While Maryland prison officials try to get in front of a story that seems to be spiraling out of control, as thirteen officers remain at the center of an investigation that saw one prison organization maintain the control of the Baltimore City Detention Center; information continues to trickle out, shedding more light on the story that seems more like an HBO original series than a real life tale.
Tavon White, the Black Guerrilla Family Lieutenant that essentially ran the Baltimore prison facility known as BCDC, or 'steel side' to those who have been a former guest, remains the scapegoat for prison officials looking to blame the latest prison fiasco on someone.
The 36-year old White, who has been held at the detention center so long that he's had the opportunity to allegedly father two children by one correctional officer, Jennifer Owens; is reportedly the center of the widespread corruption that witnessed smuggled in cell phones and drugs, along with sexual favors by multiple female officers, sold to the highest bidder on almost every tier block throughout the facility.
However, the problem is, Tavon isn't the first and the incident won't be the last time that we'll witness such behaviors in Maryland's correctional facilities? In fact, many former inmates and current correctional officers have spoken off-the-record in saying that city jail's corruption is miniscule in comparison to the state correctional facilities like Jessup, Hagerstown and especially the old penitentiary.
“This isn't nothing new, the only reason this incident is being sensationalized is because they finally got caught,” says former inmate Angelo Dean, who spent five years inside and now speaks to youth in hopes of altering their reality about prison.
“We are taught early on in the hood that prison is just another step in the pathway of life, like grade school or college, when in fact it doesn't have to be our reality,” says the 24-year old West Baltimore native. “This goes on everywhere on a daily basis, and it just seems like the media, correctional officers and the unions that represent them, are trying to find ways to let them off the hook – when in fact none of the corruption in the jails would occur without their complicity! It's big business, and no one stands in the way of that – NO ONE!”
And when you look at the history of the corruption cases brought against officers for such crimes as smuggling and sexual favors over the years, you realize that what the young Mr. Dean is saying isn't far from the truth. In fact, when analyzing this particular case in particular, anyone with inside knowledge of the situation realizes that the state was as much to fault at the prisoners themselves – if not more so?
Take for instance that rumor has it that Tavon, having reportedly fathered four different children by three female correctional officers, was the focus of the initial investigation – based on his involvement with a C.O. who was engaged to a high ranking official in the corrections facility.
News has it that once he found out about the sexual encounters and relationship his fiance was having with White, he ordered jail officials to crack down on White and his 'little black gang hoodlums'. It was this internal investigation that led federal officials to jump in and take over, after one correctional official leaked the level of information being obtained internally. “I've experienced correctional officers using disciplinary segregation as a way to get back at either a dude who did them dirty, or as retaliation for the guy they're messing with who may have a problem with you,” says Angelo.
“C.O's having sex for either money or personal gratification is an almost daily occurrence, as you can't forget that they are spending more time with us then they are their own family in some cases. And we're all buff, shining from eating right and exercising, what do you think is gonna happen?”
Which has led some, such as WEAA talk-show host Marc Steiner, to suggest we segregate officers based on their gender; having women guarding women, and men guarding men. However, many people, including Angelo, don't believe that will do anything to stem the corruption that exists behind the walls.
“Women will just be sleeping with other women, and vice-versa; but either way, drugs, phones and weapons will still be brought into the facilities because it's a way of life that won't be fixed by putting a band-aid on the problem! We have to really begin addressing the security measures that go on in these facilities – from the warden on down!”
Yet others like Marilyn Mosby, a former city prosecutor, believe that the onus should also be on the state, as there seems to be a problem with the prosecutor's office when people like White are held for so long at a holding facility awaiting trial. “The state's attorney's office is almost complicit in this situation, as their conviction and prosecution rate is terrible; and a prime example of that is the Tavon White case,” says the 32-year old wife of Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby.
“They have unsuccessfully tried Tavon twice on an attempted murder charge that stems from 2009, and that seems to be the norm coming from this office? Inefficient prosecutions have led to criminals being housed at this facility for years at a time.”
Mosby says we should realize that criminals are going to be criminals, and do a better job as those sworn to protect and server our citizens, by utilizing our community liaisons (which State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein eliminated) and police officers in identifying the worst of the worst like White – and making their prosecutions a priority.
“Tavon White wasn't even on the prosecutor's new 'Major Investigations Unit' radar, though we see now he was controlling an entire jail for years? We need a centralized gang database, something I worked on creating while at the state's attorney's office for Baltimore City under Patricia Jessamy's leadership, to share information with state and local agencies.”
“How you allow for these thugs to control our prisons and our communities speaks volumes to the leadership, or lack thereof, of our state officials. We must all do better in eliminating this plague from our society!”
That we should counselor, though the problem exists only if we allow to exist! The BGF was formulated in the 1960's not as a gang or criminal operation, but as a protective organization for prisoners against corrupt prison officials. The self-help, knowledge based organization began to see its focus shift over the years, and to that end, these officials cannot fight what they don't know about!
It's about time elected and appointed leaders stop blame shifting and trying to cover up things when they arise, and instead bring in the 'experts' to help proactively combat a problem that didn't start with Tavon White or the BGF, but will continue if all we're going to do to curb the problem is hold Judiciary Committee hearings in Annapolis – that no one of real significance will attend, offering no real solutions moving forward from those complicit in the activities and its cover-up!
Marc Steiner Show on this issue can be found HERE
Full Disclosure: The writer was once a member of a 'prison organization' that sought to empower young black men with the knowledge of self through the wisdom of great leaders such as Sun Tzu, Robert Greene and George Jackson. Therefore, I am more than qualified to understand and speak on this situation; question is - are those hired and/or elected to do such?