An inmate in Michigan is suing the second-largest largest private prison company in the country, alleging he was sexually harassed and molested by a nurse at his prison.
In a handwritten lawsuit he filed against the GEO Group last week, Bernard Carter says a nurse at the North Lake Correctional Facility forced him to expose himself to her and touched him sexually without his consent.
"She would make sexual comments to me that made me feel uncomfortable," he wrote. "Then it got to where she was touching me in ways that she shouldn't have and it made me uncomfortable."
It seems highly unlikely that Carter's lawsuit will succeed—he has no lawyer, hasn't paid the court fee, and didn't submit the necessary paperwork to exempt himself from the fee. But his suit is only the latest example of misconduct claims from Vermont inmates like himself who are sent across the country to the private facility.
Inmates in several states with overcrowded prison systems are sent thousands of miles away to facilities that tend to face less scrutiny from officials back home. They end up in private prisons like North Lake, a 1,750-bed prison on the edge of a 540,000-acre national forest.
According to Carter, 46, his harassment began in August 2015, soon after he arrived at the prison. It started with the nurse talking about his penis and how she wanted to have sex with him, but soon escalated, even after he told her to stop. "I was in a high security unit and she would come there and call me out, call me to medical [three times] a week," he said. "Many times she had me expose myself to her, have me rub between her legs."
"I was scared to tell anybody," he wrote.
The nurse in question, who is also a defendant in the lawsuit, is named Theresa; it's hard to make out what her last name might be due to Carter's messy handwriting. We've been unable to confirm whether anyone by her name works or worked at North Lake.
A spokesperson for the GEO Group—which runs the prison—declined to comment, and the Vermont Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment.
Carter himself is in prison for a sexual assault conviction. According to court records, in October 1992 he snuck into his ex-girlfriend's room in their apartment complex in Newport, Vt., a picturesque town 15 minutes from the Canadian border. The victim in the assault said that he threatened her with a knife and then raped her; he claimed they had consensual sex.
A jury convicted Carter of sexual assault in May 1994, and he's been in prison ever since, serving a sentence of 45 years to life. He appears to be eligible for a parole hearing as of last month, according to the Vermont Department of Corrections inmate database.
The state's policy of shipping inmates like Carter across the country has been controversial. There are currently 195 inmates from Vermont who live at North Lake (at a cost to the state of $61.80 per person per day). In 2014, Vermont inmates in a private prison in Arizona rioted against being sent out of state and were subdued with a "chemical agent" before being kept in solitary for extended periods of time. Last year, after a Vermont inmate died in a private prison in Kentucky after a brutal beating by a fellow prisoner, state corrections officials had trouble getting any information about the death.
A former inmate at North Lake told Vermont legislators during a hearing last year that the private facility lacked jobs and educational opportunities for inmates. “Men that go out of state become depressed,” he said.
In a phone interview from her home in Vermont, Carter's 82-year-old mother Ruth Carter said the distance made it all but impossible for her and her family to visit him. "I haven't seen him for two years," she told me.
Carter has been housed out of state since November 1998, she said, previously in private prisons in Kentucky and Arizona. Ruth and her husband—who's now 93—used to travel to see him regularly, but now the trip is too difficult and expensive.
"They really need to do something to bring these men back to Vermont where they come from," Ruth said. "They need their families and their families need them."
Recently, she said, her son had been kept in solitary confinement—locked up alone for 23 hours a day—for 90 days straight. During that time, he was "kinda going crazy."
"He would talk to me and it was like you know he wasn't quite right—he'd write letters too you could hardly read them," she said. Now, he's out of segregation and "doing better," she added. But she didn't think the sexual harassment allegations were a figment of his imagination—he had recounted them to her in lucid detail.
Here's Carter's full federal court complaint:
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.