The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Men's Central Jail has a one-of-a-kind wing for gay and transgender inmates — and it's so popular that corrections officers actually have to test inmates on their sexuality to keep straight men out.
(Read more: 3 reasons America still leads the world in imprisoning people.)
As the inmates described it in an in-depth report and video from LA Weekly, the wing gives gay and transgender prisoners a chance to express themselves freely without worrying about the politics and judgement (and often violence) that are prevalent in other parts of the Los Angeles jail.
The inmates' creativity and relative freedom can be seen in their altered prison gear. They often cut up sheets into dresses and underwear and dye clothes with candies like Skittles. Some show off their creations by walking through impromptu runways between beds, as other inmates cheer them on.
"We make the best of it," said Dino Baglioni, an inmate. "But there's a lot of sadness as well. Incarceration is just not easy on us at all."
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Men's Central Jail is one of the largest in the world, with 1,000 security cameras and more than 500 sheriff's deputies employed as jailers. The jail has also been mired in some controversy after seven of the county's jailers were convicted as part of an ongoing federal investigation into obstruction of justice and use of excessive force against inmates.
But the jail is fairly unique for its gay and transgender wing, as LA Weekly reported:
A spokesman for the Fort Worth jail system quipped that L.A.'s inmate population is so big, officials probably could create a wing for 'left-handed Frisbee players from Albania. But we smaller jails don’t have enough size to create special groups.' The closest thing to a gay wing in another big, urban jail system, though it isn't close at all, is at the Old Wayne County Jail in Detroit, which offers a small number of locked cells to gay and transgender inmates.
The entire LA Weekly story is worth a read.