FROM MY FILES : Sex In The Saddle, A Story From My Past

This year, I will celebrate my fortieth anniversary as a journalist/author.  Here is a blog that recounts a story from my early days as a reporter in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I hope it makes you smile!

FROM MY FILES: SEX AND THE SADDLE  published April 30, 2010

“Why don’t you reporters simply publish the truth?” a frustrated public official once asked me.

Whenever I hear a question like that, I think about an incident that happened when I was a young reporter at The Tulsa Tribune in Oklahoma and a woman called, asking for my help. She explained that her husband was in prison and that she was being sexually harassed by an assistant warden. He had threatened to have her husband beaten unless she had sex with him.

I met the woman in a restaurant and was struck by how striking and articulate she was. She was twenty-nine.

She told me that her husband was doing a ten-year bit for armed robbery and that he only had a couple years left before he would be paroled. He’d been a model inmate and had recently been made a trustee on the prison farm that operated outside the walls. She had promised to wait for her husband and had been faithful to him, she assured me.

Her problems with the assistant warden began, she said, when she drove to a remote area of the prison farm for a secret rendevous with her husband while he was tending cattle there. Escape wasn’t on either of their minds. Sex was. Unfortunately for them, they were caught in the act and her husband was stripped of his trustee status and sent back to the main prison. Her visitation rights were taken away from her.

Now this is where the assistant warden came in.

While we were talking, the woman slid a white envelope across the table to me and explained that it contained photographs of her nude sitting on a horse saddle. “I had a girlfriend take them of me because my husband wanted them. The ones in the envelope are a few of the rejects,” she said without the slightest embarrassment.

Some of the photos that hadn’t been rejected had been delivered to the prison and had been discovered in her husband’s cell and turned over to the assistant warden. He was married, but she claimed that fact hadn’t mattered. She told me that the assistant warden had called her and demanded sex. Otherwise, he would make life difficult for her husband in prison. “Please help us,” she pleaded.

Her’s was a serious allegation. If her charges were true, the assistant warden needed to be exposed and prosecuted. So I went to the prison and interviewed her husband, who, not surprisingly, told the exact same story. I told him that I couldn’t publish their charges without giving the assistant warden a chance to tell his side.  Much to my surprise, the convict told me to go head and confront him.

“If he knows that you know what he did, then he’ll leave my wife alone and be afraid to do anything to me,” the convict said. “He’ll know you are watching out for us.”

I talked to the assistant warden, who denied everything and claimed the convict and his wife were trying to ruin his reputation because he had taken away the man’s trustee status.

So who was telling the truth?

I didn’t have a clue.  There was a record in the prison files that verified the prisoner had been stripped of his trustee status after he had been caught having sex with his wife at the prison farm. But there was no evidence that the assistant warden had contacted or sexually harassed the wife — no taped recorded telephone calls or letters. 

My editors and I decided there was simply not enough evidence for us to write about the couple’s charges. I was told to check periodically on the inmate to make certain that he wasn’t being punished by the assistant warden but otherwise I was to forget the entire matter.

This summer, I will celebrate my 37th year as a journalist/author, but I still think about that incident every once in a while — especially when I hear someone suggest that the “truth” is easy to find. Sometimes, it isn’t.

As far as I know, the inmate was not penalized and was ultimately paroled. The assistant warden retired without any blemishes on his record. Whether or not the couple is still together is unknown to me. Did the assistant warden back off after I got involved? Did the couple conjure up the entire story — and, if so, why? And what about that envelope with the photos in them?

You might be wondering if I looked at the snapshots. Of course, I did. I had to look at the evidence, didn’t I? And to this day, I remember exactly what I said when I put the nude snapshots back into the envelope and handed it back to her.

Remember, I was only twenty-five and I was trying to act professional.

I said: “Nice saddle.”

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.


  1. Happening around the same time, late ’70’s, there was a certain psychiatrist, in a certain state hospital who routinely sexually exploited female patients. With me, he explicitly used the words – ‘you’re bi-polar, you must love sex..’ and tried his best to molest me. I got forms from the head nurse to formally complain only to learn that he would have to review the documents! Luckily, he went on sabbatical, and I got myself prematurely discharged. Point being, I needed further in-hospital treatment, but felt threatened, as if I exposed him, he could order medications I was allergic to, and thus, cause my death. Very sadly, years later, as I kept up w/ a few women who had also been under his care, I learned his sexual aggressiveness toward other female patients became unchecked. I felt guilty that
    I hadn’t done more. So you see, Pete, someone watching over the shoulder can
    be a very good preventative. Female psychiatric patients, particularly the bi-polar, are at greater risk for becoming sexual prey. I have seen and heard a good deal of unkind and cruel things said about bi-polar women and their sexuality. I even got a harrassing email to that effect. In today’s world where smut like ’50 shades of grey’ is the best Americans can read, the hyper-sexuality that a fully manic bi-polar person unwittingly engages in, is mocked and ogled like it’s some very fun event. Mentally ill women are prime targets for rapists.The guy only needs to say, she’s crazy and making it up, and gets away with it. Happens every day – 2013.
    Like ‘normal’ women, sh’e ashamed and doesn’t push it. Ask around. When its a doctor, the fear is real, for he has the power to lock her up and shut her up. And give her a lethal needle if he wants, and it becomes an unreportable accidental death. In the great United States, you-betcha, this is happening under eyes that are closed. Injustices like this will never stop until a huge number of recovered mentally ill stand up for themselves, throw lawsuits that go back decades and seek reparations, similar to the blacks for slavery.
    I am guilty because I never reported that doctor to the state. Being mentally ill was no excuse for me to be overcome with fear and run from the situation.If you’re a mentally ill person reading this – don’t ever believe you’ll never become well-  mental illness is not even close to being fully understood. It is amazing what the human mind can do once it wills itself. Your doctor, your family, your friends have no idea how far and how well you may recover. If they did, they would have Nobel prizes and there’d be a magic pill already! You are an ordinary person with rights just like your neighbor and everyone else on the planet, who just happens to be dealing with a human condition that mostly affects the thinking processes. Its really your personal business, just as diabetes or a leg amputation would be. Society and family has made mental illness a Big Deal. They have shamed it to the closet, brought it out to stigmatize it, and now – ala gun control – are trying to ‘fix’ it! Its like having acne and you gotta cure it ’cause no one wants to look at it!
    Everyone can heal from a mental illness if they want to. Just don’t let well-meaning people limit you. Unless your doctor, friends and family all are recovered from mental illnesses themselves, they are limited in their advice. Once you reach the wellness you desire, you can teach them so they can truly help others. This is what I’m attempting to do, and I pray to God that I’m not the only one. It is only those who have walked thru fire who can walk back thru to help the others.