A group of corrections officers in San Bernardino, Ca. are alleged to have run a racist, sexist Instagram page, according to an explosive report published by the San Bernardino Sun last September. As expected, the page was deleted after the story went out. But two Black local officials tell The Root the bigoted cyber-bullying was merely a reflection of the racist hell they endure on a daily basis.
Two corrections officers from Victorville’s Federal Correctional Institution shared with The Root examples of how they endured racial abuse on the job. Kenesha Green, FCI employee of 15 years, said she’d been called a “Black bitch” and “ghetto” by her white coworkers. When she first began, Green said she was isolated to manage a tier of the inmate holding area by herself, which normally requires 3 to 4 guards. The other officers (mainly white and Hispanic) left her work alone which put her at risk of danger if the inmates got out of hand, she said. In another instance, Green said her white coworkers made a bet that her straightened hair wasn’t real and asked to touch it.
Another woman guard, whom The Root agreed to keep anonymous, said she also endured verbal abuse from her coworkers and witnessed it happen to others.
“They’re calling correctional officers gorillas, monkeys, n***ers and nothing is done about it. One officer started a program to try to boost morale and posted his picture in the breezeway when one of the Caucasian officers took a black Sharpie and drew a noose around his neck. Another employee who works in human resources who is gay… they took a red marker and drew lipstick on his [picture]. We got people out here with confederate flags [on their] vehicles. It’s almost unreal,” she said.
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When asked why she didn’t report these moments to her higher ups, Green said she feared retaliation.
“I’ve actually told a couple of the Black lieutenants what happened, but it was never put on paper. Once you like things on paper, you’re really gonna be pretty much black balled. You’re really going to have to deal with staff members not wanting to talk to you, not wanting to work with you,” Green said. “I knew because I am a Black female and this is my career, I don’t want to have to keep going through that or having people judge me because of a memo.”
The anonymous CO said the retaliation for speaking up about incidents like this include being reassigned to another building, halting overtime hours or even suspension. From colleagues, it is stonewalling, avoidance and lack of assistance.
Flawed Resolution Tactics
The anonymous CO said the agency addresses complaints like these with a “threat assessment” which she described as a complaint filing process that gaslights the plaintiff into thinking they are the problem. The one time she tried to file a complaint after being called inappropriate names, she said the agency offered her $5,000 not to take it to court - a bargain that seems common for the facility.
“The agency tries to do everything they can to handle it and keep the public from learning about what’s going on because it’s embarrassing,” she said.
A member of the Bureau of Prison’s Office of Congressional and Public Affairs says the payout claim is false. However, labor advocate Johnny Hudson, who has mitigated cases like this for other FCI employees, said money bargains are quite the norm when it comes to resolving a racism complaint.
“When a minority party files a case, we try to resolve it. So we go until [the agency] brings in an outside person to help resolve it, but you can tell they favor the agency’s side. What happened a lot of the time is that Black employees are afraid of retaliation. So a lot of them settle with a lesser resolution than they should have gotten,” said Hudson.
In one case, he cited a Black employee being denied a new position in the agency over 50 times. Instead of taking their complaint to court, they agreed to a payout of $1,000 to avoid retaliation from their colleagues.
On the other hand, Ms. Green was on the receiving end of a complaint in 2019 which resulted in a 3-year investigation blocking her ability to work inside the cell block areas. In the end, Green said the allegations were proven to be false. Hudson said often white employee complaints lead to baseless investigations that are really just something to hold over a Black guard’s head. To this day, Green says she never learned what the accusation was but the investigation itself left a stain on her standing with her white colleagues - what she aimed to avoid.
According to the San Bernardino Sun, the Federal Bureau of Prisons may be launching a probe into both the Instagram-troll account and racial abuse. Note: following the initial reports about the page in August and September of 2022, the Instagram page was taken down.
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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, “Thereʼs definitely racial tension and discrimination among staff ... this is bad. “Is there the potential for violence? Absolutely.”
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. Donald Murphy in Washington, D.C.
In an email from the BOP’s Office of Public Affairs, the agency emphasized taking the allegations seriously and said every accusation of misconduct calls for investigation. Though, they offered no information on whether they’ve begun investigating the FCI-Victorville complaints.
“As DOJ employees, it is expected that BOP staff refrain from making comments that can be perceived as showing prejudice based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other protected bases. Employees may not engage in anonymous online activity (or use a pseudonym) to engage in conduct or communications that they otherwise would not be permitted to engage in if their identities were known,” the statement read. “As an agency, we believe the posts referenced in your inquiry are reprehensible. If this matter is linked to a BOP employee, we will fervently pursue all actions in accordance with policy and law.”