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Content Note: This article discusses incarceration and sexual abuse/assault.
Karen Backues Keil ended up in jail in 2011, but she had no way of knowing what would happen during her incarceration. On Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010, she was arrested on six theft-related charges. Although she and her husband were operating a liquor store at the time of her arrest, the crimes were associated with a previous job, GBA Master Series. The crime involved writing six checks without the knowledge of the company, whose total value was $220,000.
Keil, who has five children with her husband, ended up convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. She served six years of that term. Most people would assume that the worst was behind her after she got out of the Chillicothe Correctional Center in February 2017, but the trauma of what she experienced behind bars has stayed with her.
In late May, 2018, Keil filed a lawsuit, alleging a culture of abuse and assault within the prison. Specifically, she seeks damages from a guard named Edward Bearden, who she claims assaulted her repeatedly and raped her more than 20 times. Keil has come forward, stating that Bearden, who still works in the women’s prison, raped her repeatedly between 2012 and 2015. It all started with inappropriate touching during standard procedure pat-downs.
In order to cope with the stress, pain, and humiliation that came from the assaults, she began seeing a counselor in the prison, John Thomas Dunn. Keil says that he began assaulting her during their sessions, asking her to talk in detail about how the guard abused her. He even threatened her with time in solitary confinement if she told prison officials about what was happening.
In fact, Dunn eventually pleaded guilty to sexual contact with another prisoner. Now, he, Bearden, and several other employees and contractors are named in her lawsuit. Keil is pushing back, not just because she’s still suffering from the trauma of these repeated assaults, but also to protect other women still subjected to this unconscionable abuse within the prison.
Regardless of what crime Keil may have committed, she eventually took responsibility for those actions a
nd accepted her punishment. She has served her sentence, which should not have involved sexual assault of any form, let alone rape. Her lawsuit forces us as a society to ask why these situations were even possible. Having any male professionals in a women’s jail is dangerous, as the kinds of people who seek these positions often have a desire to exert personal power over others.
Incarceration for offenses like non-violent theft and drug crimes can often do much more harm than good. Many people who commit minor crimes have a background that may include childhood abuse or other serious issues. Those who end up victimized by jail employees or otherwise cruelly and unusually punished deserve both protection from ongoing abuses and compensation for the pain they have experienced.
Cases like Keil’s highlight the desperate need to overhaul the criminal justice system here in the United States. Our country needs to focus on rehabilitation, not punishment, for those who commit non-violent crimes. We also need to find ways to keep abusers and predators out of positions of power. Ending profit-driven prisons would be an important first step to fixing this incredibly broken system.
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