Prison Intimacy

full name / name of organization: 
Department of English, Syracuse University

Call for Papers:

Prison Intimacy

"And intellectuals still argue whether Amerika is a fascist country."
-- George Jackson

Among the numerous contradictions that mark life in the U.S. today, one of the most striking is the fact that the mythological "land of the free" now imprisons a higher percentage of its "citizens" than any other country in the world. This means an increasing number of people are thus experiencing the effects of life in a same-sex environment and the modes of "intimacy" structured there. In 2012 when same-sex activity is gaining a degree of "positive," "normativizing," and "peaceful" affirmation in the mainstream drive for gay and lesbian marriage, it is simultaneously being marked as "coercive," "savage" and "violent" through the growing attention to institutionalized pedophilia (The Boy Scouts, the Roman Catholic Church, boarding schools) and male "prison rape." Male prison populations often manage sexuality by "re-gendering" vulnerable some males as "women," reputedly, and creating a world of "men" and "punks." Females are not incidental to these developments since they are one of the fastest growing prison demographics in the country and since female same-sex relations behind bars have long been both a historical fact and fetish-object in the U. S. cultural imaginary, perhaps especially in its interracial forms. Also, prison administrators officially mark sex roles for female inmates by such institutions as the "daddy tank."

Allegedly, of course, the prison system serves to punish crime, but this is crime as defined in and by the unjust global capitalist and racist imperial system that dominates the world today. In that world, especially at a time when white male dominance feels more and more threatened in the U.S., the prison industrial complex is an institution with increasingly important economic and political functions. It serves as a warehouse for surplus labor and/or as a scene of labor's super-exploitation; an element of privatization which -- for profit -- demands more prisons and prisoners rather than less of them; an ideological tool for the intimidation of the poor and working class as well as communities of color; and, not least of all, as a site for the segregation and neutralization of rebellious and resistant social groups. Given poor health care conditions, furthermore, prisons are breeding grounds for hepatitis and HIV infections as well as a variety of mental heath problems.

Although there is certainly voluntary same-sex male sexual intimacy in prison (cf. Alexander Berkman, for instance), violence and coercion are understood to be more common modes of sexual contact. Some feminists (cf. Susan Brownmiller) have naturalized rape and sexual violence as innate aspects of male subjectivity. Others argue that the male violence is the product of violence endemic to today's global competitive socioeconomic structure (cf. H. Schwendinger & J. Schwendinger). The case of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, for one, reveals that "women" may also participate in such violence. In any event, if what is defined as "crime" creates the distorted life prisoners are forced to lead, then what creates the distortion of "crime" in the first place? Incarceration is after all the violent separation and isolation of some people from the general population. It leaves them in the condition of being, to quote Mumia Abu-Jamal, "caged and celibate," a condition in which inmates "develop myriad coping techniques," same-sex and otherwise.

Recently, Regina Kunzel in Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality (2010) stresses the shaping effects of same-sex intimacy and reports that in the mid-20th century some feared that same-sex practices in prison were not just "habit-forming but subject-forming" (80). "Intimacy," of course, is often a euphemism for sex. One definition of it is "a usually secret or illicit sexual relationship." And it is also a key component of "intimate violence," whether perpetrated by the State or other persons imprisoned under the authority of the State.

We believe that these (and other contradictions of U.S. life) are not individual or subjective (though they are certainly experienced at that level), but are effects of a worldwide struggle for domination and exploitation spawned by capitalist competition and racist imperialism with their culturally as well as historical specific gender and sexual ideologies. For a special collection of essays or journal articles (with no necessary anchoring in this or that academic discipline), we invite reasoned historical investigations and critical explanations of same-sex "prison intimacy" ("male" and/or "female"), that is, of the intersections between sexuality, race, gender, class and incarceration.

All abstracts for proposed submissions should be emailed to both Don Morton ( ) and Greg Thomas ( ) by June 15, 2013. Final essays will be due by December 15, 2013. They should be 25-30 pages in length. Completed manuscripts should be prepared using Microsoft Word and the APA ( ) style format (6th edition).