Prison and Homosexuality
Ken Hanson examines a subject he considers has always been conveniently swept under the carpet
The subject of homosexuality in prison seems to me to be one that is permanently kept under wraps, swept under the carpet, ignored and regarded as unmentionable in the hope that it will somehow disappear on its own volition. Unfortunately this stance is not helping prison management, officers and staff to come to terms with what is becoming quite a sensitive, troublesome and irksome prison specific issue.
I am going to stick my neck out now and claim that most normal heterosexual male prisoners would regard themselves as homophobic. If we accept that it is normal to be heterosexual and it is abnormal to be homosexual then it is not unreasonable to conclude that being homophobic is natural. The problem with assuming this subject position is that most heterosexual male prisoners do not hold an extreme hatred or fear of homosexuality and homosexuals, just a mildly troubled or disconcerted opinion of gay prisoners.
I would speculate that in the main the reason for this view is a fear of being the object choice or put more simply, holding an irrational fear of becoming the object of a homosexual prisoner's sexual desire. There is also a quite rational fear of the proselytising type of homosexual who may attempt to convert or turn a heterosexual prisoner into becoming a homosexual. Homosexuality is also going to be a particularly exaggerated problem within the confines of an institution such as an adult male prison, especially when the majority of incarcerated prisoners are or claim to be heterosexual.
The unfortunate consequence is an inevitable construction of difference between two groups of prisoners; creating a troublesome and potentially dangerous dichotomy of normal heterosexual prisoners and abnormal homosexual prisoners. Throw into the mix the views, actions and opinions of any homophobic male prison officers (unfortunately, I have come across quite a few) and a potentially very dangerous cocktail is brewing.
Prisons are by nature secular institutions, but it is quite remarkable just how many non-religious heterosexual prisoners quote from the Bible or Koran to justify their own homophobic positions. The religious construction of morality is used many times to target homosexuals and I have often heard this Biblical scripture quoted to claim the moral heterosexual high ground; If a man lies with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death: their blood will be on their own heads (Leviticus 21:10).
However, the Bible was constantly evolving and changing its position (perhaps a salutary lesson for us all) and the perfect antidote to the homophobic position can be found in Luke 6:37; Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. One religious position conflicts with and opposes the other, which echoes the contemporary dichotomy between homosexual and heterosexual prisoners. In the interests of peace on the prison wings and landings it is advisable that we should all avoid taking up our individual positions on the moral sexual high ground and refrain from making moral judgements on our fellow prisoners sexual proclivities.
The problem with this very reasonable opinion is that the majority of adult male prisoners just will not or cannot embrace such a fair and sensible approach to what is undoubtedly an emotive issue. The idea of two fellow prisoners indulging in homosexual activity in close proximity to straight heterosexual male adult prisoners is obviously going to cause friction on the wings and landings. There is also the very real disgust at the evidence of the presence of homosexual activity in a closed environment to consider. The very real dangers of body fluids such as semen and blood left behind in the showers and used condoms discarded in the landings dustbins create a real sense of anger and resentment. The homophobic community are surely not being unreasonable to rail against the dangers of AIDS and HIV infection from such deplorably inconsiderate acts.
There is a not unreasonable argument promulgated by the sexually liberated that a person's sexual identity or sexual predilection is, and should remain, a totally private matter. Of course there is genuine validity to this point of view, but from within a prison perspective there is no such thing as a private place to indulge in private sexual activity. Homosexuality in prison seriously challenges traditional heterosexual prisoner morality and undoubtedly undermines and threatens inmate order and discipline. It is quite simply an impossibility for an inmate to maintain a private or secret sexual relationship within the confines of a prison institution. Rumour and innuendo, malicious gossip and insinuation soon weed out any sort of sexual activity in prison. If that sexual activity happens to be homosexual and being acted out in the showers, cells, wings and landings, then serious trouble and consequences of one sort or another is absolutely inevitable.
An extremely disturbing element of homosexuality within prison is the alarming potential for the sale and purchase of sexual favours. The weak, the vulnerable, the destitute, the bullied are all at serious risk of being targeted to indulge in sexual activities in exchange for canteen items, drugs or even protection. If this sounds alarmist, please do not be naive and think that this sort of behaviour does not go on because it does. Young inmates are particularly vulnerable to the attentions of the manipulative older homosexual prisoner. There is also of course the serious risk of rape and physical coercion discreetly used to satisfy the biological urges of a homosexual prisoner. The paradox is of course that prison is just the place to find the criminally malicious homosexual prisoner and his vulnerable and isolated potential victims.
There is however another side to the coin; serious assaults and physical attacks on homosexual prisoners are endemic in prison. It falls incumbent on prison management and staff to protect each and every prisoner held within the establishment, regardless of their sexual inclinations. Sadly, attacks and assaults on homosexual prisoners are often met with a less than enthusiastic zealousness to apprehend and punish the perpetrators of what are for the most part homophobic inspired violent assaults. Being glad to be gay and coming out of the closet is brave and laudable but is not a recipe for a trouble free prison existence for the homosexual adult male prisoner. The quiet, unassuming prisoner who makes himself invisible can also find himself the victim of totally unfounded salacious gossip. Very often his low profile backfires on him and he is suddenly labelled homosexual and becomes the butt of ridicule and often subjected to verbal and physical violence. Prison life really does need to be experienced to be believed!
I am delighted to say that in the four years I have been in prison I have never, ever witnessed or experienced racial discrimination. It seems to me that almost all prisoners have accepted and taken on board the fact that race is socially constructed and skin colour just does not measure the qualities of a fellow prisoner. The issue of homosexuality in prison has been undoubtedly the most challenging that I have ever commented on. That is because one genuinely does not see the colour of a person, but mention that he is homosexual and immediately question his worth as a person. I realise that this is totally disingenuous and that I must come to adopt the same attitude to a person's sexuality that I do to his colour. I have come to realise that there is no such thing as a stereotypical homosexual and I simply must extend greater tolerance to a person's sexuality.
Whilst I have been putting together this article, I speculated on what would happen if two male homosexual adult prisoners really got it together and decided to form a civil partnership in prison. No doubt they would get the living daylights kicked out of them by the truly homophobic element that undeniably exist on the wings and landings, but would the two of them be allowed to share a cell and live the married life by staff and management? Answers on a postcard please!
I apologise if this article has raised more questions than it has answered. I have absolutely no idea if homosexuality is an aberration of nature, innate and existing from birth, or an acquired sexual preference or choice. The bottom line (no pun intended!) is that it really is absolutely nothing to do with me whatsoever what your sexual inclinations are. Just so long as you respect my space and don't deposit evidence of your sexuality in it. I contend that being able to respect another person's sexual choice tells us who we really are. The very essence of our being may possibly lie in our sexuality. Prison is just not the best of places to attempt to express it.
Ken Hanson is currently resident in HMP Garth
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Comments about this article
8/11/2011 Paulo Prado
This an astonishing article. I would never imagine such conditions in U.S. prison because what I read about is the ridity of the rules in Pisional System. Here in Brazil rare or no investigations are held about the issue.
Some years ago a phisycian Dr. Varela publishid a book about prision conditions. The prision refered in the book was closed and the prisioners sent to new buildings. Butnow we know there are same problems and very bit in actual prisional system.
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