Gay Wing of LA County Men’s Central Jail Offers Inmates a Safer Space

“A jail is a jail — it’s a violent, and desperate, and cold and miserable place,” says Duncan Roy, speaking of the served his time in the Los Angeles County Men’s Jail. “Where there is that terrible cruelty inflicted on everyone, people find ways of dealing with it.”

The LA County Men’s Central Jail is one of the largest urban jails in the world. The daily population fluctuates between 3,900 to 4,700 inmates. It is one of the more violent jails in the country, due to racial tensions and gang activity. It is also the location of possibly the only known wing dedicated exclusively to housing gay inmates anywhere in the country.

This is the wing that Duncan Roy, a gay British film producer, was held in for 89 days in 2012 during an immigration hold. Known as “K6G,” the unit has approximately 400 inmates. They are housed within three different crowded dorms, which contain bunk beds for approximately 128 to 140 men each. The men are there for a variety of offenses, but share the commonality of being gay. While incarceration is harsh for everyone, gay and transgender inmates are targets for violence and sexual assault at much higher rates than heterosexual inmates. In recent years there has been a great deal of effort to highlight the issues unique to LGBT prisoners. However, it was an ACLU California lawsuit aimed at protecting gay inmates from the high rates of physical violence nearly 30 years ago that would help lead the charge. As a result of that action, K6G was created.

As profiled by Ani Ucar of the LA Weekly, the wing has become its own society of (sometimes regular) inmates who have changed the rules for prison life. There is still conflict, even violence, but not for things like racial tensions or gang rivalries, or, most importantly, for being gay. Separated from the general population, they are much safer and free to be themselves. There is community, friendship, and, yes, even romantic relationships. They come from all backgrounds and each has their own story to tell. The vast majority of the inmates are there for nonviolent, drug-related crimes. For some, their drug use was a direct result of the difficulty they had being gay in a society that didn’t accept them. In this way, they differ very little from the many individuals that end up in jail. The masking of pain led to many bad choices, causing some to be incarcerated again and again. Parole and probation violators are a significant portion of the population.

While in K6G, they find a way to make the best of it. The inmates do their best to improve their harsh reality. They repurpose their jailhouse issued uniforms (which are powder blue, lighter than the dark blue uniforms given to the general population) and t-shirts into dresses and suits. Transgender inmates have fashion shows to show off their new creations. There is even pole dancing on the jail rooftop, and “family” nights where they do shows and play games. However, the success of the wing is largely due to their humane treatment of the inmates.

Unlike in the rest of the jail, the inmates seem to have a respectful relationship with the deputies. They appoint a fellow inmate to be a liaison who relays their concerns to the jailers. From the early days of the unit’s creation, the jail deputies in charge spent several decades making sure the program was successful. A priority was focusing on everyone’s well-being and treating them with respect. This allowed the inmates to trust the deputies when they needed to report incidences that were unsafe. The unit is also much less violent than the rest of the jail.

This haven in an otherwise cruel environment has reportedly led to straight inmates trying to get transferred into the wing. The Sheriff’s Department has set up a screening process to identify who should be sent to the wing. It’s not enough just to say “I’m gay.” There is a classification officer who asks detailed questions about the local gay culture. Straight men are caught by giving rote answers to the wrong questions, tipping off the officer that he has been coached. While critics say that this approach is offensive, it appears to be working in the absence of a better alternative. While it’s unclear how many are actually trying to get in the unit, everyone would rather stay out. After all, it is still jail.

In another progressive move, the Sheriff’s Department Education Based Incarceration (EBI) program provides coursework and leadership opportunities for inmates. The coursework includes instruction about harm reduction, anger management, drug counseling, and STIs and HIV testing. They can also earn high school diplomas and earn certifications in certain areas. The program is aimed at reducing jailhouse violence and the high recidivism rate. The supportive environment is helping even K6G’s most frequent inmates to stay out, even if they don’t stay away.

Transgender inmate Yah Yah has been in and out of jail for nearly 20 years. She was the liaison, called the “House Mouse,” for her dorm and acted like a den mother for the inmates. She earned an EBI certification to counsel inmates on drug and alcohol abuse and teaches a “Characters Matters” course. She has found her purpose in K6G, but doesn’t want to return to jail as an inmate.

As she told the LA Weekly, “I would love to walk in this place in a pair of high heels and a dress and regular clothes and facilitate some class and say, ‘I used to be where you were, and God brought me out, and I made it and I know you can make it.’ That’s what I would like to do.” Yah Yah has been released from jail.

No word yet if she has gotten her wish.

Photo credit: LA Weekly (screen cap from video)

51 comments

Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman2 years ago

Steve N. does not seem to like the idea of a gay wing. Why do you, Steve, think it's foolish? The inmates are still in jail

SEND
Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

SEND
donald Baumgartner

Good news !!!

SEND
Ingo Schreiner
Ingo Schreiner4 years ago

slight improvement

SEND
Teresa Fazackerley
Teresa F4 years ago

ty

SEND
sandy g.
Sandy G4 years ago

Another great idea! Wow. Compassion and respect for gays. In LA. In jail. Amazing. Gives me a little ray of hope for the human race, however dim.

SEND
Ana MESNER
Ana MESNER4 years ago

Thank you for posting

SEND
John B.
John B4 years ago

Thanks Crystal for the very informative article and great video. Hard to believe this unit has been around for 30 years. Kudos to the ACLU and the county authorities.

SEND
Jane H.
Jane H4 years ago

I am glad to read it has worked out so well. Good idea which would maybe work in other jails and prisons. The men who try to get in there should also have a space. Many are victimized in prison---the young, sex offenders.

SEND
Paul Spector
Paul Spector4 years ago

Torture of Minority Patients by California Department of Corrections.

I worked in a Torture Center where 86 cells hold Black and Hispanic captives in sensory deprivation. Drugged, sick and in pain, nurses prevent death only to prolong torment, some actively participating in abuse. Numbers of minorities suffering preventable deaths during “treatments” may exceed legal executions nationwide.

Disguised as a Mental Health Ward at California Mens Colony State Prison, it’s a dungeon. Naked, all dignity and possessions removed. Suffering 24 hrs. a day with no exercise, yard privileges or sunlight, disease, psychological damage, and deaths result.

In Desert Storm I treated Torture victims from the Gulf States and Africa. Now America. Torture techniques used are designed to break enemy forces and avoid the Geneva Convention. They leave no marks. Many are so degrading I have left them out.

Isolation- is considered worse than beatings, rapes and starvation by sufferers like kidnap victim Amanda Knight. In 1829, Quakers used it to force salvation. Than as now, mass insanity and deaths resulted. The UN calls it Torture, medical research agrees.

Mind Altering Drugs- causing hallucinations, psychosis and suicide are distributed, thousands of doses kept in open, uncounted bins. Russia poisons it’s political prisoners too. Changes in brain chemistry result, some permanent.

Stripping victim- of all clothing, bedding and privacy is practiced in China, N

SEND