[Ed. Note — Joseph Urbiniak is an inmate at Harnett Correctional Institution in Lillington, N.C., and is the plaintiff in a pending lawsuit against the N.C. Department of Corrections to secure the right of LGBT prisoners to possess non-sexual, LGBT-themed books, newspaper and magazines. Q-Notes is publishing a collection of Urbiniak’s writings in this exclusive, short-run column about life as a gay man in prison. Names of individuals in the story have been changed; in some stories, Urbiniak refers to himself as Sebastian McShane.]
I had been at Caledonia Work Farm — a ratty, run-down prison that grows food for the whole North Carolina prison system — for about five or six months, when one afternoon, while playing spades with three other inmates, somehow our conversation turned to homosexuality.
“I can’t stand a prison punk,” said David, my spades partner, twenty-three, tall and skinny with shoulder-length brown hair. “They should have a prison just for them. That way they could fuck each other all day and no one would care.”
“Well, they’re everywhere,” said Andy, in his thirties, short and round with close-cut black hair and glasses that always slid down his nose.
Billy, a twenty-six-year-old who usually wore his light brown hair in a ponytail, was surprisingly quiet. A wild sort, he was usually like a wound-up spring and probably took medication to keep calm. I thought he was cute.
“Yea, well I can’t stand’em,” David continued. “Ain’t none of ’em worth a fuck.”
Billy laughed. “Hell, that’s exactly what they’re good for.”
“Watcha sayin’. Billy?” said Andy, pushing his glasses up. “You had you a boy?” Billy was his spades partner.
“No! I don’t fuck no punks!”
“Ain’t any of ’em any good,” David said.
“They aren’t all bad,” I said. I wanted to see where David was going with this.
David threw a card down on the table. “Every one I ever knew was. Hell, there’ve been times I couldn’t even take a shower, ’cause some pervert had his punk bent over in there doin’ him. Makes me sick!”
“Or how they walk around here acting like girls,” said Andy, “wearing that homemade make-up from colored pencils on their face.” He threw down a card. “All they wanna do is get in guys’ pants.”
I tossed a card, then Billy tossed, and won the pile.
“‘All I’m saying is that you can’t judge every homosexual from what a few of them in prison do,” I said to David. “All homosexuals aren’t like that.”
“How do you know?” said David. “You only been down a few months. You ain’t really seen any of it yet.”
“Yea, man.” Billy picked up the cards and started shuffling. “You’re still too green to know how things are.”
Billy dealt out the cards. Andy pushed his glasses back up his nose, while David showed he didn’t like the cards he was getting by making faces.
“Well, I know that some guys who are gay would surprise you,” I insisted, picking up my cards. “You wouldn’t even know it unless they told.”
“Bullshit!” David yelled. “I can tell.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Okay, what about me?”
They all looked up at me.
“C’mon, McShane,” said Andy. “Even can tell you ain’t no punk.”
“Naw, you ain’t no punk,” said David, looking at his hand. “If you was, I wouldn’t be sittin’ here playin’ cards with you.”
“Well, you’re wrong. I’m gay.”
Billy burst out laughing. “You ain’t no fag.”
“Yes, I am.”
“You better tell me you’re bullshittin’,” said David, eyes tinted with anger.
“Nope. No kidding, I’m gay. I held up three fingers. “Scout’s honor.”
Nobody said anything. Billy looked at his cards, Andy shoved his glasses back up his nose, and David stared at me, then threw his cards down on the table. “I ain’t playin’ with no punk.” He got up and walked away.
Andy got up next and left, not saying a word. Billy looked around nervously, then picked up the cards. “I guess the game’s over.” The look on his face told me he wanted to say something, but he gave me a nervous smile and left after the others.
I went back to my bunk and lay down. I felt stupid for having told them. Those guys leaving me like that had hurt. I thought they were my friends. Then I got angry and decided to hell with them. If they couldn’t accept me for who I was, I didn’t need them.
Over the next few days, as word got around that I was gay, guys started to shy away from me. Some were surprised, while others didn’t really believe it. Several came and asked me, yet some of them still didn’t believe it. “You just don’t carry yourself like that,” was something I heard a lot. And several others who had never before spoken to me came and asked if they could have sex with me; I told them no.
Over the next few weeks I stayed pretty much to myself. I’d never known that I could feel so lonely surrounded by so many guys.
Then one day David came to me and said, “You know, I may have flown off the handle, and I shouldn’t have. You’re right, McShane. All gays ain’t the same. I like how you carry yourself and the way you act. I don’t see you runnin’ from guy to guy, tryin’ to have sex with ’em. You really surprised me when you said you were gay, but you’re okay, and if you want to hang out with me, it’s cool. But I ain’t like that, so don’t come on to me about any of that shit, okay?”
Later that day Andy came up to me and said the same thing. Billy’s speech was a little different. He was a bit nervous talking to me, and ended by saying, “You know, I do like to have sex sometimes. If you want, maybe you and me could, you know, get together or something?”
“Yeah, Billy, I think I’d like that.”
Billy’s smile grew. He blushed, put his arm around me, and said, “Cool.”
Billy was my first prison boyfriend.
Not long afterward we were all four seated around a table playing cards again. David had become captain of one of the prison softball teams and had been trying to recruit players all day.
“McShane, you should join our team.”
“Naw, I’m not really into it.”
“I just don’t like it.”
“C’mon, give it a try.”
“I really don’t want to.”
“I bet you’d be real good at it.”
I put my cards down and looked at him. “David, are you gay?”
“What? Hell no, I ain’t gay!”
“Well, c’mon, just give it a try. I bet you’d be real good at it.”
Billy burst out laughing and nearly fell out of his chair. Andy had to take his glasses off to wipe his tears of laughter away, and David’s face turned several shades of red as he laughed, too.
“Okay, McShane, you’ve made your point,” he gasped. “I won’t ask anymore.”
— Joe Urbaniak was sentenced in 1995 to 20 years imprisonment for indecent liberties with a child and crime against nature. He hopes to be released in 2012. He was awarded Second Place for Memoir in the 2003 PEN Prison Writing Awards and has recently earned his B.A. in Business Administration. He has requested that Q-Notes publish his contact information in hopes of finding penpals. Write him at P.O. Box 1569, Lillington, NC 27546. All correspondence should include his inmate number: 0415899.