SANDY — Lois Fraley's life forever changed over a 15-day period in 2004 when two inmates took her and another Arizona prison guard hostage.
Over the next 15 days she was sexually assaulted, threatened with physical violence and even contemplated suicide. She refers to her time being held hostage as "15 days in hell."
Fraley was the keynote speaker during the opening day Thursday of the 20th annual Crime Victims' Conference held at the South Towne Expo Center. The conference, sponsored by the Utah Council on Victims of Crime, wraps up today.
The conference brings together law enforcers, victim advocates, people from the judicial system and others who work specifically with helping victims of crime. The goal is to help those people with their jobs by coordinating victim service efforts, helping pass victim legislation and training victim service providers.
The theme of this year's conference is "The power of one, the strength of many."
"It recognizes the power of one victim to overcome tragedy," said conference director Kris Neal. "It also recognizes the strength of many, like all of the social workers present, to help strengthen victims."
Utah has been no stranger to tragedy. Utahns watched along with the rest of the nation in horror as the massacre at Virginia Tech unfolded. That came on the heels of Utah's own tragedy at Trolley Square.
Neal said victims, especially those in Utah, need to know there are many resources available to them.
"Everyone works through these things in different ways," she said.
Fraley truly represents the power of one, Neal said.
In January 2004, Fraley and another guard were taken hostage inside a guard tower at the Arizona State Prison Lewis Complex. One of the inmates attacked a security guard in the kitchen area, took his clothes and was able to gain entrance into the secure tower by impersonating a guard.
During the next 15 days, the two inmates holding the two guards hostage threatened to kill Fraley, chop off one of her fingers and each sexually assaulted her in separate incidents.
At one point a loaded rifle was pointed at each guard with an inmate asking, "Are you ready to die?"
"I told him I was ready to die from the minute he walked in," Fraley said.
The other guard told the inmate, "Make it quick."
Fraley said she was rarely given food, and she and the other guard were forced to use a 5-gallon bucket as a toilet. For the first 31 hours of her ordeal she remained handcuffed.
After seven days, the male prison guard was released in exchange for two weeks' worth of food and supplies. The inmates made several demands during their 15 days, ranging from pizza and a helicopter to an interview with the media and steaks and beer.
When Fraley was the only hostage left, she said she started having thoughts of suicide. She said she at one point had planned on setting herself and the guard tower on fire to end the standoff.
But during the three times she contemplated suicide, she said the radio that was in the tower saved her. First it was hearing news reports of yellow ribbons being tied around town for her that deterred her suicide attempt. Then it was word of a motorcycle rally being held in her honor. And finally it was hearing a former hostage from a similar incident being interviewed, advising her to stay calm and realize people were working to save her.
Eventually, the inmates surrendered and the hostage crisis ended peacefully.
Although the incident was over, life did not get easier for Fraley, she told conference participants. And it did not return to normal. There was now a new normal in her life. But she was having trouble finding the support she needed. A psychologist had told her family not to talk to her about the incident but instead let her bring it up on her own, she said. In reality, Fraley said she needed her family to talk to her so she could get it out and start healing.
Fraley contemplated suicide again after the hostage incident but was stopped by her daughter. She said she battled depression and had to go on medications to help her get though her daily life.
But Fraley said she prefers to think of herself as a survivor and not a victim. She has created the Lois Fraley Foundation to help other hostage survivors. She also speaks across the nation with groups and at conferences such as the Crime Victims' Conference.
"If I can help one person, then it's all worth it," she said.