Prison Bitch

by STEVE J.B.

Editors’ note: "Prison Bitch" is a song about prison rape, heard on the Bob & Tom Show on radio station WFJX, FM 105.7.

They say our love is taboo, that what we’re doin’ is wrong,
But I don’t care what they say, ’cause my love is so strong.
They tell us we should be ashamed, we’re not husband and wife,
But I cherish each moment with you; I’m so glad you’re in my life.

You’re my prison bitch, my prison bitch, you’re not like other men.
I’m glad we share a prison cell when lights go out at ten.
I can’t escape the way I feel, now that would be a crime.
As long as I am doin’ you I don’t mind doin’ time.

Cause you’re my prison bitch, my prison bitch, and I have no regrets.
I got you for a candy bar and a pack of cigarettes.
At first you were resistant, but now you are my friend.
I knew that I would get you in the end . . . .

I first heard this song several years ago when I was incarcerated in Ohio. An officer had downloaded it to his workstation computer, and he played it nearly every day, often several times in a row. Inmate and guards laughed and laughed. It made me feel sick. I still hear it in my head many times a day.

I asked the officer not to play the song but he couldn’t resist. Maybe he didn’t realize that I’d find it offensive. Maybe he didn’t know about me — but how could that possibly be, with the super-efficient prison grapevine. Everyone knew my history.

I first went to prison back in 1979 because I shoplifted a goose down sleeping bag. It cost $150, which made it Grand Theft, a felony. Had it cost $149, I’d probably have gotten thirty days in jail instead of four years in prison, of which I served three. The judge said he didn’t like people hitchhiking in from up north and going on crime sprees in Florida. He was going to make an example of me.

Sexual assaults began the day I arrived at the Alachua County Jail. By the time I made it to prison I was known as Stephanie.

I made a very rapid transition to being an alternative woman, probably because I was simply unable to defend myself. I had never really been in a fight and was not the slightest bit tough.

The only way that a person can be reasonably safe from assault is to acquire a reputation. Often this is done by stabbing someone. If one is successful, it can mean additional time in prison. It can also get one killed. Some people are willing to pay this price. For me, it just didn’t seem like an option.

What happens when you’re sexually victimized in prison? In my case, besides using a feminine version of my name, I began shaving my legs and other body hair, and wearing female attire and make-up. As the abuse went on unabated for several years my original identity seemed to disintegrate.

Necessity is the mother of invention. An inmate can make a fake gun out of a bar of soap and some black shoe polish. It might not shoot, but it looks real enough and has, on at least one occasion, gained an inmate his freedom.

I guess the next best thing to breaking out of prison is settling down with a wife. An inmate can’t make a convincing one out of soap, but there are countless true stories of inmates making a wife using everyday items such as Kool-Aid, a razor, a sewing needle, Vaseline, a toothbrush, and a cellmate. Typically the cellmate is someone small and frightened, who doesn’t know how to defend himself.

The Kool-Aid is for making pigment to be used in place of eye shadow and lipstick. The razor is for removing body hair so that the skin is smooth. The sewing needle is for making halter tops, sexy underwear, and short skirts, out of old T-shirts or whatever. Usually this is done by the wife once the vows have been spoken, often at knife point. A knife can be made by attaching a razor blade to a toothbrush handle. It might not be great for stabbing, but it will slice open an uncooperative person’s neck.

Everyone knows what the Vaseline is for.

When women are raped in the free world they are traumatized. But at least they can try coping strategies. They may be able to change their phone number or their residence, or to travel. They may turn to friends or family for support. They may take self-defense courses designed for rape survivors.

When men are raped in prison or forced into regular sexual service there is little they can do. Often all they can do is try not to think about the next attack. In my case I quickly learned that the best way to deal with the situation was to become skilled at pleasuring my attacker so that he would "finish" as soon as possible. I would try to become involved in choosing the time, method, etc., so that I would feel that I had some control. I made the best of what I had to put up with.

While many studies have been done of the impact of rape on women in the free world, none, to my knowledge, has been done on prison rape. What are some of the possible long-term psychological effects? How severe and long-lasting might they be when a person was assaulted every day for several years? What might be the effects on a person who was periodically "gang-banged" by multiple attackers? Might the effects be exacerbated by the knowledge that people are laughing about it, and believe the attacks are deserved? What kind of life can a prison bitch expect to lead once he is released?

I can only use myself as an example. And I cannot be absolutely sure which if any of my symptoms stem from my experiences in prison. But I strongly believe that many of my symptoms are the direct result of repeated sexual assault by persons with whom I was forced to live in a small cell for a long period of time.

I’ve been diagnosed as having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The symptoms are too numerous to list, but here are some of the most important ones:

* Recurrent and intrusive recollections of the event, including distressing images, thoughts, perceptions and dreams

* Reliving the experience and having "flashbacks"

* Intense psychological distress at exposure to cues that symbolize an aspect of the event

* Efforts to avoid activities, places or people that arouse recollections of the trauma

* Diminished interest in participation in significant activities

* Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others

* Sense of foreshortened future (e.g., no expectations of a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span)

* Difficulty falling and staying asleep

* Difficulty concentrating, hyper-vigilance, and an exaggerated startle response.

I experience a lot of anxiety and, often, panic attacks. I am very uneasy around men. This may be because when I was in prison I learned that almost any man will take advantage of me sexually given the right set of circumstances. Since nearly all men are bigger and stronger than me I view them as potential attackers. I may reason that men in the free world are different, but I do not feel it inside. I do not feel safe around any of them. I am also very uncomfortable around gay men. Simply being around men can make me feel like running away.

I have cognitive problems. I seem not to be able to focus on what I am doing at any given moment. I misplace things, look for things in the wrong places, and have trouble identifying objects that I’m looking for. (I may scan a shelf several times looking for an object without seeing it, even though it’s in plain view.) I have great difficulty doing tasks that used to be fairly easy, such as typing. I had to correct mistake after mistake while typing this.

I could go on but by now a picture of me is probably coming into view. I have issues that may take a long time to resolve. Some may not be resolvable. Is my condition a result of the fact that I was recreation for sex-starved inmates? I think that a lot of it is. Are other people being affected in a similar way? I feel that they must be. And what about the lessons being taught to inmates who are allowed to take advantage of their cellmates when lights go out at ten? Will years of indulgence in forced sex have a rehabilitative effect on them?

The Prison Industrial Complex is supported by tax dollars. It operates the way that it does because people don’t object. I was in prison for shoplifting. Should I have been locked in a cell with a guy twice my size and weight who was doing life for a violent crime?

I don’t object to having been incarcerated for committing a crime. But I don’t think it was right that I was made a gift to another inmate.

I don’t think that "Prison Bitch" is a very funny song.

STEVE J.B. can be reached at: steve@counterpunch.org

See Also:

Stopping Prison Rape
by Joanne Mariner

Trivializing Prison Rape
Who Moved My Soap?

by Alex Coolman

Resource:

Stop Prisoner Rape


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