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Life Inside

What It’s Like to Be Gay in Prison

When the people in charge are homophobic.

This article was published in collaboration with Vice.

“Hey slut!” he yelled at me, laughing with his friend. “What? You know you’re a slut!”

I stopped and turned to face the two corrections officers who were pointing at me. I smiled and waved before proceeding to walk into the dining hall.

I put up with this type of behavior from the Michigan Department of Corrections staff constantly. It’s something I expected from other prisoners, but the harassment from the officers is actually much more severe.

In the past, I might have reacted in anger, but that’s exactly what they’re looking for. Outbursts will only destroy my chance of getting parole.

Back when I was locked in a double-bunk cell in level-four security at Chippewa Correctional Facility, a young gang member moved in with me. When he entered the room, he informed me that the officers had said to him, “Your bunkie’s a freak! He’s down for whatever!” They had laughed at him in front of the other inmates.

So he told me, “I’m not locking with no fag. You have to tell them to move ya or I’m going to beat your ass.”

When the doors opened, I told an officer what my cellmate had said, leaving out the fact that he threatened to beat me up. Doing so would have been considered “snitching.” (Being tagged as an informant means you might get your face slashed open with a razor so that you’re marked for life and people will know you can’t be trusted.)

The officer gave me a direct order to return to my cell.

I figured it would be better to disobey, so I refused to lock down, was written a misconduct ticket1, and taken to the hole. I spent the next eight days there, waiting for an administrative hearing. Since I failed to convey to the officers that I was being threatened, the order was determined to be valid and reasonable. I was found guilty and sentenced to an additional ten days in the hole.

This is common for gay people in prison. After being bullied out of our cells, we — not the bully — receive misconduct tickets and punitive sanctions. The message is that if somebody is bigger, stronger, or part of a gang, they can kick their cellmate out and face no repercussions.

When we have problems with staff, we are instructed to use the grievance process. I have filed numerous grievances about staff who have called me “fag” and other derogatory names, but the result is always the same: The administration states that the staff member adamantly denies my accusations. The officers’ lies are automatically accepted as the truth because, as one Resident Unit Manager rhetorically asked me when interviewing me about a grievance, “Since you are the one in state blue clothing, why should I believe you?”

Another officer once told me, “Writing a grievance on me ain’t gonna do shit. I’ve been an officer since before you started taking cock in your ass.”

So I know I can’t win against them. But that’s okay. One day I will be free and able to pursue my dreams. Meanwhile, the staff will still be consumed with this hateful place, working jobs that they don’t like. This is their world, not mine.

I’m just passing through.

Corbett Yost is a 30-year-old inmate at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, Michigan, where he is serving a 15-year maximum sentence for an unarmed robbery he committed in 2012.