Controversial CO Instagram account prompts probe of Calif. prison complex for staff racial, gender discrimination
Union's national vice president of women and fair practice said the abuses at the Victorville prison complex were among "the worst that I've seen."
By Tony Saavedra
The Whittier Daily News, Calif.
VICTORVILLE, Calif. — National officials from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and a union for correctional officers have found evidence of rampant racial and gender discrimination among staff during a fact-finding mission at the federal correctional complex in Victorville.
William Boseman, the union's national vice president of women and fair practice, said the abuses at the prison complex were among "the worst that I've seen."
Boseman, who represents 121 federal prison complexes across the nation, added, "There's definitely racial tension and discrimination among staff ... this is bad.
"Is there the potential for violence? Absolutely."
Racist, misogynistic web posts
Boseman and a Bureau of Prisons official from Washington, D.C., were drawn to the prison complex by an Instagram site purportedly penned by Victorville guards posting racist, misogynistic and homophopic memes. However, the two visitors were prohibited from asking directly about the offensive website because it is under investigation by an outside agency.
Although Boseman could not identify the investigating agency, one guard who asked to remain anonymous said it was the federal Office of Inspector General.
Boseman and the BOP official, however, did inquire about the discrimination toward minorities and women that fueled the web posts. Boseman said the prison administration was taking the memes and the discrimination allegations quite seriously.
For its part, the prisons bureau would not confirm or deny an investigation into the memes and sagging morale at the Victorville complex, said agency spokesman Donald Murphy in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, the writers of the anonymous Instagram page, called "good verbal," have doubled down on their efforts, which they described in a past post as dark humor meant to blow off steam.
"These mofos out here really think they're gonna shut down the page and cause a commotion. Good luck," said one recent post after the Southern California News Group published an article about the memes. The Instagram site referred to media reporters as "dollar store journalists."
This is not the first time that controversy has enveloped the Victorville complex, which consists of a federal penitentiary housing more than 3,800 medium- and high-security prisoners and three other institutions.
In 2019, the bureau paid $11 million to settle a class-action lawsuit by female staff alleging sexual harassment.
'It's like they're taunting'
Don Shults, the fair practice coordinator for the Victorville union, said the Instagram authors believe they are immune to being identified, although they likely will be outed through the prison grapevine.
"They're so confident they can hide their identities, it's like they're taunting. They think they are untouchable," Shults said. "(But) nothing's really secret in the prison. It's like seventh grade, junior high-like gossip."
Among the memes posted by "good verbal" is a post announcing the hiring of new females.
"Better get'em early before they belong to the yard," says the post, meaning that if the male workers don't act first, the inmates will have their way with the female recruits.
Another meme shows a rainbow-colored, phallic-shaped sex toy, marked to show the job favors that can be earned by using it.
Cronyism in hiring?
Apart from the Instagram site, prison employees were questioned last week about morale problems, the staff shortage, forced overtime and cronyism in the hiring of line supervisors.
"They don't hire the most qualified, it's always somebody's homie," Shults said. "It's the cronyism and the good ol' boys system."
One Black correctional officer, union steward Curtis Freeman, was among those interviewed by the visitors. Freeman said it is tough to speak up.
"The culture there has this python snake hold on people. They're afraid to come forward," he said. "We have to shake things up. We have to do something to change this. We're going to fight the hand that's over our mouths."
Payback for whistleblowers?
Freeman said some staff members will retaliate against whistleblowers by "setting them up" to be beaten or framed by inmates, who will claim the guards supplied them with contraband.
"We're talking major corruption stuff. You just don't know how far payback will go," he said. "It can go from no one will talk to you anymore or you can be placed under bogus investigation. People are scared. Inmates play for keeps."
Freeman said "good verbal" has even taken some of the postings from his own Instagram and YouTube sites, The Masked Law Student, and perverted them for the Instagram memes. "They chop up my pictures to fit their narrative," he said.
One indication of the climate in the prison complex is the confederate cap and dreadlocks found hanging on an office wall, around 2020, like a trophy. The items were collected and turned over to prison officials, but nothing came of it, said a correctional officer who asked to remain anonymous.
Freeman said "good verbal" has become a blessing in disguise.
"People have complained about the toxic culture and nothing was done about it," he said. "But with this (web) page ... now we have the proof."