This story was originally published in 2016.
Locked away in a prison cell in the predawn hours last June, notorious South Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger still managed to get into trouble — of a variety not easily discussed.
A male corrections officer making 3 a.m. rounds at the US Penitentiary Coleman II in Sumterville, Fla., reported that Bulger, while alone, with the lights on, was violating a regulation that prohibits any sexual activity by inmates. Prison authorities soon put him in solitary confinement for 30 days, revoked his commissary and e-mail privileges for 120 days, and confiscated his personal property for 30 days.
An indignant Bulger insisted he had done nothing wrong. According to a prison disciplinary report, Bulger said he was only administering medicated powder to his genitals for an irritation he found too embarrassing to report to the prison medical department, not — and there’s no polite way to phrase this — sexually gratifying himself.
“I’ve never had any charges like that in my whole life,” Bulger, who is serving a life sentence for participating in 11 murders, told a disciplinary hearing officer in June. “I’m 85 years old. My sex life is over.”
Bulger said he had been “set up” by the corrections officer.
“I volunteer to take a polygraph test to prove my answer to this charge,” Bulger wrote after being informed of his punishment.
A hearing officer rejected Bulger’s explanation and wrote, “The action/behavior on the part of any inmate to engage in a sexual act interferes with the orderly running of the institution.”
Bulger appealed the sanction, and if he prevails it would be removed from his record. However, he has already served the punishment. He was sent to the special housing unit, where he was locked up for 23 hours a day and let out for an hour of recreation each day.
Bulger’s attorney, Hank Brennan, declined to comment on the incident at the Florida prison last year or the punishment meted out by authorities.
The corrections officer reported that he stepped by Bulger’s cell while conducting the 3 a.m. check on June 1 and saw him touching his exposed genitals with his left hand.
The officer said he ordered Bulger to cease and notified a supervisor.
Bulger said he believed he had developed a yeast infection from perspiring while wearing prison-issued pants that don’t provide ample ventilation in the hot weather.
“I ended up with a condition and I’m embarrassed to go to medical because they have female nurses over there,” Bulger said.
He said he purchased seven or eight containers of medicated powder for a fungus at the prison canteen and was applying it when the guard approached and hollered, “I got you.”
As for why he had the lights on in his cell, Bulger said he keeps them on all the time because he still has lingering effects from an LSD experiment he was duped into participating in during the 1950s while serving a sentence for bank robbery at an Atlanta federal penitentiary.
According to his prison files, Bulger and other inmates, who had time shaved off their sentences in exchange for submitting to LSD injections, were led to believe that they were helping an Emory University researcher seek a cure for schizophrenia. They only learned years later that Project MKUltra was part of an effort, sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency, to develop a mind-control weapon.
“I sleep with the lights on 24 hours a day because I have psychological problems (horrible nightmares) due to my being on a medical project called MK-Ultra,” Bulger told authorities, according to the records. “Until 1979, I thought I was insane.”
A spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on the June incident involving Bulger, noting that an inmate’s disciplinary history is not public information. However, he said the charge of engaging in sexual activity “is taken very seriously, and a variety of sanctions are available including disciplinary segregation for up to six months.”
Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, said inmates are frequently sent to solitary confinement for violating prison rules.
“To have someone in solitary confinement for this kind of violation doesn’t seem to be worth the time and effort,” Walker said.
In 2011, dozens of female workers at the Federal Correctional Complex Coleman, which includes the prison where Bulger is now housed, accused prison officials of failing to take action against inmates accused of deliberately masturbating in front of the women, and threatening them. A class action complaint brought by the female workers is pending before the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Bulger, who turned 86 last September, was convicted in 2013 of participating in the murders while running a sprawling criminal enterprise in Boston from the 1970s to the 1990s.
He is waiting for a federal appeals court to rule on his claim that he didn’t get a fair trial. He was one of America’s most wanted criminals until his capture in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011 after more than 16 years on the run.
Bulger was transferred to the Florida prison in 2014 from another high-security penitentiary in Arizona after his relationship with a female psychologist who was counseling him came under scrutiny. He was accused of improperly giving gifts — autographed photos of himself and others — to the psychologist.