....Peter, a Jamaican inmate also at LeavenWorth Correctional, is an outspoken Christian, but also has a prison "wife" named “Gi-Gi”. Peter and Gi-Gi have been involved for nearly two years at the point of my interview with him, and he was interesting, to say the least.
“ I struggle with it every day, but I know God loves me, and can forgive me my sins”, says Peter, also 23 years old. “ “But my baby(Gi-gi) is one of the best things to ever happen to me. A lot of people think that I’m a hypocrite for having a homosexual wife, but we love each other, and God loves us too. She doesn’t just satisfy the needs of my body. She comforts me, as a woman is supposed to comfort a man. The Bible says that just as Christ is the head of the church, Man is the head of woman. She is my help meet while I’m here in prison, and God is working on me. Gigi makes me a better man in here”
Gi-gi, an effeminate gay Black male, is more cynical about Peters religious nature. “Chile, I love him to death, but Peter is confused boots, honey” she says. “He always be trying to get me to go to the church services 5 days a week with him. That service aint nothing but a bunch of closet queens that’s are scared that God is going to strike them down for sucking dick and sticking their dick up a man’s ass. I don’t have time for all that” she says emphatically. Gigi is not a particularly religious person, although she defines herself as “spiritual”. Although she and Peter argue incessantly about the role of religion in their relationship, she does readily admit that she loves him deeply, and that their sex life is very fulfilling. “The thing I like most about when Peter comes from church service, is that he always wants to get freaky with me. Praise God! Amen!!!!” she muses humorously and sarcastically, although Peter does not laugh. From my interview with Peter, I got the sense that, although he definitely has a deep love for both his faith and his relationship, he feels severely conflicted by having a foot in both worlds at the same time. Most of his Christian brothers are compassionate and understanding with him in prison, as they have many of their own struggles with being devoutly religious, and engaging in romantic and sexual contact with other inmates. However, they work with each other to get themselves to a place of peace in their own lives.
Peter’s conflict is more the norm than abnormal in the penitentiary. His Christian faith has indeed had a profound impact on his life, but it has also been a source of religious arguments with him and his Jamaican parents. “They call me faggot because my wife is a homosexual” he says. Born in Kingston, and raised in the Bronx, New York, Peter faces cultural animosity over the entire notion of same-sex interaction. Although he plans to become a Bishop or Pastor one day upon his release, he isn’t altogether certain how that leaves his relationship with Gi-Gi. “Time will tell”, he says, “but I love her dearly”.
Akbar, my boyfriend while at Deep Meadows, faced a different religious battle. He is Muslim, and was born and raised in the Sunni Orthodox Islamic faith under the leadership of the late Imam W. Deen Muhammad. Devout and committed in his Salat(prayer), Akbar is far more attracted to women than men, , but found himself drawn to me because we shared much in common, especially our religion. Our bond was also emotional. A few years younger than me, he was extremely assertive without being pushy. “Allah knows best what is in our hearts” he says. Being both Muslim, and bisexual, while being black and in prison is a set of realities colliding that most people in prison have a different and difficult time dealing with. “The group of people I had the biggest problems with while incarcerated have been the queens. They tend to roll their eyes, call me names, all because when I choose a man, because I don’t like feminine guys”, Akbar says.
The friction that is developed by the mixture of personal religious choices and sexual behavior and orientation should not come as a surprise to anyone. Religion has often been the source of the world’s most violent and deadly conflicts. In the black community, religion, especially Christianity, and to a lesser extent, Islam, have been the dominant spiritual ideologies that shape African American collective thought as it relates to everything else in the world.
Not everyone in prison can understand the contradiction between religious piety and “alternate” sexual orientations. “ The book of Leviticus, chapter 18, verse 22, states clearly that a man laying down with a man is an abomination. This mess needs to stop. They are defiling the Word of God in every sense of the word”, says Jeremiah, a black male heterosexual inmate, age 46, serving a life sentence for murder in Lunenburg Correctional in Virginia. My interview with Jeremiah was most interesting. I had been searching for a contrary opinion on the “religious issue” in prison, and Jeremiah was the perfect candidate for this position. Incarcerated since age 24, he has literally spent nearly half of his entire life behind bars. He became ordained as a Minister several years ago in prison, and now preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all inmates and officers who listen. When I mentioned to him that perhaps the Book of Leviticus would not be a proper reference to justify his distaste of homosexuality, he became indignant in his response. Here is how the conversation went:
“May I ask you a few questions off the subject, Jeremiah?” I said. “Sure”, he replied.
“Do you eat pork, and shrimp?” I quizzed, with an innocent tone.
“Yes I do, brother. I’m not one of these Muslims running around here praying to some idol god Allah,” he replied, with a hearty laughter, unaware of what my response would be, or that he just insulted another religion with his flip comment.
To this day, I cannot believe that Jeremiah could not see what I was about to say coming, and how easily he fell into the trap that I set for him with his own scriptural references.
“Well are you aware that that SAME book of Leviticus that you quoted to condemn homosexuality, also condemns eating pork in chapter 11:7,8? And are you also aware that the eating of shellfish is also condemned in the book of Leviticus as a sin? And as I see that you have your prison uniform on, are you also aware that the synthetic fabrics that they are made of are also condemned in the book of Leviticus?” I rattled off, noticing the arrogant, pious smirk vanish from his middle aged face. “It just seems ironic that Leviticus was the basis of your argument against homosexuality, and yet you are a walking violation of at least three other condemned ‘sins’ from the SAME chapter of the SAME book of the Bible?”
At this point, I KNEW that I had nailed him. He got visibly angry, and began rushing to quote the book of Romans as further proof of God’s disdain for homosexuality. My response was clear.
“Sir, you didn’t answer my question about Leviticus. Could you please go back to that instead of changing the subject??? It seems that if you are a Minister, than you should be able to answer those questions about the inconsistency in your argument fairly easily. Now, back to Leviticus….”
“--Now you wait a minute , motherfucker! You are not going to steal my joy! You are of the Devil! I rebuke thee in the name of Jesus!” shouted Jeremiah. At this point, I noticed the anger and rage in Jeremiah’s face. My first reaction was pure laughter, which did NOT help the situation at all. This man could not answer a simple fact based question about the very book that he used to condemn gays? It was clear that my questions were ones that he could not answer.
I knew that BEFORE I even raised them, ill admit to that. Sue me.
After attempting to calm Pastor Jeremiah down, the Correctional Officer had now walked back over a second time to ascertain the situation, I assured him that all was fine, and that it was merely a spirited discussion on religion and sexuality. Jeremiah was not accustomed to debating the consistency of the Bible, as was clear by his flying off the handle by my questions. I then pivoted to a topic more germane to the reason for the interview itself, and that was his ability to cope with not being able to legally have sex for the rest of his life due to a life sentence....