that the BGF profiled the female guards, selecting the weak and vulnerable to “prey on.”

Tavon White preyed on vulnerable women.  According to a government filing in the case, documents found in one Maryland prison “detail how new B.G.F. recruits are taught to target a specific stereotype of a C.O. (corrections officer), specifically women with low self-esteem, insecurities and certain physical attributes.  According to these B.G.F. documents, these C.O.s are prime targets whom B.G.F. members can manipulate easily.”  (Parenthetical mine)

Did the strategy work?  Amazingly, Toobin never asks the question, much less answers it.  Never mind the fact that the aforementioned documents weren’t even found in the BCDC.  No evidence is produced that (a) White or anyone in the BCDC ever read The Black Book, (b) anyone followed any of its suggestions at all, much less those on how to treat women or (c) they met with any success at recruiting vulnerable guards.  Indeed, Toobin only refers in passing to one guard who seemed to develop a love for an inmate named Steven Loney.

But far more remarkably, Toobin blithely ignores salient facts.  For example, there were between 292 and 365 female guards actively involved in the illegal buying and selling of a wide array of contraband inside the BCDC.  Were they all “preyed upon” because they were “vulnerable?”  Please.  In fact, many of those guards had been employed at the BCDC for years and participated avidly in the goings on.  Spending years as a prison guard in a place like the BCDC is hardly a prescription for maintaining one’s maidenly innocence.  And of course the money was good.

What about that female guard that constitutes Toobin’s sole example (out of hundreds of guards) of a vulnerable woman “seduced” by an unscrupulous inmate?  Here are the facts as described by a federal prosecutor:

“[The guard] was one of the very most prolific of the abusers of the system, one of the ones who worked the longest and hardest at smuggling and generally subverting the proper administration of the Baltimore City Detention Center.”

Sound like an innocent lamb to you? Federal Judge Ellen Hollander didn’t think so; she sentenced the guard to 42 months in prison.

And that, my friends, is the extent of Toobin’s “evidence” that female guards were the witless dupes of male inmates.  It amounts to three things: (1) Blandishments from a long-dead thug and a book that possibly no one read and that in any case everyone ignored, (2) a vague theory that inmates targeted uniquely vulnerable guards supported by (3) a single “example” of a guard described as “one of the very most prolific of the abusers of the system.”  That’s Toobin’s case – thin gruel indeed.

Now, a word about language.  Feminists talk a lot about the “intersectionality” of issues like race, sex and class.  So it’s interesting that Toobin, who’s carrying the water for feminism, describes the BGF and Tavon White in terms we might expect from the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.

Recall that he quoted George Jackson saying women “need an overseer to supplement their weakness…”  Jackson used the word “overseer” advisedly, connoting as it does a slave master.  Jackson then was speaking in explicitly racist and sexist terms, comparing men to slave overseers and women to their charges.  The term was both offensive and intended to be, and Toobin quotes it with appropriate condemnation.

Which makes all the more remarkable his use of the term “preyed on” to describe the BGF’s relationship to female guards.  It’s impossible that Toobin is unaware of the long history of comparing black men to animals, specifically predatory ones.  That’s mostly been applied to their relationships to white women and often used to promote the lynching of black males accused of rape.  But Toobin applies the concept to black male/black female relationships which places his article squarely within one of the most reprehensible of feminist traditions.

Feminism has always had its problems with race.  In 1851, white feminists held a Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio at which black former slave Sojourner Truth spoke up to inquire “Ain’t I a woman?”  As a poor, uneducated black woman, she saw all too clearly the chasm between her and the toney white women at the meeting.  In the early 20th century, white suffragists abjured the concept of votes for all women, preferring to leave their black “sisters” in the dust.  When Betty Friedan wrote that, to cure the “oppression” of being white, highly educated, and kept in leisure by a working husband, women needed only the tonic of wage work, many black women gaped in astonishment.  And black women, who know well the history that white women’s cries of rape produce the strange fruit of black men hanging from trees, understandably look askance at white feminists’ use of “rape” to increase the incarceration rates of men, particularly black ones.

Again, Toobin knows this.  His use of frankly racist terminology at all is disgraceful.  But that he does so in a liberal publication promoting feminist values continues one of the worst traditions of a movement that’s already so offended people that only 20% (according to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll) identify with it.  You might think that using racism to promote feminism would be beyond the pale, but no.  Intersectionality?  Never heard of it.

The New Yorker piece, like the absurdities of Adèle Mercier, is both the good news and the bad.  It’s bad because these people continue to peddle their snake oil in places of influence – major universities, widely-read publications.  But it’s good because their arguments are so weak, so at odds with facts, so violative of basic decency and morality that they horrify as many people as they convince.  Probably more.  The more feminists talk, the more people they alienate.

That’s something to celebrate.

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