So What’s Funny About Prison Rape?

From Lindsay Lohan on Saturday Night Live:

what’s up with a society that accepts and often celebrates our prisons as places of sexual violence? Way to be cutting edge, SNL.

I’m glad Matthew has brought up this humor cliche, which has bothered me for a long time.

Cover of "Ruthless People"

Cover of Ruthless People

The only memorable laugh the cliche has given me is in the film Ruthless People, script (paraphrased below) by Dale Launer, and there it isn’t prison rape that provides the laugh. The punchline is about a character’s use of the cliche.

The overbearing wealthy Barbara Stone (Bette Midler) taunts hapless Ken Kessler (Judge Reinhold) with prison:

Your dance card’ll be filled every day. You’ll be so popular, making all kinds of new, close friends. Big, ugly hairy friends. Not that you’ll ever see what they look like, ’cause you’ll be facing the other way.

His response:

You’re very good at this. You should write children’s books.

When we’re supposed to find prison rape funny, I get disturbed. One example I can’t get out of my head comes from Chris Rock, whose comedy I usually enjoy.

I understand how the incongruity of using this guy as a motivator in schools might prompt laughter, but why do people laugh at the set up, the description of what this guy does to fellow inmates? Do we feel no sympathy for his victims? Do we feel he is entitled to the privileges he enjoys?

To give the strongest prisoners relative impunity to rape the weaker not only metes undeserved additional punishment (and, in some cases, terminal illness) to the weak, but provides the strong with undeserved comforts.There may even be those for whom the relative freedom to rape people makes prison preferable to life on the outside. It seems to me unlikley that the prisoners doing the raping are the ones most deserving of comfort, and those being raped the ones most deserving of punishment.

There is a group that is trying to do something about this. Just Detention International

works with policymakers, corrections leaders, advocates, and prisoner rape survivors to end this form of violence, once and for all.

They deserve our support, and policymakers should hear that we want them to do something about this problem.

Prison Law Blog: Prison Rape: Myths and Realities
Candid Observations: The Big Business Called Prisons
Criminal Justice Caucus: Why Mass Incarceration Matters to Social Workers
Chase Dimock: Removed from Society: The Prison System and the Geography of Nowhere
Motley News: Life Inside the CCA Owned New Mexico Women’s Prison

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4 Responses to So What’s Funny About Prison Rape?

  1. We couldn’t agree more! Thanks for the shout out. Are you guys on twitter? Would love to connect there.

    • Matthew says:

      No, we’re not on Twitter…yet. It’s enough just keeping this site going, although I’ve thought about just putting out a Twitter feed that automatically announces our new posts.

  2. Matthew says:

    There’s an article up now on Huffington Post (I know, not your favorite news source!) about new federal efforts to cut down on prison rape.

    • Todd says:

      Yeah. (I saw that. It’s being reported elsewhere, too, Matthew.) It looks as though there’s finally some serious movement toward dealing with this problem.

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