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Guard Posed — and Was Sent Packing

Hagerstown, Maryland – According to a story in the Washington Post, Marcie Betts, a prison guard whose body art features bleeding leg stumps and coffins, was fired for posing on the Internet.
Betts, reported the Post and AdultFYI a little over a month ago, was fired from her job as a Maryland correctional officer last January, after going through the six-week training academy and the one-week gun training course. But after only a week on the job, she was called into the warden’s office at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Washington County and asked about 81 explicit photos her husband had taken of her, which had been bought for $300 by a Web site called — a site that “I just thought . . . was really cool,” she said. “It was real girls, not blond bombshells.”

According to Betts, one of those pictures, showing the large tattoo of birds, cherries, a dagger and a skull across her chest, was later published, without her knowledge, in Tabu Tattoo magazine. A copy of the magazine was intercepted en route to an inmate. It was then that Betts was fired, the warden citing fear that inmates’ might try to assault Betts and that fellow correctional officers might get hurt should an instance arise if they had to come to her defense. Betts was put on leave and subsequently fired.

Betts then sued on the grounds that the prison was violating her First Amendment rights, and Administrative Law Judge D. Harrison Pratt ruled in her favor last month. But Pratt last week issued a “stay of enforcement,” halting the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services from rehiring Betts to “her previous position with restitution of full pay and benefits,” until the matter has been appealed to a Circuit Court judge in Washington County.

The correctional system stands by its decision. “Our people clearly felt that having explicit photos on an adult Internet Web site is totally inconsistent with somebody being a correctional officer,” said Mark Vernarelli, the system’s public information officer. “We’re not out to infringe upon anybody’s rights, but we are absolutely out to protect the employees and the inmates.”

Betts’s attorney, Lawrence G. Walters of Orlando, Fla., points out that every officer who spoke against his client was a man. “It’s the cultural war,” he said. “You had all these male corrections officers [saying], ‘She can’t be seen as anything other than a sex object once she’s been seen as nude.’ None of the inmates even saw these pictures.”

In addition to the magazine being mailed to an inmate, an anonymous packet of photographs was also slipped under the warden’s door. The warden asked a captain and lieutenant to look into the matter. As part of the investigation, they paid a membership fee to the adult site and printed out each of the 81 pictures of Betts.

“How did these pictures come to light?” asks Walters, who specializes in First Amendment cases. “We like to fantasize about some [correctional employee] looking at the computer and having a good time.”

Before she went into training at the prison academy on Nov. 18, 2002, Betts had spent the five years since graduating from high school in Frederick County supporting herself, and later her husband, with jobs as diverse as: a piercer in a tattoo parlor, a caregiver to mice raised for research, a security guard at the Mack Trucks manufacturing site and a receptionist-turned-insecticide sprayer for a pest control company.

“I had plans” for a career in corrections, Betts told The Post. “I wanted to work for rank. I wanted to be one of the officers who work with dogs and do drug tests. Being a K-9 prison guard would’ve been something really cool for me to work toward.”

In the August issue of Penthouse, Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, published an essay defending Betts: “If a state prison were permitted to fire a guard based on what the prisoners might imagine, could they also fire a guard who was too busty or too sexy?”




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