Powerless in Prison: The shutdown of FCI Dublin

One morning last month, Kendra Drysdale heard other women screaming and crying.

"I came out of my cell and I said, ‘What's going on?’ " Drysdale, 50, recalled in a recent interview with KTVU. "They said, 'Look at the news.’ And all the channels on all the news were going across the bottom."

The news was that Bureau of Prisons Director Colette S. Peters abruptly announced on April 15 that the troubled Federal Correctional Institute at Dublin, a low-level women’s prison, would close immediately.

At first blush, some activists cheered the closing of the scandal-plagued prison. 

But on deeper reflection, others noted this would be bad for the 605 incarcerated women there: They would now be transferred out of California, making family visits much harder, and for the first time in Bureau of Prison history, a special master had been appointed to oversee FCI Dublin with the goal of improving conditions for the women living there. 

"What happened was devastating for us, right when we felt safe," Drysdale said. "We felt hope. There were going to be major changes, the rug was completely pulled out from underneath us."

Drysdale's thoughts and observations offer a rare glimpse into how FCI Dublin operated before the shutdown and the immediate aftermath – including accusations of correctional officers shredding documents before the doors closed to demeaning and hasty journeys on buses to other prisons across the United States.  

And that's all in addition to the sexualized culture woven into the history of FCI Dublin, where seven correctional officers have been sentenced to prison for sex crimes, and an eighth officer is heading to trial. 

FCI Dublin shutdown

Peters' surprise shutdown proclamation came 10 days after U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers named Special Master Wendy Still to make changes and ensure reforms at FCI Dubin, the first such oversight in BOP history.

That appointment followed a February visit to the prison by Gonzalez Rogers, who is overseeing a class action lawsuit against the prison and ordered the outside oversight. 

After speaking to dozens of women and touring the facility for nine hours, the judge called FCI Dublin a "dysfunctional mess," even after the BOP promised that things were different now and that the bad actors have all been charged and sentenced for a variety of sexual crimes. 

But Peters acknowledged that she just couldn’t turn the prison around, despite spending resources there. And in subsequent statements, Warden Nancy McKinney argued in court documents that the closure of FCI Dublin, also riddled with mold and asbestos, had been a long time coming.

Noting the timing of the special master appointment and the prison's closure, some are wondering if the closure was payback for the outside oversight.

"So why was this decision made?" U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) asked. "And was it retaliation in some form or fashion?"

As of April 2024, seven FCI Dublin correctional officers have been sentenced for sex crimes and the eighth officer seems to be heading to trial. 

The bus rides

Since the prison closed so suddenly, the majority of women were whisked away, literally in the middle of the night, to women’s prisons elsewhere in the country.

Dozens of women reported those bus rides across the country were horrific. 

They reported the bus drivers blamed them for the prison shutdown.

When the women asked where they were going, a mother who asked to be called Esther told KTVU in an email: "They were told none of your business, or SFTU, see, this is why Dublin is closing, you all need to learn to keep your mouths shut. I gave up my Saturday off to move you girls. The other CO said, ‘I came out of retirement to help move you bitches.’"

Esther then said the bus driver played a children’s recording of the Wheels on the Bus over and over again at full volume, and then played loud rap music with sexually explicit language about sex acts.

"He told them the more they fussed, the louder it was going to be," Esther wrote. "All thru the 12 hours they were called bitches. They were told they were the reason for the closing of Dublin. They should have kept their mouths shut."

Her daughter’s group ended up being taken to the Miami Detention Center, a high-rise prison with no video visits. FCI Dublin was a low-level women's prison with an open campus and the view of green hills. 

Drysdale described the anxiety many women felt. 

"Everyone was crying constantly," Drysdale recounted. "The idea that you don't know where you're going. You're farther away from family. It's instilling fear and trauma when we've already had so much trauma in this place."

She added: "If they wanted to close the prison… there was a better way."

Peters does not see it that way.

In an internal memo that KTVU obtained, the BOP director commended her staff for their "tireless efforts in facilitating the successful transition" of women from FCI Dublin, praising their "dedication" to a successful journey, "while also being sensitive to the needs of those in our care." 

FCI Dublin President of Local 3584 Ed Canales said he doesn't want the prison to shut down. April 19, 2024.

Union against shutdown

In announcing the shutdown, Peters promised that none of the 203 employees would lose their jobs. 

But there is no women’s prison closer than 400 miles from Alameda County. The other low-level women's prisons are in West Virginia, Florida and Texas, to name a few. 

Peters also said the prison’s closure was "temporary," but she had not said what will take its place.

Edward Canales, the union president of the correctional officers at FCI Dublin, spoke to KTVU outside an April 19 rally by activists who demanded the women be released from behind bars. 

He said he and his correctional officers also oppose the prison shutting down.

"My officers are not the abusers," Canales said. "They are the officers that maintained safety and security and prevented abuse."

Canales emphasized that any officer who has been indicted is no longer in the union.

"FCI Dublin should not close, it was being rehabilitated with the world watching," Canales said. "We fixed many issues and were continuing to make FCI Dublin a model prison."

A bus leaves FCI Dublin on April 15, 2024, as the BOP announced the prison would be closing. 

A minority of women released

The exact numbers have not been made public, but Drysdale was one of the minority of women freed before being transferred.

And that's only because she said Still, the special master, looked at her paperwork and agreed with her attorneys that she had served her time.

"Her team was amazing," Drysdale said. "They gave us hope for the first time since I’ve been in the BOP. All of those women really seemed to be compassionate. They really made us feel like they were going to be there to make some changes."

Drysdale said she has a laundry list of complaints against how she was treated, from not getting proper medical care for her kidney stones, to what she describes as retaliation for reporting being groped by an officer over her breasts in September 2023.

Officers filed a report against her, claiming she filed a false allegation, and then took away her phone, her visits, her job and her commissary.

And she accuses the BOP of not properly giving women credits for time served. 

One of those programs is called the First Step Act, which allows people in prison to earn time credits toward early release, and another is the Second Chance Act, which allows eligible people to spend some of their final year in prison in a community correctional facility or halfway house.

Both programs are run by the federal government.

 According to her attorneys, Drysdale should have been released last February because she had earned those credits.

Shredding documents allegation

Drysdale also made the bombshell allegation that when the prison closure was announced, officers "immediately started shredding documents, like bags and bags of documents."

She said that people’s compassionate release forms were shredded and good behavior credits.

"Anything positive that was in our files was no longer there," Drysdale said.

Other employees and women have reported this shredding to KTVU as well.

BOP spokesman Benjamin O’Cone responded to these allegations in an email:

"We have no reason to believe these allegations are true, but if they are, they would constitute serious staff misconduct," he wrote, adding that he forwarded this allegation to the Office of Internal Affairs for "review and action, if warranted."

In terms of proper credits, O’Cone said that everyone’s paperwork is "regularly reviewed" to "ensure the appropriate application of credits" and placements are awarded. A total of 32,000 people have received these FSA releases, he said.

And in terms of healthcare, O’Cone said the BOP "provides medical, dental, and mental health services in accordance with accepted community standards within all of its correctional facilities" by licensed professionals.

KTVU interviewed, emailed and read the written testimony of more than three dozen women who are currently incarcerated at or released from custody from FCI Dublin about the sexual abuse and retaliation that occurs there. 

Women’s voices

For two years, KTVU has been speaking with sexual assault survivors at FCI Dublin, amplifying the voices of women inside the prison, despite being declined tours of the facility.

Over this time period, KTVU has heard from roughly 100 women by email, phone, video, in person and in court. 

Their stories are very similar: They were sexually abused, or witnessed that abuse, and then when they reported it, they were either ignored, or retaliated against by losing privileges or being put in the SHU, or Special Housing Units. 

The first woman to speak to KTVU in 2022 was Andrea Reyes, who described how now-convicted correctional officer Ross Klinger would dip into her mental health files and prey on her emotions to convince her that he loved her before having sex with her.

What hurt the most is that she thought Klinger actually cared about her. He promised to marry her. To have children with her when she got out.

"I feel like he literally would pick the ones he felt were weak," she said at the time. "I believed him. I was alone and I was vulnerable." 

Klinger pleaded guilty to these crimes, and also gave evidence about now-convicted Warden Ray Garcia, who was sentenced in 2023 to nearly six years in prison for taking nude photographs of women and fondling them in prison bathrooms.

Because he helped the government, in January, Klinger received the least amount of time of all the officers: One year of home detention. 

Andrea Reyes of Riverside County, Calif. was incarcerated at FCI Dublin, where she described a toxic culture of misogyny and sexual misconduct. The prison is currently being investigated by the Department of Justice. She spoke exclusively about her e

A whistleblower pushed out

There have been correctional officers who have spoken out.

Former FCI Dublin unit supervisor Tess Korth told KTVU in 2022 that she reported officers such as Darrel "Dirty Dick" Smith gazing at naked incarcerated women, as one example, but nothing was ever done. He is now the eighth officer heading to trial on sex charges. 

After she continued to report abuses, she said she was told she’d have to relocate to a prison across the country if she wanted to remain employed. So she retired that July.

"I told them to shove it …and some other choice words," Korth said. "You know, after 25 years, I refuse to be reassigned because I reported something."

Another former officer who asked to remain anonymous recently told KTVU that there are many good BOP employees who get up each morning trying to keep prisoners safe and provide them with ways to rehabilitate.

She said that a small minority of incarcerated women lie to get what they want as well as trick officers into getting drugs into the prison, which adds to the chaos.

In fact, both this retired officer and other incarcerated women said that sometimes women claim officers grope them during strip searches, making officers wary to even look for drugs because they don’t want to be written up or put on leave following the allegations.

Agents take out boxes from FCI Dublin. March 11, 2024 

FBI raid

There are still some possible pending charges coming from FCI Dublin.

FBI agents were seen raiding the prison on March 12. 

That same day, the warden, assistant warden and two top managers were removed. 

It’s unclear why the agents were there.

But the issue of rampant drug use at FCI Dublin came up during a special court hearing in front of the judge in January. 

And so did issues of retaliation and illegal transfers. 

To date, no one has been arrested. 

Kendra Drysdale is now living in Santa Cruz County on a farm. 

Kendra’s future

As for Drysdale, she feels blessed that she got out. 

She is now living with family on a farm in Santa Cruz County, where every day she has access to horses, chickens and green pastures.

She is also faced with daily occurrences that she hasn’t experienced in at least five years, like setting up an iPhone and grocery shopping.

"I tried to go to Costco the other day and I cried," she said. "It’s been overwhelming, but my family is helping me through it."

She’s been reunited with her 22-year-old daughter.

And she’s hoping to find a job to help drug addicts – something she’s battled with most of her life, and which landed her in prison for many years after being convicted of distributing methamphetamine. 

"I want to focus on young adults, so they don't have to go through a lot of the pain and suffering that I've been through," she said.

But Drysdale said she also feels a huge amount of survivor’s guilt.

"I felt like it’s not fair for me to be home when they’re suffering so bad," she said. "It’s hard for you to experience such a big win when people you’ve been with 24 hours a day are re-experiencing trauma on trauma."

But what Drysdale can do now is speak for those still behind bars.

She’s already spoken with members of Congress about what has occurred at FCI Dublin.

And telling her story publicly can only shine a light on her experiences.

"The entire BOP population I want to speak out for because this is happening to everyone," Drysdale said. "Everyone doesn’t have a voice right now like I do."

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@fox.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez