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Friday, November 11, 2011

Message to the Non-incarcerated Queer Community

by Michael J. Dodgens
Homophobia runs rampant in prisons today. In a shut-away world estranged from modern society, a lingering stubbornness to accept what is a fact of life isolates and makes a target out of each incarcerated homosexual.
Regardless of an inmate’s societal offense, he or she is paying their owed debt and, just as any human being with hopes and dreams would yearn for a second chance, each rehabilitating inmate deserves to be offered that second chance (along with the accountability and responsibility that accompanies a successful re-entry into society.) Incarcerated members of the LGBTI community are in need of that second chance, especially if they have withstood the intense pressures and challenges singular to survival in prison, taking what could have been an emotionally crippling time and converting that experience into a positive state of mind and rehabilitative way of life. A positive outlook along with the gift of a second chance is what will enable a released inmate to contribute in a unique and lasting way with renewed vigor to an upstanding community – maybe even your own.
A sadly common misconception “in the joint” is that a homosexual is a promiscuous, disease-ridden lower life form that is good for little else than keeping a clean prison cell and getting someone off. As long as we “know our place” there will be few problems. Excuse the hell outta me, you ignorant bigot, but who is the one with the more refined culture?! “Know my place?” Indeed! That’s the problem; we DO know our place and the ignoramuses of the general prison population don’t like that. It’s not only homophobia we’re fighting in here, but also ignorance and superstition. Prison is a closed-minded environment preaching survival of the fittest and a twisted sense of democracy. If we’re not wanted or tolerated in a certain cell or dormitory, we have two options: a physical altercation or a “refusal to reside,” involving voluntary, temporary inmate isolation until other living arrangements can be made. Too many refusals results in disciplinary action. We are continually subject to verbal harassment and the threat of sexual assault. Even those LGBTI inmates who would find solace in their faith are subjected to various religious discriminations. What can we personally do? We can fight back (this leads to a negative prison record and harsh disciplinary sanctions); we can ignore 95% of what comes our way (this paints us as weak prey); or we can request protective custody (this is a sentence of loneliness and isolation). Is it a wonder that so many “salvageable” individuals emerge as “monsters?”

Not only must we tolerate intolerance amongst our “fellow” inmates, we have barely any choice but to turn a blind eye to the glaring misconduct of prison administrative authorities and security personnel. We are generally viewed as bitches, whores, and prostitutes. We are all somehow the brunt of STD, homophobic, and sexually perverted jokes. A beautiful sexuality and a genuine healthcare need are slanted, degraded into a dirty joke. We may be refused our right to timely medical care or subjected to undue disciplinary action based on an officer’s having a bad day. Many reported sexual assaults are not taken seriously simply because, “well, the inmate shouldn’t have been gay.” If two inmates are discovered to be sexual partners, they will be transferred to separate institutions and forced to pay exorbitant fees for STD tests. Chaplains commonly forbid gay inmates religious participation, excluding and singling out those congregants for eternal damnation. Is it a wonder that many kind, loving men and women emerge bent on revenge?
What would your involvement in our lives accomplish? What would you want us to do, were it you in our shoes? We need your moral support. Be a pen pal; visit one of us; give us some encouraging news from the real world. Volunteer to start an LGBTI support group or discussion circle in a local prison. Help us maintain our sanity by establishing with us realistic views, goals and expectations. Get active! Lobby for specific laws to protect gay inmates’ personal and religious rights and to legalize safe-sex practices in prisons. Educate yourself and the public. Tell a friend what we endure in here. Help us to rehabilitate. We can only work with what rehabilitative tools we are given. Help us to acquire the right tools! Today’s inmates are tomorrow’s neighbors.
Write to Michael:
Michael J. Dodgens
A555-149 / A3E22
Toledo Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 80033
Toledo, OH 43608-0033
Some Resources:
Redbird Prison Abolition: Sets-up pen pals and does inmate-let support here in Columbus.
Tranzmission Prison Project: Sets-up pen pals and supports specifically LGBTQI prisoners in the U.S.
Central Ohio Prisoner Advocates (COPPA): Works on prison reform and supports inmates.

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