I recently asked my incarcerated cousin to describe life on the inside. "You get in the yard and you look at a wall," he told me over the phone. "Then when you get sick of the wall you pace up and down the yard. Day in, Day out." I then asked him what he thought about as he paced the yard. "Sex," he quipped. "Sex... and sometimes religion."
Prisoners who opt for physical affection with each other are labelled "cats" in the Australian prison system. The last thing anyone wants is to be exposed, so they keep it discreet—like cats. Homosexuality often attracts violence in the harsh climate of convict life, so maintaining a low profile is essential to survival.
There are people, however, who profit both from the violence and the need for physical contact. These are prison pimps, and through my cousin I managed to track one down. GK* is a Turkish inmate who has been in an out of jail since he turned 18 and is currently serving seven years for armed burglary. We talked about how he does what he does, and how he lives with himself.
And a bit of a warning. A lot of this is quite graphic.
VICE: Hey so you weren't a pimp on the outside. How did you get into pimping in prison?
GK: Well I stood over some Asian brothels in the 90s, so extortion wasn't new to me. So when I ended up here I did the same thing. I noticed a bunch of cats in my unit and put it on them. They started paying me to let them blow each other, and then I started offering them out to guys I knew were undercover cats. At first the punters get all defensive but sooner or later I'd get a knock on my door with a desperate offer.
The word spread and then cats started coming up to me asking for work. The majority of them are just junkies that can't score, I don't even think they're gay. I once had a 20 year-old kid approach me for work. I sussed his arms and they were a fucking train wreck so I turned him down because it's not right. I've got kids too and he didn't know what he was getting himself into. He was just another victim of the system, you know? A junky. They're desperate for a fix. I won't have that on my watch.
What do you do with the money?
I buy shoes. I'm obsessed with them. I could probably rock two new pairs a day. Somedays, I take the Air Maxes for a whirl, but my favourites are the Asics Kayanos and the Nimbus. I've got a pair that came out a year or two ago, with black and fluoro green camo print around the edges. I've saved them. I'll probably take them out in a year or so on my birthday. Shoes are what set you apart in here. Shoes and attitude.
For more on prisons, check out The UK's Young Reoffenders.
But why the sex thing? Did you ever have any weird sexual experiences as a kid?
I remember looking for money in my parents' room when I was young so I could run off to the milk bar and buy a $2 smoke. In one of the draws I found condoms, lube, and all sorts of weird sex stuff. It really fucked with my head because you never expect your parents to be getting up to the same stuff you jack off to. I started looking at Mum differently after that. My first girlfriend was a stripper too. I don't know if you want to psycho-analyse that as well. But it's got nothing to do with sex anyway. It's money over bitches mate. Money is the motive if you want to be a survivor.
Tell me about how you get paid in prison.
I operate in a low security prison, so there's more access to drugs and tobacco. If the punters can sort some gear out we might be able to come to a trade but usually it's all about money, deposited into an account I've set up. They get their family to deposit the money and then I organise the rest.
And these "punters" just tell you what they want?
Usually the punters know who they want to fuck, suck, or get sucked by. They've had plenty of time to make up their mind on the yard. Sometimes the punters make up delusional relationships in their heads. They claim they don't need to pay because they're in love. I had a bloke who was very well known in the prison system. He brought flowers and spread them across the bed before he fucked his "boyfriend." He then decided he didn't need to pay anymore because they were in love. He slashed me across the face with a box cutter. So while they were sleeping I poured a hot kettle on them both and beat them with a bunch of rocks I picked up from the yard and stuffed into a sock. Now they both pay me for their little love affair.
What do the sex workers get?
They get pleasure. And sometimes I'll shout them a few points of shard. If someone wanted me to fuck women for a living, all they'd need to do is feed me. I'd work forever. Holidays included. But the reality is, no one wants to pay an overweight, hairy Turk for sex. They like young fitness freaks. They don't care if you've earned respect the old fashioned way. As long as you got a C63 and wear a suit to work they'll fuck you. I look after the boys, if they need anything we will work something out for them and they get protection.
Seems like a shit way to earn respect.
These days respect is earned with money mate. The biggest buy-ups. The fancy house. The crims-code is long gone buddy, there are known informants wondering around the yard like they own the joint just because they pay the right people and get their girls to kick over buprenorphine and shard every couple of weeks. Crims are back to where we started. It's all about survival of the fittest, and the strongest survivor is the lion of the yard.
Have you ever been attacked after dealing out sex like this?
I've been slashed and stabbed more times then I can count. The worst was when this new Muslim guy came into our unit. He'd touched some kids and he was a bad cat. Instead of caving his face in I whored him out to guys I knew were interested. He complied and never complained. But the Muslims heard that I'd pimped another Muslim and a day later I got stabbed four times and beaten into a coma.
What's the most violent thing you've seen?
We all know what happened in July last year. I saw one of the boys killed after he had it out with a couple of prison officers in his unit. He smashed one of them up real bad. Then they called the Toggies [a member of TOG, the Tactical Operations Group]. Apparently you could hear the bloke screaming throughout the unit as they were laying it on him. And then silence. The whole prison was silent. Trying to listen to the dogs beating on him. He died later that night. They said he had an allergic reaction after they gassed his unit.
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