Thursday, July 20, 2017

Being LGBT In Prison: What Does It Look Like?

I am going to speak directly from my own experiences as an openly gay, gender nonconformist. When I became open with my sexuality in prison I was given a few pieces of advice (this was in early 2012). One from an inmate, another from staff, both with the same undertone of meaning. 

The inmates told me to keep it quiet and find a prison "daddy" (someone to protect you in exchange for sex). Staff told me to keep it quiet, do not tell anyone and sent me to mental health. Both groups were trying to keep me safe as best as they knew how. This highlights the vast differences between what staff knew about us and what reality was.

The problem was communication. There was not a clear line of communication that either side trusted. For good reason. Inmates could get into seriously dangerous territory for openly communicating with staff. The ones who put us in danger were the ones who stood to lose their sexual gratification and authority over us. Not to mention that not all people in authority can be trusted. After all, I have heard the word faggot come out of their mouths as frequently as an inmates, hard to trust someone to help you when they talk as if they hate you.

Inmates aren't squeaky clean either. Lying and manipulation doesn't stop because we got arrested. I have seen big fiasco's over break ups that resulted in all kinds of melodrama. Which fuels the fire of mistrust. 

Over the past 5+ years several of us inmates and willing staff have established open, honest communication so that we can face this problem head on. It wasn't because we felt the need to fix the world, it was because we were facing troubles that were complex and unnatural. We needed help. While some inmates dealt very well with them, others struggled emotionally and psychologically. The ones that struggled were often labelled as problem children by everyone involved, left to perpetuate more isolation.

As I found ways to get help for myself I realized that it shouldn't have been so challenging. Help with difficult situations, unsafe situations, unnatural situations shouldn't only be available to those who know how to deal with them. Solutions should be given to those that need them, after all, this is the point of incarceration. 

Prison for LGBT people is heading in a good direction. Where our sexuality and gender identities can be the least of our worries and what brought us here can be the priority. After all, we cannot fix what we are busy defending, ourselves.

When people begin to take notice that our incarceration is drastically complicated because of our sexual and gender identity then help arrives. However, the problem cannot be addressed if it is not acknowledged. For the first time in DOC history, we have been finally acknowledged. That's a good start. Now if we can just establish the communication part, which I (at least) am working on. 

How can you help in all this? Communicate with us. We need stable, patient people in our lives that are willing to show up. Most often we can help ourselves if we feel secure, you can help with that. 


With Love
Jeff 

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