One behind bars, the other free. In prison, a couple’s life is tested. How can a relationship last when concrete walls separate you?
In prison, relationships and intimacy are important. Sometimes relationships are formed even in prison because it’s complicated to maintain one with someone outside. Only visits give prisoners the opportunity to keep in touch. Can a couple survive the prison system?
There are so-called “unsupervised visits ” so that loved ones have the opportunity to have a moment of privacy without the supervision of guards. To access this type of visit, the person must be the legal partner or be able to prove the existence of the relationship. These visits are organized in a studio set up within the prison walls and are longer than traditional visits. In addition to unsupervised visits, there is also the one where people are separated by a wall and the table visit where physical contact is possible but restricted.
Brighton*, who has been in Mons prison for several years, then Brandy, and her boyfriend, Sean*, fight for their relationship to survive despite the bars that separate them, and for this they especially use unsupervised visits. But inevitably, the constraints of the prison system prevent them from fully living their love. However, according to the Law of Principles, also called the Dupont Law, in force in Belgium since 2005, incarcerated persons should only be deprived of free movement in society. Their emotional lives shouldn’t be affected by incarceration, but reality trumps theory. And this is especially because of overcrowding in prisons which leads to a deterioration of detention conditions. However, since 1975, sexual well-being has been recognized as a health factor by the World Health Organization.
Florence, from his cell, and Daniel, from the living room, talk about their relationship. Even after many years, the two remember in detail their first unsupervised visit.
Florence: While I was waiting for the hour to come, I did a little make-up and hair. I wait with anticipation that grows against the passing seconds. The doors to my cell open and I am asked if I am ready. I answer yes, but I’m not. The guard accompanies me through the unknown corridors. Every person we pass looks at me with a devouring look and screams Do you want to fuck? I also get nasty and unwanted remarks from the guards. As I pass through the halls I think of the man for whom my heart and body beat. I miss that particular tenderness that the carnal act brings. I’m almost there, but I don’t know yet. They throw me sheets and a big towel.
I enter a new wing, a long corridor with doors. The abject comments come in droves: Sugi, you’re going to fuck yourself, you’re a whore. What are you doing, you want a big cock? They scream and don’t stop. I want to run, to escape. My cell instantly became a shelter. I am afraid and my discomfort makes the guard laugh. He opens a door for me and I enter. He tells me that my boyfriend is coming and goes to get him. The floor is wet, there is a sofa bed that is completely rotted and not unfolded. There is also a chemical toilet and shower that doesn’t work, the girls warned me. It smells like a combination of something sour and unpleasant, sex and sweat: everything seems tainted by I don’t know what perversity. The door opens, my boyfriend walks in and then the door closes behind him, accompanied by a Good kiss. Thanks for the tip, but I didn’t need it.
Daniel: It was pure hell, a nightmare. We are entitled to a normal sheet and one to put on top, no blanket, no comforter. There is a pillow. Everything is obviously covered in plastic. There is a radio to cover the sounds of inmates screaming nearby and noises we might make. There are also condoms. Once the guard closes the door and we’re both inside, we try our best to forget where we are. We have to forget where we are if we want to feel good. So we throw ourselves into each other’s arms and give each other a big, endless hug.
Florence: We hug. I cry, I tremble. We stand, glued to each other. I feel like it took days, but in reality it was only 45 minutes, we look at the clock. The screams faded but did not stop. We unfold the sofa, put the sheets on it, undress and nestle naked in symbiosis, without penetration. That tenderness, sensuality, that appears when sex has been consumed or could not take place. We stay like that without moving, both thinking the same thing. From now on, our sexuality boils down to that.
Daniel: Unsupervised visitation is primarily tenderness. Sensuality and sex happen almost systematically, it’s inevitable. But for us, it’s about intimacy and that’s not necessarily sex. It’s about holding each other, kissing without thinking, without telling each other that it will take too long and we’ll be asked to separate. It’s about being able to be more natural in behaviour because we know there’s no camera or no guard. In prison, there is no place for fantasies and paraphernalia. Nothing but underwear is allowed. The thought that we will have to live with this price for several years is not a joy. But we cannot revolt, we have no other alternative.
Florence: I made love on the fourth unsupervised visit. We must not underestimate the adaptability of the human being: he can adapt to anything and ignore everything. You make love ignoring the whole room, the place, the comments, because we’re in the dungeon corridor. There is no heat, you have to sit in the middle of the couch because it moves. I fell a few times and laughed at this fourth dimension. We don’t make love every time, even if we rarely see each other, because I can’t disconnect from my thoughts. I admit that I have a frustrated sexuality.
Daniel: I think you have to be deeply in love first, that’s the only way you can last. It’s not a fulfilling intimate life, but we do the best we can with what we’re given. It will never replace the feeling of falling asleep and waking up with her in my arms. It’s a totally constrained sexuality, just like our love and intimate lives are. We are told that we have the right to love and be intimate on such a day from 2:30 PM to 6:30 PM. Unfortunately, that’s part of the game and that’s how the prison system works. After seven and a half years, we get to forget.
It’s like when you live near the station and you don’t hear the trains go by even though they are there. It’s exactly the same thing. Given the constraints, our sex life is as satisfying as it gets. You can’t win against the prison system. Making a fuss, shouting, fighting with the guards, it’s all for nothing. You have to take what you are given, be content with what you have and enjoy to the fullest all the possibilities that are offered to you. Is it a fulfilling sex life? Not at all. There are shortages at all levels, it is very painful. I suffer the same torment as her. I have more freedom in my daily life, but on a psychological level I have the same pains as her.