A congressional torture chamber
In 2007, on a quiet afternoon on the fourth floor of the Rayburn House Office building, Caroline Stephens, then a low-level staffer for California Republican Rep. Gary Miller, walked down the hall to her office, taking note of an open door that was normally closed.
Congress was in recess, and the 535 lawmakers who drive the frenetic pace on Capitol Hill were home in their districts glad-handing constituents. For that reason, the door to Jackson Lee’s office was open and the sounds emanating from inside were pleasant laughter and conversation.
“You could tell when she wasn’t there,” Stephens said. That was because on a day in which Congress was in session, a different set of sounds often came through closed doors to Jackson Lee’s office: screaming and, many times, crying.
Later that day, a skinny young black man with his hair pulled back in a ponytail walked into Miller’s office and asked Stephens for a favor. Could he borrow a knife to cut a birthday cake?
Stephens, who’d seen the man working in Jackson Lee’s office, was happy to help, with only the request to “make sure you bring it back, that’s our only one.”
He laughed. “We would never leave a knife around when the congresswoman was here,” he said. As Stephens put it, “that’s when it all clicked that they are really afraid of her.”