Sarah Jane Baker was in prison for 30 years until her release in 2019. She was originally put behind bars for kidnapping and torturing her stepmother’s brother. She was later sentenced to life imprisonment after trying to kill another inmate. Today the 50-year-old works as an artist, violinist and author.
It only took a few days in a men’s prison for me to realize one thing: the detainees had quite a bit of sex. Since many prisoners had to share a cell or at least a lot of personal space with strangers, I quickly gave in to the advances of the first men who were interested in me. Maybe I should have been ashamed of my promiscuous lifestyle, which was just about to start, but I didn’t. As a trans woman, I felt a deep-seated desire to confirm my identity as a woman. I only felt full when I had sex with a man. I wanted to be wanted. I wanted to be loved. And I wanted to feel alive.
The drug addicts went about their business in the prison corridors, while the pumpers strutted across the courtyard like vain gockel and were unaware that their muscles did not impress or intimidate anyone. Other prisoners were placed in protective custody – including me, because transphobic attacks regularly occur in men’s prisons. In this cell tract I sat with prisoners who had drug debts, sex offenders who are generally not in good shape behind bars, and openly gay prisoners. Whenever my trans sisters and I were allowed out of our protective cells, the other prisoners courted for our attention. Some offered us drugs, others a cell phone or a shoulder to cry on when our estrogen levels made us emotional wrecks again.
No matter what a person has done, behind bars, sexual satisfaction is one of the most pressing needs. Whether that is achieved through masturbation, consensual sexual intercourse or rape is another matter. Since prisons are considered public buildings in the UK, any sexual activity between prisoners is prohibited. However, there is rarely an indictment for causing public annoyance. During my long time behind bars, prison guards often caught me on wild sexual adventures with one or more partners.
While people outside often don’t express their sexual desires because of their feelings of shame, there are hardly any inhibitions behind prison walls. Regardless of whether simultaneous oral and anal intercourse or satisfying several men by mouth, our imagination was virtually unlimited. Other men have often given me a lot of drugs to bind and humiliate them. I was happy to comply with that as long as we had previously identified a safe word.
The showers were another playground of sexual passion. There, the offer to lather the back of others was rarely rejected – especially the prisoners who had been in prison for at least ten years said hardly no. And of course we didn’t live in a Rosamunde Pilcher world, where romance always comes first before sex. I mean, many prisoners are serving life sentences. They don’t care what others think.
I hardly met a prisoner who was gay before he was released.
Many of them were only interested in men behind bars. Even today, the British prison authorities often regard homosexual relationships as a thorn in the side. Fellow inmates often asked me if I could get condoms for them in the infirmary. It was too embarrassing for them. Or they didn’t like the guards’ sayings.
Nevertheless, affairs between prisoners and guards are not uncommon. When two people have to be together in a confined space, they cross borders. When these affairs go public, prisoners are often accused of maliciously manipulating and seducing the employees. The guards are then usually “asked” to quit on their own while the inmates are transferred to another prison, where they end up in the punishment block.
Unfortunately, many gay relationships behind bars are characterized by an exploiting power gap. They seem to reflect the relationship between prison authorities and prisoners, where the guards are responsible for everything and the inmates obey.
But there are also prisoners who have a monogamous relationship and are clearly in love with each other. I have seen some of these relationships over the years. I particularly remember two men sentenced to life imprisonment.
The two lovebirds could not leave each other and were always on the way in pairs. If they had an argument, you could hear it all over the cell block. This went on for over 20 years, when one of the two died of lung cancer. Until his death, he was cared for, fed, washed and comforted by his partner.
Although I always longed for intimacy, I often had to settle for a little fiddling behind the trash cans in the prison yard. In retrospect, I should be ashamed of my behavior behind bars, but what for? I have survived in a world where despair and bitterness prevail. Many break it. No other transgender has been in a British prison longer than I have.
Sometimes I think of my trans sisters, who often told me that they really only want one thing: to fall in love and eventually lead a peaceful life in a healthy relationship without being exploited. I can fully sympathize with them.
Since I’ve been released, I’ve left behind the often dangerous sex practices from my detention. I still haven’t found the intimacy I’ve always longed for. But I hope to meet a man, woman or non-binary person at some point and fall head over heels in love.