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  Home :: 2007 September :: Clergy: Dyess lacks mental therapy

Clergy: Dyess lacks mental therapy

State prison owes sex abuse victim serious counseling, they say

 State prison officials have provided no significant mental healththerapy to convicted arsonist Tracey Dyess, and have forbidden her fromdiscussing her history of molestation with visitors, according to twoclergy members who have become her most staunch advocates.

"Ihave no sense that there's serious therapy going on in the area inwhich Tracey especially needs it: as a victim of childhood sexualabuse," the Rev. John Zimmerman wrote in a letter to Iowa Gov. ChetCulver. "To me, this is an outrage."

Zimmerman said hisimpression is that prison officials prefer docile inmates, so theydon't want Dyess to work on issues that could be upsetting.

Thespokesman for the Iowa Department of Corrections, Fred Scaletta, said:"All I can tell you is we are addressing her needs. All of them."

Scalettasaid he couldn't elaborate except to say Dyess has access to all theprison resources. "Things are not going to happen overnight with thetrauma she's been through," he said.

Dyess, 20, seems to bedeteriorating, said the Rev. Val Peter, former director of Girls andBoys Town of Nebraska, who specializes in working with abused teenagers.

"Whenyou look at her - I've been at this business of taking care of childrenfor a long time - her face, you can see it's changing. There's a kindof a sadness," said Peter, who has visited Dyess since she was firstjailed in spring 2005 for setting a fire that killed two of hersiblings.

"I'm no psychiatrist, but it's a low-grade depression,a kind of a lessening of hope. Less energy," Peter said. "And that'staking its toll."

When Dyess wrote her victim's impact statementbefore her stepfather's sentencing in May for sexual exploitation, oneof the questions on the worksheet was whether she had receivedcounseling as a result of his abuse.

Dyess answered "no," the statement shows.

That'sstill the case, said Zimmerman, the pastor of Pleasant View MennoniteChurch in Mount Pleasant, who visits Dyess regularly.

Scalettadenied a request from The Des Moines Register for an interview withDyess, saying he didn't want her to say anything that could jeopardizethe application for clemency she submitted last fall.

It wasScaletta and the warden of the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility whorestricted Dyess from discussing her abuse with visitors and spelledout certain conditions in a letter and phone conversations with Peterand Zimmerman, they said.

"The official reason," Zimmerman wroteCulver in a letter dated May 25, "is so that correctional systemcounselors can do the counseling, but that counseling has yet to beginand I'm convinced it is unlikely to."

Their focus seems to be on keeping Dyess "calm and manageable," Zimmerman said.

For two weeks last winter, Peter and Zimmerman were banned from meeting with Dyess at all.

Andtwo agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which helpedinvestigate Dyess' stepfather, Brian Street, for taking sexuallyexplicit photos of her as a teen, warned Peter "to stop trying to helpher," the priest said.

Zimmerman said that in his experiencewith abuse victims, giving them opportunities to talk withcompassionate people about their past is essential to healing.

Peter wrote Scaletta a letter dated July 16 asking for "good therapy" for Dyess.

"Thisis my first request so there is no good reason to let the people ofIowa know this has not been Iowa's finest hour," he wrote.

Dyessmay talk with visitors only in the presence of a prison guard,Zimmerman said. This restriction was kept in place after she wastransferred in January to the Mitchellville Correctional Institute forWomen, he said.

After the transfer, Dyess separately told bothher mother and Peter by telephone that a number of women atMitchellville were harassing her.

"I said, 'Is that sexual harassment?' " Peter said. "She said, 'I don't want to talk about it.' "

Dyess later said she reported the women, but then was a target for retaliation.

Zimmermanand Peter are hopeful Culver will grant Dyess clemency. Zimmerman toldthe governor that it was "a grave disservice" for Dyess' lawyer not topush for her case to be postponed until after her stepfather's trial.

Nowthat Street's abuse has been proven in court, the pastor wrote, a juryin Dyess' case would likely have found that the fire was an act rootedin self-defense.

Peter is asking corrections officials to dropthe visitation restrictions on Dyess, arguing that they are not imposedon other inmates during pastoral visits.

Reporter Jennifer Janeczko Jacobs can be reached at (515) 284-8127 or

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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia