It’s Funny How Many African American’s Get Air Brushed Out Of History, And Just How Many Are Willing To Collude With Racism!
Extract from an Interview with Loretta Ross.
ROSS: And then — oh, I’ve forgotten to tell you about Prisoners Against Rape. One of the more interesting things that happened when I was at the Rape Crisis Center is that we got contacted by a group of black men who were prisoners at Lorton Reformatory. This kind of was one of the ways that Yulanda got engaged. This guy named William Fuller wrote us. William was a guy who was in prison for rape and murder. He’d been incarcerated for 15 years about that time, and he wrote this oh so moving letter, saying that while I was on the outside, I raped women. Now on the inside, I rape men. I want to stop raping. Can you help me? That’s the essence of his letter. We went, Ah, ssshhh — talk about causing a controversy.
First it sat there on my desk for a couple of weeks as I tried to figure out what am I going to say to this guy? My first immediate visceral reaction is, we don’t even have the money to help rape victims. How dare a rapist ask us for help? Immediate rejection of the idea, of the concept. We talked about it at the staff level and we talked about it and talked about it with the board, talked about it and talked about it and talked about it. What should we say to this guy? And um, we kind of made the decision that at least we would check him out because, I mean, you could bandage women up all you want to, but if you don’t stop men from raping, what’s the point? Better bandages? I mean, what’s the point.
But at the same time, we were skeptical. We didn’t want to be used, because prisoners use visitors to smuggle in stuff and get good marks on their records for early release and all of that, so we didn’t want to be used by them, by him or anything, but we thought it was worth checking out. So I remember getting in my car and driving with Yulanda on down to Lorton, which was about an hour outside D.C. and it was my first time ever being in a prison, you know, going through the searches, going through the, you know, everything, and why are you here and why are you here to talk to this person and who are you to him and that whole kind of thing. And here I am explaining with the little brochure.
“I’m from the D.C. Rape Crisis Center and I want to talk to your rapist.” (laughs) It was really, kind of, probably amused the guards — like, yeah, right. But they let me talk to him.
William turned out to be this huge — he felt huge to me — about 6’4”, beefed-up guy, because they beef up, they beef up in prison to keep from being victims, and he was the master rapist in this prison. I mean, everybody was scared of William Fuller. I was scared of William Fuller. Gorgeous, though, very good-looking black man. But apparently when he was 18, he raped, sodomized, and murdered this woman. He was 33 now, and he’d gotten hold of some feminist readings, not black feminist readings, feminist readings somewhere, and his argument was that, I believe that rape is a form of power and control, and I want to know how not to be a rapist. He says, I don’t even think gender matters if all you’re interested in is power and control, because I’d just as easily rape men as I do women.
OK. So what we started doing was setting up what we were going to call some guidelines. The first guideline is that nothing we could do could help them get out of jail, because nobody wanted these rapists on the street again. Not us. We weren’t gonna do it. And so, no, we weren’t going to write any letters to any warden or be used in any kind of way. Secondly, we weren’t bringing anything into this jail for you. I don’t care if you’re dying. We couldn’t bring you bandages, shoes, cigarettes, nothing. There was one thing we were going to bring in to this jail for you and that was feminist literature.
So then we started buying multiple copies of Ain’t I a Woman and, you know, whatever books were out there that we were reading, we started buying copies for the prisoners, and he put together, like, five guys, all rapists, like this little clique he controlled. And we started a prison-based version of the D.C. Study Group in prison. And we went down every Friday and we spent the afternoon with them.
FOLLET: You and Yulanda?
ROSS: Well, we rotated. We, sometimes Yulanda, sometimes Nkenge, you know. And we kind of held a whole Study Group with this group of guys. That went on for about two years. Eventually they formed a group called Prisoners Against Rape. A movie was made about these guys by some filmmaker in Minneapolis. I don’t know who or what, but through correspondence, we heard about that. They became a model for prison-based anti-rape programs.
And for the most part, people respected the rules and the guidelines. Now where it got complicated was when some of the white women started going to the prison, and then they were the ones that started breaking the rules about smuggling things to the guys and stuff. Harmless stuff. Tennis shoes or whatever stuff like that, but William had to kick a couple of guys out of the group because they had started relationships with women who had come down there through the Rape Crisis Center. Unfortunately, they were all white, the women were. And, so that was hard to manage and just — how come she was a lesbian until she met him? (laughs) you know, kind of cynical stuff was happening. But I did enjoy dealing with Prisoners Against Rape.
Now there was a funny sequel to this story, I guess, epilogue, because I left the Rape Crisis Center in ’82. About a decade later, I’m going to guess, about ’89, ’88, ’89, I’m walking down the streets of Washington, D.C., and I hear this big, booming bass voice hollering out my name. My head whips around, and walking towards me is William Fuller. I didn’t know whether to run, to cry, to holler, or what, because I never thought this guy would get out of jail in my lifetime.
Um, but he was out. He really thanked me for changing his life. He was working in construction. He actually looked kind of good. He was dressed to go to work with his little lunch box and everything at the time, and looked rather good and stuff. He told me he was continuing to write, continuing to read. He had gone back to school and, you know, thought he might end up teaching and stuff.
He was a transformed man. But he did that himself. I mean, we did not do that for William. He did that himself. Because he came into prison barely literate, and he taught himself to read, and it was through his practice, process of teaching himself to read that he had encountered this feminist literature. And so he was his own mentor. He was the source of his own determination and genius, and of course, I often wondered what would’ve happened to William if he’d had opportunities.
But at the same time, it brings into conflict your feelings about rapists when you work at a rape crisis center. You don’t get the warm and fuzzy feelings around a rapist. And what does that say? And yet, you’re coming from the black community where you deal with the myth of the black rapist, and the wrongful imprisonment and death of men for rape, so you’re also having to deal with that. But there was nothing, you know, there were no myths around William’s rape — he actually did rape and murder a woman. All these other guys in the group did actually rape and murder black women, so –
Loretta Ross, interviewed by Joyce Follet TAPE 8 of 23 Ross F 7_10 9 05 Page 124 of 360