Locked up

What is federal prison like for a gay man? This former inmate shares all the details

Last week, rapper Lil’ Boosie made headlines when a video of him talking about walking in on two guys having sex in prison went viral. But how common is that sort of thing really? 

According to former inmate Anthony Stasso, it happens. But not nearly as often as you might think.

In 2005, Stasso was sentenced to five years in prison on drug charges.

“The thought of going to prison scared the living crap out of me,” he writes in a fascinating new article published by Gay Pop Buzz. “Worse, I feared that because I was a gay man, I’d be an easy target for abuse.”

Related: Rapper Lil Boosie recalls walking in on two men having sex in prison in viral video

Before surrendering himself, Stasso contemplated how he would survive the five years as a gay man.

He had heard horror stories about gay men being harassed, beaten, and sexually assaulted. He ultimately decided “butching up,” keeping a low profile, and avoiding interaction with the other prisoners would be his safest bet.

Unfortunately, those plans were foiled on Day 1.

The minute he arrived in prison, he says, “I discovered that every man in the compound knew the details of my incarceration. Moreover, they also knew that I was gay.”

So what’s prison like for an openly gay man? Stasso breaks it down for inquiring minds…

First, he says, all those stories you hear about prison rape are widely embellished:

Despite what’s on television and in movies, you don’t need to worry about being someone’s “bitch” in prison. You also don’t need to be careful “bending over to pick up the soap” or any of those other BS stereotypes.

From what I saw, the attitude was be and let be. If you live by the mantra of mind your business and I’ll mind mine, you’ll have no problems.

That’s not to say sexual abuse doesn’t happen.

“I never saw anyone get raped by other men,” Stasso writes, “although it may happen in high security facilities.”

According to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 2011 and 2012, 32 people per ever 1,000 were sexually abused in jail; forty people per every 1,000 were sexually abused in prison; and 95 youths per 1,000 were sexually abused in juvenile detention facilities.

Second, man-on-man action, in general, isn’t all that common:

I can’t say that men don’t have sexual relations with one another in prison because they do. I know that I did. But it’s a lot less frequent than what people might think.

When you are in a federal prison camp, there just isn’t lots of places to do it. When it does happen, it’s usually very fast and transactional.

Some men do go gay for the stay too but nobody uses the term “gay”. In fact, it’s not talked about that much. When the topic of sex does happen, it’s usually between guys talking about their women on the outside.

Stasso adds that there were a few gay prisoners in the mix, and they hooked up on occasion, but not often.

“During the time I was incarcerated,” he writes, “hooking up with other guys happened maybe two or three times a year.”

Third, antigay discrimination at the hands of prison guards happens quite a bit:

If you make friends with guards, staff and counselors, you stand a better chance of being treated somewhat humanely. But even then, don’t expect fair treatment – particularly if someone with authority doesn’t like gay people.

Example. The staff is responsible for assigning jobs. If you are liked, you stand the chance of getting a good gig. But if they have a problem with you, expect something crappy.

In my case, I had to clean the bathrooms because the person who assigned work didn’t like LGBT people. He never said that directly to me but intimated it.

And then there are prison boyfriends. Stasso says they exist, but they’re often kept on the DL, and it’s not the same as having a boyfriend on the outside:

They are more emotional than physical. Having someone you can talk to and share with and trust is like gold. That’s why such relationships are rare. Trusting anyone in prison is very risky. People will turn on you in an instant if they think it will benefit them.

The depictions of what they show on TV and in movies of same sex prisoner relationships wasn’t what I experienced. I had a “friend” but I would hardly call him my boyfriend, at least not in the traditional sense.

Ultimately, Stasso writes, prison was a difficult experience.

“Regardless if you are gay or straight, doing time in prison is extremely hard,” he says. “Many of us felt the world had forgotten about us.”

“Keeping a good attitude can help a lot. What got me through it was remembering I would eventually get out. You just have to remember the time will pass and do one hour at a time.”

Related: Hunger For Touch: The Real Truth Behind Gay Sex In Prison May Shock You