Michael Brophy: The unvarnished truth about sex in prisons

Extracted from a talk delivered by the writer and former prisoner at the Royal Festival Hall in London
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Most of the women a con comes into regular contact with wear a uniform, and if the only regular contact you have with the other half of your species is all keys and locking doors, the sexual thoughts you have are warped by angry frustration.

Most of the women a con comes into regular contact with wear a uniform, and if the only regular contact you have with the other half of your species is all keys and locking doors, the sexual thoughts you have are warped by angry frustration.

Most people on the out, thanks to every prison film featuring a token rape scene, believe that the judge passes sentence with the added penalty of having your back door kicked in. Just for the record, this particular myth is simply that. It makes good television, but in the real world prison rape is one of the few aspects of prison culture that the screws are on top of – so to speak.

When you're surrounded by blokes – most of whom you'd rather not be surrounded by – you choose the people you associate with very carefully. Once these various associations are established, you have another internal vetting process as to who you feel you can open up to on a deeper level. Drugs, heroin in particular, create powerful bonds between men in nick. A couple of tooters (smokers of smack) will create a partnership when it comes to the obtaining and consumption of the drug. This bond is very close because of the nature of what they are doing – which has to take place behind a closed cell door – and the way quite a few people view heroin addicts in prison

So, by the time you have reached this level with a few fellow cons, you feel you have also given them so much of your time and energy that the dreaded "L" word has crept into the equation. Yes, there you are, separated from your loved ones yet still possessed of the feelings you shared outside, sharing those feelings with a hairy-arsed con!

All this is leading up to my coming out and admitting that yes, while I was inside, there were a handful of men with whom I made this deep connection. The fact that I couldn't just come out and admit this without some kind of defensive justification is a big problem faced by thousands of men.

People also become homosexual in prison. I saw more than a couple of blokes batting for the other side. From what I could make out as a passive observer, there seemed to be certain parallels in their personalities. One is a level of awareness that's narcissistic, and feels driven to project a sexy, dangerous image to women and a manly leadership to other men. Remove the opportunities of attracting women, add the criminal ability to impress and control like, but weaker-minded, men, and you are left with a powerful, manipulative personality who is totally up their own arse. Add to the equation a large number of walking victims and it's only a matter of time before they act sexually together.

In long-term prisons, where cons can be on the same landing for years on end, the ones who turn don't want anyone else to find out about it. They have to be discreet. One that I watched over a year, on the same landing as me, was between a queer character in the prison (who was open about his sexuality because he was accepted in the prison population) and a 30-year-old from Manchester who had spent the last 10 years trying to live up to his gangster image on the streets and in the cells. The only time they could really get away with anything was as soon as the cell doors were opened in the morning. The openly gay bloke would go into the cell of the other guy with a brew and some breakfast from the servery, then the door would be wedged closed for the next 20 to 30 minutes. You get the picture.

Presuming the western world has come as close as is currently possible to engineering a regime that puts people off committing crime, should it, as a by-product, plant the seeds of a sexually arrested development in the penal imagination? Why not try to channel this repressed sexual energy positively? The alternative is to let things continue as they are, and to keep on releasing into the community men who have a lot of sexual, emotional and psychological scar tissue.

Comments