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A minister and a visitor see two sides of inmates

An inmate's daughter reports evidence of inmate romance with guards, but a prison minister says he hasn't heard complaints.

By CHRIS TISCH
Published June 22, 2006


Sunshyne Bryant visits her mother at the Tallahassee Federal Correctional Institution twice a year.

Her mother has told her of rumors that an inmate was pregnant by a prison guard. Bryant also frequently sees a former male guard visiting a female inmate. Bryant says the man quit his job at the facility to start a romantic relationship with the woman.

Bryant said she wasn't surprised to hear that male guards were accused of trading contraband to female inmates for sexual favors.

"I know that my mom wouldn't do that, but it doesn't really surprise me," Bryant said. "It's terrible that the guards would do that."

But if female inmates had complaints about sexual acts, David Miner, who ministers to female inmates at the facility, hasn't heard them.

"The inmates appear to me to be no different than any other state institution or federal institution," said Miner, who along with his wife ministers for Kairos Prison Ministries. "They don't have any more complaints or any less complaints. They appear to be treated very well."

Miner said, as with most facilities, the majority of complaints are about the food. But he said the guards seem attentive.

"The staff that I've spoken to take the care of the inmate very seriously," he said.

Bryant said she believes some of the alleged behavior could be prompted by the inmates.

"They're not naive," said Bryant, 30, who lives in Seminole. "They've been around the block or they wouldn't be there. It might be they're working the guard. ... Girls are tricky, they're slick. So it really goes both ways."

But Bryant said she has found the guards to be gruff. She said the facility has an assortment of rules regarding visits and phone calls that make communication with inmates somewhat difficult.

Still, Bryant and her mother talk on the phone several times a week.

Bryant's mother, Leesa Dawn Bryant, 49, is serving a life sentence for arranging the murder of her husband in 1982. She could be paroled in 2012, her daughter said.

Sunshyne Bryant said an assortment of characters are in the women's prison: bank robbers, drug smugglers, illegal immigrants.

Some female inmates, like Bryant's mother, spend much of their time taking classes, doing arts and crafts or studying the Bible. Others don't.

"When you go and visit you can kind of tell who's together and who's not," Bryant said.

Her mother has taken college classes, learned how to type, how to knit and how to paint.

"She sends us all kinds of stuff that she makes," Bryant said.

She also leads a Bible study. She generally sticks with a clique of women who are in her classes.

To visit, family members have to pass a background check. They meet the inmates in a room that is like a cafeteria. The inmates wear khaki pants and shirts. Visitors cannot wear an inch of khaki.

"I guess they're afraid you're going to swap with them," Bryant said.

Bryant said her mother's only complaint has been the sluggishness of medical treatment. She has suffered some back problems that the facility has been slow to treat, Bryant said.

Bryant said she doesn't know if the pregnancy story her mother told her is true; she doesn't believe her mother would lie, but believes she could have heard a lie.

But she frequently sees the former guard visiting his girlfriend. "Every time I go there, he is there," she said.

Miner, the prison minister, was saddened to learn that guards have been accused of sexual contact with inmates.

"When you're a prisoner, you are very much in a lesser position," he said. "You really don't have the opportunity to necessarily speak out. They are particularly vulnerable because a lot of them are coming out of situations where their husbands or boyfriends also were taking advantage of them."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Chris Tisch can be reached at tisch@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2359.

[Last modified June 22, 2006, 06:21:58]


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