Episode 4: Sex and Prison


Voice Over: You're listening to Sex Talk. A podcast all about sex. In this episode expect to hear some colourful language and conversations of a sexual nature. You may want to pop on a pair of headphones for some privacy during this programme.

-- Voice Over: SEX TALK. Starting a conversation about sex.--

Adele : Hi, welcome to the fourth episode of Sex Talk. I'm Adele Roberts and I'm joined once again by my wonderful co-presenter Hilary Ineomo-Marcus

Hilary: You say my name better than I say mine so thank you, it's a pleasure to be here.

Adele: I don't believe you but I've been practicing in honour of you so I'm glad you're happy.

Hilary: Thank you.

Adele: This is a podcast all about sex. So expect some colourful language and at times – full on chat! Throughout the series we'll be delving into different aspects of sex, from sexual health to addiction, sexuality and religion to sex and alcohol. Joining us on this journey will be a host of doctors, therapists, experts and sexperts who share their experience and advice on how to stay safe and healthy. In the last episode we looked at Sex Addiction. In this episode we'll be focusing on Sex and Prison…

Hilary: With over 84 thousand people currently in prison in the UK, there are a lot of people with sexual needs and desires, which are not able to be met in the conventional sense.

Adele: Many of us have a perception of what relationships are like in prisons from watching films and TV shows such as Orange is the New Black, but in reality, what is it really like?

Hilary: On today's episode we will be looking into sexuality behind bars as we hear from somebody who spent 14 months in a women's prison as she opens up about her experiences.

  • -- Voice Over: Sex Talk. Coming up on this episode of sex talk:

Julia: I had two relationships while in prison, one was for about a month. The second relationship was more meaningful. Without that second relationship I wouldn't have got through prison I don't think.

Voice Over: Sex Talk. Real stories, real issues. –

Adele: We'll bejoined in the studio by Lorraine Atkinson, who works for the Howard League for Penal Reform who will be telling us all about the 2014 review they did on Sex in Prisons. Amongst other things, the review found that some sexually active men were refused access to condoms because 'they aren't allowed in prison', while another interviewee found that he was entitled to condoms in his prison but had to return them when used to healthcare before he could get any more. Before Lorraine joins us, this is Julia who spent 14 months in a woman's prison, talking about her life before prison

Julia: Before prison I probably went out drinking all the time, but there were two sides to my life before I went to prison. There was the bit of normality because I went to university and then there was a bit of an edge to it where I'd be going out and living not a dual life but taking my life to the extreme. I think for me it's always been the balance, trying to maintain a normal life and then having a string of inappropriate relationships. That's probably friendships and more particular relationships. So for me I was living in conflict continually.

Hilary: That was a former prisoner, Julia talking about her life before going to prison. I think for some people, going into prison is obviously a shock to the system in itself but you don't think much about what your sex life is going to be like when you go into prison.

Adele: And it sounded like going to prison helped Julia reflect on what her life was like before, it was a little marker in the sand to see how her behaviour contributed to where she ended up.

Hilary: She's obviously very frank, and prison allows you that time of course to reflect and if there's anything you have in prison, it's time.

Adele: This is where it really starts to get interesting, what happened when Julia stepped through the prison gates?

Julia: I had no partner at all when I was in prison. I think people who have relationships on the outside, they've got the visits but you manage that around phone calls and visits, any time that they're locked off from it and I think that's how people cope because if you thought about what your partner's doing. I think initially when you first go into prison you worry more about what's going on on the outside but as soon as you get used to a prison regime and get your head in prison you have those times when you think about the outside but other than that you're locked in. So your emotions, your feelings, your thoughts are in that prison environment. Prison is – I always say it's a bit of a cult really. It's a very, very strange environment that kind of I relate it to a school environment and for me, you have people that replace your family members so say some of the older prisoners like the lifers become your parents, some of the younger girls that you look after become your children, your siblings, that's very much how it is and you have a close network around you and you get very attached to these people when you're in there. It's the bizzarest thing in the world because obviously when I went to prison and now I'm out of prison, I'm not a lesbian but I'm very free thinking, people do what they want. But in there, straight girls who've never been in a same sex relationship formulate a relationship with another girl and that becomes your partner and your support network and I would really say it's not about sex. Obviously I've had sex in prison, it's part of any kind of relationship and it comes with it.

I had two relationships while in prison. One was for about a month and that was after about only 5 weeks when I first went in, but I think I was very needy at that point. That only lasted about a month because that girl in particular got shipped out. That for me probably, it wasn't meaningful whereas the second relationship I had, without that I wouldn't have got through prison I don't think. How they come about… it's like school. And it's playground like. I think with the first it wasn't really sex, there was kissing and minor offences, as I like to call them. I don't think we particularly had 'sex sex'. The second relationship was more meaningful and longer and that probably lasted 12 months of the 14 months that I was in there and what that did for me, it gave me that emotional support. It was companionship, obviously there was sex involved and it just gave me that feeling weirdly of normality even though that wasn't my normal life and that feeling of someone to protect you and look after you in one of the worst situations of your life.

For me I'm a very anxious character, I was frightened of getting caught more than anything, because it's banned. So you have to time when you do things, and I'm really an anxious person so for me I've lived in pure anxiety not because of having same sex, sex if you want to phrase it like that. You just get on with it. But obviously it's sober. Usually the first time you have sex with someone you're drunk – well I do anyway, so for me I had to do that sober so the anxiety of getting caught and the anxiety of oh God what am I doing, or do I know what I'm doing, more to the point – that was probably the hardest bit to get over. There was a lot of – obviously straight girls who were straight on the outside – a lot of girls call it gay for the stay. Yeah, a lot of girls had boyfriends on the outside, husbands, but a lot of girls found comfort in having relationships in prison and I know a lot of girls who were straight when they went to prison and had boyfriends, and are actually now in same sex relationships now they've come out but a lot of girls were living that double life of having a girlfriend in prison and their partners on the outside which could cause a lot of conflict. It was very weird because some of the officers knew what was going on. Some were really against it, some were like just let people get on with what they're going to get on with.

There was a sexual health nurse who was brilliant but unless you approached them nobody, there's nothing – I don't know if it's changed now but there was nothing out there to say these are the risks if you're having sex in prison these are the risks, there's nothing at all.

Adele: Wow. There's a lot to talk about there.

Hilary : Absolutely.

Adele: First thing, I'm sorry if this is really naïve but I didn't know that you're not allowed to have relationships in prison.

Hilary : That was the first thing I wrote on my notes when listening to that actually because I wasn't sure that the government would expect you to lock up your emotional feelings while you're on a custodial sentence.

Adele: And also Julia said coping – there's a lot of words that she threw out, but coping was one of the things, and she said that second relationship saved her and got her through prison. It must be really tough mentally to survive prison.

Hilary: It is, you still have needs don't you. She said the first 5 weeks she got into a relationship right away. And like you said so many powerful words came out from that. I had emotional, companionship.

Adele: And it was quite interesting that she was more concerned about getting caught rather than that she was straight when she went into prison and that she was having a gay relationships in prison.

Hilary: That's an interesting comment that she made because it was almost as if she kept saying she was living a double life.

Adele: Now to find out what happened after Julia left prison…

Julia: I think at first when I left prison I thought this is what I want but I didn't and I knew as soon as I landed out that gate this wasn't something that I wanted to continue but out of loyalty for everything that she'd done for me I went to see her a few times and I went on a visit after a few weeks and said listen you get on with your life and thank you for everything but this isn't – I can't continue this. It's so weird. When you're in there you believe – well you are – in this relationship and you believe you can carry it on, on the outside but for me in prison wasn't real life so when I came out of prison I didn't want to be in a relationship with a woman. Or a man, at that point. I think I'd gone off relationships full stop and really for me my focus was on my children and just getting my life back.

I've been out for just over 3 years now. I've had a couple of little relationships that were meaningless and meant nothing, but that took me a while. It took me about 18 months. Sex? Yeah, I've had sex a few times… But with men. I don't regret what I did in prison at all but obviously that's not who I am in real life.

  • -- Voice Over: Sex talk. Real stories, real issues -

Adele: Thanks to Julia for opening up so much!

Hilary: Absolutely, for being so frank about it. Adele, once again, it's like is prison not real life?

Adele: She said that didn't she, and she said she just wanted to get her life back.

Hilary: It's almost as if when you go into prison you have a completely different identity. Almost as if she had an alter ego when she was in prison, wouldn't you agree?

Adele: Yeah, but is that because prison – I can't really imagine what it's like to be in there. I can only imagine from what I've seen on TV and in films but it just must be so alien to the life you had before. Before you have pretty much a lot of freedom, in prison she said words like regime. So to cope with that mentally this must be one of the reasons why sex and affection is so important to people.

  • -- Voice Over: Sex Talk. Word porn. –

Hilary: Right Adele, I feel like I'm really getting good at our game that we've been playing over the last couple of episodes.

Adele: I love our game.

Hilary: So, word porn time. I don't know where that sound effect came from, but I believe it's my turn this week so you've got a word for me haven't you?

Adele: Yes I have, you know we should make this into an app. Word porn, available on all good app stores.

Hilary: No we need to trademark it, we shouldn't put it out there just yet – and then go on Dragon's Den.

Adele: Nobody nick that idea, thank you. Okay so we've got a sex dictionary, and we've decided to use and abuse it by thinking of letters, finding words beginning with that letter and we have to guess what it is. So are you on first?

Hilary: I am on first. Can I go with I?

Adele: Interesting. Okay you've gone for a vowel. I don't even know if they'll have them beginning with I. They do. Okay. Do you know the ones I always spot for you first have a similar theme. Can I change it? Or do you want it?

Hilary: Give it to me.

  • Adele: Okay… Okay it's got 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11… it's got a lot of letters – 15 letters. ithyphallophobia.

Hilary: Phobia means something someone's scared of.

Adele: You got that bit.

Hilary: Only because I learnt that from you last time.

Adele: What is someone scared of?

Hilary: Remind me of the first part please?

Adele: Who's scared of ithyphallo? What's ithyphallo?

Hilary: I'm so sorry mum. Um… fallo… fallopian tubes?

Adele: Phallic.

Hilary: Okay yes okay. So is it fear of an erect penis?

Adele: Get in!

Hilary: No.

Adele: Yeah seriously, fear of thinking about, seeing, or having an erect penis.

Hilary: Who would have problems with that?

Adele: Well if you've got one maybe you'd be frightened of people seeing it.

Hilary: I retract that statement. But yeah. So what's the full word?

Adele: ithyphallophobia.

Hilary: I'm never going to remember it but at least now I know next time you ask.

Adele: You want to get that on Scrabble.

  • -- Voice Over: Sex Talk, word porn. -

Hilary: Julia mentioned earlier on that sex in prisons is banned. So generally sex is not allowed in prisons. This is quote taken from the prison service Instructions on Behavioural Expectations, 'Acting with decency at all times, remembering prisons/cells are not private dwellings (this includes not engaging in sexual activity)'. However, there is another PSI which says there is 'no rule prohibiting sexual acts between prisoners', but if they are observed by someone who finds their behaviour offensive, a charge may be appropriate. However, it then goes to say that if 'two prisoners sharing a cell are in a relationship and engage in sexual activity during the night when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, a disciplinary charge may not be appropriate', so there is some confusion over what is and is not allowed when it comes to sex in prisons! _ _

Adele : More than half of European countries allow some form of private visits involving partners, and Canada has one of the most liberal systems allowing private relationship visits for up to three days at a time for qualifying inmates to " develop and maintain family and community ties in preparation for their return to the community ". Research also shows prisoners who receive visits from a family member are 39% less likely to reoffend

Hilary : We're now joined in the studio by somebody who has looked into this subject in great detail, Lorraine Atkinson, welcome to Sex Talk!

Lorraine: Thank you.

Hilary: Thank you very much for joining us.

Adele: So Lorraine, you work for the Howard League for penal reform- can you tell us a bit about The Howard League and what they do?

Lorraine: We're a very old charity, in fact we say we're the oldest penal reform charity in the UK so we've been around 150 years. We try and improve the penal system, not just prisons but also the courts, the police. First of all we think there should be fewer people in prison. We think if there were fewer people in prison society would be safer. So fewer people in prison and safer communities.

Adele: Why is that? I'm sure that's a huge answer but in a nutshell why is it better for people not to be incarcerate?

Lorraine: Prison is very damaging and when we heard from Julia the effect it had on her emotionally while she was in prison. Some people may need to go to prison to keep the community safe but very few people in prison have committed violent serious offenses. If we reduce the prison population it would be a lot less people in there but also a lot less people going into prison and being damaged by the experience of being in prison. If you compare us to other countries we have a very high incarceration rate. We could deal with crimes differently and we could make communities safer so I think it says to me that we are fixated by the idea that prison is the way of solving some of the problems but actually we need to look at more effective ways – for example community centres – and dealing with people in other ways to prevent crime from happening.

Hilary: Lorraine, you organised the commission on Sex in Prisons, which is Britain's first independent review into Sex in Prison. Why did you organise a commission on this subject?

Lorraine: Basically because no one else had really been looking at it, there's been a lot of information coming out from the States about prison rape and sexual assault there, there were discussions about people having sexual relationships in prison, but nobody really knows the full extent of the matter, so we spent two years looking at the issue. What we did hear over and over again was people didn't know. We don't know if sex is happening in prison. We don't know if sexual assault's happening in prison. It's complacent to assume it's not happening because prison is a very closed community. It's a hidden world, it would be unsurprising if there wasn't abuse going on in hidden worlds and sometimes as we've seen in the media recently it takes a very long time for people to come forward – particularly about sexual assaults.

Adele: Lorraine, how was the review conducted?

Lorraine: So we spent two years looking into the issue. We held a number of seminars and we invited experts to come along and talk to us. So we heard from the Prison and Probation ombudsman, the chief inspector of prisons came and spoke to us, and also governors and former governors of men's and women's prisons spoke about their experiences. We had academics talking to us and as part of the research we also conducted research – we wanted to go into prisons and talk to prisoners about their experiences but there were lots of barriers to going to prison to talking about that and we weren't able to get permission to go in so what we did, we talked to former prisoners, some of them who'd come out quite recently and some who'd been out a while, and they talked about their experiences, and that was men and a few women talked about their experiences while they were inside.

Adele: There are nearly 15 thousand 18-20 year olds in prison, and over 850 under 18's, did the research find anything out about how prison can affect young people's sexual development?

Lorraine: We talked to experts in sexual health who do work in the community and we talked to the YJB as well and people came and spoke to us. We wanted to look at what the impact was of prison – again there's been very little research on this – but when you think about it you've got 15, 16, 17 year old boys who are going through puberty finding out where they fit, what they want to do in life and they're being put in a same sex environment where they're not allowed to explore their sexuality because as you say there's no law against sex in prison but it's not allowed as a behaviour and we really wanted to explore what impact that might have on them and again we found there wasn't any research on this and it's really difficult to get information on this. We didn't interview young people – we only spoke to adults because it's much more difficult talking to young people.

Adele: For the younger ones is it generally a negative experience, or is it not conclusive, the answers that you got?

Lorraine: The research we got, we looked at the potential for it to be damaging and there was a study in Northern Ireland some years ago now which looked at whether prison was making young men more violent and more sexually violent when they came out but that study has not been replicated. Somebody needs to be looking at this. Are we putting young boys into prison and are we making them perhaps more violent and perhaps more sexually violent. That would be a very good reason not to send young boys to prison in the first place.

Hilary: Also Lorraine, is there anything else you found surprising in this review?

Lorraine: I think you mentioned at the beginning about the fact that it's a grey area. The prison service has told us they don't tolerate sex in prison and yet there's no law against sex in prison and the differences between the men in prison and women in prison we found when we talked to governors in a men's prison they said men won't go round holding hands, if we know men are in a relationship we'll split them up and we'll move somebody. So obviously the men in a male prison had to be very secretive if they were in a relationship, but when we spoke to a governor of a women's prison she said the women in my prison do hold hands and give each other hugs, we don't necessarily split them up so there are differences between the experience of men and women in prison.

Adele : You mention as well that it's the staff really in a way that create this, so they would break them up if it was a male prison but in a female prison they wouldn't. Or is it the other prisoners?

Lorraine: Julia mentioned about not letting anybody know so it's almost like it's hush hush, so officers won't go and knock on the door perhaps if they think they might find something, or they might go and deliberately knock on the door if they want to find something. So again, it's not that staff are ignoring it but it seemed from the perspective of prisoners that they had to hide it because they didn't want staff to know opens and that created issues particularly if relationships break downs because if the relationship in a men or a women's prison breaks down, if it's hidden nobody knows apart from the other prisoners perhaps. The staff won't know and they won't go and give somebody some comfort or find out what the problems are. The PPO talked about the fact that they looked at the number of deaths of women in prison and the fact the relationship had broken down and nobody had really known about it, they felt that was an issue so that's something they decided they were going to explore when they look at deaths in custody.

Adele: That is so sad.

Hilary: That's echoed by what Julia told us earlier on, that the lengthier relationship that she had with her partner in prison saved her so I guess that confirms what you're saying, unexplained incidents in prison might be down to things such as this which they've not been able to speak openly to someone about.

Adele: Very sad. What came up in the commission regarding sexual health and safe sexual practices?

Lorraine: Again because it was a grey area we found it very difficult. So prisoners might know they can go and get condoms from health care but some of the prisons were telling us if they wanted to get a condom they had to fill in a form to say they wanted to go down to healthcare to pick up a condom which they felt wasn't confidential so they would risk not getting a condom in order to keep their relationship or their sexual activity private so that was an issue that came up. We went to one prison and the chaplain had a basket of condoms at the back of the chapel and anyone who comes in they can just help themselves and that was a way round addressing this lack of confidentiality that some of the prisoners felt.

Adele: It's this grey area again isn't it, you're allowed but you're not allowed and if you do do something we're going to judge you.

Hilary : Penalised, or shipped out even at worst. We've heard already from Julia who talked about her sexual experience in a women's prison, mainly being focussed around companionship and friendship. Is this something you think is lacking in prisons?

Lorraine: I think definitely, and prison's a very isolating experience and not having that contact with your family on the outside, contact with friends on the outside so I'm not surprised that people do form very special relationships in prison to help them to cope with the isolation.

Adele: Since the review, have there been any changes in prisons to how this subject is approached? Is there any good news at the end of this review?

Lorraine: The commission on sex in prison really raised awareness of the issue I think. The PPO are now aware that there should be a focus on sex in prison, whether it's consensual sexual relationships or coercive relationships, and also the ministry of justice have released much more detailed figures on recorded assaults in prison. If you look at the figures, the figures have gone up on recorded assault in prison and this may be because there are more assaults happening, but it also could be because people are more prepared to come forward and mention those and staff are taking them seriously so I think it definitely raises it as an issue. I still think there does need to be more research on sexual abuse within prisons. We know that levels of violence at the moment are very high, levels of self-harm are very high and it would be unsurprising if some of that violence is actually sexual violence.

Hilary: What specific recommendations came out from this review?

Lorraine: We did say there needed to be further work and further research on this. All prisoners should have access to condoms, and confidential access as well, that's something that's really important. We're keen to make sure sexual assaults are investigated properly and thoroughly and prisoners have access to the same sort of support that somebody might get outside. Access to sexual health advice and access to help lines that sort of thing. People go to prison, they lose their liberty, but what they shouldn't lose is access to all the other things that people have. So their health is equally important. Most people who go prison will come out again and what we don't want is people to go to prison and coming out and bringing with them a sexually transmitted disease they've picked up in prison so that's why we shouldn't deny prisoners access to health care, we shouldn't deny them access to condoms and things as well. It's really important and prisoners shouldn't not got to prison and be sexually abused, they should be the same level of safety there as there is in the community as well.

Adele: Well said, without a doubt. Thank you so much for joining us today Loraine and for opening our eyes to the world of sex and relationships in prison, we appreciate it.

Hilary: Thank you Loraine.

Lorraine: Thank you.

Adele: If you'd like to read the full review online go to howardleague.org

-- Voice Over: SEX TALK. Word Porn. —

Adele: Alright is it my go now?

Hilary: I believe it is.

Adele: I'm going to go for the grade that I got in English.

Hilary: Is that A*? You've already done A Adele.

Adele: E.

Hilary: You?!

Adele: This is why this game's good for me. Go on, E.

Hilary: Right, cool. Let me flick through the dictionary and find the perfect word for you. Okay I've got one and it's edeapsis.

Adele: Edeapsis? I know her she's a woman who lives down the road.

Hilary: You very might well.

Adele: Edie! Edie Apsis!

Hilary: You very might well be familiar with this actually.

Adele: Oh okay, alright. What's the oedipus complex? Is it something to do with that?

Hilary: You know what I've heard that before now I can't remember.

Adele: Is it something to do with mums?

Hilary: No. Mums do, do it a lot. My mums got six kids I know she did. Now I do it as well.

Adele: Your mum does it?

Hilary: That sounds wrong doesn't it?

Adele: You're going to have to give me another clue.

Hilary: Animals do it and humans do it.

Adele: Dry humping?

Hilary: Try again.

Adele: Sex.

Hilary: Exactly.

Adele: It's just sex?

Hilary: That's right, it's an obsolete word for sexual intercourse.

Adele: Wow what is it again?

Hilary: You try pronouncing it.

Adele: This one? Edeapsis.

Hilary: That's what I said right.

Adele: Yeah, welcome to Edeapsis talk.

Hilary: Yes, we should change the name of the show.

  • -- Voice Over: Sex Talk, word porn. -

Hilary: Unfortunately we've come to the end of this episode of Sex Talk! In the next episode we'll be looking at Sex and Religion.

Adele: We'll be hearing from Reverend Jide Macauley as he talks about how the House of Rainbow are helping LGBT people from various different religions feel comfortable in their own skin, and a part of their community.

Jide: I have been told that I'm an abomination and I'm from the pit of hell. The damage itself is why we do the work we do so we can actually help people transition out of the experience of abuse into a place where they can live a life of their own reality.

Hilary : We hope you've enjoyed this edition of Sex Talk. We'd like to thank today's guests, Julia and Lorraine

Adele: If you'd like to find out more about Sex Talk you can visit our website, sextalk.radio and if you've not already please do subscribe to receive this podcast every week so you don't miss a single thing!

Hilary: If you need further advice or support on any of the issues raised in this episode of Sex Talk contact your GP. They should provide out of hours contact details for emergency calls. Alternatively you can go online - www.nhs.co.uk

  • -- Voice Over: Thanks for listening to sex talk. The conversation doesn't stop here. Search hashtag sex talk pod and keep talking. Sex talk -
We use cookies to improve the experience on this website. Learn more