An unusual romance may be about to make US legal history. Leila Fay-Baker, a Wisconsin correctional officer, who fell in love with an inmate and plans to marry him, is expected to overturn a decision to fire her from her job at the Mount Gully prison facility in June of this year.
While it has not been uncommon to hear stories of prisoners and correctional staff getting married, there are often extreme consequences in terms of employment, legal barriers and ethics for the parties concerned. Wisconsin, like many states, carries felony criminal penalties against prison employees for engaging in sexual intercourse with a prisoner. However, Ms Fay-Baker maintains her relationship with inmate Johnny Trejudo has been strictly platonic, and has sought to change the law so that the couple can consummate their marriage without risk to Ms Fay-Baker’s job or Trejudo’s legal rights.
‘When Johnny and I first met there was this immediate spark. I was carrying out a routine cavity search, in the presence of other officers I should add, and I don’t know what it was, but I felt we had this connection.’
A body cavity search is either a visual or manual internal inspection of an inmate’s body to seek out prohibited materials such as drugs, money, jewellery or weapons. In North America, body searches by prison staff of the opposite gender have often led to civil lawsuits, but in this case it seems to have sparked an old-fashioned case of opposites attracting.
Trejudo is serving five years after being convicted of car-jacking and minor theft offences. ‘I love her,’ said Trejudo, who after getting his breath back proposed almost immediately, ‘you know when it feels right.’ Unusually Fay-Baker has been backed by many of her colleagues and even the prison governor who maintain that what the couple feel for each other is genuine.
Governor Sam Delaney adds that it wasn’t unusual for Fay-Baker to be conducting this type of search on a male prisoner. ‘Leila is one of our most respected and highly-trained officers, with years of experience in this type of search. You couldn’t be in better hands. I like to think romance would have blossomed regardless of the circumstances. I’m not sure if it was love at first sight, but clearly when push comes to shove, love will find a way.’
Dan Hildebrand, a fellow officer, said, ‘They’ve both been through a lot. When he proposed it was a total shock at first. I didn’t know how Leila would react, it was a real catch-your-breath moment and when she said yes, well, you know, we all had tears in our eyes, especially Johnny.’
The case has now gone before the US Supreme Court with a decision expected in a matter of days. Insiders say that the judges are likely to be sympathetic towards the couple.
In anticipation of a positive ruling the pair have applied for a temporary parole for Trejudo, on compassionate grounds, so they can go on honeymoon. ‘I’ve always wanted a honeymoon in Venice,’ said Fay-Baker, ‘something about those canals just appeals to me.’
28th December 2009