Prison Narratives is a collection of reports narrated by prisoners – sometimes famous and sometimes unknown. The narrators, political and ideological prisoners as well as convicts of ordinary crimes, tell us about their lives in prison. Our latest report will address the issue of sexual behavior in prisons; from exchanging pictures of women, to instances of rape.
Power relations in prisons determine sexual behavior. In this report, entering on Greater Tehran Prison, we meet an 18-year-old man was held in the Correction and Training Center for the past five years and is now in prison to continue serving his sentence; a middle-aged man who spent his youth behind bars; a young man who has never had sexual intercourse; an old man whose sexuality developed in prison, and ended in rape. A few of the prisoners can experience sexual relations with concubines. All the names in this collection of prison narratives are pseudonyms.
Prisoners held at Greater Tehran Prison range from 17 to 77 years old. They are accused of murder, armed robbery, internet fraud, Instagram commenting, debts of five million tomans to those with $50 million bails. These prisoners, having sentences of three months and one day to 35 years in prison, have at least one thing in common; their sexual needs.
Exchanging Pictures of Women for Personal Use
Images of women in prisons are valuable items for exchange – whether pictures from magazines or photographs smuggled from outside the prison through an intermediary. In wards where it is possible to buy a television set and watch a movie from a flash drive, the night starts after “lights out” and is dedicated to watching a "football movie" i.e. a pornographic film. These flash drives are sometimes traded for up to a million tomans [$40] and are often brought from outside the prison by an officer or soldier – or by prisoners who have secret access to a mobile phone.
Wards where films can be watched also present no obstacles to prisoners masturbating as they watch pornography: prisoners will undertake these actions in their individual beds and sleeping corners. But in wards where there is no access to pornographic films, the value of photos, especially nude or sexual images, is higher and they are exchanged for drugs.
Rent Boys: Prisoners’ Property
"It was about 9pm when the clash started. There were flasks thrown in the corridor, and glasses were broken. I quickly crawled to the corner of my cell. I knew that in a few minutes the knives would come out and the floor of the corridor would be covered with blood. It took half an hour for the 10 or 12 people who were injured to be taken out of the ward and for the clashes to end. The next morning, I asked about the cause of the clash,” a witness told IranWire.
"Mahmoud had entered the ward the day before. He was in the same ward two months ago but was transferred to another ward. Apparently, after two months, he was able to get his transfer permit and to return. The fight was over his rent boy, his concubine ... During Mahmoud’s absence, his rent boy had become the rent boy of another inmate. The fight was over Mahmoud's rent boy to return to him."
Rent boys in Iranian prisoners are younger male prisoners, often born in the 1991s or 200s, who who offer their bodies to prisoners. They belong to a certain prisoner and not another prisoner. In return, the prisoner who “owns” him pays for food, drinking water, beds, ward services, and telephone charges.
A different term used is “face,” which is a name for a young prisoner who offers his companion to another prisoner but does not sleep with him; it is as if the beautiful face of a young prisoner is enough for the owner prisoner, rather than sexual relations. But ultimately these “faces” are usually dragged behind curtains, next to the refrigerator, bathroom and toilet, where the sexual acts ultimately takes place.
There is no need to use force, threats or beatings to have sex with a one of these “rent boy” or “faces;” the agreement has already been reached.
"Sometimes during sexual intercourse, the owner of the rent boy attaches a picture of a woman to the back of the chick in order to think of an imaginary woman while using the body of that prisoner,” the witness added.
The rent boy also enjoys security in this relationship, and no one dares to insult, touch, or fight with him. That is why most young prisoners are drawn to becoming a rent boy: "It is suggested to him that, instead of being humiliated, to become the rent boy of a strong prisoner."
Some young people, who are aware of the relations in prison, injure their faces before entering the ward so they would not become a “face" and so other prisoners will think they are dangerous and not offer them sexual arrangements.
Drugs and Rape
"It was past midnight. The inmates had ... gone to sleep. Mehdi, in charge of the room and Morteza, a new prisoner on the ward who was forced to sleep on the floor, were sitting in the middle of the room. Mehdi brought the lamp and handed the foil to Morteza. They took a few breaths together. One of Mehdi’s hands was placed around Morteza's neck and his other hand was on his feet. Less than a quarter of an hour later, Morteza, who was almost no longer himself, was taken behind the curtain."
Morteza lived with his mother in Islamshahr and his crime was that he had accepted money to be deposited into his bank account with a promised fee of 200,000 tomans: just eight dollars. He was arrested on money laundering charges.
The practice of not separating different types of convicts from each other – i.e. major and minor crimes, and political prisoners – as well as the ages and number of new prisoners seems to have increased the number of forced sexual relationships and rapes in Greater Tehran Prison. Many sexual relations are imposed on a prisoner based on his or her lack of physical strength and their financial position. A powerful prisoner sometimes makes his subject surrender faster by giving them drugs or pills. This is the case in wards that are overcrowded (for example, in wards where 600 people are held, but only 240 beds are available.
"I even remember a rape that happened after a bloody conflict. In this case, a boy whose father was raped in a ward had beaten the perpetrators. The father was drugged the night before and raped,” the witness told IranWire.
Love in Prison
"They had been arguing since morning and had upset everyone. It was the first verbal fight I saw in prison, without physical confrontation and only with words of grief and anger – 'Why did you do that?', 'You did it the last time,' 'It is your fault', 'It has always been like this', 'Why did you do this?' – and harsher words such as 'Don't give me that bullshit' or ‘Trash’,” the witness told IranWire.
"It was a surprise to me, who had never seen the emotional and sexual relationship of two men up close; and all that in prison. But when one of the prisoners asked me to mediate, I realized that the matter was serious. Usually, sexual or emotional relationship may occur between two prisoners who serve their sentences together for some time; sometimes the relationship is coercive and other times it is consensual.
"If the relationship becomes consensual, the behaviors become complicated; violence and reconciliation, jealousy, quarrels, and zeal. It is as if they are having an interpersonal emotional and sexual relationship outside of prison. Sometimes separation in these relationships leads to suicide. Yes, prisoners fall in love here in prison too.”
Sharia meetings and temporary concubines in prison
"Tuesdays are the meeting day for our ward. They read out the names for the first series of meetings from about nine in the morning: cabin meetings, face-to-face meetings and private (sharia) meetings. About 50 people are taken from the wards in each series. At the entrance to the ward, they board a bus and are taken to meeting rooms. Those who have a face-to-face meeting should wear prison clothes and sit opposite each other at the table for 20 minutes. You do not need to wear clothes for cabin meetings. The two meet for 20 minutes behind glass. But people who go to the sharia meetings get off earlier than others. The joke with them starts from there, depending on the age and atmosphere in the bus; 'have fun', 'wish you the best', to more serious jokes,” the witness said.
Few or no prisoners have a positive view about the sharia visits with concubines: "Even if I am executed, I will not tell my wife to come for a sharia visit."
This is a common phrase among old prisoners. "Our zeal does not allow us to bring our spouse to prison," some say. They believe that their spouses are insulted, humiliated and harassed when they enter the prison for a visit, and that the prison guard can use this leverage to put pressure on the prisoner, given the fact that a sharia visit is given to the prisoner as a favor and at the written request of the prisoner.
In the meantime, however, there are special opportunities for some who have financial resources and want to enter into a temporary marriage. Temporary marriages are arrangements in Shia Islam whereby an individual can temporarily marry someone – often a prostitute – to legitmize a sexual relation. This service is generally performed by the clergy of the prison's cultural unit. When a cleric comes to the wards to offer prayers or answer religious questions, he offers the prisoners the solution of temporary marriage. The cleric helps arrange introductions, preparation of the marriage booklet, reading the marriage sermon, and the sharia (sexual relation) meeting itself, each of which are done for a fee.
Sometimes one of the prisoners who has relations outside prison is engaged in this business – acting as pimps for prisoners who can afford a temporary marriage. For some, such sharia visits are arranged every week or even twice a week, in coordination with prison officials.
Sex in prison is also based on power relationships. The more well-known, wealthier, stronger, and older a prisoner is, the more sexual privileges he or she has, which can range from rape to taking a temporary concubine.
With this brief review of sexual relations and operations in prison, it is conceivable that some prisoners, who have been imprisoned as defendants of economic crimes, may have more resources and advantages. And young newcomers, in these power relationships, have to give in to the demands of other prisoners and carry on with a wounded and sometimes empty spirit in order to survive in prison.
Read other articles in this series: