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Aug 17, 2007
V 35 Issue 33

 
 
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Seattle Gay History - Three years in Leavenworth Prison (circa. 1954)
Seattle Gay History - Three years in Leavenworth Prison (circa. 1954)
In 1954, Ozzie and Harry were caught in a dragnet to rid Minneapolis of prostitutes, communists and homosexuals. Ozzie recalls: "I lived with Harry who owned this big rooming house. He was the kind of guy who was always surrounded by characters. He was a good and friendly person but always off in left field doing kooky things with these far out people. But he was no pushover or afraid to speak his mind, especially about phonies. In high school, he was the wrestling champion but the black-sheep at home. Harry was an excellent machinist, a pretty tough guy really--he was ingenious and fearless but never aggressive, although he'd pursue a trick endlessly, he always got his man.

One day he called me and asked me to come over. The first thing I saw was a finger on the floor, Harry was in the bedroom cleaning blood off the wall. Two tricks were going to rob him, a fight broke out and Harry bit one's finger off. He had a gash on his forehead so I took him to the hospital.

Some of the people who lived in Harry's place was Niles the pimp and his three girls working for him. They weren't making much money so they decided to go to LaCrosse, Wisconsin to work the Military Base there. Once a month, Harry and I would drive Vinny, another boarder, to LaCrosse to cash her pension check. Harry was not happy about the girls working out of his place, so he suggested they ride with us and that was a mistake. The Taxi drivers brought them customers but, eventually, they came back to Harry's. A couple months went by and the girls got a call from some business men who wanted to be entertained. They got together and after the act they flashed their badges--they were the Vice Squad or the 'Pussy Patrol' as we called them. They busted the girls. They sent one to jail and kept the other in town to point out the other prostitutes and pimps. The third girl was caught having sex with another girl and threatened with hell fire and damnation, so, she talked too. In the meantime, the Vice Squad got all the sex they wanted.

They got 22 indictments and 17 convictions, busted Harry and had a warrant for my arrest. We were charged with 'White Slavery,' the Mann Act--taking women across the state line for prostitution-- debaugery and other immoral acts. They didn't care if we were pimps or not, they knew we were Queer and that was good enough. It was an easy bust. I split for Seattle! Harry's brother (Tiny the Clown) wrote a letter saying that I'd been killed in an auto accident but they found me anyway. A car drove up and I sensed immediately that it was the cops. I was given three years in Leavenworth Prison in Kansas. I was numb. One guy got 18 months for letting one of the convicted use his phone. If the FBI thinks it has a case, they'll do anything to get you. It's the 'Black Robe Mafia' at work. I braced for my prison term and kept my nose clean, I just wanted to do my time and get out. Harry also got three years.

I was always on edge in prison. I saw this guy almost die after getting beaten by another prisoner with a lead pipe. You never know when someone's going to flip out and take it out on you. But the fear of rape never bothered me. I got approached but always found a way to get out of it. I never looked or acted Gay but everyone knew because on the outside of your cell they posted your name, charge and 'Homosexual,' if you were Gay. One guy came in with a mucho attitude. Everyone got so sick of his maucho bullshit that one day eight guys raped him. Other guys in prison just let it all hang out. One guy would bend over with his butt against the bars and let one guy after another screw him. All the young guys got themselves a jock for protection but they could be sold to another for a carton of cigarettes. Another guy liked prison so much he fretted about his release date and vowed he'd do something outside to get back in.

I met some interesting people in prison. Chester Airgood was arrested for his pranks on the FBI. He met this guy who killed two teenagers on lovers lane, so, Chester called the FBI, supplied them with details of the murder and said he did it. He said, 'Come and get me. I'll be at this bar and when I see you come in I'll play this song on the jukebox, so, you'll know who I am.' As it turned out, another guy just happened to play that song, so, they arrested him while Chester laughed. Another time, he was at this hotel and a just married couple registered, so, Chester got their names and called the FBI and said this guy was prostituting this woman. When the truth came out and a judge said to Chester, 'Why did you do that, they never did you no harm.' Chester replied, 'The more mischief the better the sport, boy were they ever mad about being busted on their wedding night!'

There was a Queen who was a crossdresser but they didn't allow him to wear women's clothing, so, he put lace curtains on his window. He was such a cutie.

A Jock and his kid got into an argument with another inmate. Later, he came from behind while the Jock and his kid were seated. He meant to kill the Jock but slit the kid's throat by mistake. The prison didn't do much to him because he was already in for murder.

I tricked but I was pretty low key. I had a beautiful young lover for awhile. He was propositioned a lot but didn't respond. No one gave him a bad time because he was tough as nails and in for murder.

Now, Harry was sexually outrageous in prison. During the day in the Machine Shop, he eventually had everyone there, so, they put him on general work duty. He had everyone there, etc. They could not control him. After awhile, they put him in a cell with this beautiful young hunk body builder who became his lover. It was right out of a Gay porno movie. A guard watched Harry and other cells from the tier above. They had double bunks and a toilet bowl within sight of the guard. Harry devised a way to drop a blanket over the side of the bed which also hid the toilet. Harry`s lover would sit on the toilet talking to the guard while Harry (out of sight) was giving him head. One day, Harry and I were out in the yard and these two guys called Harry. 'Honey.' Harry quiped, 'You don't need me, you have each other!' They were offended and, later, when we went into the latrine one was a lookout and the other followed us in with a knife. Harry said, 'Put that god damned thing away! One of us is going to get hurt! What's wrong with you anyway?' In no time, the guy put the knife away and let Harry blow him, then, he blew the lookout.

Harry had a way. All the cons liked him because he wasn't a snitch. Once, two guys broke out of jail. When they questioned him about it Harry said, 'Oh, they would never let me in on something like that, I'm a Queer you know, I am the lowest at Leavenworth.' I had to laugh because Harry was the lookout. Harry could find the needle in the haystack.

After three years, they closed the books on us but our names will be forever tainted with a prison record for 'White Slavery.' They drove me to Kansas City and I was able to give Leavenworth Prison the finger! As the prison van drove away, it was a bitter/sweet moment. I was numb from it all, like if I didn't keep my feelings down I'd have gone crazy. Before getting on the Greyhound to Seattle, I had a thick Kansas City steak. I felt a lot of anger but I recovered and like Harry, enjoyed a pretty good free life. I could put on our tombstones; 'Two innocent Queers caught in a hetero dragnet.' How pathetic is that!
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