It’s A Violation

Written by Eric Burnham

Personal growth, to me, means becoming the person I was designed to be. I’m not too sure where the balance is found between nature and nurture in the formation of my spirit as a unique human being. I do know, however, that I’m just one incarcerated man trying to overcome my past mistakes and make a positive impact on this crazy world. I kind of think that’s what life is all about: taking the bad and using it for good. Eric Burnham #12729124 Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution 2500 Westgate Pendleton OR 97801

March 19, 2017

Human beings are sexual creatures by nature. It’s literally written into our DNA. Sexual expression is a remarkably healthy activity, both physically and psychologically, as long as it is not forced, exploitative, or directed toward children. Forced, exploitative, or pedophilic sexual expression is, without question, unhealthy, perverse, dangerous to all involved, and destructive to our communities, but consensual forms of adult human sexuality are entirely wholesome aspects of general humanness. However, sexual expression is against the rules in prison.

Obviously the first thing that comes to mind when discussing sexual expression in the context of prison is homosexual rape or coercion. While all homosexual activity is understandably prohibited in correctional facilities, given the legitimate potential for sexual exploitation, homosexuality is not necessarily an unhealthy manifestation of human sexuality. As with any acceptable form of sexual expression, it is left to the individual to determine the pleasurability and morality of homosexual activity. But homosexual activity is not the only form of sexual expression that is against the rules.

All incoming mail that includes any sexual content is routinely rejected. Girlfriends, wives, boyfriends, and husbands send their incarcerated significant others a little “dirty talk” from time to time. Yet these harmless words are rejected and sent back. Although kept alive only through pen and paper, sexual connections between free and incarcerated loved ones is rehabilitative. Books are routinely rejected as well. Something as innocuous as 50 Shades of Gray was recently denied entry through the mail because of sexual content. Pictures and magazines that fail to meet entirely subjective standards are summarily rejected en masse. The justification for these policies is that sexually explicit material is a threat to the safety, security, and orderly operation of the facility and an impediment to inmate rehabilitation, although the perceptible distinction between implicit and explicit is consistently ignored, often willfully. I could understand limiting the consumption of sexual material for those inmates who are incarcerated for sexually related offenses, but blanket policies are overly restrictive. And it gets even worse.

An incarcerated person can actually receive a disciplinary report for masturbation, complete with ensuing sanctions such as loss of privileges, segregation, loss of housing or job, and even loss of earned-time reductions. Yep! You read that correctly folks: Masturbation, the most harmless and natural form of sexual expression is against the rules. It is not only for the more creepy and inappropriate acts like an inmate touching himself in ways that a female staff member is forced to see (which is a freak show, no doubt). An average inmate, alone in his cell, relieving a little tension can receive disciplinary action if caught.

I’m not convinced these draconian policies are as arbitrary as they seem. Even movies with nudity are censored, but excessive violence in movies, music, books, and letters remains uncensored. Given the fact that sexuality is an irreducible facet of the human personality, rules against any and all forms of healthy sexual expression during incarceration is a not so subtle attempt to dehumanize the inmate, while allowing limitless amounts of violence to permeate all forms of approved media ensures inmates remain socialized to aggression. Consequently, being forced to endure such excessive — even ridiculous — restrictions upon one’s humanity, for years at a time, can have a damaging effect on healthy identity development and potentially interfere with rehabilitation in negative ways by crippling key aspects of psycho-social stability.

I’m certainly not advocating sexual licentiousness for the incarcerated. I’m simply saying that 95% of inmates eventually release back into the community, and sexually healthy and mature men are more valuable to the community, primarily because they are more well-adjusted. It makes sense, as long as the goal is, indeed, rehabilitation. I’m not totally convinced it is.

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