In 1978, I did something really stupid. I was a 17-year-old high student in Michigan. I had found a toy gun on the side of the road. In an attempt to flirt with the girl at the one-hour photo store, I walked up to her, pointed the gun and said, “Your money or your life.” She turned, opened the cash register and handed me $53. I was so surprised that I grabbed the money and ran home.
I was sent to an adult prison because under Michigan law, I was considered an adult and my crime was classified as an armed robbery. On my first day there - the same day that my classmates were getting ready for the prom - a group of older inmates spiked my drink, lured me down to a cell and raped me. And that was just the beginning. Laughing, they bragged about their conquest and flipped a coin to see which one of them got to keep me. For the remainder of my nearly five-year sentence, I was the property of another inmate.
Unfortunately, my experience is not uncommon. Justice Department officials estimate that in 2004, there were 8,210 reported incidents of rape and sexual abuse behind bars. They also acknowledge that the actual number may be much higher, since many inmates are reluctant to report the crime. (I was too afraid to tell anyone what happened to me because I was convinced my attackers would kill me.)