Prison Notes – Sexuality In Prison

by Suza Lambert Bowser, Editor in Chief, XfelonINK

Acknowledging that each human is sexual is like admitting that each human must eat, drink, and use the bathroom. To avoid doing any of these functions will guarantee death. To ignore human sexuality or to punish a human for his or her sexuality may not be fatal, but unwilling celibacy in prison can lead to bizarre behaviors and weird situations.


From my prison journal:

October 19, 2013.  

“Salsa” and another woman were screwing with a naked butt planted against [an opaque] window visible to all.


Although it was comical—their passion was visible to a long line of inmates going into the chow hall—it was also somehow tragic.  Salsa was a small dyke, very thin with short hair. A quiet woman, she was never in trouble, but her tryst with her lover got them both sent to “Seg” (Segregation) for several months.


Prisons are likened to zoos for obvious reasons; unfortunately for humans, animals may get better treatment than their bipedal cousins.


Zookeepers promote healthy behaviors and better moods by giving animals access to social partners, naturalistic environments and stimulating training.

Eric Hamilton of the Journal Sentinel


About a month and a half into my bit, living in my own special “zoo” (a ten by fourteen foot room with three other women), I awoke at 3:00 am and wrote the following:


March 31, 2013.

I can see the weather channel on the [opposite] upper bunkie’s TV. I’m missing my lover right now. How on earth can people cope with their sexuality in prison? My God! It’s humiliating. To feel so much desire is excruciating. To sneak some comfort in the dark as silently as possible is a release, but also a terrible humiliation.

Does anyone go weeks, months, or years without an orgasm? Everyone laughs about it, but as I navigate my own difficulty, I don’t laugh—I desire.


At Decatur Prison, any touching among inmates was regarded as a ticket-able offense, except for doing someone’s hair.


April 11, 2013.  

Touch: hands and fingers. Pleasure is taking joy in savoring experience—living. I take pleasure in drinking—imbibing the clouds and eating—consuming the sky. It’s a physical devouring of something that gives me an inexhaustible supply of sustenance. I can never get weary of inhaling the sky through my eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and skin. I want it like I want sex—ardently—full of desire and hunger.


Although certainly sexual at times, “touching” is also essential for social interaction—whether animal or human. I’ll never forget begging the C.O. on the Moms and Babies wing for permission to place a pregnant woman’s legs on a chair so I could massage her swollen ankles. My heart was in my mouth when I asked, but after I said I would rub her legs in front of him—so he could be sure I was not behaving inappropriately—the C.O. said, “Yes.” (After that, he became one of my favorite C.O.’s in a place where compassion is usually extremely rare.)


Many animals held in captivity begin to form abnormal symptoms referred to as “zoochosis.” These neurotic and atypical behaviors occur as a result of boredom, depression, frustration, a lack of mental and physical enrichment, and removal from their natural habitat and social structures.


With regard to C.O.’s in general, fantasizing about them was an activity that almost everyone took part in. (What else was there to do?) Every woman had a “dream” C.O. (unless they had their own “boo”) and you could find out the object of a woman’s desire simply by asking, “Who’s your dream C.O.?”

April 5, 2013 (Dream)

C.O. “Dreamboat” stayed with me and wanted me desperately. I toyed with him, making him crazy. We were naked beneath the covers, and I touched him everywhere. The whole scenario was erotic with beautiful long, kissing. Mmmm. I could kiss for days. Forever. Mmmmmm.


These relatively innocuous fantasies seem harmless enough, even in a dream state. What was strange, however—during our awake world—was the undisguised pleasure, the obsessive curiosity, and the prurient interest shown by the staff and C.O.s about the inmates.


They spent hours spying on women, following them, enlisting informants, the female C.O.’s busting often into bathrooms and showers—all in an effort to prevent any whisper of sexuality between humans. After a while, it felt as if that was ALL prison was about—a small number of voyeurs spying on a large, trapped population of women.


To cope with this cat and mouse routine, prisoners hid or posted inmate guards so they could get together sexually, risking tickets, punishment, and going to Seg just to have a brief moment with their “boo’s.”


Signs of zoochosis include:


  • Bar Biting
  • Coprophagia                                               (Consuming and playing with excrement)
  • Self-mutilation
  • Circling
  • Rocking
  • Swaying
  • Pacing
  • Rolling, twisting,                                         nodding of the neck or head
  • Vomiting
  • Frequent licking
  • Excessive grooming


Even in a minimum-security prison (or my own personal zoo), I witnessed or heard of all these behaviors in one form or another.  One woman was so crazed, she smeared herself with her own excrement and challenged the guards to, “Come get me now, Motherfuckers!”


As for solitary confinement, there are many stories of people self-mutilating or disfiguring themselves—even biting off body parts—after extended isolation. Is it just me, or is there a remarkable similarity between incarcerated humans and animals suffering from zoochosis?


In a better world, prisons might consider treating prisoners with at least as much compassion as zookeepers treat animals. One method would be to allow conjugal visitation, a practice that has been discontinued in many states citing prohibitive cost.


While sexual violence occurred in state prison systems that prohibit conjugal visits at an average rate of 226 incidents per 100,000 prisoners, it occurred almost four times less frequently in the five states that permitted such visits – 57 per 100,000 prisoners.

From: “Research Finds that Conjugal Visits Correlate with Fewer Sexual Assaults – Prison Legal News May, 2014



I saw my husband a couple of times when he visited me, but I wasn’t even allowed to touch his arm. A prison visiting room doesn’t seem like the the best place to try to have sex, but, I have it on good authority from several of my friends who were incarcerated in other prisons that, where there’s a will, there’s a way!


One of my friends managed to get pregnant after a visit from her husband. Theresa described the interaction as something that involved a lot of wiggling. I’ll leave the details to the reader’s imagination, however, the point remains: animals and humans have a lot in common.  We all need to eat, to drink, and to use the bathroom, but without social exchange or the ability to touch or be touched in prison, we humans seem to be worse off than animals in a zoo.

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