Saturday, June 07, 2008

I'm Going to Prision

You ever find yourself in a situation where you realize the smallest accidental push on a domino of conversation has set you on a course to something large and complicated, something you're not sure you want to, or have time to start in on? That's often me in my volunteer life.

I've become involved in minority issues in Utah over the last four years by such happy, if not intimidating, accidents. Near all of my work in this area has nothing to do with the GLBT community, but I'm sure what pulls me to it comes from my experiences as a gay man, an outsider in my community. In all, through there's been some difficulty and sadness for it, it's been a wonderful experience with people from everything from our refugee to our Latino community.

What has me feeling some trepidation is now focusing on my community. In a meeting with a representative from the state department of human services regarding primarily ethnic diversity issues, the guy just casually mentioned they are having trouble figuring out how to deal with gays and lesbians in prison. He said they are seeing an increase in out gays in prison, and there are issues of harassment, abuse, and, well, sex. Both the state and county are looking for help in finding ways to better deal with incarcerated gays.

So, I'm no expert in any of that, but here I am, in a unqualified place and at an unqualified time, and I'm taking up the issue. Next week I'll be taking the diversity training they give each year in the sheriff's department. I'll be doing this with a lesbian and a Muslim friend, along with a large group of your traditional Utah police officers... sit-com hilarity may ensue.

This part of the consequences of that conversation is fine by me. I want to make sure that, say, if officers come to a home like ours, after one parent is killed or made unconscious by an intruder, they know not to take the kids from their remaining dad because "children can't have two dads." I'm happy to help officers know we're out there and am glad to have the opportunity to make suggestions on their training in that regard. Still, it'll certainly be an interesting day.

Where I pause is prison. What do I say on this topic, when we give our recommendations? I'll admit I've a hard time caring about the rights of some people, particularly after some crimes. Maybe I even feel harsher for "my people" who act criminally, because I know how they hurt, along with their victims, my family in the minds of others by association.

Still, I think I've come to some conclusions, but I'm wondering what you all think.

What should be the treatment of gay people in prison? Straight inmates get conjugal visits from spouses. What should gay couples get, when one is incarcerated and the other not? Do they get to couple up with other inmates? Select their lover as a cell mate? Are they allowed to have sex at all? Even if they are disallowed, and rightly, the most basic freedoms of self-determination?

If they can have sex, how do STD's factor in? I mean, these are already men who've prooven themselves to be selfish and amoral in some blatant manner; what does the state do to be sure they are responsible with sex?

Finally, what about harassment? Gay men are being beaten in prison for being gay. Oddly, some gay men will even get raped by the straight inmates. Go figure. How to combat that? I doubt many people would near suggest a gay guy in for tax evasion should have something like rape or beatings added to their punishment, right? If this is such a large problem, should there be, say, a separate gay cell block? (And will Ang Lee have rights to the script?).


Joe said...

I'm not a regular poster on your blog but I'm an avid reader. And this topic particularly interests me as I've wanted to do the same but didn't have the guts but also because you seem very conservative/religous in your opinions....

It's so important as you know to go in there with an open mind-I've been lucky to have been brought up in a wealthy but disfunctional household, heh, so I GOT the middle/upper class kids but I felt at home with the poor kids who I went out of my way to befriend because they 'got' how it felt to not be loved etc...and they were straight about it, something middle class folks are not-at all.

I applaud what you are doing because anyone who cares to do this deserves support but I'd recommend reading prison diaries...

This is really bad of me but I don't have the book here with me-but I'll get the details to you asap..take from it what you can as the guy whose working with these prisoners is Buddhist and you're not...but it's phenomenal the work he has done with them. It's awe inspiring-just to get these brutal murderes to start belive in themselves and explain wht they became who they were...

It's luxirious to think that one would still be who they are, even if they'd been brought up in a trailer park with a dad who sexually abused them and a violent mother because it's not that simple-we all hurt...

You should write a personal journal of your time doing this....seperately...I and many others would easily buy this...

Yours Joe

Java said...

Good questions, all. I have no answers or suggestions. I only have questions. If the prison officially prohibits gay prisoners from having sex, the prisoners probably will engage in sexual activity anyway. So there should be a difference between the official policy and the practical approach to issues of STDs, etc. But I don't know. Should the prison officials prohibit sex? Rape is not sex. Rape is violent assault. They can prohibit rape, as I'm sure they do, but it will happen anyway, as I'm sure it does.

Those are my rambling thoughts on the subject. I don't know if this makes any sense at all.

Scot said...

Thank you for the kind words Joe, and I'm always glad when a lurker speaks up.

An point well taken. I'll gladly read up on what I can. I feel like I'm going into this blind... and yet here I go...

Java "So there should be a difference between the official policy and the practical approach to issues of STDs, etc."

I agree. Regardless of the official position on if inmates should be having sex, stopping the spread of STD should be a high priority, as it can be life or death. Errr, this will be complicated.

playasinmar said...

My understanding of the Kinsey studies is that his research was geared toward quantifying the gay population but instead he quantified the MSM population (men who have sex with men).

Men in prison are always going to have libidos.

I guess I'm saying I haven't heard of a rise in the gay prison sub-population and I'm wondering if the representative from the state department of human services is just concerned about sex in general and just assumes it's all gay.

Scot said...

That's a good distinction and I did try to clarify. Again, one of the purported problems is that out gay men are targeted for rape by men who'd be straight in all their sex acts if free.

I was told by the corrections officer I was given as a contact they have some sort of entrance interview where sexual orientation may be divulged, and they are indeed seeing more out gays in the population. I doubt there's some sort of new queer crime wave, though, robbing boutiques and such; it's most likely there's more willingness to admit to being gay, even in there.

Anyway, I spoke with a bunch of officers and administrators yesterday and will collect my thoughts on it some time soon.