This sidebar originally appeared in a June, 2004 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
WHEN SENTENCED to life, an inmate in Massachusetts will often serve at least two years under maximum security. Bernard Baran spent two weeks.
Prison officials knew when he entered Walpole State Prison that Baran was a special case. Almost immediately, inmates began placing cigarette bets on who would be the first to beat, rape, or even kill him, Baran says. He would need protection.
Baran fit the classic profile of an easy target. He was small, gay, effeminate, and a convicted pedophile — and he swore his innocence. His survival depended on negating these attributes as best he could. Ironically, the easiest one to change would have been his stance of innocence, the one he clung to the hardest.
His adamant denial of guilt should have kept him out of Bridgewater Treatment Center, the medium-security facility for sex offenders where Baran is now held. Acknowledging his crimes would have sufficed for an automatic transfer to Bridgewater, a safer environment where inmates receive counseling. Instead, Baran was admitted through a bureaucratic technicality, and it took four years. Why? Because he was considered a "sexually dangerous person."
Baran explains that he was regarded as a greater threat than other sex offenders because he refused to admit to his crimes.
"In a way, saying you’re innocent makes it more dangerous because [therapists] don’t want to hear it," says Baran. "They think it makes you more sexually dangerous because you’re not admitting to your crimes and they don’t know how to treat you unless you do."
Immediately following his conviction, Baran spent two and a half weeks at Walpole, separated from the general population. The Department of Correction (DOC) extended his stay in the Hostile Segregation Unit, where all inmates are first kept. Unable to find him a safe location within the prison, officials placed Baran in the hospital unit until a transfer could be arranged.
After Walpole, Baran was shuffled through five medium-security state prisons to ensure his safety, but the abuse did not let up. At Concord, he was beaten several times, and fellow inmates stole most of his property. At the now closed Southeastern Correctional Center, three inmates beat and gang-raped him.
The beatings intensified at Norfolk, where Baran says his eye was split open in one incident. In another, a fellow inmate slammed a metal tray on his head in the cafeteria, giving him a concussion. Baran was hospitalized both times. Despite the DOC’s standard investigations into the savage beatings, he never identified the perpetrators.
"If you snitch, you’re gonna get killed," Baran says. "At least if you don’t tell, you get a little respect for that." It was also at Norfolk that he twice attempted suicide.
Although Bridgewater has proved to be a safer place for Baran physically, it has been more difficult psychologically. Catcalls and epithets follow him down corridors regularly. Even more frustrating than harassment from fellow inmates are the group sessions, where therapists attempt to "heal" those with sexual illnesses. His profession of innocence complicates matters for all parties involved. But Baran works with what he’s been handed: he uses the group-therapy sessions, where inmates are taught how to manage their anger, to instead reckon with the frustration of his imprisonment.