We’ve all seen it. From TV shows to movies to documentaries, from comedies to heavy dramas and even true stories, sex is often a dark yet deeply engrained part of prison culture.
You might naturally recoil at the subject or prefer not to think about it; with so many taboos involved, who could blame you? When we think about prison, we inherently address topics of racism and classism—incarcerated America, these issues are too hard to separate. But the subject also brings thoughts of homophobia and abuse to mind. Clearly, it isn’t a pleasant topic to address.
And yet this is a reality. For those who have watched any movie or show about prison, such as HBO’s recent series The Night Of, the sexual aspect of prison culture represents both manipulation and necessity, self-protection and self-loathing. For many, this unspoken reality causes more fear than prison itself; for others, it is just another part of the routine behind bars.
While our mind might go to nonconsensual relations in prison, that isn’t always the case. Former prisoners shared their stories about sex behind bars, and many times, these same-sex, non-homosexual acts were simply a means to get by.
Here are real stories about sex culture in prison.
Life on the Inside
In a recent article on The Concourse, Daniel Genis, who served a ten-year sentence in New York, wrote about his experience regarding (often) non-homosexual, same-sex relationships in prison. Though we usually default to thinking of rape when we think of sex in prisons, Genis explains that this isn’t always the case.
“But more common, from what I could see, was an older prisoner taking a young and inexperienced kid under his wing. Most often, this kid has no money and likes to get high; there are many such people in prison, and they tend to burn their bridges early and totally. And so the older man, who has usually already served major time, feeds the kid, and gets him a little something to smoke or snort. Now the kid has become a ‘fish.’ They start working out together, then showering together, then there is a massage, and finally, the kid is asked to ‘help’ the older guy out. He’s ‘no homo,’ but he has needs…”
“These predators are called ‘booty bandits’ in English, which sounds ridiculous, but in Spanish, the word is much more picturesque and of an older etymology: bugaron. The literal translation would be ‘buggerer,’ but most people stick with the Spanish. In any case, very few bugarons—at least not the ones I personally came across or heard about—operate by force. The ones who do have nicknames that ring bells all across the state system: Mother Dearest and Pissy Black are the two most famous ones, both big guys who don’t take no for an answer. The latter, with a physique honed by two decades of prison weightlifting, was known for using shower-room fog to facilitate his surprise attacks, though it was said that he could be warded off with a knife, as he feared scarring his handsome face. The former, on the other hand, already had a cross-hatched mug, so keeping one’s distance was the only solution.”
As it turns out, there is one class of prisoners that the rules don’t apply to, and they are often forced to pay for their crimes with more than just jail time.