Thursday, March 4, 2010

Prison Puritanism

The values and mores of the wider society are broadly reflected on prison landings. Despite the walls and fences, the boundary that separates us from you is a porous one. Staff, new prisoners, our visitors, TV's, mail... all of these allow cultural shifts to leak into our lives here. We may be a little behind at times, but not to any great extent.

Then there are times when a chasm emerges, a disjuncture between the prison culture and the wider society. It is even possible for a cultural current to be reversed in prison, as a matter of deliberate policy.

Matters sexual are one such area. Until a change in the law early in this century, genuine hard core pornography was not widely available in society. Of course it was there, it could be obtained, but not from the newsagents or video store. The official censors deployed the "Mull of Kintyre" test to separate the acceptable from the forbidden. If a picture of a penis had a greater elevation than the Mull of Kintyre on the map, then it became an official erection - and erections were the symbol that delineated civilisation from decadence. This may appear decidedly illiberal to non-British readers and I'll be damned if I'm going to defend it.

Whilst hardcore porn was forbidden outside, on the prison landings it was perfectly acceptable. Not officially, you understand, but as part of the dialectic of control that gravitates to mutual satisfaction. Long termers had an official blind eye turned to their hardcore magazines and some fairly strong pin-ups were plastered on cell walls.

In a complete reversal of fortunes, we are now forbidden most sexual materials at a time when the outside society is now legally permitted to purchase a fairly full range of graphically portrayed deviancy.

Why this shift? What led to this official repression of our sexuality, just at the moment when society has become far more sexualized?

A small part has been played by the introduction of female staff into male prisons. Obviously, few women would appreciate entering a cell whose walls look like a gynaecological slideshow. Fair enough, we are no longer allowed to display pictures that so much as show a nipple. Or "primary or secondary sexual organs" as an official note puts it. The prison service is lousy at talking dirty...

Let us deal head-on with one concern, largely unspoken but nonetheless powerful. Male prisoners don't assault female staff. In all my years, I can only recall one allegation of a female staff member being raped and that had all the hallmarks of a panicked allegation. If an affair is being conducted between a prisoner and a female member of staff, if they are caught in flagrante then the con is wide open to an allegation of assault.

This is overwhelmingly a non-issue. The spectre of prisoners being hyped-up by hardcore porn attempting to vent their frustrations on female staff is a myth of gargantuan proportions. And, unlike in American prisons, we tend not to rape each other either.

So why the obsession with preventing us from accessing pornography? Why the official denial of our sexuality and any expressions of it?


  1. Maybe it is because of all the kiddy fiddlers? They should be castrated, never mind banned from sex stuff!

  2. Anon, if pedo's got any stimulation from regular hardcore porn, then it is a step in the right direction surely?!

  3. This is really a serious problem from past till now.