Gay, andin p,.;son:
an interview with ORTEZ ALDERSON
Ortez: My name is Ortez Alderson. I was recently released
from Ashland Kentucky's Federal Youth Center where I
was serving time for the destruction of government prop–
erty. This crime consisted of destroying draft files. [Three
others] and I were arrested on july 29, 1970, for the
crime- or so they said it was ...one has their doubts-of
supposedly ripping off the Pontiac, Illinois, Draft Board.
What I'm trying to relate is the experience of how it was for
me as a black and and as a gay man to be within the jail
system of America. First I'm going to talk about Peoria
County jail where I was held for a period of three months.
To understand Peoria, one must understand that there
was nothing but bars there and it was rather sort of dead.
The feeling if anything was that one was locked up like a
caged animal. The only outlet that I had and that most of
the prisoners had was reading, playing cards, and visits
twice a week, visits where you were not allowed to hold or
whoever visited you, whoever cared enough to
come that long way just to see you. When I was there, I was
the only black on the tier for a long time. The rest of the
people seemed to be poor whites from around that area and
they also seemed to be-or were-very racist; something I
put up with at the time. There were quite a few hangups
going around at that time about whether or not I was
actually gay. I of course am ... and very proud of it. And
then being a black man, too, everyone was rather afraid to
try and hassle me or to try to do anything with me. I guess
this had something to do with that All-American black male
Later, you were sent to Ashland, Kentucky.
What was it like there and did you have any contact with
other gay prisoners?
Ortez: Yes. Craig. He was a good friend of mine in jail and
my closest brother and he was also gay. We sat down and
talked about the gay's situation in jail-you know, hassles
and stuff-and how we could stop it. The confrontation
came on Gay Pride Day, june 28th, because we wanted to
have a Gay Day celebration in prison. The prison officials
said we could not have this celebration .... At this point,
we got up a petition attacking the institution's discrimina–
tion against homosexuals. Craig, Green, Davis, and myself
were immediately arrested by the goon squad and put in
the hole. Craig was Puerto Rican, Green was Black, and
Davis was a full-blooded Sioux Indian.
Were there other confrontations around gay
Ortez: There were numerous confrontations, and there
were times the confrontations happened just suddenly.
Sometimes we were in the yard and all of us would be
together and the guards would say 'Huh uh, split up,' and
we would say no. Then they would say 'Break up. We don't
want all you folks together' and again we would say no.
There were numerous confrontations. Then again, there
were times when we would feel very secure and we would
go and do some things. For example, there was rules like no
kissing, no holding hands, none of that stuff; and we'd say
the hell with it and we would go down there and kiss. There
, were numerous confrontations like these as well as major
From your own observations, what is it like for
gay people in prison to "come out"?
Ortez: I talked with quite a few people who would not
"come out" publicly- in other words, when the other
inmates were around. They would not have anything to do
with our groups. But they would come to me privately and
say: 'Look, Ortez,
want to join the group.' The problem
in jail is that once you are openly gay literally you get
ripped off. It's going to be a trying period. A lot of people.
are scared. By staying "closeted" you can have sex with one
or two guys you know will keep it a secret. That way very
few people will know. The "closeted" gays are very
repressed and very scared human beings. To them, it's
always the thing 'if I say the wrong word or if
wrong things, will someone think I'm gay and then what
will follow from that?'
It seems that a lot of hostility comes from the
straight prisoners and guards. Would you comment on this?
Ortez: It's the "nigger" system and by the "nigger" system
I mean there is always something to call lower than you.
The guards tell the prisoners that gays are lower than them
and thus they can oppress the gays without the guards or
the system taking any action; they pit one oppressed group
against another. They say: 'We are going to give you these
other "niggers" (gays) to oppress to give you a feeling of
power so that you won't act on your real powerlessness.'
Previous to your being in Peoria and Ashland
Federal Youth Center, had you ever been in other prisons?
Ortez: I've been to Cook County jail in Chicago. I was
there for five months right after the Martin Luther King
riots in April 1968. What happened was
got arrested in
downtown Chicago and charged with arson.
fifteen at the time and I didn't even know that Martin
Luther King had been shot. I didn't know what the show
was walking down the street but I got thrown
into jail with this ridiculous charge of arson. The folks there
didn't know I was gay because I was so out of it. That was a