Beatings, Rape and Suicide at 17--
The Experience of a Child in a Texas Prison

Told by Rodney Hulin, the victim's father

Good morning. My name is Rodney Hulin and I work at a retirement home in Beaumont, Texas. I am here today because of my son. He would be here himself if he could, and he would have spoken out against this plan by Congress to house juvenile offenders in adult prisons. But he can't because he died in one of those prisons.

In 1995, my son, Rodney Jr., was charged with arson when he was 16 years old. Luckily, no one was hurt in the fire. Of course, that doesn't excuse the fact that what my son did was foolish. After admitting his involvement in the offense, my son was sentenced to eight years in an adult prison.

Rodney spent his first year in a prison in Abilene, Texas without any problems. He had a clean record, and was hopeful he would be recommended for parole in a few years. Then, without any notice, he was transferred to the Clemens Unit in Brazoria County on November 13, 1995. Almost immediately, the problems began. Less than a week after the transfer, Rodney wrote to me from his new unit. It was obvious that his situation had taken a turn for the worse. Let me read a quick excerpt from that letter.

"Dad, I'm really scared, scared that I will die in here. Please pray for me. Pray that I will get my job changed, sent to a hospital, get out of here alive, and that I will get out on parole...I want to live with you when I get out, if I get out alive".

My son was a fighter, so I knew he wasn't just letting prison life get to him. The new prison was different. The inmates were tougher; the guards had less control and didn't seem to care what happened to Rodney, who was just 17 years old at the time.

Two days after he sent me that letter, my son was raped and sodomized by an inmate. The doctor found two tears in his rectum and ordered an HIV test, since up to a third of the 2,200 inmates there were HIV positive. Fearing for his safety, he requested to be placed in protective custody, but his request was denied because, as the warden put it, "Rodney's abuses didn't meet the 'emergency grievance criteria' ".

For the next several months, my son was repeatedly beaten by the older inmates, forced to perform oral sex, robbed, and beaten again. Each time, his requests for protection were denied by the warden. The abuses, meanwhile, continued.

On the night of January 26, 1996--75 days after my son entered Clemens--Rodney attempted suicide by hanging himself in his cell. He could no longer stand to live in continual terror. It was too much for him to handle. He laid in a coma for the next four months until he died.

The night of the suicide, my son had written about being tired of prison life, and tired of living. That letter had been passed onto a prison guard by a friend of my son, who told the guard that Rodney needed immediate attention. The guard shrugged off any concern and walked in the opposite direction. Sometime during those next 15 minutes, before the guard made his rounds to my son's cell, my son decided he had enough and acted on his depression.

Unlike that prison guard, Congress could not have done anything to save my son. But, Congress does have the power to prevent my son's tragedy from happening to others. Sending young children to adult prisons will not make our streets any safer. Sending children to be beaten, raped, and robbed does not deter crime.

I did not give up on my son, then, and I don't believe Congress should give up on our nation's children now. Children who commit crimes need to be rehabilitated, and shown consideration and care. They do not deserve to be crucified for political gain. If there is any lesson to be learned by my son's death, it is that children must not be locked up with adult criminals.

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