Breaking Rule 10: No Sex with Cellmates

A prison gang leader loses his vaunted status when he violates a crucial tenet of behind-the-bars code.

By Damon R. Matthews

It was 2 a.m. when the bus pulled into the maximum security prison, the cold, dark California desert matching the mood of the human cargo. With shackles clamped painfully around his wrists and ankles, Brian Kilgor peered out of the stuffy bus windows at his new home, eager to get a cell and a mattress after a miserable eight-hour ride.

In his twelfth year of a sixteen-year sentence for armed robbery, Brian prepared himself for yet another onslaught of drama and hate that had followed him through the prison system like a sadistic shadow for the past four years. 
Before his arrest, Brian was a rebellious eighteen-year-old gang member who enjoyed being one of the guys in his sunny, crime-riddled San Diego neighborhood. However, he experienced a different dynamic among his rowdy homeboys in jail. There was less of a laid back camaraderie and more of a structured pecking order with drastic consequences for rule breakers. 
 This rubbed Brian the wrong way. He didn’t appreciate having to answer to a fellow gang member just because he was the new guy on the cellblock. He decided to do everything in his power to make a name for himself so he could be the one giving orders, not taking them.

He soon learned that ascending to the top of the gang food chain required violence. A lot of it. He was already prepared, thanks in large part to a physically and sexually abusive father.
By the time he entered the state prison system after his conviction a year later, he was well schooled in how to handle himself and well used to calling the shots. Again, he knew what he had to do to get to the top, just ratcheted it up a notch. He attacked a guard in full view of influential gangbangers. Incited racial riots “just because.” He took drugs from weaker crews under the pretext that he would pay for it, only to stiff them and distribute the dope to his own homeboys. Over the years, these calculated and often impulsive acts made his name known on general population yards throughout the state. He became respected and admired by his clique, and feared and despised by rivals. Eight years into his sentence Brian had achieved his coveted alpha dog status.
But four years later, as Brian shuffled through the gate of his fifth prison, his rock star treatment had disappeared. Now the thirty-year-old was a pariah. Previously, his arrival on a new yard prompted generous care packages from his homeboys and a “kite,” a small handwritten note listing friends and foes. The kite was key because it let him know who he could have to confront. Arriving at a new prison in the dead of night without that information left Brian in the dark, literally and figuratively.

Brian shook his head as guards herded him and the other societal rejects off the bus like sheep, barely hearing their profanity-laced orders to form a tight straight line. There had been occasions in the past when his arrival at a new prison had prompted potential targets to voluntarily seek protective custody for their own safety. Now he wondered whether he should seek PC.

Brian replayed the episode in his mind as he had so many times since it happened.

***

He’d been relaxing watching television, enjoying a rarity in California’s overcrowded prisons — a cell to himself. His previous cellmate had paroled two nights prior, and with the state’s overflowing inmate population, Brian was sure he’d get a new cellie that same night. Instead, the gods of solitude smiled upon him and allowed the “king” to have his broom closet-sized castle to himself for a second consecutive night. 
High off of pruno, an inmate-made alcohol, and a small amount of smuggled weed, Brian was in the middle of joyfully flubbing a “Wheel of Fortune” puzzle when the steel door rumbled open.
Quickly downing the bitter drink he was nursing, he got up to investigate. He threw off his shirt to display his gang tattoos in case a new cellmate was arriving, then positioned his six-foot-two frame to block the doorway so he could vet any new cellie. It was more than posturing. It was about obeying his gang’s “Constitution,” a written set of numerous rules that carried punishments for violation, ranging from mandatory exercise to being stabbed.
Besides the ubiquitous “No snitching” (Rule 1) and “No backing down from a fight” (Rule 8), one of the key areas of the Constitution regulated cell behavior, including “Do not allow a mentally unstable person to move into your cell” (Rule 12), and a laundry list of do’s and don’ts, such as “No hanging your feet from the top bunk while your cellie is on the lower bunk” (Rule 15). Petty, but in the volatile world of maximum security prison, these Constitutions kept violence down.
The last thing Brian wanted was a buzz-killing confrontation with a new cellmate. He looked down the corridor hoping to see one of his homeboys. Instead, he saw a dude he didn’t know heading his way carrying a bed roll. Brian sized up the guy — slim, fit, maybe six feet tall, no visible tattoos and, most importantly, none of the aggressive energy that gangbangers usually exude when meeting people for the first time. “I can take him,” he thought.

With guards watching from their posts and inmates looking on from their cells, the unit fell silent with anticipation. Brian, the leader of his clique, was fully prepared to put on a violent show if he had to. The guy walked up to the shirtless gangbanger, and to Brian’s surprise, smiled and extended his right hand. Still blocking the entrance, Brian shook the guy’s hand and asked the two standard questions prisoners pose to one another upon meeting.

“What do they call you?” he asked, referring to the monikers most convicts have. (“What’s your name?” is seen as too narc-like.)

“I go by D2,” he said.

“Where are you from?” Gangbangers hate this query because the wrong answer, or even hesitation to answer, can lead to a fight. Brian didn’t care. He was in full intimidation mode.
D2 didn’t seem to notice. “I’m from Fairfield, small town in Northern California,” he said with a goofy smile that Brian found weird. Chalking the smile up to the guy’s nerves, he moved aside, officially allowing the man to move in.

The atmosphere in the unit relaxed. The guards went back to gossiping and inmates retreated into their cells. There would be no show. 
Once D2 settled in, Brian courteously offered him some weed and pruno. D2 was more than willing to indulge. The two spent the next couple of hours getting loaded and talking about their backgrounds.

D2 was four years older than Brian, loved reading and watching movies set in medieval times, and had never come across a drug he didn’t try at least twice. To Brian’s surprise, he produced some much more potent weed for them to enjoy. D2 also had a naïve, child-like fascination with gang lifestyle, which amused Brian. D2 reminded him of the nerdy character Carlton Banks from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

D2 was the polar opposite to the cutthroat gang members and hardened criminals Brian was used to dealing with, and he found it refreshing to be in a cell with a square for a change. He didn’t have to be hypervigilant, worrying about constitutional rules that as clique leader he was responsible for enforcing. For the first time in a long while Brian didn’t mind sharing his cell.

As days passed, Brian pieced together D2’s story. He was an average working class guy who got caught up in California’s draconian Three Strikes Law. One too many drug convictions netted him 25 to life instead of a much-needed rehab stint. But there was something about D2 that struck Brian as odd, his mannerisms and the way he spoke. Brian couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was.

One cold, rainy day after he and D2 finished off a joint, Brian prepared to head out to the exercise yard. 
 “Why are you going out there when it’s raining like that?” D2 asked.

Brian explained that under his gang’s Constitution it was “mandatory that all homeboys go to the yard, rain, sleet or snow” (Rule 4) because a riot could break out over something as small as a misinterpreted look so all available hands had to be on deck.

On his way out the door, Brian gave his cellie permission to look at his porn collection while he was gone, a common courtesy convicts show each other when they get along. A couple of hours later, Brian returned drenched from the rain. D2 made no mention of the nudie magazines.
 Days later, on his way to a dental appointment at the infirmary, D2 gave Brian a fat joint and offered 0Brian a look at his stack of smut as well. Feigning anger, Brian chided D2 for not offering him a look sooner. D2 laughed it off.
 “Your collection is so vanilla, I figured you wouldn’t know what to do with my stack,” D2 stated with a sly smile.
 Brian was too self-conscious to ask D2 what he meant by “vanilla.” After D2 had gone, he sparked up the joint and began eagerly flipping through the large stack of skin magazines. A few pages in, it dawned on Brian as to what D2 meant.
 Brian was accustomed to the standard Penthouse fare, but what he was looking at was…different. There was the usual content favored by inmates, naughty nurses, Far East geishas and black women with shapely derrieres. But this was more hardcore. Better, in fact. Maybe it was the weed making it more intense. But as he gawked at the large-breasted women engaging in various sex acts with men and women, Brian noticed something. Some of the women weren’t women at all. They were dudes!
 “What the fuck?!” he muttered out loud. Shocked yet transfixed, Brian flipped through page after page. He loved women. He’d been a star football player in high school and had always been popular with girls, but Brian could not deny that he found those triple X images hot. In fact, he couldn’t recall ever being that excited. 
 Minutes after his marijuana-enhanced climax, Brian’s euphoria was replaced by guilt and shame. Questions raced through his mind. “No straight person would be into this kind of shit, right?” “Then what the hell does that make me?” He knew he had to get a new cellie as soon as possible. Although D2 was a cool dude, and Brian really didn’t want to kick him out, the Constitution clearly stated “no gay cellmates and absolutely no homosexual acts of any kind” (Rule 10).

When D2 returned from the dentist, Brian was unsettled and awkward. He could not stop thinking about those magazines. He wanted to grill D2 about the smut but he couldn’t do so with conviction after what he had just done.
His feelings bamboozled him. Had D2 been a transsexual or someone noticeably gay, Brian would have invoked Rule 10 immediately, even if it meant being thrown in ‘the hole’ for refusing a cellmate. But although Brian enforced his gang’s Constitution regularly, the truth was he resented Rule 10. Other cliques allowed sexual contact, with the caveat being the act had to be deemed “manly.” They subscribed to the twisted prison logic that performing fellatio on a man makes you gay, but being on the receiving end does not. To them, penetrating a willing transsexual or raping a vulnerable inmate is manly and worthy of bragging without getting labeled a queer, but if you voluntarily allow another man to penetrate you, you’re the “F” word.
Brian was simply curious about what it would be like to sleep with a man. He’d kept his taboo desires to himself for years, even while sleeping with the football groupies and bad-boy-chasing girls in high school. He didn’t feel like a chick trapped in a dude’s body or anything weird like that. Nor did he want a same-sex relationship; the thought repulsed him. Although his urges were strictly physical, Brian never sought or even met anyone who made him want to explore this other side to his sexuality. That changed, however, when he got busted and saw something he had never seen before.
He was sitting in a crowded musty holding tank in the San Diego County Jail when he looked across a hallway to an adjacent holding tank, also packed with inmates waiting to be cuffed and bussed to their court appearances. As he scanned the miserable faces, one caught his eye. In the midst of the thugs, mentally deranged and unkempt drug addicts sat a beautiful Latina with fire engine red hair and perky breasts, dressed in jailhouse scrubs like the male inmates. 
He wondered why she wasn’t in the holding tank down the hall with the female inmates. She smiled seductively when she noticed Brian staring. He waved and returned the smile. “I still got it,” he thought. Confused and a little concerned for the chick’s safety, Brian asked the guys next to him why the guards put that “bad bitch” in a holding tank with murderers and rapists. The tank erupted in laughter. The guys explained that the “woman” he was making goo-goo eyes at was a “punk,” a prison term for transsexual. 
Brian was mocked mercilessly by the other inmates for the rest of the day. He was embarrassed, but he was also mesmerized. From that day forward, he became obsessed with the idea of being with a man-turned-woman.
He didn’t get to act on his desire in prison. Transsexuals were regularly victimized by other inmates, so they were often placed in protective custody. However, Brian would occasionally see them on general population yards. They’d give themselves female names, soften their voices and walk around the yard wearing make-up and altered clothing. Brian found the spectacle distracting. It was bad enough the prison had real females (nurses, counselors, C.O.’s) that he lusted after but couldn’t have. Now he was doing the same thing with the transsexuals.
This frustrated him to no end because he had to eye them covertly. The last thing he needed was for his homeboys to notice him ogling punks. He had a reputation to keep up. So he kept a safe distance and watched as hard up prisoners propositioned the punks by offering food, money and protection in exchange for agreeing to move in with them. 
The situation with D2, however, was worse. D2 may very well be into dudes. The guy’s idiosyncrasies popped up in Brian’s mind. The way his baritone went up a few octaves when he would ask him for something. The odd hand gestures and the frequent compliments — these things were more pronounced when they smoked pot — and thanks to D2, they smoked a lot. Brian initially chalked it up to being around a square for the first time. Now, with a slightly paranoid perspective, he saw D2’s behavior as…effeminate, maybe? In fact, was that why the muthafucka was smiling at him when he moved in?!
Every street smart instinct in Brian implored him to kick out D2 immediately. He just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He kept finding excuses. For starters, he genuinely liked D2 as a person. Plus, it was still possible that the guy was straight. 
A week after Brian’s initial solo tryst with the smut, the two of them got high and Brian couldn’t hold back his questions any longer. “So what’s up with the punk magazines?” he asked.
D2 laughed. Brian waited.

“They’re not punk magazines. As you can see I’m into all kinds of porn. I draw the line at animals and kid shit. But everything else is fair game.”
“Are you gay?” Brian asked.
“I wouldn’t label myself that. Matter of fact I wouldn’t label myself at all,” D2 stated bluntly.

Brian fell silent. D2 talked on, candidly admitting to sleeping with both men and women during his drug fueled past. “A person cannot prevent their bodies from being attracted or responding to someone, whether male or female,” he said. “I’m attracted to masculine men, not the garden variety penitentiary punk.”

Brian knew right then that D2 was interested in him. 
Ignoring his inner censor, Brian told D2 about his secret attraction to transsexuals, the first time he’d ever admitted it to anyone. Since he and D2 didn’t have the same friends, Brian figured it was safe. “If I were to fuck around, it would have to be with someone who looked like a bitch,” he said.

“I find the wannabes ridiculous, but I make it a point not to judge,” D2 responded.
Throughout his prison stint D2 had had to be careful with whom he shared his sexual history. Convicts are not known for their tolerance, especially gangbangers. He had had plenty of cellies who never knew about his porn stash. Over time, however, he became intuitive enough to discern who would be accepting of his sexual fluidity, and he had sized up Brian weeks before he even moved in. Unbeknownst to Brian, D2 had spotted him standing in the weight pile clandestinely checking out the backsides of a gaggle of punks walking by. When D2 was serendipitously assigned to Brian’s cell, he counted himself as lucky. He set about grooming Brian, giving him access to his magazines and his marijuana more for strategic reasons than mere jailhouse courtesy. Having been around drugs long enough, D2 understood their uninhibiting effects. Brian lowered his guard and unloaded his secrets, far from suspecting he was being wooed. This, along with D2’s low key disposition, led Brian to give in to temptation. And although he kept the act “manly,” the fact of the matter was he broke Rule 10. His life had been hell ever since.
 ****
 The booming voice of a guard brought Brian back to reality. Two and a half hours had passed since disembarking from the bus. Now the new inmates were being assigned cells in the intake building for a couple weeks of orientation, where they’d be kept apart from the general population so they could be interviewed, classified and given the opportunity to go PC.
Brian was grateful to be housed with an elderly gentleman who knew nothing about his past. This allowed Brian to sleep easier, something he found difficult since his head was crushed by a television during his slumber by a cellie who was scared, but obligated to commit the assault.
The following morning, Brian caught another break. Orientation inmates were fed in their cells rather than in the cafeteria. This allowed him to gather intel while remaining unseen by potential enemies. Brian found out that his former homeboy, Eddie G, a guy he did dirt with years ago, was calling shots on the yard. Brian knew Eddie G was fair and reasonable. Maybe he had a chance to last for more than a few weeks on this yard without an attempt on his life. But he also knew how strong pressure is on leaders to punish rule breakers and earn stripes in front of their crew. And peer pressure too often trumped fairness and reasoning. 
Brian woke up early and went to the sink to wash up. Staring at his reflection in the mirror as his old cellie snored a few feet away, Brian studied the once flawless tattoo on his chest. The name of his gang was printed in bold letters above his left pectoral muscle, BLOOD. But, thanks to an assailant armed with a knife fashioned crudely out of scrap metal, one of the O’s had been partially replaced with ugly scar tissue. 
Brian rubbed the two-year-old scar, then fingered another scar on the back of his neck — the result of a razor attack a year later. Receiving battle scars from his own homies was the last thing Brian expected when he became alpha dog. He also never imagined breaking one of the rules he swore to enforce.
Every time he reflected on his time in the cell with D2, his bitterness deepened. But he wasn’t mad at his former homeboys for the attacks because “rules are rules.” Nor did he blame himself. He willingly satisfied his curiosity, and enjoyed it, too.

Brian directed his anger squarely on one person: D2, because he had exposed him. Brian wasn’t sure who he told, or why. At first, he theorized D2 mistakenly trusted a friend with the secret. But not so deep down, Brian believed D2 did it with malicious intent because Brian was only interested in one thing, while D2 wanted more. Days after experiencing that one thing, Brian moved into a cell with one of his homeboys. D2 was pissed off.
A couple days later, Brian’s new cellie somehow got wind of the egregious rule violation and was the guy who tried to smash his skull with the TV. The gossip soon spread. Prison yards are like small towns — no secrets are safe.
With a few more years before his parole date, Brian considered going PC during his orientation interview. Not only would he escape further attacks, he’d be able to live in a cell with whomever he pleased, even hook up with a punk.

However, in spite of his misstep, Brian still considered himself a badass. Going PC would feel like a bitch move and Brian wasn’t ready to give up on being rebellious. He had even won some of the battles with his former homeboys. The guy who busted him over the head with the TV had to have eye socket surgery. The one who sliced his neck lost a tooth before his back-up ran over and finished the job. 
So Brian decided to man up and do what he’d been doing for the past four years. He made himself a knife and headed out to general population, ready to put on a show. He was good at that. 
 
 Author’s Note

I have run across a lot of “Brians” while serving time. Creating his character — a guy who dare not act on his desires out of fear of harm or ostracism — was bound to happen. The public likes to make “don’t drop the soap” jokes at prisoners’ expense, but in reality it does not happen behind the walls like that, mainly because of those fears. Sex in prison happens, but in most cases it is consensual and usually between people who sleep with men outside of prison and people like Brian. 
While inmates serving time for violent crimes like Brian have always been common, nonviolent offenders like D2 were an anomaly before California politicians scared voters into passing harsh, tough-on-crime laws. With the “Three Strikes Law,” harmless citizens, the D2s of the world, got caught up in the state’s dragnet, receiving life sentences for the pettiest of crimes. 
As an ex-gang member and current anti-gang crusader, writing about the madness of that culture wasn’t much of a stretch. However, the overall subject of the piece was challenging. I want to thank those who encouraged me to continue when I was ready to scrap the project, and also give additional thanks to all of my interview subjects. Keep being yourselves, it looks good on you.
 
A native of Los Angeles, Damon R. Matthews enjoys writing and performing songs and penning stories.