Forget hardened prisoners and corrupt guards; the real thugs in the penal system are the corporate executives

Let’s see, what have we here? Private prison corporation executives: check. Abusive husband: check. Witness tampering: check. Threats to use political clout to have abused spouse deported if she doesn’t keep her mouth shut about being slapped around: check.

Wow. Some highlights.

Boulder County jury finds high-level prison exec engaged in ‘outrageous conduct’

– Verdict against GEO Group senior VP Thomas Wierdsma stems from domestic abuse case involving son, daughter-in-law

Beatrix Szeremi just wanted the abuse to stop.

For more than a year, Szeremi said she had endured multiple drunken beatings, a near drowning in a bathtub, and an attempted suffocation with a pillow — all at the hands of her husband, Charles Wierdsma. There were nearly 20 incidences in all — according to reams of court files that became available following a recent civil trial — leaving the 31-year-old newly married Montessori teacher with a collection of cuts, bruises, and in one particularly brutal confrontation, a strike to the ear that made her so dizzy she had to go to the hospital.

Szeremi said she appealed to her husband’s family for help and was told by her mother-in-law that the best way to avoid the spousal wrath was to simply stay quiet and appear to be busy reading a book or knitting.

On May 29, 2011, Wierdsma became enraged when his wife left to buy breakfast burritos and returned to their home on Utica Avenue in Boulder later than he liked. Wierdsma, 35, pinned his wife against the wall with the dining room table and then punched her in the face and back of the head, according to a police report.

Her father-in-law, Thomas Wierdsma, urged her not to pursue charges against his son, Szeremi said. He also asked Szeremi in a voicemail and text message, now outlined in civil court documents, to delete photos of her bruised face that she had posted on her Facebook page. Days later, he texted his daughter-in-law telling her he would be evicting her from the Boulder home he owned and that she shared with his son, even though she was part owner through marriage.

It didn’t stop there. The Hungarian-born Szeremi, who came to the United States six years ago and got permanent legal residency, or a green card, received an email from Thomas Wierdsma, a senior vice president with the GEO Group, that sent chills down her spine. GEO is one of the largest private prison companies in the world — with $1.6 billion in revenues and 20,000 employees across 115 facilities — and the company operates several immigration detention facilities for the federal government, including one in Aurora.

“I understand that you currently have no plans to move out of our home,” the elder Wierdsma wrote on June 21, 2011. “I will be copying the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement with this and other information. As you know, I funded the legal work and processing fees for you to become a citizen but am now disappointed in your actions which now require legal proceedings.”

This story was passed along to me by one of my former students, English Hopkins. She’s founder and executive director of the fledgling Hearts of Hope Foundation, which works to heal and empower those traumatized by abuse. The non-profit emphasizes community involvement and works to provide emergency assistance to the abused in the form of housing, legal protection, financial aid, food, medicine, therapy and counseling.

As she explained to the Daily Camera, that jury award looks impressive, but is far less than perhaps the jury realized and given how the legal process works, it could be years before Szeremi sees a penny.

Appalling story. In this case, at least the victim found a ready ally and a local court system that the thugs couldn’t bully. Kudos to Hopkins and best of luck to Szeremi. As for the Wierdsmas, may karma find you wherever you may hide…

Image Credit: Boulder Daily Camera

3 replies »

  1. I will say I currently work for GEO in California and I have not seen abuse from Officers towards inmates/detainees, I will say that I have seen numerous occasions of human rights being violated by the hands of more veteran staff and DEFINITELY management. I am VERY frustrated and am currently looking for new employment, even in this rough economy. I DO NOT WANT TO BE ASSOCIATED with an organization such as this….what is one small voice to do?