Segregation time — otherwise known as “the hole,” “the bean,” “the box,” “seg” or “vacy” — is the hardest time to do. I've been in the box at Baraga Correctional Facility, a Level V maximum security prison, for 10 months. I started my sentence here, but I had made it to St. Louis Correctional Facility, which is one security level lower. A fight with another inmate sent me back here. Back to one hour of recreation and 23 hours of lockdown per day. Back to the craziness.
Max segregation is known for having “shooters” — but not the kind who use bullets to take precious lives. Shooters are guys who make a point to expose their privates and masturbate in front of women who work here.
I don't approve of this kind of behavior. My heart won’t let me. The women who raised me taught me to respect all women. Through the years, I’ve learned to really listen to the women in my life, including my momma, auntie, baby’s mother and writing colleagues. Reading work by writers like Audre Lorde has made me more conscious of women’s struggles.
There’s a known shooter across the hall from me. He’s been in prison for 13 years total and at Baraga for about eight. My conversations with him started during a food shortage, when we demanded that the COs come by with bigger portions. This led to us discussing release dates, people we know and what a honey bun would taste like after we had spent a year in the box. We talk daily to pass the time, but he always returns to women.
Our conversations go something like this:
“You know that nurse?”
“The redhead bitch that be stopping at my door. I be blowing her down err' time.”
Thinking about the disgusted look she has on her face every time she walks by his cell, I just nod.
“She gonna be here today with those tight-ass green pants on.”
“Her pants aren’t even that tight, bro. But OK.”
I try to redirect the conversation by talking about the SCC, which is short for security classification committee. SCC is the monthly review where officials put you in a chair, ask you questions and then decide if they will release you from the box.
“You think you might get out this time?” I ask the shooter.
But he goes back to objectifying the nurse. “So you saying you ain't gonna shoot her?”
“What?! Nah, that ain't my thang, homie,” I tell him. “I don't judge though.”
Secretly, I do judge. I see what he does, and I consider it sexual assault.
Over the decade I’ve been in prison, I’ve seen what not being with women sexually does to (straight) men. Some get by with nudie magazines. Some seek out other men. And then you have the shooters, who stand at their cell doors leering at women with their penises in their hands.
I’m not immune to desire. A quick flash of love on a TV screen at night arouses me and sends me into memories of relationships I had when I was free. After I act on my fantasies, I’m alone again, out of breath and stuck in the darkness.
Although I only act in private, I feel ashamed. I’m disgusted by what I have allowed prison to defeat me into doing. Sometimes I even wonder if I’m really that different from the guy across the hall.
One morning, at 9, I hear the nurse making her rounds with meds. As usual, the shooter exposes himself and begins to masturbate.
“I don't want to see that! I can't take this!” she screams and speeds off. My stomach turns and my jaw clenches at the sound of her sobbing and murmuring curses.
When she comes back at around 4 p.m. the shooter isn't at his door, but I'm at mine. I want to tell her I’m sorry for what he did — but I’m an inmate and she’s part of the administration. Defending the nurse would be like her asking a CO to go easier on me. That doesn’t happen. Plus, if I address what he does, don’t I have to address what I do secretly?
In the end, I don’t say anything. But I cross my arms over my chest so she can see my hands and know she doesn’t have anything to worry about.
An hour later, during count time, the shooter calls me to the door and asks if “the redhead” had made her rounds.
“She ain't even come down here,” I lie. “What you got goin’ on?”
“I be doing my thing with her,” he says confidently.
“I think I heard her cry,” I reply evenly.
He spits back, “Get the fuck outta' here. She’s playing games. One day the bitch stopped at my door and looked in my cell. She know what I do!”
“That's her job!” I yell, wondering why she would play a game that causes tears to fall from her eyes.
“She wants this,” the shooter says with finality.
This exchange pushes me over the edge. I am not the animal I’m thought to be, at least not when it comes to treating a woman this way.
“That's low-key rape!” I scream at the shooter. “You're forcing yourself on her while she’s at work!”
“Naw, don't say that! She be smiling and shit and shaking her little ass when she walks by!”
“No! She smiles because that's what women do to get along. And if her ass is shaking, fool, it’s because she’s walking away!”
Before he responds a sergeant comes to his door with a yellow sheet of paper. “I got a ticket for you,” he says.
“Get the fuck away from my door!” the shooter snarls through gritted teeth.
“That’s 20 sexual misconducts. You’re on a roll. You must wanna go to court for this.”
So far, tickets haven’t stopped the shooter. He doesn’t care about losing privileges. I wonder if prison in general brings out the worst in men like him, or if it takes time in isolation for that to emerge. After being in segregation so long, maybe the shooter truly has lost all sense of reality.
I don't know what he gets out of exposing himself, or how I feel about him getting these sexual misconduct tickets. What I do know is that there are unofficial bylaws that we prisoners are supposed to follow. If the shooter belongs to a respectable peer group, and members of that group get wind of his actions toward women, they will penalize him.
Then again, he doesn’t have to worry. Guys like him never leave the hole.
Demetrius A. Buckley is a poet and fiction writer. His work has been published in The Michigan Quarterly Review, RHINO, The Periphery and Storyteller. He's currently working on a novel, “HalfBreed.” He is serving a 20-year sentence for second degree murder at Baraga Correctional Facility in Michigan.
The Michigan Department of Corrections did not respond to questions by time of publication.