News
2 min

Prison penpal group launches new resource

Pamphlet series addresses safer sex in prisons

FUCKING WITHOUT FEAR. The Prisoner Correspondence Project's new pamphlet series addresses safer sex in prisons. This image from one of the pamphlets was created by an inmate named Sha'uri al-Masawi.

Fucking Without Fear is a set of resources about safer sex for queer people in prisons, who likely don’t have access to condoms or other protection.

The project was born of a need for queer-specific sex information for people on the inside, explains Liam Michaud-O’Grady, a member of the committee developing the resources. It’s an initiative of the Montreal-based Prisoner Correspondence Project, which pairs queer people who are incarcerated in Canada or the US with queer penpals on the outside.

The first pamphlet in the series, which is nearly ready to be launched, focuses on safer barebacking for gay and bisexual men housed in men’s prisons. He says this resource, like the ones to follow, is accessible. It’s not overly-medicalized or full of jargon.

Fucking Without Fear’s other pamphlets will also be geared to specific audiences, including women housed in women’s institutions, HIV-positive people with a sero-negative partner (or the reverse), and people who inject hormones. Other ideas are also being developed.

“Resources tend to assume people on the inside are straight,” says Michaud-O’Grady. “People on the outside assume that there’s condom access. We wanted to validate and affirm what it is to be queer inside prisons, and respond to the concrete realities of our penpals.”

He agrees that while using a condom is safer, he says it is not a viable option for most people behind bars. The Fucking Without Fear committee made a concerted effort not to pathologize the choices of their penpals, but to honour them.

The group put out a call to their penpals asking for ideas about safer sex resources. They also collected information from organizations engaged in HIV/AIDS prevention. The result is a compelling tool that weaves safer sex suggestions with anecdotes from prisoners.

“I practice ‘being careful’ in my own way.” says Amazon, one of the prisoners who contributed to the pamphlet. “Mostly I avoid body fluids, which is the main way of transmission. That’s tricky, but hey, it’s the life. You improvise to survive.”

Michaud-O’Grady explains that while condoms are supposed to be available in some facilities, it can be risky for men to ask for them.

“There’s the need to address the reality of people who choose not to use condoms, and there are lots of different reasons people might choose not to use them in prison,” he says.

“Condoms may be available, but it’s pretty universally a crime to have sex, so you need to incriminate or out yourself to get them.”

The collective wanted to address what they say is the criminalization of queer desire and pleasure. And beyond that, keeping condoms and information away from a population that is sexually active, whether or not it is legal, is putting people’s lives at risk.

J A Brown, another contributor, observes “by not providing condoms, it doesn’t discourage sexual behaviour and promiscuity, but rather only threatens to give a world wide epidemic a lot more momentum.”

In the first pamphlet, there’s a section about the history of HIV/AIDS activism in queer communities and the idea that prevention was an act of self-defence in the early years of the pandemic.

“Through the sharing of safer sex information and experiences, we create ways to survive as gays and queers and trans folks, inside and outside of prisons,” it reads.

That’s what Michaud-O’Grady wants to emphasize. “We’re using language that doesn’t de-sexualize sex or risk. A huge part of the resource series’ intention is to honour the history of HIV/AIDS activism that we’ve inherited. Safer sex as a form of self-defence.”

The Prisoner Correspondence Project currently has 150 pairs of penpals. They have a resource library on gay and queer survival inside prisons and a newsletter that is distributed to people on the inside and outside. The project also compiles collections of writing by gay, trans and queer prisoners, in the interest of building stronger ties between queer communities inside and out. For more information, email queertrans.prisonersolidarity@gmail.com.