(Trigger Alert: Sex work, pornography, sexual abuses of power.)
If you are writing someone in prison, odds are that they can’t afford paper and stamps to write you very often. (It is illegal to send stamps or blank paper.) Western Union and other ways of putting money into your friend’s trust fund (or “on the books”) take a percentage of your money. There’s also normally a fee, and spending $8 so a penpal gets $5 is ridiculous. Plus, if your penpal is in higher security, they’ll often have strict limitations about how much they can spend of their own money. They probably can buy stamps and paper, but possibly not any food which is really necessary due to the tiny meals in prison.
There’s always “good money” and ” bad money”. Bad money is drugs and cell phones, which need to be smuggled into prison by guards or visitors with the help of staff on the payroll of gangs. I am not suggesting doing that.
Good money is totally legal sexy photographs of women in microbikinis, transparent fabrics (not clear latex), mesh and thongs. The women can hold their naked breasts or have a bare bottom if there’s other clothing. As long as the inner lips, vagina, anus and nipples are covered, the photos are fine. The mail room goes through them, taking out any that show too much. Wives and girlfriends often send similar pictures.
The pictures are not any more revealing than what you see in most R rated movies or the Hollywood red carpet. Some are kinda artsy. However, there’s more to it than seeing some flesh. The woman has to look like she actually wants to have sex. The blank model face actually works because fantasies can be projected, while a big smile staring at the camera usually does not. (People usually don’t grin during sex. A come hither smile sometimes works.)
There are two things that you want to keep in mind when choosing photographs: 1. Is the position one that invites sexual activity or is common for sex (penetration or pleasuring a woman orally)? 2. Is the model dressed so it is like she is naked? By this, I mean looking for the following: her vulva’s shape can be seen through transparent underwear; her bottom is naked; the darkness of her nipples shows through the fabric/mesh?
These are the same clothes that celebrities wear to the beach, and those tabloid pictures (if the position is right) should be included. Good microbikini and mesh swimsuit photo shoots often come from topless beaches in the Mediterranean, but rarely include Black women and have no Latinas or Asian women. Bony white women aren’t that attractive to prisoners, but those pictures show everything possible. Suicide Girls (in prison-approved level nakedness) do not sell, and neither will Playboy or Penthouse models in lacey bras and panties. Meanwhile, Etsy can have some good photos from stores making stripper gear or lingerie. As far as actual porn sites, ones with Bikini or XL in the name are quite popular.
Prisoners (like everyone) have fantasy lovers and “types”. There’s quite a large demand for mature amateur BBW (big beautiful women). Mature models are often the same age of the prisoners. The men want to be with “real women” with whom they’d actually be dating or married, so make sure to search “BBW” and “mature” with “mesh” and “lingerie.” There’s often a few men into pregnant bellies. (They usually have a child and can remember a happier time in their lives this way.) Asian and Latina models are just as popular as the mostly white women who will come up on a search for “microbikinis” but you need to specify “Asian microbikinis” (or whatever ethnicity your multicultural assortment needs).
Black women are the hardest to find due to Internet search engines. “Black women mesh” gets you photos of white women in black mesh. If you search “ebony pornstars” you’ll get close to what you want (although you’ll see hardcore porn in trying to find the rare Black pin up girls). That’s something that bothers me; I don’t want to see hardcore sex presented with all the degrading words about the woman. It really upsets me, and it’s only when trying to find Black women that I have to do that. See, the photos on their own are actually often great as an artist to study. Put in the context of degrading headlines and misogynistic comments, I feel threatened, like all men see me and other women this way.
Again, it is like context that makes it clear that this woman exists to sexually please men that upsets me. The “softcore” photos themselves are usually interesting to examine for artistic reasons. Also I can see each woman’s appeal, from the 65 year old women with old tattoos on cellulite dimples on thick thighs to the almost bursting belly surrounded in black lace of a pregnant woman. Normally I don’t see lots of naked women of all shapes, ages and colors. The labia shape or nipple color of different women even seen in these “pin up girl” pictures is new to me. It seems strange that I don’t know all these varieties of women’s bodies, like as a woman I should recognize my sisters, not go “What is that?”
Black women pop up if you search “phat thong” etc. Really, any ethnicity in a thong, pulling down her undies, or bent over with her skirt raised is a big hit. The big butt “close up” in a barely noticeable thong is popular, just like twerking in music videos. I was worried that I didn’t have many Black women in positions not butt-centric, but was told “most of the Brothers want that.” No one has asked for a skinny, light skinned Black woman like Beyonce and the few pix I sent didn’t sell. There certainly is a bias against Black women with their natural hair, which is depressing. That “Brothers” think white hair is better than Black hair hints at the internalized racism many prisoners struggle with. (“I didn’t know there could be Black intellectuals. Teachers assume we are stupid.”)
I learned a lot about the diversity of who is considered sexy doing this. The “jailbait” stuff doesn’t go over well. Fat does. Yes, there’s still a preference for the hourglass shape, but a large belly fanbase, too. Images of regular looking women, women to whom the media tries to sell shame and billions of dollars worth of diets, cosmetic surgery and toxic products, are worth food, books, tattoos and ways to write letters in prison. Women who may have no idea of their beauty and sexual power are vied for, bidding wars commence over, and yet at home they probably feel “less than”: 50 years old, 200 lbs, sagging and wrinkled – everything women “should not” be. The media is lying. When men can only see models and actresses on TV and in magazines, with their factory -produced sameness, the desire for stretch marks and waist length breasts is still there.
With the search words “women mooning” I found lots of pictures of “regular looking” women size 8 to 18 pulling down their jeans or PJ bottoms outside. They were a surprising hit. I think that because these photos are usually taken by spouses (wedding band) and there’s a sense of playfulness and intimacy, the men really responded. One said, “I can imagine my future girlfriend being cute on holiday morning like that.” Personalities shrine through and dreams of real love are kept alive.
I did, in the beginning, have a sudden panic. “I’m a porn … something! Ack ack!” There’s so many conflicting opinions about sex work not from a Puritan POV, but a gender equality and safety of women POV. (I am aware that men are sold into sex slavery and face similar threats as women from sex work. Because I’m writing about photos of women or women I knew, though, I use the pronoun “she.”)
All my Riot Grrl friends who were call girls or strippers talking about female empowerment (almost always after being raped by someone they knew like an exboyfriend or talked into it by a boyfriend) today regret being sex workers, have buried it deep in their pasts, and want it to be stopped. And yes, all sex worker clients I’ve had as a psychic were drug addicts so I had to drop them as meth and my psyche don’t mix well.
But I know that for many women with disabilities, sex for 1 hour is much less painful than 9 hours keyboarding. I personally don’t see the difference between what part of the person is used for money, as all jobs involve renting yourself out. 85% of Americans hate their jobs, which means there is psychological damage from the majority of jobs. What specific negative psychological effects are caused by sex work? In the women I knew, the core psychological problems existed before any sex work. However, I don’t know if some women go into sex work perfectly healthy and are traumatized by the sex work. It would be easy to say sex workers are helping the patriarchy, but almost every job helps the status quo. It’s not like making money for IBM or Exxon is helping women. Men own the strip clubs and many agencies – Suicide Girls used to lie about being feminist and female owned but it was a man using his girlfriend’s name, to subvert feminism for his income. But men own all the major companies that rule the world in general, so again, what’s the difference?
I worry most about two things: the safety of sex workers, whose rapes, beatings and murders are generally ignored by the police and an uncaring “she deserved it” Puritan population. Also, the consent of the models – Are their eyes blood shot? Glassy? I avoid anyone who looks high. As I teach Intersectional Feminism to prisoners so they’ll have social skills for today, one man asked “Are we just replacing using women with using pictures? How do I know that she gave consent?” As the photos are part of harm reduction (to reduce infractions from masturbating looking at female COs who sometimes respond in a similar way and other times delay them receiving parole), I remind them that this is to prevent infractions, not a new forever way of life.
The other concern is about how pornography affects young people who might think porn is the same as sex. That positions the camera likes are ones people enjoy. That as a man, you have to make a woman scream in delight and as a woman, you have to say and do things that you don’t want to because pornography makes it seem as if it’s normal. There’s hundreds of versions of bad lessons that are being taught about sex on the Internet.
Which goes to my next concern – the general worldwide understanding that women exist to help men. Free emotional labor, sex we don’t really want, doing most of the house and family care, the 55¢ a Latina makes compared to her white male co-worker’s $1, postmenopausal women kept in concentration camps as Witches, removing a pubescent girl’s clitoris, how we dress whether it is mostly naked or totally covered, safety going out of the home, the amount of children a woman is forced to give birth to regardless of her health, income, goals, needs and desires, and about a million more glaring inequalities – Yes, these pictures do reinforce that belief that women in all ways are secondary to men.
Still, I believe in the sacredness of expressing one’s sexuality. I want a world where that’s safe for everyone. I want “sacred prostitution” ie a sexual deity devoted Priesthood trained in psychology especially trauma, somatics, disability, safe awakening of Kundalini, energy and body work, who consult with the seeker’s medical or psychological healer if necessary, so this incredible energy provides its fullest, healthiest power to everyone. Sexuality in all its wild to relaxed forms, where sensuality and emotional awareness is consciously connected to the body again. I want floods of oxytocin, created by breastfeeding, orgasm and grooming each other (safe touch by the people you know well), to provide the contentment which could easily dismantle our culture’s dopamine addiction.
(Dopamine addiction is a large part of video game and online pornography addiction. The brain “on dopamine” focuses on the hunt, the win. Dopamine does this so we won’t starve and we’ll have a pleasant, restless ambition to do something meaningful. But when the “win” (killed the enemy in a video game, found a photo to get you off) happens so fast and you can just get that high, the body’s natural cocaine, again and again by clicking buttoms, a dependence on dopamine occurs. “Retail therapy” and gambling are other versions of getting dopamine “hits.” This is one way technology is controlling its creators and new psychiatric diagnosis are created.)
You want to destroy capitalism? Cultivate contentment, which is what oxytocin does. You see it in other primates grooming each other. It is probably why people pay for having their hair washed and to receive massages. If we followed evolutionary psychological needs and did these things for free from birth in communities, buying that useless stuff or addiction wouldn’t be very attractive. (Having taken doctor prescribed oxytocin and reading studies on it I can agree that it doesn’t make you feel any closer to people with whom you don’t already have a good, close relationship. It is NOT natural MDMA.)
In the end, the many ways these pictures provide harm reduction (soon to be explained) combined with how many men (and a lot of feminist women) I’ve met watch hardcore porn helped me decide if I should send the pictures. If everyone else has the right to get off, why not prisoners? It’s just more psychological torture. Plus, these could be 1980s record covers! Access to bikini girl pictures wouldn’t cause more world problems than not having access to them does. (Yes, I think a lot about my choices.)
I call these issues, where I have a foot in the wonderful world we are trying to create and a foot in the world that has purposefully created barriers to that future world, and no choice is really the “right one” “Sophie’s Choices” like the film. The Nazis allow a woman named Sophie to save only one of her children from the camps. The rules of the game aren’t made by the billions of Sophies trying to do the best thing in a society that doesn’t care about what Sophie really wants.
Back to the world of photos in prison!
Photos are worth stamps, which is a unit of currency in prison. A 10¢ picture can equal a 50¢ stamp. Sometimes prison is almost Marxist in that the same picture costs less for prisoners who are not allowed access to much of their own money compared to prisoners who can buy much more on the day the Commissary is open. It is often a sliding scale depending on income. Other times it’s a bidding war, which is why you can send the same, “best selling” photos every month – other people who wanted a specific photo get their chance.
The mail room will review each picture, looking for anything contraband. Some workers are more strict about it than others. I always expect 10 pictures to not make it into my penpals, especially when trying something new, like semi-transparent latex (a mailroom no go) or pantyhose (popular in the UK; you’ll learn about different cultures doing this).
To carry the photographs to buyers who have more goods available for exchange are prisoners who have good behavior and spend their days sweeping floors or emptying trash throughout the prison. These men are known as “legs” and a smart prisoner gives them gifts on top of payment.
I don’t know of any women in prison using good money, although it is not easy to find a girlfriend like many assume. Also, if two queer people meet in prison and fall in love, the prison will transfer one. Meanwhile, people who have tried to kill each other are kept on the same unit. Prison really wants to cause as much suffering – and as few skills for a better life – as possible. In fact, prison often destroys the few skills many people incarcerated have for a better life.
A collection of 300 pictures that you rotate in groups of 100 is a great monthly gift. It costs less than $10 at online shops if you wait for free shipping or a 3¢ print code once you’ve already used their service for free prints. Ask your penpal which ones are most popular in general, and keep those as your core. The 6th month the picture arrives, the 6th man who wanted to buy it finally can. New inmates are constantly arriving. Rotate the “special items” that have less buyers but definitely a few “collectors.” Sometimes one prisoner will buy all 100 pictures flat out in a mix of stamps, paper, envelopes, soap, snacks or OTC medication.
Good money can provide a role for your penpal in the prison ecosystem. By having an incredibly rare commodity, they are valued in “the user” mentality so on display. If your friend is in a vulnerable population or situation, this may prevent them from being harmed or murdered. The only competition is South Beach Singles whose photos cost 50¢, catalogs cost $5, and the photos haven’t changed in years. If guys want your brand new photos from somebody’s Pininterest collection of “sheer clothes on hotties” – and they do – they probably will not mess with your penpal. Without him, there’s no you sending pictures.
Good money can also provide harm reduction for male inmates having dangerous sexual relationships with the worst female guards who randomly write infractions that punish the men for engaging in sexual behavior the same female guard encourages the next day. This is very frightening because after several years of this, the prisoners can’t stop because it’s the only intimacy they have. Sometimes COs have “boyfriends” who are very territorial. This leads to a lot of violence. He gets more food, a snuck in cell phone, drugs on top of sex. Meanwhile, for the rest of the prisoners, the punishment keeps them from leaving prison and the sexual relationships keep them hooked. Often it’s a version of Stockholm Syndrome. I can’t imagine what the psychological damage must be like when these men finally are released and trying to interact with any women. (Hence, Intersectional Feminism for Prisoners.)
Our culture often thinks women aren’t sexual abusive or part of “power over” dynamics. For this reason it’s a more confusing situation for the male prisoners affected, who have learned that very same sexism. With discussions about consent everywhere, a prisoner asked “Is this consensual sex? I’m not told if she will give me an infraction afterwards or just randomly on a day nothing happened. There’s almost never any talking so there’s no yes or no. They have great power over us. Our showers, our food, our mail, and our sexuality. But we’re unable to say no when it’s the only time we make eye contact with someone who can be kind, the only time we feel a connection to someone and the only sexual release. There are guards I’ve masturbated for, for over a decade. I like to think that they feel something special for me.” The Stockholm Syndrome is well in place. These same women will suddenly write an infraction for behaviors they encouraged other days.
“We have to read their moods by asking how the day is. Also, guys will yell to the rest of us ‘Ms. Jones is a beast! Ms. Davies is ready to go!’ so we know who wants it. But it would be so much easier if women just told us. How can I learn about consent? A new CO told me twice that she’s very strict except for masturbation. Is it a trap or invitation?”
It is illegal to masturbate in American prisons, a law passed by Bush after he was Born Again. The law also bans the “Satanic” role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons and consensual homosexuality. As so many have explained in detail, it is clearly specific Christian faith sin-based beliefs pushed on people not of that religion. (What factual harm comes from playing D&D that playing chess or cards won’t?)
Other nations have found different solutions for safe masturbation (no infractions, no other prisoners in the room which could lead to rape, nudity is in newspapers), but other nations also don’t imprison 1 in 100 of their citizens.
None of them.