Life as a Gay Prisoner: Held in Solitary Confinement

gay life in prison

I was placed in the hole during my transfer to another facility

By: Anthony Stasso

When I surrendered to the Atlanta Federal Prison Camp on October 12, 2005, I had no earthy idea what expect. I tried finding information and could find nothing [see previous post – you are reading part 2 now: gay federal prisoner].

I tried looking books, newspaper clippings, anything that could give me some idea of what I was in for. It was like looking into a black home because there was zero to be found. On my first day, I must tell you it was miserable.

It's that way for all prisoners to be honest. But my experience became worse because I learned that I was being transferred. Moreover, I learned that for my first 48-hours, I would be placed in solitary confinement (also called the hole by inmates and guards).

As messed up as that sounds, it’s part of the reality when you get sent away. The fact of the matter is a large number of men who enter the U.S. Federal Prison System are forced to spend the first few days in solitary because there is no other place to put them.

More: 10 survival tips for gay prisoners

Depending upon the facility you are in, it can also be a time of extreme danger. That’s because some prisons put men in holding cells grouped together.

I realize what I am sharing with you here is about going to the hole but I just want to say there are worse situations.

Example solitary cell. Mine did not have light from a window

At most facilities, solitary is considered a form of punishment that is regularly administered by guards as a penalty for breaking rules. Examples might be smoking in places you shouldn't or stealing food items from the kitchen.

How much time you spend in the hole varies and depends upon the gravity of the offense. Rarely is it less than one week.

Personally, I've always viewed this as a form of cruel and dehumanizing punishment. But as I continued to do my time, I also began to see the hole as part of prison life.

That’s why I promised myself to steer clear of trouble to avoid ever being sent to that place.

Honestly, that's how much I feared the thing.

To be fair, the staff and guards were very clear about what behaviors would get an inmate sent to solitary. That's why I always amazed whenever a guy broke clearly defined rules and then made a big production out of being forced into the hole.

And by the way – they do use force.

A team of corrections officers literally grab you from wherever you are. If you are smart, you will simply walk with them and do exactly as you are told.

But if you are dumb, they will use whatever force necessary to subdue you. Then, they either drag or carry you to solitary.

More: What it’s like to be raped in prison

The part that never made sense to me is how the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) could use “lack of space” as an excuse to toss a new inmate, guilty of doing nothing wrong, into such a dark and terrible place.

It didn't take long for me to figure out they weren't the slightest bit interested in my thoughts on that matter or anything else. To survive, you learn to keep your mouth shut, do as you are told and avoid being seen as a problem.

Thankfully, I was able to avoid time in solitary during the entire time I was at the Atlanta camp. But that all changed when I was transferred to Edgefield, South Carolina.

solitary confinement
Credit: Vanity Fair

Day of Transfer

When you do a prison transfer, it works out differently than it does at high security facilities. Believe it or not, inmates are given money and allowed to catch a bus to get themselves to their next institution. That’s how it was for me at least.

On the day of my transfer, I was summoned by prison administrators, given $75.00 in a cash envelope and told to stand out in front of the facility for a car that would take me to the Greyhound station.

So that's what I did.

When the van pulled up, I climbed in and noticed a nice looking guy already inside. Later, he would become my cell mate for the next 10 months. He also ended up accompanying me to solitary.

We got our tickets from the employee in the kiosk and waited 15 minutes until our bus pulled up. Nobody guarded us and there were no police in tow (at least to my knowledge).

Once we arrived at Edgefield, we were informed by the intake officers that we were both being detained in the SHU (special housing unit).

That's a fancy way of saying – the hole.

Placed in the hole

We were issued white jumpsuits, told to change after we completed some paperwork and then photographed. After that, we were taken to solitary; a place we would remain for 72-hours.

You are basically in a box that is 5 feet wide by 12 feet long. There's 2 steel bunk beds attached to a wall on the right, each equipped with a poultry 2 inch rubber mattress covered in a thick blue plastic.

Located in the rear left corner was a shower. There is no curtain. In the front right corner, a steel commode stands alone with no privacy wall. There's also a tiny sink and faucet mounted right above it.

gay for the stay prison

You get no bed sheets, no blanket, zippo – nothing. In case you are wondering if there are windows, there's not.

You are locked in by a heavy steel door. There's nothing to stare at to focus your attention on and very little to be heard. Sensory deprivation is probably the worst part of being in there.

Honestly, when I was in there I thought I was going to go insane. You are totally closed off. To cope, I ended up laying on my bed and closing my eyes. Then, I took deep, shallow breaths over and over again to keep my heart from racing.

Burning off energy

Every hour or so, I would get off the bunk and walk in a line back and forth. This helped me expend energy. Sometimes, I would do pushups just so I would tire out enough to lay back down.

I would end up employing these methods for the next 72-hours. While I did nap here and there, it’s hard to call what I experienced as “sleep”. You have no sense of time or space so your entire body clock is off.

Eventually, they did bring us some bed sheets. We used them to create a privacy wall for the shitter. This allowed us to keep our dignity.

Food was shoved into us through a slot around 4 x 12 inches in size (the slot is in the door). When the meal is served, there's something animal-like that takes over because no matter what it is, you lunge for it.

I will level with you and say those were the longest 72-hours of my entire life. I still have nightmares about being in that place.

What I later found out inmates are entitled to 30 minutes of time outside each day. But they never told us that and they certainly didn’t offer it.

After the 72-hours, the guards released us and we were taken to the main camp where we got assigned regular rooms. Like I said, the guy I was with ended up being my cellmate.

In a later post, I will share what that relationship was like. I'll tell you right now he was a straight guy from Alabama. That's not to say we never did anything. Just sharing now for background.

In life, there are thing you want to remember and other things you wish you could forget. I wish that I could banish the memories of the hole from my mind but I can't. They will always be with me.