Man raped during 'scared straight' prison tour says he was too ashamed to tell anyone

A man who was raped by inmates during a "scared straight" prison tour four decades ago says not a day goes by that he doesn't relive those terrifying moments.

Warning: This story contains graphic details about sexual assault

A view of a jail cell at Oakalla Prison. (Jack Lindsay/Vancouver archives)
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Warning: This story contains graphic details about sexual assault. 

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A man who was raped by inmates during a "scared straight" prison tour four decades ago says not a day goes by that he doesn't relive those terrifying moments. 

The B.C. government has been ordered to pay at least $175,000 to the man, identified in court documents as B.E.S., who was sexually assaulted by several inmates during a court-mandated tour of B.C.'s Oakalla Prison in the 1970s.

The tour was one of the terms of his probation for a break and enter in which he and his friends busted into a house, stole a TV and drank some juice from the refrigerator. It was his first offence. He was 13 or 14 years old. 

B.E.S. spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about what happened to him and why he's finally decided to speak up after years of silence.

Here is part of their conversation.

What did it mean for you this week to get this financial award from the British Columbia Supreme Court?

It's a little bit of help, but it wasn't enough in my opinion.

Guys that have been wrongfully imprisoned get more. And I'm in my own little prison myself — and I will be for life.

So you had a probationary sentence, the judge gave you. How did he explain this idea of having a "scared straight" prison visit?

What he explained to my parents is they have a scared straight prison program, and what it's supposed to do is scare the kids straight so they stop getting in trouble. 

So in principle, that was the idea. But in practice, it was a nightmare, wasn't it?

Yes, very much so.

Oakalla Prison, also known as the Lower Mainland Regional Correctional Centre, overlooked Deer Park in Burnaby. (B.C. Ministry of Justice)

What happened?

Well, the probation officer dropped me off at the front gate and then I was taken in by a guard and we went up a couple of tiers in the jail and there was five inmates standing there.

And he pushed me in the cell, and the five guys came in the cell and proceeded to rape me. 

What did the guard do?

He was standing at the bars, holding onto the bars, laughing.

And there was no other adult supervision? Nobody came with you? They put you in there, gave you to the guard, and that was it. Nobody protecting you.

Nope. Nope. 

And where else did they take you besides that cell?

After they had finished raping me, he took me out of the cell.  I don't want to swear, but he said, "That's what happens to little F-ers like you."

And then he took me across the parkling lot. I find out now that it is called "the hole." And he took me down the stairs and put me in a cell and locked me up and I don't know how long I was in there. It felt like forever.

Then he came back and he took me out of the cell and he says, "Nobody's going to believe you."

And then we walked back to the front gates and the probation officer picked me up.

A guard outside Oakalla Prison. (B.C. Ministry of Justice)

When he said, "Nobody's going to believe you," he meant about being raped by these inmates.

Yeah. I was scared to death.

Of course. Did you tell anybody?

No. No, I didn't tell anybody for 37 years. I was too embarrassed, ashamed.

How did you manage to keep it a secret from your parents?

I don't know. I just, like I say, I was just so ashamed. I was blaming myself. That I deserved what I got.

And I relied on what the correction officer said: "Nobody's going to believe you." I thought, "OK, well nobody's going to believe me."

But you were physically hurt. You had been physically damaged. 

Oh yeah, I was bleeding. Yeah, I was bleeding. For at least a week. I had to hide by underwear from my mother, and I threw them in the alley behind the house.

She would ask, "Where's your underwear going?" 

"I don't know, mum, you do all the laundry."

I tried to hide it as best as possible.

Did your parents notice any change in your behaviour, in how you reacted?

My mum did. She noticed something was — I had changed. She took me to a psychologist.

And did you tell this [psychologist] anything?

No, no. 

So you just kept this a secret for all these decades?

It's been just chewing me up for 40 years. It chews me up to this day.

Who did you finally tell?

I believe it was a counsellor I saw about ​four years ago, five years ago. I was seeing her two, three times a week and she had noticed something was up.

If I don't feel comfortable with you, I won't tell the story. Even now.

And I told her.

And you were still suffering the nightmares. You were still living that day over and over again.

I think about it every day. Not a day goes by, I don't think about it.

We're not using your name, but you have agreed to tell us this horrible story about what happened to you. Why is that? What do you want to accomplish by making this story public?

It's not about the money for me any more. Because the money's nothing. It's not going to fix anything.

My main thing is I would like to get the voice out there ... to tell everybody — especially men, because this isn't supposed to happen, men don't talk about it — just don't wait 40 years like I did. Tell somebody.

This is not OK. Something needs to be done. These predators need to be caught and imprisoned. And enough is enough. It wrecks way too many lives.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Imogen Birchard. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


Where to get help

Click here for a list of rape crisis centres accross Canada

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868; Live Chat counselling at kidshelpphone.ca