BY: SINEAD MULHERN
Inside LA County Sheriff’s Men’s Central Jail, the K6G ward provides a safe haven for gay and transgendered inmates.
The gay ward was created after a 1985 lawsuit where the jail came under scrutiny for the high rates of inmate violence against gay, bisexual and transgendered populations. It houses 400 inmates in a cell-less ward lined with rows of bunk beds. It’s a safe zone in an institution that is known for its hardened reputation. LA Men’s Central Jail is notorious for a culture defined by gang politics and racial polarity. In the jail’s nooks and corners, 1,000 security cameras keep track of the 3,900 to 4,700 inmates. But inmates have still murdered from the inside.
A recent report states that inmates who identify as LGBTQ claim much higher instances of inmate-to-inmate sexual violence than the rest of the population. In the 2011-2012 year, 8.5 percent of LGBTQ U.S. jail inmates (typically meaning those awaiting trail) reported being victims of sexual violence. This number climbs to over 12 percent for U.S. prison inmates (those who have been convicted).
K6G is the solution to that problem.
“You’re more allowed to say what you feel, how you feel as opposed to being in line or living in fear,” one inmate says of the ward in a video done by LA Weekly. “You don’t have to live that way.”
The ward has lower violence rates and a more hospitable environment for the inmates—many of which are in on drug charges. There’s certainly less violence in K6G and guards have a less strict approach to harmless rule bending like the alteration of jail uniforms. On Fridays, the ward even has a “family night” where inmates put on events like speed dating or fashion shows. Plenty of those housed inside this gay ward have started relationships. Sometimes marriages have even been staged.
This family-like atmosphere seems to be working in ways other than just keeping this community safe from bias-targeted violence. Those who live there say there have been less instances of smuggling drugs and cigarettes inside.
Rehabilitative programs are also in place for when they get out. Drug charges are one of the most prominent in this part of the jail. Currently 150 of the 400 are enrolled in programs to help them stay clean.
However, with a culture so much less poisonous than other parts of the institution, heterosexual people from other wards have tried to fib their way in. This has posed as a problem for guards who use a (not entirely flawless) quizzing system to determine who gets to live in K6G. They ask questions about gay culture like which gay clubs they frequent, what they look like and what their cover charge is.
Not to mention there’s another plus for those who get in: it provides a support system for the large portion of inmates that have been disowned by their family. “A lot of people’s walks have been hard walks,” says an inmate interviewed by LA Weekly. “For some people, this is their home because their families have shunned them.”