How gay men can avoid being raped and assaulted in prison
By: Kenny A.
Are you a gay man facing time in prison? Does the thought of being locked up frighten you? Concerned that you will be physically assaulted or violently raped?
If you are answering yes, you've come to the right place. My name is Kenny and I’m a former federal inmate who did hard time at the LOMPOC Federal Correction Institution (LOMPOC LCI) in California.
I also happen to be an openly gay man.
In 2003, I was facing serious charges after getting busted for the second time with a controlled substance. When I say serious, I’m talking about twenty years.
Thankfully, my attorney successfully negotiated a plea bargain with the prosecutor’s office. The result was my agreement to do five years (60 months) behind bars.
At the time of my incarceration, I was 25-years old and living with a boyfriend. Because I was given 60-days to get my affairs together before reporting to prison, we decided to break our relationship off but remain friends.
I’m sharing this with you as background information and because it’s important if you are gay. Later in this article, I’ll help you to better understand why.
With that said, on October 22, 2003, I surrendered myself to corrections officers at LOMPOC LCI. For the next 5-years, I remained an inmate this facility.
As a reader, I hope you never face time in federal prison. I can tell you first hand that it’s one of the worst things you will ever endure.
If you are gay, it’s even worse because you can be targeted for harassment and abuse. In fact, that’s why I decided to write this piece. Think of it as a gay man’s prisoner survival guide.
I wish something like this would have been available when I was in jail. Hopefully, the material that follows will help you get through the experience event free and avoid violence or rape.
1. Find out about the prison
Not every prison is the same and each one has their own rules. If you have any amount of advance time, it is imperative that you find out about which facility you are going to.
There’s no such thing as a gay friendly prison. That said, some facilities are less harsh for LBGT inmates than others. I highly recommend that you tell your lawyer you are gay and ask that you be placed in a prison that has experience with gay inmates.
Some facilities do group LGBT people together and keep them separate from the general population. There are others that do not.
You are far better off at a prison camp as opposed to a federal penitentiary. Camps are considered low security and less strict. That doesn’t mean they are club fed because they aren’t.
Finally, on this point, understand that you have zero privacy in prison. There is a good chance that before you report for your first day, the corrections officers (CO’s) and inmates will know about your sexual orientation.
This is not always the case but a lot of times, it is.
2. Do not gossip
I can’t emphasize this point enough. It is imperative that you keep your mouth shut while you are in prison. Do not repeat anything you may have heard on the outside. More important, don’t ever repeat anything you hear about on the inside.
The very last thing you want to be labeled in prison is a gossip or a snitch. If any of the inmates have this perception about you, expect major trouble.
As a gay man, I am just leveling with you because before I got sent away, I used to be a big gossip. It’s part of our culture. But I found out very fast in prison that people who talk too much can literally end up never talking again.
3. Choose words with extreme care
This is another tip I wish someone would have told me before I got locked up. Be extremely careful with anything you say to anyone while in prison.
I can tell you first hand that anything you say to a guard or fellow inmate can be taken out of context. Words can also be used to manipulate you.
My best advice is to avoid talking unless you are spoken to by a guard or cellmate. Keep the conversation short and to the point. Over the course of time, you will develop and ebb and flow of dialogue with certain people but in the beginning, brevity is key.
“Words can also be used to manipulate you”
Do not involve yourself in conversations about religion, politics, racial equality or gay rights. While I understand most of us are wired for social justice, prison is not the place to do it.
I personally saw a fellow gay inmate pop off about his dislike of organized religion. After he made the comments, he was a regular target for abuse.
Again, choose your words carefully and keep your opinions to yourself.
4. Do not stare at prisoners
As gay men, we are accustomed to using our eyes to scope one another out. In fact, it’s part of our gaydar system. But in prison, looking to long at a fellow inmate can land you in dangerous waters.
I was punched in the mouth days after I arrived in LOMPOC LCI after checking out a very attractive Latin guy. In prison, staring at someone is usually interpreted in two ways: 1) You want to cause harm 2) You are looking down on them.
The guy who punched me was a member of a gang and trying to prove he was tough to the men he ran with. One of the things you’ll quickly learn as an inmate is that having respect for others matters.
5. Do not join gangs
Not all prisons have gangs but a lot of them do. Moreover, there are even groups that guys become part of that are considered “gay gangs”.
I don’t care if it’s the Crips, Mexican Mafia, Nazi’s or Latin Kings (there are many more) do not join a gang. Once you do it, they own you. Worse, the only way you get out is by dying.
I knew a 21-year old Columbian bi-guy who was closeted. When word leaked out about his true sexual orientation, he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by fellow gang members.
Worse, he became a target for violence by rival gangs. Had he kept to himself and not joined one of these groups, he would never have been sexually assaulted.
Under no circumstances should you ever join one of these organizations. I don’t care how straight you play it. Once they find out you are gay, it’s over.
6. Don't confuse a hook up with being gay
There’s no simple way to say this except to blurt it out. In prison, men do engage in sexual activities with other men. It happens and it’s human.
I certainly did and am not ashamed to admit this.
Here is the thing you need to know. Just because you engaged in an activity with another man does not mean he is gay. In fact, there is a good chance he’s just gay for the stay.
The big mistake I made (plus other gay men I know) is thinking a casual encounter was something more when it wasn’t. There’s no way to emphasize this anymore than I can right now.
You will find that once you are in prison, it gets very lonely. Many of the inmates you are serving time with have been there for years or even decades.
To relieve the loneliness and very real touch depravation, some guys will hook up with other guys. Because we are gay, we sometimes read into these encounters more than we should.
See my next point for more insight.
7. Use caution with hooking up
This point is vital. If I had to do it all over again, I would never have hooked up with other guys in prison. Not because I am ashamed about it. I am not. Instead, it’s about the danger it presented.
The moment you consensually touch another inmate, even when it is consensual, both of you have a secret. In prison, secrets have a way of getting out.
Should word of your encounter spread to other inmates, you and that other guy will become human bullseyes. I saw it happen three different times.
In an extreme case, one man was brutally raped over the course of several months by other men. Looking back, this could have easily happened to me.
“In prison, secrets have a way of getting out”
In prison, sexual assault usually happens in groups. A gang will target the victim and move in swiftly, using violence as their guide.
All I can tell you is to use extreme caution with any encounters you may have with other men. Under no circumstances should you ever repeat an encounter to another, even if that person is on the outside. Ever.
See video below from actual inmates in prison.
8. Do not accept gifts
When you are in prison (gay or straight) there is a good chance that you will be offered favors and gifts. It is critical you know anytime an inmate offers you something, they are going to want something in return.
There is a strong prison economy behind bars and it’s built mostly on quid pro quo. But when you accept a gift, you give the power to barter away and invite the dreaded prison debt. Do not let this happen.
“They are going to want something in return”
I have seen cases where gay men accepted something as simple as potato chips, only to find they were indebted to someone else.
To “pay” for the chips, the inmate who gave them to you can call upon that debt whenever and however he wants. That’s why I’m telling you to never accept gifts.
When someone “gave” me something, I would simply leave it in its place and never touch it. I encourage you to do the same.
9. Be friendly with CO’s
Earlier, I told you to choose your words carefully and not gossip. That advice absolutely is important. But do not confuse this with being a jerk, particularly to corrections officers.
You will find that when you are incarcerated, there are CO’s who are complete SOB’s and others who are decent. Regardless, the last thing you want to do is anger any of them.
CO’s will control your entire life while you are in prison. I’m not saying become best buddies with them. Instead, just treat them with respect. This will help you get better jobs while you are in jail and avoid problems.
10. Rethink outside relationships
This last tip is one that I wish every gay man knew before going to prison. If you are in a committed relationship with a man or if you are married, you should maintain that relationship and hold on to it for dear life.
Now that LGBT marriage is legal in all fifty states, you must be afforded the same rights as all other prisoners.
However, if you have a casual boyfriend on the outside, think about breaking things off. I’m not saying cut him out of your life. Instead, be realistic about your situation.
Do you honestly expect him to be faithful while you are locked up? Do you want to spend your time in prison worried about him cheating on you?
After talking to my boyfriend at the time, we both decided to cut the cord. It just made sense. I am so glad I did this!
By not stressing over him, I could keep myself safe and avoid problems. Other gay and bi men that I knew in prison took a different route and ended up struggling.
I don’t have much to add here except to say that if you are a gay man facing prison time, it’s important to do your homework in advance.
The crimes I committed that landed me in LOMPOC LCI are regrettable. I alone am responsible for my behavior. I hope you found the tips I’ve offered here useful.
Please stay safe.