Imagine being trapped somewhere under the surveillance of people that only view you as an object that’s done wrong. This is a place where you aren’t respected due not only to what you’ve done in your past, but to the demographic that you possess. “Helpless” and imprisoned, you’re a piece of meat dangling above a lion’s exhibit, and why would anyone think to help out a piece of meat?
When Leticia Villarreal, age 42, began her prison sentence, she was the piece of meat. The exhibit: McPherson Unit, a women’s imprisonment facility located in Arkansas. She spoke no English, and she was an undocumented immigrant receiving no calls or letters or visits from her children, whom she missed so bad it hurt. She had no way of connecting to the outside, and no way to escape what lurked in the offices inside the prison.
Behind a large desk lurked God-giver Kenneth Dewitt, a friendly prison chaplain that introduced Villarreal to God and a program that intended to help her forgive herself and her actions, which included participating in the sale of illegal substances. The program was good; it was cleaner, safer, and most importantly separate from the uproar that frequented the main barracks of McPherson Unit. However, things seemed off; Dewitt discussed the importance of erasing impure thoughts and maintaining a fierce chastity, which wouldn’t have been as weird if not followed by his repeated remarks encouraging the ladies to submit to authority at all costs, familial and amidst incarceration. Villarreal didn’t question much, however; she felt she had finally found a niche to hold her up until she could be completely free. Within this new environment, Villarreal essentially thrived.
Her accomplishment was noted by Dewitt, and she was invited by him to visit his office one Monday morning. Villarreal was enthralled, so much so that she didn’t question Dewitt’s singing-out. Dewitt told her as she was seated that what she needed was to be touched, and he could help her. And so it began, every Monday morning, when the guards outside Dewitt’s office left to do an inmate count. “Touching” escalated to the exact opposite of Dewitt’s once-imperative chastity, and Leticia Villarreal could not mumble a word; she knew no one would listen, so she didn’t bother speaking up. She was an undocumented Mexican woman, and worse, she was incarcerated, which was an immediate downgrade in respect from those around her on her first day at the Unit.
What’s even worse: Villarreal wasn’t the only one Dewitt coveted and acted upon; two other women from the program claimed to have been weekly subjected to his desire, as well. For some, the continuous assaults lasted for years; as for Villarreal, she endured a year and a half of Dewitt’s behavior.
What’s even, even worse: Out of the 50-plus count of third-degree sexual assault placed upon Dewitt, he was only charged for three, one for each woman. Instead of facing 500 years, he now faced only five, eligible for parole after no more than a year. Why the incomparable sentence? Prosecuting attorney Henry Boyce claims that since he’s ten years away from the male life expectancy, 77, half of his life expectancy is enough. Unlike the Brock Turner case (which we all know about), this case hasn’t gotten any global attention, which is despicable in itself.
Forced to live alongside once-trusted authority figures, imprisoned rape victims don’t get the sympathy and public attention they deserve simply because they are in prison. Those that experience assault don’t report it most of the time, and statistically, the rate of rape among incarcerated women has risen over the past four years.
Villarreal was lucky enough to make it out of the system before it could occur again. After ten years, she was released and soon after deported, but for her, it is no matter. In a small village of Coahuila, Mexico, she works at an orphanage and paints with whatever she can find. While the hilarity of Dewitt’s sentence still stings, she can only look to the future; his actions are behind her, and she still is of not enough power.
Jeltsen, M. (2016, July 16). The Rape Victims Silenced By Their Prison Cells. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/sexual-assault-prisons_us_578808e5e4b0867123e0893c