Prison worker Joyce Mitchell sentenced to up to 7 years for helping killers break out of N.Y. prison
Matthew H. Logan Ph.D.
Joyce Mitchell catapulted into the news recently as the “Prison Worker Seduced by 2 Convicted Murderers” in a brazen escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York. She was seen in her town as a devoted fireman’s wife, a proud military mom and a hard worker who always took her son to church (Westfall, 2015). Bureau of Justice Statistics (2008-2009) report that 48% of sexual misconduct in prison involved guards with inmates and the majority involved female staff. Relationship between female staff and inmates was one of willing participation in 84% of cases.
Each time an incident occurs where someone is caught in a compromising situation with an inmate, the questions of “why?” and “how?” are asked by an incredulous community of onlookers. As a Correctional Psychologist working in prisons and as a police investigator, I witnessed this on 4 occasions and endeavoured to understand the dynamics and any psychosocial underpinnings of these events. It will be evident by the scenarios briefly described here that there is a diversity in the type of people who are seduced by these inmates but there are also some commonalities we can discover, both in the seducer and the seduced. It should be noted that there can be gender variations to the seduction and male correctional employees have certainly also been compromised with a sexual enticement both inside a facility by female inmates and outside by male inmates directing the services of female acquaintances to provide incentives to male prison employees.
My perspective on this subject is that it again speaks to the uncanny ability of certain individuals in society to con, manipulate, and seduce even those who have been admonished via Corrections training sessions and advice from peers, close friends and family. Certainly those that are seduced have to bear the consequences of their poor decision making but it often costs them much more than it does the seducer. I choose to shine a greater light on the seducer as they are a unique species who slither into communities of kind hearted, yet naïve and vulnerable, people bilking them out of finances, reputation and self-respect. The commonalities among the seducers point to personality traits and the list of traits seem to be a roll call of the items found within the Psychopathy Checklist – Revised (PCL-R) (Hare, 2003). In my experience most of the seducers were in the top 10-15% of inmates scored on the PCL-R and within the range to be referred to as Psychopaths. Those that might not meet that criteria threshold of 30 on the PCL-R will still often be described using adjectives such as “manipulative, charming, grandiose, carefree, and exciting.
Kaitlyne was an attractive woman in the late 20’s doing a practicum at the prison prior to completing her M.A. in Counseling Psychology. She had been married for 4 years and her marriage was taxing her emotionally. She poured her energy into her studies and into this 6 month practicum at the Medium Security Prison. She began collecting research which entailed 2-3 hour interviews and complete file reviews on over 100 offenders. We were stunned to hear that she had been caught having sex in a closet with one of the more notorious offenders in the institution. Even more stunning was Kaitlyne’s decision to leave her husband and move to a small community near the prison to be closer to Marc. The offender, Marc, was a lifer in his 30s who still had 17 years to serve before parole eligibility. He was good looking, charming, and a powerful presence in the institution. It was also not his first time seducing a female employee while in a prison. Marc was noted as a psychopathic offender with a strong connection to the drug trade and organized crime.
Diane was a vivacious woman in her late 30’s married to another employee of the prison where she worked as an Addictions Counselor. All reports on her work with offenders were outstanding. She shared the office next to mine and was an affable professional with a quick wit and alluring smile. I was surprised when a client of mine shared that he had seen her engaged in sexual touching with another inmate in a nearby prison. I reported this as confidential information received from a source of unknown reliability. I didn’t want to believe this information but I did note that the offender was again a very charming bodybuilder who had a reputation for ingratiating himself to staff members and had a high PCL-R score. It was over a year after that report that I heard Diane had been found in a hotel room with a parolee. Not surprising I suppose, it was the same offender she had been seen with a year earlier.
Rose was a contract teacher in the prison and was also security cleared to take minimum security inmates to daytime appointments in the nearby town. She had been doing this for 20 years and there had never been a concern about her integrity and professionalism. I got a call from the Security Intelligence Officer at that prison concerned that Rose may have been abducted by the inmate she had taken to a medical appointment. She was overdue at the prison and the officer just wanted my advice as I was still an RCMP Officer with a leave to work for Corrections. It was a quick decision to treat this as an abduction because Rose was seen as so reliable. Hours later the RCMP Officers found Rose and the offender at a motel. They discovered the scene of quite a romantic encounter with champagne, cocaine traces, rose petals and condoms. Once again the offender had been scored high on the PCL-R and had remarkably moved very quickly to minimum supervision because of his ability to charm and manipulate.
It should be noted that all Corrections employees in Canada receive training that includes a session based on a paper titled “Anatomy of a Set-Up” (Allan & Bosta, 1978) that was published for the California Department of Corrections. There have been derivations of this writing since 1978 but the patterns and themes outlined make it a “must read” for Corrections employees.
There is no single profile of the person who is seduced whereas there is an emerging profile of the seducer. Those that are enticed into the “set up” often fit one of the following categories:
Pulled to the dark side by pheromones
“Ladies love outlaws like babies love stray dogs” (Waylon Jennings, 1999).
The evolutionary psychologists will like this one…women are turned on by bad guys because we’re biological organisms. A bad guy is perceived to be strong and able to protect her because he’s dangerous. There is no evidence that women are sexually shy or that they shun clandestine sexual adventures. They may do this less than men but I see a movement with both genders to seeking stimulation perhaps engendered by our “instant gratification” brought on by technology. There seems to be more of a “I wanted to feel that dark side” response and the debate about whether this is rejection of the superego and indulgence of the id or a rejection of moral restraint will continue.
Pulled to the dark side by fantasy
We hear a lot about “men’s fantasy” especially in the realm of sex offending but is there a women's fantasy preference for dominant and dangerous men? Ogas and Gaddam's (2011) argument is that this fantasy is the dominant plot of most erotic/romantic books and movies written for women. Perhaps the fantasy is driven by defiance or a rejection of the “good girls don’t do that” message received by parents and society in general and the act, whether impulsive or instrumental, is fueled by rebellion.
Taken a step further…``little girls lost, reared in dysfunctional families where they were the victims of abuse at the hands of harsh dictatorial fathers aided by passive mothers.'' Damaged by their painful childhoods, they live in a fantasy world, in love not with a real man but with an illusion based on denial. Their capacity for denial and their need for a safe, idealized, romantic fantasy of love transcend judgment” (Isenberg, 1991).
Pulled to the dark side by attention
“His focus was all on me and I felt special”
All women like to be told they are beautiful. Inmates take advantage of this to seduce receptive girls by flattery. Some women crave this type of attention and are vulnerable to this sort of exploitation in having someone who will admire her and tell her how she is special, beautiful and wonderful. Inmates have nothing but time in order to practice this craft and then of course they can hone their physiques so that these wonderful words are coming from an attractive person.
Pulled to the dark side by status attraction
Because of the popularity the media gives them they are seen as attractive. Ted Bundy became a celebrity as did Scott Peterson. Amazingly Jeffery Dahlmer and John Wayne Gacy had also built up quite a following of women wanting to be with them. Similarly Casey Anthony and Amanda Knox have received their share of attention from men with sexual desire. The attraction to having seen someone on TV and now this person is interested in me is a phenomenon that has been little explored to date. You say “how does an inmate have status?” Well anyone who has worked in a prison knows that “rep” or status is paramount. There is a pecking order rarely seen elsewhere in society and it’s not just about your type of offense. Most prisons actually set up a status either deliberately or by letting it evolve. Things like being on the inmate committee or being given supervisory roles allow for a status system to be developed. As hard to imagine as it may be for us on the outside, staffers use this status system to gain compliance and keep the lid on the institution. In order for this system to function, staffers must relate well to inmates and particularly to those who have status as they become the leaders who can assist in gaining trust and compliance with others. The potential downside to this is that sometimes staff members get too close to these inmates and find their status appealing.
Pulled to the dark side by power
Some women gain a sense of power and position by being associated with powerful men. You become important and powerful by proxy.
This might be a vulnerable female who is looking to have some power in a world that has granted her none by hooking up with a man who is both dependent on her and has exhibited his dominance over others.
Pulled to the dark side by empathy
Some believe they can change a man as cruel and powerful as a serial killer. Others “see” the little boy that the killer once was and seek to nurture him. Mainly the seduced person is caught up with the excuses of “his friends talked him into it” or “he was so young when he did it” or “it was the drugs”. The same rationalization, minimization, blaming, and denial that the offender must break through in treatment is now the mantra of the person set up to be seduced. The bottom line is that they deny what they don’t want to know so they can have what they want.
Pulled to the dark side by redemptive fervour
Religious fervour is another, more obvious motivator. Evangelical Christian organizations bring women into contact with prisoners and provide a basis for intense emotional interaction. Some might consider this a rescue fantasy in action but it is more the belief that God can reach the worst of sinners or “there but for the grace of God, go I” (Bradford, 1555).
When I speak to church groups and wonderful organizations who do such great work with the chaplaincy programs in prisons I stress the “wise as serpents harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) and remind them that we can be “soft hearted” but not “soft headed”.
Pulled to the dark side by paraphilia
Hybristophilia - a paraphilia in which sexual arousal, facilitation, and attainment of orgasm are responsive to and contingent upon being with a partner known to have committed an outrage, cheating, lying, known infidelities or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery. This gets more discussion than it deserves. It reminds me of the hype around “Stockholm Syndrome” in hostage negotiation which is the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor. As a matter of fact a “reverse Stockholm effect” might be a more germane theme in this context than is Hybristophilia.
Pulled to the dark side by vicarious murder
Isenberg (1991) suggests that vicarious murder may sometimes be a motivating factor. It is easier for the lovers of these men to overlook violence if they have considered it themselves: "Even while she denies his culpability, it is his ability to murder that attracts her. He acted on his rage, however unsuitably. [The woman] could never act on her rage. So [his] murder is [her] murder." Well you can now see that we’ve hit the bottom in entertaining these motivations.
Now that we know the hooks that the seducer uses, how does he ingratiate himself into the lives of those he wants to seduce?
Exerting superiority over someone is not a foreign concept to the psychopath; they thrive on it. Similarly the cat and mouse game they enjoy in seduction is simply feeding the high need for stimulation. They may also experience delight and satisfaction in being able to play the system and those working within the system. Psychopaths may exude charm and appear completely at ease in what should be a stressful situation. There are several reasons for this ease of interaction, including a general lack of social anxiety, and enjoyment at having the “edge” or in “playing head games” with others.
Psychopaths may fervently profess to having everlasting loyalty but when it becomes a choice between this loyalty and their own self-interest, there is no contest. For this reason psychopaths will groom targets that they see as vulnerable. They will confide important security information to certain prison employees but they also want something in return, whether it’s to form a sexual relationship, to have special privileges, or to engage in conversation and gain information so they can feel more powerful (O’Toole, Logan & Smith, 2012).
Anatomy of a Set-Up (Allan & Bosta, 1978) delves into the details of how seducers operate. Some of the specific techniques for “grooming” targets (victims) for sexual exploitation include:
Divide and Conquer
This is a technique well used in any organization. The seducer selects the vulnerable target and “cuts them out of the herd”. By pitting one staff member against another the seducer sows lies and seeds of discontent and then becomes the empathizer and offers an understanding ear. “That’s the way he/she treats me too…maybe it’s because you and I are similar”. (At this stage they might use race, religion, or another item of affinity).
Plea for help
The seducer will draw the victim in using the need to help with: “I have been a failure my entire life,” “I am such a waste,” “please help me.”
Testing the limits
The seducer will bend, and attempt to circumvent minor rules to determine how far he can go before the target takes action, if at all. Further testing occurs when the offender requests minor items of contraband that the target is not supposed to issue.
The seducer may intervene in a situation with another offender to keep the target safe or to “have her back”. These situations are sometimes “cooked up” by the seducer.
In conclusion, the key to understanding the seduction process is to understand the seducer and to focus on the more psychopathic offenders who are not only perpetrating sexual misconduct with staff but are also primarily responsible for disruption and rule breaking within institutions. Getting to know their capabilities and how they work to destroy lives and organizations solely for their own entertainment, pleasure, and sense of power.
Address correspondence to: Matthew H. Logan Ph.D. HALO Forensic Behavioural Specialists at firstname.lastname@example.org
Allan, B. & Bosta, D. (1978). Anatomy of a set-up: Inmate/Staff relations. California Department of Corrections.
Bejerot, Nils (1974) The six day war in Stockholm,New Scientist, volume 61, number 886, page 486-487
Hare, R. D. (2003). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. 2nd Edition. Toronto, ON: Multi-Health Systems.
Hare, R.D. & Logan, M.H. (2007). Introducing Psychopathy to Policing. In M. St-Yves & M. Tanguay (eds). Psychologie de l’enquête: Analyse du comportement et recherche de la vérité. [The psychology of criminal investigation]. 563-645. Quebec : Editions Yvon Blais.
Isenberg, Sheila (1992). Women who love men who kill. New York: Random House Publishing Group.
National Inmate Survey 2008-09 (NIS -2) Bureau of Justice (BJS) Stats http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/ascii/svpjri0809.txt
Ogas, O., & Gaddam, S. (2011). A billion wicked thoughts: What the world's largest experiment reveals about human desire. New York: Dutton
O’Toole, M.E., Logan, M.H., Smith, S. (2012). Looking behind the mask : Implications for interviewing psychopaths. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 81(7), 14-19.
Westfall, Sandra S. N.Y. Prison Break: How Joyce Mitchell Was Seduced by 2 Convicted Murderers. www.people.com