The Criminalization of Youth / Psychology

AND IF THE TWIG BE BROKEN...

 by A. Shneur Horowitz
As the war on "sex deviants" heats up, queer adolescent boys are getting sent to prison in record numbers.  Shneur looks at their plight behind bars.


The setting sun highlights a wolf-pack of rapidly traversing clouds, seeming to flee across the sky as if driven in hot pursuit.  All eyes in the rag-tag column of men are drawn to the slice of brilliant color shining between canyons of dirty red brick and rusted iron bars.  If only their bodies could follow their eyes, they would soar toward the distant tip of mountain just visible over the thirty-foot gray concrete wall.  Black, white, and Hispanic, they emerge into the cramped sand and cement yard for their daily "recreation," Some shout loudly in the raucous accents of their native ghettos; a few are dressed as much like females as prison regulations will tolerate; but most are absorbed in a sort of grim determination to walk, talk, or gamble away a few hours   of the timeless "time," of the unbidden "bid."

If one were to poll these men, incarcerated in a special unit of the New York State prison system, one would find a collection of thieves, murderers, extortionists, and Mafiosi.  However, the reality is that two-thirds or more of them are imprisoned because of sexual relations with minors.  Here, in what probably comes closest to being a "community" of lovers of adolescents or children, the flight from self-awareness and acknowledgement seems singularly pathetic.  Here, where the secret has been "outted," often in sensationalistic newspaper headlines, and where individuals might find comfort in the sharing of their common tragedy, the self-imposed isolation and denial seem particularly pointless.  And saddest of all are the young faces, those still adolescent or barely into adulthood, whose identities have been cut off, crushed, aborted literally "in statu nascendi."  These unfortunate young prisoners are the subject of this article.

The author has spoken informally with a number of fellow prisoners who were persecuted as adolescents for their sexual orientation.  Some of these conversations have been in great depth, and some only brief, depending upon opportunity and the degree of trust established.  These hard-won confidences are protected here by exclusion of identifying details.  This is not a scientific study, nor even a pilot study.  But if systematic research were to be done in this field, some promising points of inquiry are herein suggested.  Five areas were included in all the discussions; they are:

1) When and how did you begin to realize that your sexual orientation was "different" from that of most of your peers?
2) When and how were you first "officially" persecuted by the political system?
3) How did "Authorities" attempt to convince you that you were "bad" or "sick"?
4) How do you feel now about your sexual experiences with younger persons?
5) How do you plan to "handle" your sexuality after release from prison?

1) How did you realize your sexual orientation was "different"?

Young persons who are attracted to children or adolescents become aware of their orientation at a fairly wide range of ages, although in general later than that found for "adultophiles," either heterosexual or homosexual.  The age of awareness seems to correlate more with overall personality and level of sexual activity than it does with orientation.  By orientation is meant the individual's subjective hierarchy of sexual responsiveness to men, women, boys, and girls.1  Individuals who are more highly sexual, and/or who have more extroverted personalities, tend to have more and earlier contacts, and to become aware of their orientation at an earlier age.  One outgoing respondent, who describes himself as having been "promiscuous" as a child, was aware by age ten of his strong preference for younger partners.2  Another respondent, who says he was a "loner" throughout childhood and adolescence, did not "discover himself" until he was into his early twenties.  Even today, he is a gentle and retiring person.3

The most common pattern involves sexual identity emerging during early to mid- adolescence, around ages thirteen to sixteen years.  As contemporaries, one by one, make their definitive turns toward adult orientations and away from childhood sexuality,4 the lover of adolescents or children is gradually "left behind." This is why awareness comes at a relatively late age.  If, at age eleven or twelve, a girl is having erotic fantasies about teenage women at the same time that her peers are falling in love with high school boys, it rapidly occurs to her that she is sexually "different."  However, if, after several years of sexual expression with "the kids in the neighborhood," she continues to enjoy the kids in the neighborhood, she probably thinks nothing of it.  A twelve-year-old boy masturbating with another twelve-year-old boy is "just playing around," i.e., expressing childhood sexuality.  A twelve-year-old boy masturbating with a ten-year-old boy is also just "playing around" -- or is he?  One young prisoner recalls an ongoing sexual relationship he had at twelve with another twelve- year-old.  This person was one-and-a-half years into puberty at the time, while the other boy was just pubescent.  The partner remarked, "How can you get turned on by someone who has less hair than you?"  To which the respondent replied, "Why would you want to do it with someone who has more hair than you?"  Clearly in retrospect, this peer relationship had inter-generational overtones.  However, not until most of one's peers have made their definitive turns toward either adult heterosexuality or adult homosexuality, and one continues to age but one's desired sexual partners do not, does the suspicion of difference assert itself.  Finally, when one's partners begin to regard one, not as a slightly older contemporary, but as "grown-up,"5 the identity component "I am someone who loves children and adolescents" must come to the fore.  So the continuity between childhood sexuality and an adult orientation as a person who feels erotic love for adolescents or children delays self-recognition, probably by two to four years.

2) When and how were you first "officially" persecuted by the political system?

The younger the prisoner in my sample, the more likely he is to have been officially persecuted as an adolescent.  The author found no prisoner over the age of forty who had been arrested as a teenager.  Those in an intermediate age range may have been prosecuted as "juvenile offenders," or just "sent for treatment."  But the youngest group -- those in their early twenties or later teens -- had as adolescents been tried and imprisoned as adults.  This change represents, of course, the new witch-hunt mentality around sex involving minors.  That which a generation ago was viewed as eccentric and undesirable is now seen as a heinous crime, committed by a "monster" who is hopelessly incorrigible -- even if that "perpetrator" is himself little more than a child.

Among older respondents, political persecution often first took the form of mandatory "counseling" or "treatment."  This may have been mediated through parental or school authority, or under the threat of (or with actual) juvenile court intervention.  Removal from the home, or banishment to a special school, may have followed.  Younger respondents generally were simply arrested, sometimes quite roughly, and almost always with vicious verbal abuse.  Among older interviewees, there was almost never any malicious intent on behalf of their younger partner, who merely shared what appears to have been a pleasurable encounter by relating it to a "significant other."  That is not the case with the more recent episodes, where government- sponsored indoctrination programs create sexual self-hatred in young persons, frequently causing them to reinterpret pleasurable experiences in a negative light.

3) How did "authorities" attempt to convince you that you were "bad" or "sick"?

The two key concepts in understanding how these young prisoners are brainwashed to reject themselves are isolation and unanimity.  These are essentially mirror images of each other.  The young person is isolated from any alliance with other persons who share his erotic and emotional feelings in a positive and self-affirming way, and all the adult authority figures around him agree unanimously that he is "sick" and in need of "help."

In the 1950s, numerous studies and experiments were done to try to understand the phenomenon of Nazism.  One persistent question was, "How can persons who otherwise are intelligent, cultured, and moral, be persuaded to perform acts of egregious cruelty, contrary to deeply held principles?"  The two salient factors that repeatedly emerged were conformity and approval. In experiments where all the other participants agreed to an incorrect perception of reality (e.g., that the shorter of two lines was longer), an experimental subject would not only come to agree, but would actually begin to believe that his perception was the same as everyone else's.  In other experiments, approval voiced by persons seen as authority figures (such as scientists or doctors) could cause ordinary people to perform acts which they otherwise would have rejected as morally reprehensible.6

In these studies, the "others" were strangers.  The adolescent attracted to younger partners, however, is confronted by his very own, very personal, authority figures: parents, teachers, clergy, relatives, and so on.  They all present to him that what he thought was loving, delightful, and "good," i.e., sexual pleasure with young partners, was really terribly "bad."  Furthermore, what he thinks is "bad," i.e., being incarcerated and never seeing his loved ones again, is actually "good," both for him and for them.  The principles of both conformity and approval unite to urge the youth's personality to collapse in the face of such unanimity.

Another finding in these experiments on conformity was that many individuals could resist the pressure of the group if they were given one ally.  This minimal case of "strength in numbers," combined with some degree of confidence in their own subjective perception, was enough to insulate them against group unreality.  Those in prison for sex with minors are carefully guarded from forming any self-affirming alliances.  Supportive literature is not allowed in most prisons, and outspoken advocates tend to be transferred to other prisons where they may be beaten, raped, or killed.  Where group "treatment" is employed, the young subject is isolated in a group of more thoroughly brainwashed prisoners, who can resolve their own remaining doubts7 and gain approval from their captors by strongly affirming the shared unreality to the newcomer.  Such submissive and brainwashed prisoners believe that they may be rewarded with earlier release.

Perception and memory, then, are not as static or carved into stone as many people believe, but rather fluid and subject to modification and revision.  Very recent studies, both naturalistic and experimental are showing that "memory implantation" in both children and adults may be relatively common and easily accomplished.  The same brainwashing techniques discussed above are also used to change the "affective sign" of past experiences, i.e., to remember them as "bad," "unpleasant," or "coerced" when in fact they have been "good," "pleasurable," and "sought after."

The "drug-addiction" model is generally used with these imprisoned youths to accomplish this transformation.  Young people today are familiar with that model.  Most adolescents today have had experience with drugs, and at least know someone who is addicted to, or otherwise dependent on them.  Youth today are familiar with the paradigm of the addict whom everyone else sees destroying himself, but who lusts after his addiction with a sick passion to which he himself is blind.  The adolescent imprisoned for sex with minors is told that he, through no fault of his own, has become addicted to an "unnatural" sexual outlet, the way that opium might be seen as providing an "unnatural" relief from life's stress.  Like the opium addict, he must learn to give up his "easy high" and direct himself to more "natural," "better" outlets.  As to how he came to be "addicted" in the first place - well, obviously there must be a "pusher" lurking overtly or covertly in the past.   Whether the poor addict remembers it or not, his father must have flipped his penis a couple of extra times on the "changing table," or her grandmother must have washed her clitoris a little too attentively back in the bassinet.  Just as the drug addict must come to view the pleasurable memories of pharmacological euphoria as suspect, and ultimately to remember those experiences hatefully in light of their long term destructiveness, so the imprisoned adolescent must come to reverse the "positive sign" of his loving experiences, and remember them as acts of cruelty and self-destruction.

4) How do you feel about your sexual experiences now?

Asking these youths in prison how they now feel about their prior sexual experiences was truly eerie.  Their responses conjured images from Manchurian Candidate, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and A Clockwork Orange.  Generally, the first reaction was to not answer the question at all, but to make some statement about future behavior.  If the query were pursued, frightening changes would be observed: voices lost normal intonation and rhythm, eyes glazed.  One heard what sounded like a memorized statement, always featuring the words "crime" and "victim," delivered in a flat, affectless cadence. Attempts to elucidate further or to elicit details were usually met with a deflection from the subject, or with premature termination of the conversation.

This reaction was quite different from fellow prisoners who were older when they were publicly identified and humiliated. The latter are more likely to refuse to talk about their experiences at all.  This would seem to indicate a reluctance or inability to spout the party line, silence being a preferable alternative.  If they do discuss themselves, they recall their loves with nostalgia and yearning.  Apparently, passing through the adolescent crisis of identity formation, and then having the opportunity to "live with oneself" for a period of years, insulates to some extent against the disintegrative effects of oppression.  Having a history of loving relationships, perhaps even having seen some of one's partners grow to healthy maturity, makes it more difficult to acquiesce to a revisionist discrediting of those relationships.

Persons with erotic feelings for youths who are caught in the implacable jaws of the legal machinery as adolescents or young adults suffer identity dissolution, not resulting from inner psychological conflict as described in classical sources, but as a consequence of confrontation between the proverbial "irresistible force" and the "immovable object."  Long experience with adolescents has taught the author that despite outward bravado, their adult personae, their emerging senses of self, are beautifully tender, hothouse flowers.  Long, graceful stems they have, vibrant contrasting hues and moist petals; but too much or too rough handling, too much stress, and they readily wither and die.  Transplanted outdoors, after a time they will toughen, perhaps less heartbreakingly lovely, but hardier and better able to survive in stormy weather.  Adolescent personalities attacked at the very root of their sexual selves simply crumble.  These adolescents are confronted with an "immovable object" of overwhelming power: not only the power to bodily take them out of their natural environment and lock them up as criminals, but the power to make labels of "deviant" and "pervert" stick within the mind of their prison peers and within their own minds.  Under this dual physical and mental onslaught, the unfolding personality retreats to cower silently in some forgotten corner of the mind, fermenting, and biding its time.  Meanwhile, an alien pseudo-identity is forcibly grafted onto these unfortunate young people, giving rise to the automaton-like productions noted earlier.   

5) How do you plan to "handle" your sexuality after release from prison?

Persons whose sexual identities were severely damaged during adolescence by imprisonment are at great risk upon release.  They have no solid, stable sense of self, only that which has been foisted upon them by their captors.  Even in this, they have not been allowed to "identify with the aggressor," a psychological defense mechanism that, although neurotic, might afford them a workable identity of some kind.  This is because, along with the "drug addict" model discussed above, they have been taught an "Alcoholics Anonymous" approach to "treatment."  Thus, they see themselves forever "Recovering" -- "Once an abuser, always an abuser" -- with eternal vigilance and total abstinence being the only protections against "falling off the wagon."  In this way, their identities are destroyed, but they are not permitted to "join the club" of their "normal" persecutors.  The goal of "AA" is not for a person to become a normal drinker, but become a non-drinker.  Transferred to those who feel erotic love for adolescents or
children then, the goal with which these people have been indoctrinated is not "normal" relationships with young people, but to have no contact with them.

In fact, within the prison walls or fences, where there are almost never any children or young adolescents, it is quite possible for these young individuals, who after all have never lived as adults in the outside world, to believe that they are "in recovery" from their "sickness."  Their identity, which had never really "gelled," is dissolved: their sexuality stripped of all appropriate stimuli, except for long-faded memories, is suppressed and denied.  They naively but honestly believe that they will live without any eroticism ("I can look but not touch"), or that with the omnipotentiality of childhood still intact, they will now suddenly manifest the "straight" hyper-heterosexuality they have read about in pornographic magazines, but never experienced ("I'm normal now").  They delude themselves and serve their sentences without ever learning how to understand their sexuality, or how to handle it in the real world, either through appropriate expression or through selfconscious non-expression.  When released, they are vulnerable to being swept away by erotic stimuli, and with the added stress of insidious parole practices, they are susceptible to again becoming victims of their captors.

The only exception noted to this depressing picture is the individual who has a strong secondary, or even primary, adult homosexual attraction.  These persons often are able to grow into at least a partial adult sexual identity during the years of their incarceration.  Caring and emotionally stable gay partners are themselves rare in prisons, and unfortunately some youths imprisoned for relationships with minors may have been yet further traumatized by nonconsensual jailhouse encounters.  However, if they found mutuality in a growth-promoting relationship for any substantial period of time, they may have avoided to some extent at least the identity dissolution discussed above.  Once again, older prisoners in jail on the same charge, having lived with themselves over years or decades, tend to have a much more balanced attitude, and more realistic plans for themselves upon release from prison.

From the very same considerations discussed in this article as contributing to the tragic situation of youths jailed for sex with minors, a program of intervention and rescue may also be inferred.  First and foremost, their isolation must be broken.  People on the outside with an understanding of these issues should take it as their duty to befriend these unfortunate prisoners.8  This actually is not very difficult in prison: prison grapevines generally possess accurate knowledge of the charges for which each person is incarcerated, and young prisoners are most often hungry for friendships in which they perceive they will not be sexually assaulted.  Sharing news of the struggle of sexual minorities for human rights, or even just small talk, can provide the crucial ally to help someone preserve his identity in the face of efforts to undermine it.

As discussed, pressure toward conformity depends on near-unanimity, especially among authority figures and "significant others."  Young prisoners must be provided with authoritative information with which to bolster their intuitive sense of right and wrong.  Papers and reports on the history of this kind of affection -- its nature, its practices, and its benefits -- must find their way into the hands of all who share these feelings.  Legal and administrative restrictions on the free flow of information must be fought in the courts and circumvented by creative legal alternatives.  Any positive publicity for organizations dealing with these issues -- even just that such things exist -- can help the young, isolated prisoner to feel that there are others who hold an opinion different from that of his captors.

Perhaps the greatest service that those on the outside can offer their imprisoned brothers, particularly those incarcerated before reaching full adulthood, is help upon release.  This should begin in advance, with stories and information about the lifestyles of people like themselves who live successfully on the outside, and where and with whom one can live.  Also included should be stories about those who have chosen to live openly as advocates of free sexuality in a hostile society, i.e., a sort of celibate pederast priesthood.  Upon release from prison, support and comfort should be immediately at hand.  Remember, these are individuals who have never lived as adults outside prison.  As with all such persons, one can expect them to be pathologically mistrustful, lacking in age-appropriate social and relational skills, and combining excessive external toughness with abnormal internal vulnerability.  In addition to all of this will be found the self-deprecation and confused sexual identity resulting from years of brainwashing and indoctrination.

What has just been described is indeed a labor of love, and not without its risks.  America has always been a nation of social and political movements, of groups and classes and races struggling for recognition of their basic right to exist.  The difference between the nineteenth-century civil disobedience of Emerson and Thoreau, and twentieth-century civil rights movements, is that nowadays nobody wants to take the consequences of his actions.  One must stand up to laws and policies that are unfair or morally wrong.  This is war; it is no different from the previous generation's fighting to remove the blight of Nazism from the world.  One need not volunteer to fight in every war, but in the Army which one has joined, one must be prepared to suffer, bleed, and possibly even die.  Activists can and should provide as much protection as possible, both for those who are already "out," and for those who are "not yet out."  However, it should be understood that there is no perfect protection, that there is no benefit without risk, no growth without pain.  These are our children, and they are being destroyed.

A young man in his twenties walks `round and `round the prison yard.  With him is a gay man ten years his senior.  They glance about furtively at the guards, then clasp each others' hands.  Some say they are lovers, when they get the chance.  They say they just talk.  What do they talk about?  Not about kids, that's for sure.  The young man has been imprisoned for several years; he will soon be going home.  Home?  Well, not really; after all, he was a child when he last lived there.  He has "grown up" in prison.  He and his friend/lover promise to write each other frequently, but because of parole, that will have to be mediated clandestinely through a third party, hoping not to get 'caught.  Someone has talked to him about a group of organized boy-lovers, but he doesn't need them, because he "won't be doing that anymore."  No, he doesn't want to come back to jail.  So what will he do?  Well, he'll work very hard, maybe buy a house, maybe open his own business eventually.... His friend will surely look him up when he gets out....

_________________________

Notes:

1.  The author employs a ten-point rating scale for global attraction to each of four types of "sex-objects" (man, woman, boy, girl) thus producing a "Sexual Orientation Profile" of the form m:w:b:g.  A rating of 10:1:1:1, for example, would indicate a person attracted exclusively to men, and not at all to women, boys, or girls. The author's SOP is 1:5:8:7.  The SOP gives a measure of overall subjective sexuality, as well as of its distribution. This will, G-d willing, receive separate treatment in a future writing.  It is interesting to note that of all interviewees, only one reported sexual attraction to boys only, and not to girls.  After further discussion, his SOP was found to be 8:4:4:1, so attraction to children was for him in general a secondary eroticism.  

2.  His SOP is 1:6:8:9.

3.  SOP 5:2:6:4.

4.   It is the author's belief that sexual orientation in life is biphasic, with a "childhood hierarchy" involving attraction to other children and/or adults in varying degrees; and an "adult hierarchy" which emerges around puberty plus or minus two years.  See above, note 1.

5.   Remember that sixteen-year-olds most often are regarded by children as "grown-ups," and they certainly regard themselves as fully mature and worldly-wise!

6.  Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963.

7.  This process is called by psychologists "reduction of cognitive dissonance," and is responsible for the well-known phenomenon of "no fanatic like a convert."

8.  This may be accomplished through such organizations as the Gay Community News Prisoner Project, 25 West Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02111 USA.

From Gayme magazine, Vol. 1, No. 2, pgs. 20 - 28, Feb. 1994.
Copyright ©  A. Shneur Horowitz, 1994, All rights reserved.


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