Lois Fraley thought the worst was over when she walked out of the Lewis Prison tower on Super Bowl Sunday, 2004. She had survived the longest prison hostage crisis in American history, having been beaten, raped and mentally abused by two inmates. But in the three years since Fraley’s life changed forever, she says she was held hostage all over again – first by the state and its partisan politics, then by the man who she once called her savior. Will Lois Fraley ever wake up?
Lois Fraley never expected to get out alive.The 33-year-old prison guard knew the minute she was taken hostage that the Arizona badge on her brown shirt was a death warrant. Arizona prisons have always had a “no negotiation” policy with hostage-takers, and Fraley didn’t think the new prison director – the first woman on the job – would change that.
For the next 15 days, in what became the longest prison hostage crisis in American history, Fraley thought every moment was her last – when each of the two inmates holding the tower raped her; when one demanded oral sex; when they ate their fill and starved her; when they beat her; when they played her like an animal, telling her when and where she could pee; and as they held a gun to her head and promised to blow her away. So when she and her captors walked out of the Lewis Prison tower at 6:25 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, 2004, the single mother was astonished that the ordeal was finally over. Around-the-clock negotiations by 30 of the best hostage crisis experts in the West had finally ended the death trap that captivated the nation and kept Arizona’s media glued to the remote prison just off Highway 85. Not only had it been the nation’s longest prison hostage crisis, it had been the only one in which everyone got out alive. Fraley was airlifted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix that night, and was met on the roof by Governor Janet Napolitano and Department of Corrections Chief Dora Schriro – the women she’d later credit with keeping their cool and keeping her alive as others demanded that snipers “storm the tower.” Fraley knew if there had been any assault on the tower, she would never have walked out. She knew her teenage daughter would have been orphaned. She knew the inmate who so loathed her and never called her by her name (“he called me woman, bitch, slut, dyke, lady, brown shirt,” she recalls) would have seen that she was dead before he went down himself. So she thought the worst was over when she was once again a free woman; when she got her first decent meal; when she got her first hot shower; and when she finally hugged her little girl and whispered that everything would be all right. It has been three years since Lois Fraley’s life changed forever, and, yet, she says she has discovered that there are things just as bad as being held hostage in a prison tower. She says she was chewed up by Arizona’s vicious partisan politics that tried to turn the prison crisis into an election issue. She says the state short-changed her when it came to dollars and cents, and she complains that the man who she thought was her savior held her “hostage” all over again over a book deal. It’s been a long, lonely, tormented three years for Lois Fraley.
“The dude who did the grand jury interview really screwed me up,” Fraley spits out, still angry and disgusted. She says she felt like a pawn in a political chess game as Republicans in the Arizona Legislature saw the crisis as a way to embarrass a popular Democratic governor up for reelection that year, and force the first-ever female head of the Department of Corrections to leave town. Although both the governor’s office and Department of Corrections launched investigations into the crisis – former Republican Attorney General Grant Woods headed the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel – Republican lawmakers demanded a criminal investigation. The day Fraley was called to testify before the grand jury was one of the darkest days of her life, she says. “The attorney said, ‘Why didn’t you just go ahead and grab the gun and shoot both the guys – you’d be on Central in a parade. None of this would have happened if you’d shot them.’ I broke down in front of the grand jury and had to split to the bathroom because I was crying. He made me feel like I screwed up. It’s taken awhile to handle that. I still do what-ifs.” She had been so shocked by the audacity of the attorney that she couldn’t even recount what actually happened inside that tower – she had tried to stop the assault in its first few seconds. The early morning of January 18, 2004, 41-year-old Randy “Rooster” Wassenaar was scheduled to work in the prison kitchen. But, he had long planned to use the pre-dawn hours as cover for his escape attempt with his “cellie,” 40-year-old Steve “Pony” Coy. Both were what the prison system considers “bad asses”: Pony was serving seven-consecutive life sentences for rape; Rooster was up for 18 years for armed robbery and assault. Wassenaar hijacked a guard inside the kitchen and stole his uniform, then sauntered across the yard to the tower that sat in the middle of the yard – its 360-degree view gave it a commanding presence in the prison. Keeping his head down, he rang for admittance, and 21-year-old new recruit Jason Auch hit the button that opened the tower door. Fraley remembers asking who wanted in, and Auch said it looked like an officer they knew. Still, she recalls a catch in the pit of her stomach. Wassenaar ran up the steps, swinging a stainless steel stirring paddle like a baseball bat, hitting it against Auch’s head, cracking open his skull and dislodging his glasses. Auch fell to the floor immediately. He was unconscious. As Fraley later told investigators, “I took off after Wassenaar. I was, you know, gonna try to overpower him. And, so, the only thing I had to fight with, basically, was myself. You know, fight fist to fist.” But he was taller, larger and stronger than the hefty Fraley, despite her “tough, street girl” swagger. He grabbed her by the hair and pulled her head into his knee. Fraley fell to the floor with a gash above her right eye. But her efforts weren’t good enough for attorneys who wanted to make political hay of this crisis, she says now. (Other insiders say Fraley is not the only prison officer who went into a “deep depression” because of how they were treated during the intensely emotional grand jury investigation.) So Fraley endured the lingering thoughts that somehow this was all her fault. She says it has taken her a long time to see just how wrong the attorney’s questions were. The grand jury never did report any criminal activity in the hostage crisis. The records were sealed when a judge found the whole thing was little more than a political fishing expedition, according to newspaper reports and editorials at the time. But the damage to Fraley and other victims of the crisis had already been done. In the meantime, she kept waiting to get well.
At first, Lois Fraley really thought she’d be able to go back to work at a prison someday. “I am so ready” to go back to work, she told ABC’s Charles Gibson on Good Morning America in March 2004, shortly after her release. In September 2004, she told PHOENIX magazine she had her uniform all ready for the day she would again work her shift. But none of that would happen. She found the memories and bad dreams wouldn’t subside, wouldn’t go away. To this day, she takes a basket full of pills every day to combat depression, including Seroquel, which is commonly used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; Clonazepan for panic disorders; and Ambien for insomnia – none of which she took prior to the hostage incident. People inside the Department of Corrections guessed early on that her recovery would take a long, long time. “I have great affection for both Lois and Jason,” says DOC Director Dora Schriro. (Jason Auch was released after seven days as a hostage because of his severe head injuries. He, too, has left employment with the DOC.) During the crisis, Schriro set up dormitory space for Fraley’s and Auch’s families at the prison and visited them every night. She fought to keep a story out of the newspaper that revealed Fraley had been raped – information Fraley herself would later admit on national television, but not one the department wanted bantered about as the crisis was in full bloom. Afterward, individuals within the DOC became personal friends with Fraley, helping her through some rough spots. Schriro helped arrange the offer of a four-year scholarship to ASU, but Fraley didn’t feel she could go to college full time. Schriro also pursued a community college scholarship, but that didn’t work either. DOC officials got Fraley a laptop and kept inventing jobs for her at the department’s main office as she regained her strength and her stamina. In the meantime, a therapist was supposed to be working with Fraley to get to the bottom of the trauma, but Fraley says it never worked out. At one point, Schriro fired the therapist. Fraley says she never connected with any of the therapists and felt ignored by some. “I was off on my own,” she says. So was her traumatized family. “My daughter was offered five free psychiatric visits,” Fraley says with derision. “None for my mom, my brother or sister or my partner. I thought that was an insult to me.” A DOC insider who asked to speak off the record says five visits for any family member is actually generous – the usual policy is just two visits, which are typically reserved only for spouses. “A lot of DOC staff have a lot of bad things happen on the job and you have to be fair to a lot of people, and that’s the reason there’s a process,” the insider notes. As for pay, Fraley received overtime for her time in the tower – she was paid for 14 days, 14 hours and 2 minutes of overtime, she says. “It was a nice, big, gross check, but by the time they took out state and federal taxes, I got about half,” she laments. “I asked about hazard pay and was told, ‘No, you’d have to have been up there for more than 30 days’.” She snickers at how absurd that comment sounded to her then, and still sounds to her. (DOC officials confirm she would not have been eligible for what they call “high-risk assessment pay” for officers whose duties “are extraordinarily demanding due to exposure to dangerous inmates and/or dangerous situations.”) “They retired me at 50 percent of my pay, so I get $15,000 a year, with no benefits, no medical,” Fraley says. She does receive psychological benefits through workman’s compensation, which gives her two-thirds of the $32,000 salary she was making the day the tower was taken. She is classified as an “unscheduled event,” so it’s not clear how long workman’s comp will continue to pay her. Schriro notes an “ordinary state employee” could only expect workman’s compensation if they were injured on the job. “That we put DOC money on top of that is extraordinary,” Schriro says. Plus, she notes the department kept Fraley on the payroll until September 24, 2005, and “invented several jobs for her” during that time, when it became clear she couldn’t go back into the prison. Still, Fraley and others think that’s simply not enough. “Lois has struggled financially,” notes the chairman of the Lois Fraley Foundation, Robert Davis, himself a former corrections officer and hostage negotiator. “She’s an icon to every hostage team – she’s the only person in U.S. history held hostage for that long. It’s appalling. It’s very upsetting to know our agencies let someone just fall to the wayside.” In addition, Fraley is now a woman without a career. “I couldn’t go back,” she says, even though she tried several times. She had been a corrections officer for six months when the hostage crisis occurred; she had expected to work at that job until she retired 20 years down the line. “They should have taken into account the next 20 years and what I’d have earned and given me half,” she says, calculating that would have been about $350,000. Schriro says there simply is no mechanism inside the department to make such an award, and any “hazard pay” the department does have is “very limited.” She makes it clear that she heads a department where the workforce is in constant danger, and they know the possibility of something awful – like being held hostage – goes with the territory. What’s more, investigations into this crisis show that both the DOC and its employees at Lewis Prison were lax in safety training, lazy about adhering to established procedures, and sloppy about basic safety issues. Fraley has admitted publicly that she wasn’t even supposed to be inside the tower that morning; she was supposed to be out doing security checks. Schriro sounds puzzled that Fraley would think the department hadn’t done everything it could, especially a department she’s transforming into showing obvious care for its employees and inmates. While she is still criticized in some circles for not storming the tower, others note she holds the singular distinction in American prison lore of being the only director who has ever gotten everyone out alive. She takes obvious pride in that accomplishment. “It was my job to get them their lives back and theirs to make the most of it,” she says of Fraley and Auch. “To this day, I’d do anything for Lois within my authority to do so.” Fraley thinks that because Arizona is a right-to-work state that greatly limits union power, she couldn’t sue for more benefits, but Schriro says that isn’t true. “She got everything the state ordinarily provides and then considerably more,” Schriro says. “The department cared deeply about her and cares deeply about her now. We pursued every cause of action and advocacy in her recovery.” Fraley doesn’t blame Schriro, however. She blames the system. “Dora can’t show favoritism,” she says. “Do I understand that? Yes. Do I like it? No.” Cam Hunter was the public information officer for the DOC during the crisis and afterward spent a lot of time helping Fraley make it through. “How do you make a victim whole?” she asks. “How do you make someone feel everyone’s paid back everything they need to pay back? I think this state and the department tried to work as thoroughly as it could and tried to be responsive to the needs of all the victims, and Lois wasn’t the only one.” Fraley, Hunter and Schriro have stayed in touch over the years – they recently saw each other when Fraley came to Phoenix to speak to a conference of law enforcement women. “I know she’s on a journey,” Hunter adds. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take until she feels she has her life back.” Fraley doesn’t think it should be this long, this hard, this lonely. She says she can’t help but compare her situation to that of another famous hostage, soldier Jessica Lynch, who was rescued in a dramatic raid in Iraq after being wounded in combat. “They’ve given her the keys to the city and taken care of her,” Fraley says. “They didn’t do that for me.”
You can see the adoration in her eyes in a clip from Good Morning America soon after the hostage crisis ended. Lois Fraley is appearing with the “beacon of hope” who had helped keep her alive – radio reporter Andy McKinney. His voice over the portable radio from KTAR in Phoenix was her only contact with the outside world and had reached her at crucial moments of her ordeal. Host Charles Gibson noted, “It’s good to have your lifeline right next to you,” and Fraley heartily agreed. “If it wasn’t for Andy McKinney and his news radio, I would have committed suicide,” she told the nation. Twice, she says, she seriously considered slitting her wrists with the sharp point of her badge. She stopped one time when she heard Andy report people were wearing yellow ribbons for her; another time, she heard him say that people around the nation were praying for her. Both reports gave her a bit of hope – they had made her hang on. McKinney had also become a personal player in the prison drama. In a ploy to get Fraley released, officials agreed to a radio interview with one of her captors, “Rooster” Wassenaar. The deal, as officials read it, was that once he was on tape with McKinney, Fraley would be freed. Wassenaar thought the deal was that once the interview aired, he’d let her go. But officials wouldn’t allow the story to air. This so enraged Wassenaar that he climbed to the top of the tower and started shooting at snipers hiding on nearby roofs. It was perhaps the single most deadly moment of the entire ordeal, as Fraley crouched on a cement floor inside the tower, repeating the mantras she had learned growing up as a Catholic. “How weak, how terrified she must have felt at that time,” McKinney told Gibson. But Fraley doesn’t view McKinney as her savior anymore. These days, she views him as her tormentor. “He held me captive all over again,” Fraley says with both anger and fatigue in her voice. “Right after I got out of the hospital, he shows up at my house,” she says, remembering back to February 2004. “He was the first person I’d seen besides Director Schriro and Cam. I attached myself to him. I thought he was going to be good for me. He told me he wanted to write a book and [that] I needed to sign papers.” She says now that she wondered if she should get an attorney and claims McKinney told her it wasn’t necessary. “He said the agreement was just to get us in the door, that it was for the agent so we could get our book done and sell it,” she recalls. She said they met regularly for months, going over all the details for a book that promised to tell the “inside story” of the prison crisis. The agreement Fraley eventually signed with McKinney on October 30, 2004, gave her just 20 percent of any net proceeds from her life story. The contract spells it out: “Net proceeds means royalties paid by a publisher or a movie producer less any percentage or fees paid to literary agents, publicists, legal counsel and/or taxes. Net proceeds would not, however, include any money that I earn for services such as if someone hired me to write a screenplay.” She says McKinney justified getting 80 percent of any publishing or movie deals because “he was doing all the work.” (Writers and subjects make individual deals for such things, but it isn’t uncommon to negotiate a 50-50 split when the writer is focusing on a living subject.) McKinney, who has left KTAR and now works at 3TV, defends his 20 percent offer to Fraley because “she wasn’t the whole story.” “If I was writing her life story, it would be different, but it was a broader story,” he says. He tells PHOENIX magazine his final book was one-third about Lois, one-third about the standoff, and one-third about others who participated, including himself and his role. But it wasn’t the percentage she was offered that worried her most. It was this verbiage: “You would agree to exclusively endorse and consult on this book. This means that you will not endorse or authorize any other book or media product, project or exploitation of the Arizona State Prison-Lewis incident.” Fraley claims that McKinney used that wording to block her from talking about the incident to anyone else – media or community groups. “People wanted interviews,” she says. “Montel Williams called, but Andy said no. He said everything had to go through him.” (PHOENIX magazine published an exclusive interview with Fraley in December 2004, but that interview was conducted before she signed the agreement with McKinney. She spoke with us freely for this story because she’s fighting McKinney in court and maintains his contract is invalid.) “I’m so pissed off at him,” she says. “Here I was, clutching to somebody I thought I could trust, and he played me like a game. Sometimes I go into depression because of what he did to me. It feels like a gag. I’m not able to talk about what happened – not able to talk to survivors, and, hey, it is good to talk about it. I finally just got sick of not being able to talk, and I sent him a letter saying I wanted nothing to do with the book.” Actually, it was a fax to McKinney and it read like this: “October 11, 2006: As your manager was informed today, I have been advised that the alleged agreement between you and me is unenforceable. Accordingly, should you attempt to exploit any rights in or to my life story, I intend to engage counsel to stop you, and to advise any prospective buyer of my views….” On November 21, 2006, McKinney sued Fraley in the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles. McKinney’s suit claims that because of her “threats,” he has been “unable to sell the book he wrote based on the promises made by Fraley as set forth in the agreement.” His suit notes he “wrote a full-length, non-fiction book titled Tower Takers, placed the book on the market for eventual publication, and entered into an agreement with a motion picture company for adaptation of Tower Takers into a long-form motion picture.” His agency is Martin Literary Management, which has a summary of his book on its website, and his agent, Sharlene L. Martin, told PHOENIX magazine the book didn’t sell because it didn’t neatly fit into a publishing niche. “The true crime genre is very, very specific,” she says. “In 95 percent [of stories] there’s usually a death – a murder. In this case, fortunately there wasn’t. But publishers felt this straddled the genre. In the book industry, publishers need to know exactly what shelf a book goes on in the bookstore.” Martin says she’s disappointed it turned out this way. “Andy’s a fine writer. I was very, very disappointed we couldn’t find a publisher for it.” She claims to know nothing of a lawsuit against Fraley. (The attorney who filed the suit, Richard L. Charnley, in Los Angeles, did not respond to repeated phone calls seeking comment for this story.) McKinney himself downplays the suit, and he exhibits none of the vile and anger about Fraley that she does about him. “We had a parting of the ways,” he says. “I wouldn’t describe it as a conflict.” He says he doesn’t know “where the suit stands” and says it was “brought by my agent to protect my interests.” He says there’s been talk of movies, both stemming from his book and from the “public domain” that would rely on official records and media accounts, but says he doesn’t know where those stand either. McKinney surmises that Fraley got tired of the long process it takes to write a book, get it published and deal with movie types. But, he says, “I have no grievance toward her – if there’s any legal action, it’s to protect my interest.” He’s still hoping a publisher and a movie deal will come his way, but he has been told that prison books are a “hard sell.” McKinney says he’s not upset that Fraley is upset with him. “As a news person, you have to be kind of thick-[skinned],” he says.
In November 2005, Lois Fraley resigned from the Department of Corrections and moved to Lancaster, California. “In Phoenix, I’d go out and someone would come up and say, ‘you were sexually assaulted,’ and that’s how I was remembered,” she says. “Or I’d drive down a road and think, ‘this shit happened so many miles away from here.’ Out here I’m not recognized, especially when I was only recognized for being sexually assaulted.” That same year, she decided she couldn’t be “gagged” anymore and began speaking to corrections and victim assistance groups. She refuses to call herself a victim and insists instead that she’s a survivor. “Victims are dead, survivors are alive,” she says. She founded the Lois Fraley Foundation to help other survivors and finds that speaking about what happened to her, about her continuing fears, about her horrible dreams, helps make them bearable. She also felt compelled to help female corrections officers. “There isn’t any training about what to do if you’re taken hostage,” she says. “I tell people what they need to know.” (DOC officials say they do have hostage training, but Fraley and other female corrections officers see it as inadequate.) For instance, if it’s a female hostage, “Chances are 99 percent you’ll be raped,” she tells them, and then stresses, “it’s just your body, it’s not your soul – it’s not who you are.” She also advises them to be honest with their families about what they’re going through. “I remember one day driving down Highway 51 with my daughter and I was going 90 miles an hour and she’s yelling at me, and that finally brought me out of it.” She tells them how she faked stories to ward off her captors, the most chilling one being this: Fraley was raped almost instantly by Coy, the inmate who had almost screwed up the tower siege because he took time to also rape a kitchen worker on his way to the tower. Wassenaar demanded she disrobe soon after the crisis began and raped her using his hands. A few days later, Wassenaar stood in front of her and demanded that she perform oral sex on him. “I told him I just couldn’t because my father had been abusive and since then, I hadn’t been able to be with a man and that is why I became a lesbian.” She says he bought the story and walked away. “That just popped in my head,” she says now. “I made the whole thing up. My father died when I was 16 months old.” But that lie might someday help someone else, she says. She also has been encouraged because telling her story has freed others to tell theirs. She has spoken to the National Association for Victim Assistants in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Afterward, women approached her who said they had never had the courage to face their own sexual assault until they heard her speak. This year, a new book, written by the head of her foundation and another supporter, came out. Hostage: 15 Days In Hell, by Keith Rapp and Robert Davis, is based on the public record. “We had to be careful how we wrote about Fraley [because of the McKinney agreement],” Davis says. Proceeds from the book will go to Fraley’s foundation. It is through the foundation that Fraley hopes she will finally heal. She says she hopes to someday see her daughter through college, into a good marriage and as a mother who will give her grandchildren. She hopes she can have a day without a knot in her stomach and sleep through the night without repeated nightmares – like the one where her daughter is in the tower and she’s trying to tell her how to get out; the one where she’s back in the tower reliving every second; or the one she jokes is her “happy dream,” where she’s in the tower and both inmates die. More and more, though, there are days when she can say, “I feel really good today.”