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  • A Communitas of Hustle and the Queer Logic of Inmate Sex (Anti) Work
  • Deena Varner (bio)

The Annex appears to be operating smoothly with the exception of difficulties related to female inmates suffering mental health problems.

Inmates of the Allegheny County Jail v. Wecht, 19881

When you have a cross-gendered facility which consists of female and male corrections officers with a female inmate population, this presents an elementary problem when a male correctional officer is assigned to work female housing pods alone. He is placed in a precarious position.

Albert P. De Amicis, Ret. Captain, Allegheny County Jail2

According to dozens of news reports from the mid-2000s, the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was embroiled in a “sex scandal.” In 2004 approximately fifteen indictments were brought against corrections officers and other staff members for participating in sexual relationships with women inmates under their supervision; at least seven were convicted.3 In 2006 another four indictments were brought against eight additional staff members, including four corrections officers, for smuggling drugs into the institution.4 In 2011 another officer was sentenced for sexually assaulting a female inmate,5 and a nurse working at the institution pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual contact with inmates.6 At the end of 2015 yet another officer was arraigned on charges of sexual assault.7 The law itself is unambiguous: inmates cannot consent to have sex with prison staff.8 But in what was often referred to as a “sex for favors scandal” in the local news, women inmates were inscribed simply as (the) addicts and prostitutes (they already were) practicing sex work with their guards for “favors,” cigarettes, and drugs.9

This article attempts to grapple with the complexities of the relationships, both sexual and non-sexual, between inmates and staff members at the [End Page 208] Allegheny County Jail, especially during the period of 2003–2005. While sexual misconduct has continued at the jail, the “scandal” that erupted during these years made public the vastness and immediacy of a dilemma that previously had failed to garner any real local attention; I also happened to be detained in this facility during much of the same period. I wish to complicate the two predominant readings of this “scandal” as they take shape in the media and the popular imagination—in which inmates were either the victims of sexual assault or guilty of (criminal) prostitution—and to consider how and why it is the inmates, in these accounts, rather than the officers or the institution, who produce the scandals in question. While sexual and sexualized violence is constitutive of the prison industrial complex,10 sex, including sexual violence but also sexual labor and sexual pleasure, does not function in the same way for all individuals or across all institutions. Many times inmates and corrections staff coexist along a continuum of carceral space-time in which their lived experiences are sometimes more similar than different. These lives, sometimes shared only on the inside, sometimes shared on both the inside and the outside, exceed the purported boundaries of the institution: inmates and the staff members who supervise them are often part of the same networks of family and friends both inside and outside the jail, and the forced and enforced hierarchy of staff-inmate often unravels under closer scrutiny. Many corrections officers detest their jobs, jobs that pay well and are available but ask them to perform functions that are inherently violent and, in many cases, operate within a system of deeply embedded misogyny and other forms of hatred, jobs that ask them to become agents of violence. While remaining in these jobs of course reinscribes the real and ideological violence of the penal system, many officers resist some of that violence by ignoring rules, failing or refusing to implement discipline, developing intimacies (although not necessarily sexual intimacies) with each other and with inmates, and hustling. An officer risks the job in these situations, as well as risking civil and criminal action, much as an inmate risks something every time she has sex in jail.

The differences between, complexities within, and contradictions across institutions serve to complicate what are often rather static notions...


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pp. 208-240
Launched on MUSE
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