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Dangerous slurs

 Gay rights in prison
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  October 1, 2009

Read Lance Tapley's article on prisoners' rights abuse, "Less than equal"

A heavily tattooed, self-described Satanist serving a life sentence for savagely murdering two people in Augusta in 1998 — his 16-year-old stepdaughter and his 87-year-old former landlady — inmate John L’Heureux, 39, is probably not the man Maine’s gay-rights groups would choose to represent their cause in the state prison, if they were inclined to choose anyone there.

But L’Heureux makes a calm, rational case for improving treatment of imprisoned homosexuals. In a letter to the Phoenix he describes how officers called him “that fucking fag” to other prisoners and how “I was walking down the runway from the chow hall and someone would yell queer or fag from a group of officers.” In a prison interview on September 15, L’Heureux didn’t appear to be worried about revealing himself as, he said, a bisexual, but he explained the danger that such “unprofessional” identifications create in an institution housing a number of violent men.

L’Heureux also was upset because prison officials wouldn’t let him subscribe to a magazine about gay culture — not a pornographic publication, he said — because they felt it might encourage prison rape. But after the Phoenix requested an interview with him, he said, the prison relented and let him have the literature he wanted.

Another problem at the prison is the wrong assumption correctional officers make about gay prisoners, he said: that any inmate who is “strong” and openly gay is a “predator.” He clearly thought of himself as in the strong category, but claimed to have been celibate since entering prison. He admitted, though, that predatory activity takes place: “Of course it happens. It’s a prison.” But he felt “the staff needs to be educated in how to handle people.”

L’Heureux estimated about five percent of inmates are openly gay, but “a lot” more are involved in homosexual relations. He didn’t suggest that gay sex be officially allowed, but, he said, “People shouldn’t be persecuted.”

Sex isn’t, in fact, officially allowed in the all-male, 925-inmate prison. Corrections Department policy states: “Any prisoner or resident who engages in sexual misconduct with another prisoner or resident is subject to disciplinary action and may be subject to criminal prosecution.” That includes a “sexual act,” “sexual contact,” and “sexual touching” or “the threat” of these acts, plus kissing and exposing parts of the body that stimulate sexual desire. The policy emphasizes preventing rape. The prison also has policies in writing requiring respectful treatment of inmates.

L’Heureux, who has a tattooed, cross-like symbol on his forehead that he said represents the Antichrist, also complained that he is being discriminated against because he is forbidden to practice his Satanic religion and that religious material had been taken from his cell. He defined Satanism’s core belief as indulgence rather than abstinence: “The goal of a Satanist is to be free.”

(He had accepted, however, the severe limitation on his freedom of life in prison. According to the Portland Press Herald, when he was sentenced after pleading guilty to his murders, he said “I have proven that I cannot function in the world. I am beyond rehabilitation. I am asking you that I never set foot out of prison.” He had said publicly after his arrest that he hadn’t been able to get psychiatric help for his fantasies of murder and had been released from a hospital psychiatric ward when his insurance ran out.)

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Related: Less than equal, Unchecked power and secrecy — not gays — are the church’s problem, Advocates renew challenge to punitive probation practices, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Culture and Lifestyle, Religion, Criminal Sentencing and Punishment,  More more >
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