"Chomos: The New "Niggers"
Updated: Jul 14
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on July 11, 2021
As a 72-year-old black man and longtime civil rights attorney in America, I have experienced a lifetime of indignities, unwarranted persecution, and overt racial discrimination. Until recently, I thought I had seen and heard it all.
As an inmate at FCI LaTuna, in El Paso, Texas, I am now witnessing a phenomenon that is new to me, but apparently not new to the federal prison system, nor to mankind in general. I am speaking of the ongoing, ugly, and overt discrimination and persecution of "sex offenders" at LaTuna. This group, who are called "Chomos" by most white inmates and some staff members, comprises about 35% of the inmate population at this prison.
The word "Chomo" is a slur for "sex offenders." It is the equivalent to calling a black person a "Nigger." The term is meant as a denigrating slur. In prison jargon, it means "child molester."
To be clear, child molestation cases are prosecuted in state courts under state law. Convicted offenders are imprisoned in state prisons. According to U.S. Bureau of Prison's (BOP) records, there are no child molesters at FCI LaTuna.
Historically, misguided Americans have used racial slurs to identify and denigrate entire races or groups of Americans. The Declaration of Independence labeled Native Americans as "merciless Indian savages." Gay Americans are called "Fags," "Faggots," or "Queers." Jewish Americans are called "Kikes." Chinese Americans are called "Chinks." Italian Americans are called "Wops." Hispanic Americans are called "Spics or Wetbacks." Vietnamese Americans are called "Gooks." Japanese Americans are called "Japs."
The Persecution of "Chomos" in Federal Prisons
After I entered FCI LaTuna on March 5, 2021, I learned for the first time that another group of Americans are subjected to vicious slurs, open hostility, and persecution. Sex offenders in this prison (and other federal correctional institutions) are openly called "Chomos" by white inmates, a few blacks, and some staff members.
White supremacists and many drug dealers in the inmate population view sex offenders as the new "niggers" of the prison system and they treat them as such. Sex offenders are beneath everyone else. Black inmates no longer have the dubious honor of being the group at the bottom of the rung of prison life. They have been replaced by sex offenders, who are the new "niggers."
It is not only the inmates who establish this pecking order and inflict this discrimination, but it is sanctioned by many staff members at the prison. They wrongfully allow sex offenders to be segregated and isolated so that they can be identified and made the targets of hatred and persecution by other inmates. Staff members often turn a blind eye to this abuse and have even been overheard using this denigrating slur as well.
None of the dozens of sex offenders I have met at FCI LaTuna is here for actually molesting a child. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of them are here because they viewed pornography on their computers and/or cell phones that is readily available on the Internet and that involved male and/or females under the age of 18-years-old, which is a federal crime. Based upon publicly available court records, these sex offenders never had physical contact with a child. They never had an identified "victim" in their crimes. Yet, the slur "Chomo" is savagely hurled at them like a spear.
The sex offenders I have met have publicly accepted responsibility for their acknowledged crimes and are paying a heavy debt to society in the form of prison sentences up to 30 years. After sex offenders are released, they are placed on probation from five years to a lifetime and they must register as sex offenders in their residential communities for life. In contrast, murders, rapists, kidnappers, drug dealers, and domestic terrorists who physically and emotionally harm their victims are not required to register on any public registry after release into their residential communities.
White Supremacists and Drug Dealers Are the Drum-Majors for Persecution
Ironically, the group that leads the inmate persecution of sex offenders is made up of self-professed white supremacists and drug-dealers who peddled all kinds of highly addictive street drugs to men, women (some of whom were pregnant), elderly Americans, mentally ill people, and even children.
These offenders have facilitated the addictions of untold thousands and maybe millions of people nationwide. Families have been broken up because of parents who were too strung out to care for their children. People have lost their jobs and homes behind their addictive use of the drugs these dealers have pushed upon them. And children have been uncared for and mistreated and, in many case, sexually abused by their parents or friends of their parents or even the drug dealers themselves.
Drug dealers often use guns during the commission of their crimes as they grab market share and enforce their will on the streets with violence. Even in prisons, some drug dealers act like the thugs they were on the streets.
Interestingly, BOP records indicate that the recidivism rate for drug dealers is at 30%, while the recidivism rate for sex offenders is at a low 10%.
Sex Offenders Are Passive as a Group
To the man, the sex offenders I have met are quiet, shy, kind, respectful, highly intelligent, and mostly white. They are passive as a group. They do not embody any of the thug-like characteristics that are exhibited by the small cadre of white supremacists and huge inmate population of drug dealers.
Yet, sex offenders are forced by the conduct of inmate bullying into a form of de facto segregation in the housing units, recreational areas, and dining hall. Occasionally, correctional officers and other security staff member conduct an unauthorized whisper campaign to "out" them as sex offenders knowing that they will be ostracized and abused once this outing occurs.
Although I am black and am expected to socialize with only the black inmates at FCI LaTuna, I sit at my own table in the dining hall. My table is open to inmates of all races and from all walks of life. My friendship circle includes sex offenders, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Gays, and a few white non-sex offender, all who are truly remorseful for their federal crimes and who have a definitive plan to lead productive lives after their release.
One of my closest friends and allies at LaTuna is Nicholas Robert Bowen (Reg. No. 70626-097), a sex offender. Nicholas is almost 70-years-old and happens to be my neighbor in the bunk next to mine. He is also my co-worker who cleans the tables, sweeps and mops the floors in Section One of the dining hall.
Nicholas, who was a man of stature and substantial means on the street, is contrite and remorseful about his sex offense for which he is serving a 12 and one half years federal sentence. Unlike most inmates in the general population, Nicholas is doing everything within his power to reform himself. He is working on his Master's Degree in Theology and is desirous of becoming an ordained minister while at LaTuna. Upon his return to society, Nicholas plans on becoming a Chaplain, volunteering his time to go back into prisons and minister to those whose plight he understands so intimately.
The Prison System's Perks for Drug Dealers are Unavailable to Sex Offenders
Even though they continue their blatant oppression of sex offenders like Nicholas, drug dealers are offered perks by the system, including time off their sentences and early releases. Despite their repugnant crimes and, in some cases, their continued drug use while imprisoned, they are offered drug rehabilitation programs that earn them up to a year off their sentences. They are also offered a variety of educational programs that if taken, reduce their sentences further. In fact, most federal prisons offer drug rehab programs.
In contrast, sex offenders are offered no time off their sentences for taking any educational courses. And, only five of the nation's 122 federal prisons offer sex rehabilitation programs. Even upon completion of the program, there is no time off offered to these sex offender graduates.
I continue to ask myself why we, as human beings, have this repugnant and revolting character trait to hate, berate, and browbeat other members of society. When will it end? Can it ever end?
It can and will end with each one of us standing up to bullying and injustices, one person at a time. This is why I for one, will always do my part to stop the hatred and bullying of any human being. This is also why I became a civil rights lawyer almost 48 years ago.
I do not allow any inmate or staff member to pick my friends or enemies. Likewise, I do not knowingly and willingly participate in any form of prison activities that has the purpose or effect of discriminating against and/or degrading another human being in order to achieve that sickening feeling of superiority or dominance over another person.
Prison will never change the qualities that make me a good and decent human being. I'm doing my part to fight hatred and discrimination. Are you?