The relationship between a prison guard and an inmate is an unequal one. The guard can access information and is free to leave the prison grounds. The inmate, of course, is not free to do anything and has limited access to information.
Sexual interest in people who have committed crimes is common enough to have its own psychological name—hybristophilia. Research suggests that almost 4% of female prison staff are affected by hybristophilia. In the United States, these relationships are punishable by law. In other countries, the authorities usually consider them to be in breach of a code of ethics—professional misconduct, in other words.
It is sometimes difficult to understand the dynamics of these relationships, and they often don’t last beyond the specific circumstances of incarceration. Let’s explore ten prison guards that fell for inmates.
10 Lynette Barnett
The Crossroads Correctional Center opened in 1997 with a capacity of 1,500 inmates. Lynette Barnett had worked there since the beginning. In 1999, one of the prisoners was Terry Banks.
In 1995, a court found Banks guilty of the 1992 shooting of Tim Eastburn of Rocky Comfort, Missouri. Banks was serving life without the possibility of parole. Regardless, Lynette fell in love with Banks, and they hatched a plot to escape.
In October 1999, she smuggled a fake police ID and a spare guard’s uniform into the prison. Video at the maximum-security center showed Banks calmly walking out of the entrance. The FBI caught up with the pair two months later. They were staying at a trailer park in Victoria, Texas. Someone had seen a piece about the pair on America’s Most Wanted and reported them to the authorities.
For helping a prisoner escape, Lynette got the maximum—a five-year sentence.
9 Bobbi Parker
In September 1981, an alcoholic sculptor named Randolph Dial shot and killed a karate instructor in Oklahoma. In August 1986, a court sentenced him to life. However, he escaped in 1994 and was on the run for eleven years. Authorities picked him up in 2005 and sent him back to jail. He died behind bars in 2007.
The circumstances of his escape have more than a touch of true romance. The prison warden in Granite, Oklahoma, lived in a house on the prison grounds. Dial ran a pottery workshop for other inmates in the warden’s garage. Bobbi, the warden’s wife, helped Dial with his classes. Technically, she wasn’t a guard, but she was supposed to be keeping an eye on Dial.
One day, Parker and Dial disappeared. As with the case of Lynette Barnett, a viewer of America’s Most Wanted tipped off the police. The pair had been living as a married couple and were caught on a chicken ranch in Texas.
Until the day Dial died, he maintained that he had kidnapped Parker and forced her to help him. The authorities didn’t believe a word of his story and sent Bobbi to prison for a year. They let her out after six months.
8 Lucy Thornton
The United States doesn’t have a monopoly on these inappropriate relationships. We move over to England to meet Lucy Thornton. It’s difficult to work out what drives a person like Lucy. She was a guard at Her Majesty’s Prison Altcourse in Liverpool, a notoriously rough place. In 2019, Lucy and a violent offender—Aaron Whittaker—began a relationship. Whittaker’s brother, Haden, was also in the same facility, and Lucy had an affair with him, too.
The brothers and Lucy exchanged hundreds of calls and texts through smuggled phones. The prison security governor interviewed Lucy as rumors reached him that something untoward was happening. However, there was no direct evidence, and Lucy returned to work.
The following month, she was suspended after she had a “play fight” with another prisoner in front of witnesses who saw the pair rolling around on the floor. The prison service transferred Aaron to another prison, but the relationship continued, and Lucy paid off a drug debt of Aaron’s.
When Aaron was released from prison on parole, Lucy became pregnant. She had a baby in August 2020, but it didn’t save her from a ten-month prison sentence.
7 Nancy Gonzalez
Gonzalez’s baby boy didn’t get the best start in life. His father, Ronell Wilson, was in jail for the killing of two undercover cops in Staten Island. It was more of an execution than murder because Wilson, a gang leader, shot the two police officers in the back of the head. The court initially sentenced Wilson to death in 2006. In 2010, the court overturned the death penalty. So prosecutors started again, but in 2016, a judge ruled that Wilson was mentally disabled, and the Eighth Amendment didn’t allow his execution.
Prison guard Nancy Gonzalez met Wilson while he was in jail, and their torrid relationship led to her becoming pregnant. Unfortunately, she would lose custody of her baby for neglect shortly after giving birth. Gonzalez had a very troubled childhood, but the court concluded that this was no excuse and sentenced her to one year in custody. Her defense lawyer made this observation:
“The present offense grew from her lifelong struggle and inability to make appropriate decisions involving her sexual conduct and a misguided emotional belief that being impregnated by Ronell Wilson was providing him with a lasting purpose to his otherwise tragic and dysfunctional life.”
6 Stephanie Smithwhite
In February 2020, a British judge described Curtis Warren as a “major league offender.” This he certainly was. Warren had built up a criminal empire that gained most of its profits from drugs. Cloaked behind a seemingly-respectable business, Warren was successful enough to have featured on London’s The Sunday Times Rich List.
When the judge made his comment, Warren was behind bars serving 13 years for conspiracy to import drugs, with another ten added for good measure for failing to repay nearly 200 million pounds of profits from his drug business. A court had previously convicted him of manslaughter for killing a fellow inmate in a Dutch jail. It seems he continued to mastermind his group’s criminal enterprise from inside.
Warren fits the bill perfectly of a manipulative inmate trying to gain advantage from a vulnerable guard. He started a sexual relationship with Stephanie Smithwhite. Warren wanted three things from her, sex, of course, but more importantly, information about the prison’s security system and for Smithwhite to smuggle contraband into the prison.
When the staff at the prison became suspicious, they mounted a surveillance operation. At first, Smithwhite denied everything but lots of evidence pointed to a relationship. This included 450 letters hidden at a relative’s business and a cellphone in her car that only had one number saved. No prizes for guessing whose.
Smithwhite received a sentence of two years for misconduct and failure to report that Warren had access to a phone.
5 Joyce Mitchell
Joyce Mitchell was not a guard; she was a seamstress at the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York State. But as all prison staff members have a responsibility for monitoring the inmates, I believe she can be included on this list.
There is something old-fashioned about Mitchell’s case. Two convicted murderers, Richard W. Matt and David Sweat, hatched a plot that involved seducing Mitchell. They succeeded, and once Mitchell was under their power, they persuaded her to smuggle in tools such as hacksaw blades and chisels. The two men carefully excavated a hole in a brick wall, gained access to a steam pipe duct, and escaped through a manhole.
An extensive manhunt ensued, leading to police shooting and killing Matt and recapturing Sweat. Mitchell’s role came to light, and she received a sentence of four years.
4 Kelly Jacobs
Here’s the tale of a prison guard who never worked in the prison where her lover was incarcerated. Indeed, she wasn’t even in the same country. Kelly Jacobs lives in the Netherlands and is engaged to a prisoner in Oregon, USA.
Having worked in the prison service for several years, Jacobs said she wanted a deeper understanding of how prisoners experience their restricted world. She went on a website encouraging people to write to prisoners and chose James “Wyatt” Dentel from a range of options because he was smiling.
The pair started writing in 2019 and were in constant contact. After a few months, they both realized they were in love and decided to get engaged. Romantically, Wyatt wrote to Jacob’s dad asking for his daughter’s hand and arranged for a Dutch jeweler to deliver an engagement ring to Jacob’s home.
Wyatt has been in prison since 2012, sentenced for assault, possession of a firearm, and unlawful use of a firearm. It will be some time before the couple can begin regular life as a married couple, as Wyatt’s earliest release date is 2030.
3 Prisoner Tavon White
We will look at this tale from the prisoner’s point of view. However, Tavon White was no ordinary prisoner. White was a leader of the Black Guerilla Family, a gang that took over the Baltimore City Detention Center from 2009 to 2013. In a conversation with a friend, White said:
“I’m dead serious. I make every final call in this jail…”
The rest of the conversation is too profane to quote here, but it illustrates how strong the gang’s hold was on the prison. The Black Guerilla gang made around $16,000 per month from dealing in contraband while behind bars. According to some reports, many prison officials—around 40—helped the gang run their business.
Tavon White’s power was backed by considerable charisma. He impregnated four correctional officers during his reign. Two of these women had his name tattooed on their bodies.
2 Toby Dorr
Toby Dorr wrote a memoir called “Living with Conviction,” an apt title considering what she got up to. She was a married woman who ran a dog training program at the Lansing Correctional Facility in Kansas, which can hold nearly 2,500 prisoners. In 2006, one of them was a convicted murderer named John Manard.
Dorr was married, but that didn’t stop her from falling in love with Manard. She helped him escape by concealing him in a dog crate and smuggling him out of prison. They were on the run for just two weeks. Authorities tracked them down to a cabin in Tennessee and arrested them after a car chase.
Dorr served 27 months in prison and started writing true crime stories.
1 Vicky White
After working for the Lauderdale County Sherriff’s Office for 25 years, 56-year-old corrections officer Vicky White decided it was time to retire. The rest of the staff would miss her; she was liked, well-respected, and trusted. No one suspected that her retirement masked a plan. Shortly before, White sold her house for under $100,000, less than half its market value.
On her last day of work, she told staff that she had to escort a prisoner to a routine mental health appointment. The prisoner was Casey White (no relation), a convicted felon and suspected murderer. It was a little irregular that a prisoner would only have one officer escorting him, but no one gave it much thought—remember that trust thing.
Her colleagues would never see Vicky alive again. Vicky and Casey White went on the run. Police found them 11 days later in Evansville, Indiana, and Vicky White shot herself to avoid capture. Further investigations revealed that the two Whites had had a sentimental relationship since 2020. They had managed to keep it a secret, and Vicky White had masterminded the escape plan.