By Allan Lengel
For AOL News
As a federal judge in southern Texas for some 18 years, Samuel Kent sent folks off to prison.
Now he’s behind bars himself, being subjected to what his attorney describes as a Kafkaesque nightmare of “cruel and abusive treatment.” Kent, 61, is serving a 33-month sentence for obstruction of justice after he was caught lying about allegations involving groping and sexual assault of two female court employees.
On Monday, his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Houston alleging widespread abuse by the Bureau of Prisons. And he asked that Kent be resentenced, saying the federal prison system denied him access to a federal substance abuse program that would have allowed him to shave a year’s time off his sentence.
“The Federal Bureau of Prisons has subjected Sam Kent to abusive psychological and physical conditions that have jeopardized his ongoing recovery from severe depression and alcoholism, while arbitrarily prohibiting him from participation in rehabilitative programs,” the lawyer wrote.
To be sure, inmate complaints of prison conditions — some legitimate and some not — are commonplace and can be found in any number of lawsuits around the country. But what makes this all the more unusual — and ironic — is that they are coming from an ex-federal judge who had been so much a part of the system for so long.
“It’s an old saw that the Bureau of Prisons hates lawyers and judges,” DeGuerin told AOL News. “They resent any attempt to intervene with what they see as their God-given omnipotence when it comes to people in prison. They basically thumbed their nose” at the sentencing judge, who recommended Kent undergo treatment for substance abuse.
DeGuerin alleges in court documents that the Bureau of Prisons mistakenly classified Kent as a sex offender, when in fact all those charges were dropped and he pleaded guilty only to obstruction of justice. Consequently, the classification kept him from serving in a minimum-security facility, the court document alleges. Instead, he was put in a far more restrictive environment.
And DeGuerin said though the sentencing judge recommended substance abuse treatment, the Bureau of Prisons denied Kent access to the program, saying he was not eligible because he had already quit drinking for a year before his arrest in the case.
“Just because he hadn’t had a drink doesn’t speak to his years of alcoholism, his need for such treatment,” DeGuerin told AOL News.
Bureau of Prison spokeswoman Felicia Ponce said Wednesday she was familiar with the case, but “we wouldn’t comment about his pending appeals.”
Kent was appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and served in the Galveston, Texas, division. He was charged with groping and sexually abusing two female employees, and was sentenced on May 11, 2009, for obstruction of justice.
Kent’s odyssey through the prison system has not been pretty, according to the court filing.
From the time he entered the federal prison system, first in Devens, Mass., on June 15, 2009, he was subjected to “conditions tantamount to psychological and physical torture,” including nearly two months of solitary confinement for “non-disciplinary reasons.”
“Sam Kent never requested such confinement and to the contrary, pleaded with B.O.P. officials to allow him to remain in the prison’s general population,” the filing said.
It also said his solitary confinement was particularly distressing because prison officials would never tell him when he would be returned to the general population or where they were sending him and banned him from having contact with his wife and his attorney.
In September and October 2009, Kent bounced around in the prison system in the eastern and central U.S. before he was shipped off to the state prison system in Florida, where state guards allegedly physically and mentally abused him, the court filing said. DeGuerin said Kent was sent to the state system because the Bureau of Prisons claimed it couldn’t guarantee his safety, something the lawyer thinks is nonsense. He said plenty of other high-profile inmates, including members of Congress, have been fine in the federal system.
While in the Florida system, the court filing alleges, a corrections officer forced Kent to strip naked and perform a “painful and repetitive series of exercises.”
And one night in solitary confinement there, the court filing said, Kent helplessly listened “to the continuous screams of a man being violently raped in the next cell. Sam Kent was horrified to observe that the guards ignored the man’s screams and only came to remove the man from the cell after the attack had finally ended.”
DeGuerin noted that Kent has been partaking in a substance abuse treatment program in the state of Florida, but the federal prison system won’t recognize it and cut his sentence as it would have had he been in the federal rehabilitative program.
DeGuerin said that Kent has tried to put on a strong front through all of this.
But in reality, he said, “this has destroyed him.”