Imagine that you are a trapped in a world of men who take pleasure in harming and demeaning you. Every day, they call you a lowlife and a faggot. You're kicked and punched until you bleed. You are brutally raped, by four different men. There is nowhere for you to go and nowhere you can turn for help. When you report it to the authorities, they tell you to keep quiet.
Milan Gamiani doesn't have to imagine any of that. He lived it in 2010, he says, at a correctional center in Manhattan, where he was sent for refusing to testify against a boyfriend who was charged with financial crimes. "I was beaten many times," he told me. "I was mocked, abused, robbed of the few possessions I had, made to do things I never wanted to."
Now, more than two years after his release, he relives his trauma continually, in nightmares and day terrors that have nearly broken him. "I'm not over what I went through," he says. "My mind can't handle it. I feel like disappearing."
Milan's experience is very far from an isolated case. Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice published a sickening report on widespread sexual violence in American prisons. And as the New York Times wrote, the highest rates of victimization were found among "inmates who were gay or lesbian, inmates who had been raped or sexually abused before incarceration, and inmates who suffered from mental illness." The most vulnerable convicts are at greatest risk.
This is bullying on a grotesque scale, and it is a national disgrace. Yet when prison rape is discussed at all in America, it is almost always as a punch line. On sitcoms and late-night comedy shows, the idea of a man going to jail is usually followed by a one-liner about becoming his cell mate's "girlfriend," or dropping the soap in the shower. The humor in these jokes is not just dehumanizing but homophobic. Would anyone make a similar joke about a woman getting raped?
Abuse of adult men is something we have been taught to laugh at, not take seriously. No wonder so many victims stay silent about it. Milan Gamiani is a brave exception.
I met Milan years ago when he was working in the adult film industry. We even made a few movies together. Back then, I knew him to be friendly, good-humored and one of the most comfortably sexy performers I had ever worked with. When I met with him last month in Florida, where he lives now, it was hard to recognize him as the same person. He was nervous, fearful and deeply sad. A cocktail of medications helps him keep his terrors in check, but only barely. He struggled unsuccessfully to hold back tears while recounting his story to me; we had to end the interview early because it was too painful for him to continue.
Milan's ordeal in prison began, he says, on the day he was admitted. It started with the guards. "They want to let you know who's in charge, and they make that very clear," he recalls. "They diminish you and insult you. It's like a power trip for them. They seemed to get off on calling you a piece of trash." ("What's a little white boy like you doing in a big boy's playground?" he remembers one of them taunting.)
Once Milan had been assigned a bed, he was taken to the cellblock. "They literally parade you like you are fresh meat, and all the prisoners start talking amongst themselves about who wants to have you; who wants to take you in their cell," he says. "It was so degrading to be sitting there in a corner while all of that was taking place."
His first cellmate, he soon discovered, was stealing and selling Milan's few belongings. When Milan confronted him, the cellmate beat him up. The next day, Milan tried to report the attack to the prison's social worker, who treated him coldly. "It was like he was judging you no matter what. You felt like at any time he could just smack you," Milan says. The social worker's advice to Milan was to forget about the incident: "He said it's best if you don't get into fights because it will go against you when it's time to see the judge."
Milan's situation got more dangerous in the weeks to come. Everywhere he went, he was targeted for abuse. The shower room was the most dangerous, because it afforded inmates a limited privacy. "Once you got in the shower, sometimes people would go behind the curtain and just beat the shit out of you, because it was the only place where nobody could see."
The abuse was often sexual. "They would beat you up so you would do whatever it was that they wanted--oral sex, or sometimes they would just fuck you until they came," he recalls. Four different men, he says, raped him during his stay, without condoms or lubrication. Resisting them was impossible. "They were bigger than me, and they would restrain you because they knew about street fighting. I can fight but I don't have those techniques. I don't know how to block somebody like that." Nor could he call for help: "If you screamed they would beat you a lot harder."
In despair, Milan tried to hang himself in his cell. He failed, and the attacks continued. The men responsible raped at least three other inmates that Milan knew. Every day, he and the others would have to share breakfast, lunch and dinner with the men who abused them. To report what was happening was to risk even worse retribution from the attackers. And when he did reach out to prison supervisors, he says, he was ignored.
"I told one doctor [about the rape]," Milan recalls. "She immediately left the room, and I thought she was going to do something about it. Then another doctor came, and a social worker. But nothing ever came of it." Milan says he also approached the guards three times about what was happening to him. Their response? "'Stop making trouble.' I can hear it now," Milan says. Their indifference was colored with contempt: "'Come on, you guys like playing with each other and now you're going to call it rape?'"
Nothing in Milan's life had prepared him for what he endured. "If you are somebody like me who has never been to prison before, who has never committed a crime in his life, these are people who will rip you apart without thinking twice," he says. "The brutality doesn't come just from the prisoners. It also comes from the employees of the prison: from the guards, from the marshals, whom you cannot even look in the eye without feeling threatened or getting into some sort of trouble. There is no one there to extend advice or defend you. Even the doctors will not help."
Milan survived his stay in prison, and is battling now to survive the aftermath. He is speaking up, and so should we. Visit the website of Just Detention International to learn more about the ongoing human-rights crisis in our prisons.
Stop laughing at jokes about rape.
Demand that your elected officials get involved. Prisoner rights are not a popular issue for politicians, who don't want to look "soft on crime." But prison assault and rape are crimes, and should be treated seriously as such. People who have been convicted should serve out their sentences according to the law. But those sentences do not include being physically and sexually tortured by other inmates while the law looks the other way.
"The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons," wrote Fyodor Dostoevsky in his 1862 novel, The House of the Dead.In our prisons, victims of horrific abuse are beaten into silence while imprisoned, then shamed into it when they leave. How should we be judged?
MICHAEL LUCAS is the creator of Lucas Entertainment, one of the largest studios producing all-male erotica. He lives in New York City.