Mark Zammit has been serving time in various penitentiaries across Ontario over the past decade. He wrote these letters in prison and originally published them in Cell Count, a newsletter for prisoners by prisoners, between 2018 and 2019. They have been reprinted here with permission.
So I’m finishing up a rather long bit. Since 2005, I have been to a few different pens and different level security pens, due to cascading as well as some stupidity on my behalf. Having said that, I am now clean and doing well.
For a time, I was the only openly gay man at Collins Bay. If you think being outed in Collins Bay by some mail thief that read my mail was easy, I’m here to tell you differently…And yes, it sucked having to deal with the immature behaviour and actions of the homophobes, but as time moved on, many cons (mostly old school) stepped up and had my back, with the odd one coming out to me, of all people. It was a breath of fresh air to see the real old school cons step up and help squash the attempted bullying and shit talk.
Then an opportunity to cascade slightly to Broward Correctional Institute came up, so I go, “Why not?” I may as well crush the last couple years in comfort, right? Oh my god! Of all the different pens I’ve been in, the homo- and transphobic childish behaviour and nonsense runs more rampant at this medium institution than all the other joints put together. I feel like I am back in grade seven, with all the gay jokes, cat calls, name-calling, shit-talking, and storytelling.
Because BCI doesn’t have an LGBTQ group, me and a gorgeous trans woman whom I care for a great deal have started an LGBTQ2 support group that will meet bi-weekly, with guest speakers, support, and available literature. Quite simply, it is a group so the cons in my community know that they are not alone. Str8, Bi, Gay, Trans, all flavours are welcome. This is my baby and I am proud as hell. Myself and my Trans female vice-chair have both endured homo- and transphobic bullshit since arriving here by bloody staff, let alone the inmates, so this place needs a support group.
All the channels were given attention to, from the Warden to Social Development to the Committee, and we are approved and literally are awaiting a date for our first week’s meeting. In order to promote our success, we hung flyers on all the units, in health care and all the other buildings, as well as put a notice on the joint channel.
Since the flyers went up, sadly enough, so did the homo- and transphobia. Don’t get me wrong, some of the real men stood up and congratulated our success, but the true colours of the fearful, uneducated, childish, and deeply closeted came very much forward. In less than 48 hours, some flyers were torn down, some graffitied with “Faggot, Fudgepacker, and pole puffer.” Not overly original. The rumours started: my range was a huge fuck fest, I got caught blowing my trans friend by the guards, I have HIV. Oh yes, the same childish, uneducated and pathetic lies, stories and rumours I’ve put up with my entire life. My range is now labelled as “The Rainbow Range,” and there are only two gays on the range. I can only laugh.
Anyway, my fellow cons, the reason I wrote this article is to promote two messages. The first, is to my fellow LBGTQ2 community who are still afraid to be themselves. Stand up and be proud of who you are. Do not allow the weak-minded haters to dictate who you are or can be. Stand up and show your pride, because you are more real and true than the haters and liars who go out of their way to hurt you. Love is Love. If you have found it, like I have, then embrace it and hold on to it.
The second reason is to say this to the haters, the hate mongers, and the phobs: my name is Mark Thomas Zammit, I am here, I am queer, get used to it, cuz I am not going anywhere. My bit is solid, my word is gold, and my debts are zero. Stop trying to change us and have the courage to change yourself.
As I sit here in my cell with my beautiful trans cell partner, I am listening to Slipknot’s first album with a million things swirling in my head. Since Cell Count published my last article, my LGBTQ2 group grew by seven. To some, seven may not seem like much, but in this joke of a prison, with the homophobic population running the show, seven is awesome and I am super proud of those seven. Next step, a Pride event this summer and a paid advocate and support position.
If other joints don’t have an LGBTQ2 group and you are like me and want to start one, it’s easier than you think. Put a request in to “Social Development” and a second in to the warden stating that you don’t wish any special treatment, you’d just like to start an LGBTQ2 support group so that the community in your prison has somewhere to vent, to ask for help, to feel safe, or to find others like yourself so others know that they are not alone. Then write a proposal covering why you think cons would benefit from such a group. The rest, boys and girls, will fall into place. It’s a human rights issue. Like any other race, community, religion, or belief, it’s not OK to hurt or belittle us. Our suffering falls in line with all others who have suffered. Our pain does not play second fiddle to anything, and just how racism spews bullshit and cowardly nonsense, so does homophobic hatred and violence.
Homo-/transphobia is not a disease. I don’t feel sorry or respect any of them. It is a learned or followed behaviour. At best, in my eyes, someone can be confused or just not quite understand homosexuality, but are willing to try to. But, you wanna talk shit about me/us, jump and hurt me/us or belittle or assault us, then that is not confused nor is it a disease. It is the behaviour of a coward or a follower who doesn’t have a mind of their own. Like I’ve said a million times before: “I am kind and generous, I’m not a rat or sexual predator and I don’t have a debt in any joint in Canada or anywhere else.” Beyond that, my word is fucking gold. Those are the points I should be judged upon. As a gay man, and as much as I got picked on and beat up because I am gay…I’m still alive for a reason. I am not afraid of anyone and am proud to be the man that I am. We all should be.
Something that just popped into my head—sorry, last thing I promise—there is no such thing as “gay for pay” or “gay for the stay.” Male or female, if you have any kind of sexual contact with a member of the same sex; if you or they cum, and it is truly consensual, you are bicurious at best… True story, my phobic friends. Just cuz it rhymes doesn’t mean it’s true. Stand tall, stand proud, you’re not alone.
In 1987 or so, my Uncle Jerry withered away painfully and passed away from complications due to AIDS. The day that Uncle Jerry died, I was summoned by him to his hospital room to say goodbye. In order to hold his hand, the staff nurses made me mask and glove up because even they were uneducated on the disease back then. When it came time for me to leave, I removed my gloves and gown, tore my mask off and held his frail hand, leaned over his body and kissed him on the lips and whispered: “I love you.” Within eight hours my Uncle Jerry had died.
After witnessing my touch and kiss of my uncle’s bare skin, the nurses went ballistic, ordering me to wash my hands, face, and lips with alcohol swabs. In 1987, when the general population was petrified of the HIV virus, as afraid of it as I was, I was still very angry and disgusted at the behaviour of medical staff. 31 years later, at age 47 and HIV-negative, with all the literature, the uneducated stereotyping disgusts me more so than ever. There is no reason at all in this day and age that anyone should be belittled or picked on by someone uneducated about this disease. You are only uneducated because you choose to be.
HIV/AIDS is no laughing matter, but it also is no longer the death sentence it used to be. Unfortunately, the stigma and horror surrounding HIV have little changed and, believe it or not, the words, insults, names, and behaviour towards some HIV poz people hurt more than the disease itself.
My name is Mark Thomas Zammit. I was born on December 15th, 1970 and I’m an openly gay male who has had two HIV poz partners and, once again, I am HIV negative. Now I can go into discussion about viral loads and so on, but that won’t help those who don’t wish to learn, so let me put it this way, “U=U”, “Undetectable=Untransmittable.”
If your partner is HIV positive and their viral loads and blood cells and such are at the proper levels, etc, then they will show undetectable, which means in turn, they’re untransmittable. Now I am not a medical professional and I am not a scientist, but I can read and I can listen and ask questions and like I already said, I’ve had two positive partners so like me or not, I am educated on the topic and know of what I speak.
Nothing pisses me off more than seeing an HIV-positive inmate/convict who is forced to not use or to use certain showers, toilets, eating stations, etc, because some uneducated hypocrite wants to play tough guy. HIV is a blood-to-blood transmittable disease, and if the person is undetectable then that person is also untransmittable. You cannot catch HIV or AIDS from tears, saliva, sweat, kissing, hugging, or touching.
Sharing a shower, toilet, clothing, or eating utensils are 100 percent safe. So to all the hypocrites, the know-it-alls and the wannabe tough guys: the day may one day come when you or a loved one gets sick. Would you like to be treated as an outcast or have your loved one bullied because of their HIV status? We both know that the answer is no! So get off of your high horse, you are no better or worse than a positive person, use your brain and heart… not your mouth or your hate.
I feel the need to say something. Surprise, right? Some of you may think I have a big mouth, but I don’t sign my rants “anonymous” and I back my words up. Anyways, please, walk with me.
My stat is very soon and by the time you read this, I should be out, so check this out: the fight begins now. I do not and never will forget where I come from. I will be running and starting Facebook pages and YouTube videos to fight for prisoners rights. Things like health care, organizations that help cons who have no one. Friends and enemies, I will continue the fight for things you (we’ve) lost. Anyone who truly knows me, knows my hustle and that I am a pain in the ass. The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like me. I will die fighting for cons… PEACE.