The Underworld

Social Hierarchy


The System

Famous Crime






"Homosexuality was a double proof of the inferiority of prisoners. Those who practiced it were considered basically abnormal and corrupt. They were, in addition, irrevocably transformed by the evil act. As a result, homosexuality became another element in the branding and differentiation of inmates from free society."

-Patricia O'Brien

Disorder among Nimes inmates, taken from Charles Perrier's Les Criminels.

One of the most widely used forms of intimidation within the prisons was the threat of homosexual rape. A type of hierarchy would often be formed by this type of bullying and intimidation. The fact that this practice was well known and discussed both inside and outside of prison walls gave prisoners an even worse reputation. Becasue homosexuality was seen as extremely sinful, the large majority of the prisoners whom took part, willingly or not, were looked upon as even less human and more animalistic.

Homosexuality was looked upon by the prisoners as a commodity on the black market of the prison system. This played into the social hierarchy of the prisons. Those who were sold for sexual favors were low in status, and those who bought them were the ones of high status and power. The type of sexual activity which went on in prisons was not usually what everyone expected. Sexual rape and assault were not as common as it was made out to be. For the most part homosexual activity in French prisons were the result of sexual seduction, not assault.

The wide spread practice of homosexuality usually did not occur in prisons because of a preference amongst the inmates, but because of lack of anything else. A person with a high sexual appetite would normally find ways to pacify it in normal society. However, prison os not normal society. These people needed to resort to sexual encounters with fellow inmates to ease their appetite.

A dormitory at Saint Lazare, by Roger Viollet.

The topic of sexuality led to a heated debate about living spaces within prison walls. Some argued that large dormitory style spaces made it difficult to hide sexual misconduct and the prisoners would be watching every prisoner at the same time. On the other hand, putting together a mass of sexually depraved inmates, and even some corruptable youth, in a single room is simply asking for trouble. It is not difficult to get lost in a crowd.

The other option was a single cell, like the one seen on the left. These cells kept inmates separated, yet made it more difficult to monited every prisoner. Masturbation was considered as big an evil as homosexuality, and the single cell lent itself to this acitvity. However, the single cells were locked at night so no promiscuity could be committed in the night time.

In the end, the single cells won out because of their argued rehabilitating potential. being alone and in the dark every night gave prisoners a chance to think and reflect upon their lives. This confinement was thought to have at least some positive effect upon the inmates.