What Really Happened To Rodeny Hulin?

Since his death, teenage inmate Rodney Hulin has become a national symbol of why it's wrong to send juveniles to adult prisons. His true story, though, paints a different kind of troubling picture.

It was the last time Rodney would write optimistically from prison. No inmate is supposed to be kept in a diagnostic unit longer than two years, and younger offenders such as Rodney are supposed to be transferred out within three months, since it's thought to be unsafe to mix youthful inmates with older prisoners. It must have been relatively easy for the prison bureaucrats to figure out where best to send Rodney. Responding to national prison standards, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had cleared the Clemens Unit in Brazoria County of older violent offenders and was turning it into a minimum security prison with a thousand inmates, most of whom were to be 25 and under, with the youngest inmates to be segregated from the others. Rodney was going to be sent to what prisoners termed the "kiddie farm."

Two days after arriving at Clemens on November 13, he wrote his mother. "I'm living in a two man cell," he told her. "I'm living with a black teenager, 17 years old. He wants me to pay him $10 so he will not have to fight me. I really don't know what I'm going to do. The guards are trying to put me on the hoe squad, in the fields for five hours a day. I told them about my medical history but they don't care ... Mom, I'm really scared that I will not get to see you again, I'm scared that I may die in here."

The letter is dated Nov. 14-16, so it may have been written in the aftermath of what Rodney later claimed was a rape by his cellmate. No rape is mentioned in his letter, but it's unarguably sad. "I am crying right now," he wrote, "and I'm mentally and emotionally destroyed this moment. I now wish that I had taken my five years probation and boot camp."

On November 17 he wrote his father, saying that he was trying to get sent to a state hospital and get his job changed, and that he was scared he would die in prison. What he didn't say was that on that same day he had been examined by the prison physician for signs of rape. Rodney told the doctor that he had been forced to perform oral sex and then was penetrated anally. According to Rodney's medical records, there were two "vertical tears" in his rectum. The physician recommended a HIV test, which came back negative. Since Rodney was pressing charges against his alleged assailant, he was given another cellmate, a black youth who, Rodney claimed, also harassed him.

The Clemens Unit has unique problems in maintaining order among youthful offenders. Its officials say that young inmates often have a gladiator mentality that makes them difficult to manage. Like all adolescents, they're subject to mood swings.

Young white inmates may have an even tougher time, says the current Clemens warden, Terry Foster, because many of them, like Rodney Hulin, tend to be solitary operators. Many of the black and Hispanic youngsters, Foster says, come from gangs, which form a support system within prison. Gang members, Foster says, often expect to go to prison, and may even consider it a badge of honor. As part of that ethic, they resent being sent to the kiddie farm. According to prison officials, they may act violently so that they can get sent to a "real" prison.

Since Clemens officials say they're well aware of possible racial animosities, and of the violent tendencies of some of their young inmates, the question arises: Why was Hulin, a puny white kid five feet three inches tall and weighing 126 pounds, placed with a black cellmate who allegedly ended up raping him? It's a question no one in the current administration of the Clemens Unit can answer. The present warden, Terry Foster, has been on the job for two months. The new director of the Youth Offenders Program was not on the job when Hulin was in prison. The records of whatever investigation was done of Rodney's alleged rape were sent to the Huntsville and is out of the hands of the current Clemens administration. And lawyers for the TDCJ refuse to release their findings on Hulin's suicide, saying that as part of a criminal investigation it is protected from an open records request.

Perhaps it was just the grinding of a bureaucracy that did Rodney Hulin in. If an inmate has a problem, a complaint must be written and filed. The complaint must be reviewed by a committee. Almost as soon as he got to the Clemens Unit, Rodney was trying to get out. Citing his medical history, he asked to go to the psychiatric unit. But hundreds of inmates want to go to the psychiatric unit, and there are very few psychiatric beds and very few cells for protective custody, which are twice as expensive to operate as minimum security cells. The job of a prison warden, Foster says, is to manage the prisoners he's sent, not to create institutional headaches by sending them elsewhere.

According to a copy of a prison record obtained by Rodney's father, on December 12, 1995 a guard named Pablo Salazar filed a report that might have helped his son. He found that one inmate had taken Rodney's meal card, and that he was being threatened physically as well as sexually by yet another prisoner.

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