Chicago author Brother Hassan Hartley’s debut novel “When The Lights Goes Out: The Truth About Black Male Prison Sexuality” is about one’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance. The book confronts issues of sexual orientation, homophobia and the truth behind the politics of black men in the criminal justice system.
Hartley is a Black gay male, former member of the Nation of Islam and ex-convict who served three years in a correctional facility in Virginia. This book is the culmination of seven years of research which includes several hours of interviews with convicts.
PRIDEINDEX (PI): You are very forthcoming with regards to your life story why was it so important to reveal the fact that you’ve served time in prison?
BROTHER HASSAN (BH): Your question implies that I should be curled up in a ball, hiding in a corner, living my life with a “dirty little secret” for fear of what others think of me. I was never the type to worry about public opinion of anyone. Also, because it adds credibility to my expertise’ on this subject, and allows the reader to be comfortable in the knowledge that, as a former inmate, I know how to effectively communicate in the language of former and current inmates, to get information from them on their experiences that a behavioral scientist may not be able to secure.
PI: Where you “scared straight” to go choose a different path in life?
BH: No. I made the decision to not return to jail, not out of fear, but because I simply did not have the time as I approached 30 years old to continue to drain my family with the psychological and emotional burden, not to mention the financial burden, of going in and out of prison. The punitive model for “rehabilitation” in the Prison Industrial Complex is a farce and a joke. It is not the system’s intention to rehabilitate any inmate. Federal resources flow to states, and privatized prisons based on the sheer volume of inmates in the system. They literally make money warehousing human beings. The War on Drugs makes it too profitable for too many Wall Street fat cats for rehabilitation to be a sincere option. I refuse to be a slave on a new plantation.
PI: What lessons does your story offer LGBT youth that may be facing similar circumstances?
BH: To hold yourself accountable for everything that you do, and to educate yourself on human sexuality, HIV/AIDS, and to be vessels of thoughtful conversation when dealing with heterosexuals, that they may be enlightened to the humanity of same gender loving persons.
PI: You’re quite vocal about your disenfranchisement with the Nation of Islam why do you still refer to yourself as Brother Hassan?
BH: Because I am a Black Brother and my name is Hassan. The Nation of Islam has NO patent or copyright on the use of the term “Brother,” and it is part of my brand. I am not sure if “disenfranchisement” is the word I would use, as much as “estrangement.” I have been known for the better part of 20 years as Brother Hassan, and it feels great to wear that moniker.
PI: Were you concerned about any backlash from the Nation of Islam as a result of your speaking about the abuses you faced while a member?
BH: No. My obligation is to speak truth, regardless of who might be offended by it. My having been molested by a fellow member of the Nation of Islam, then beaten nearly to death by a renegade group of them, was nearly 20 years ago, in a much different time and space, not only for me, but for the Nation of Islam as well. People enjoy scandal, and so the “scandal” (not my term, but what others have described my experience) of having had members of the Nation who were having sex with each other has generated much conversation. That was never my intention. My goal was only to relay the experiences that led me on a journey to learn more about human sexuality among black men to my audience. I have led an unusual, but interesting life. I have a deep and abiding love for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, and the Teachings of The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, but circumstances-bloody, tumultuous circumstances, forced me away from the movement I loved with all my heart.
PI: Talk about your self-publishing journey.
BH: I saw it as prudent business sense. Traveling around the country, doing interviews, I was incurring a mountain of debt in gathering information for this book. I did not see the feasibility of allowing a major publisher to profit from my hard work of seven years, while I would not even keep the rights to my work and only get pennies in relation to what a Simon & Schuster or other major publishing house would earn from my work. I decided to stay independent, so that my work would not be watered down, diluted, or compromised by corporate control. As this book prospers, I will reach out to other fellow authors to guide them in the self publishing process as well. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad always said, “Do For Self.” We need more black owned businesses wherein we can keep the purity of our message intact, while helping the community.
PI: Why did you write “When the Lights Go Out?”
BH: I wrote “When the Lights Go Out” because black men, not only in prison, but in America in general, are in what I refer to as an unspoken crisis in sexual identity politics. Our defining of ourselves in relation to our sexual prowess, or our “heterosexuality,” is a dangerous mindset that forces far too many men who are same gender loving or bisexual into a silence that cripples the quality of their life, as well as that of those around them. Unless we as a black community can begin having sustained, thoughtful, mature and nuanced discussions on human sexuality, masculinity, HIV/AIDS, and the relationship going forward between heterosexual black men and women, and same gender loving brothers and sisters, our community will only devolve into a more and more self destructive pattern. This book serves as a unique way to elevate the discourse in that regard.
PI: Who does “When the Lights Go Out” speak to?
BH: It speaks to a variety of groups. The black community in general, whether hetero or SGL, persons who are interested in the dynamics of black male sexuality, no matter what ethnicity, and the LGBT community as well. The dominant refrain I get, no matter who I speak to, is “that is very interesting. I always wondered what goes on in there, and was it like this TV show or that TV show…” The academic community can also extrapolate some good info from this book as well. The advantage I have over a sociologist or behavioral scientist, is that I have witnessed and lived many of the things I write about, and I know precisely how to speak to inmates in their language, without seeming contrived or phony.
PI: I understand that you wrote this book based on research, interviews of others and so forth, how come you did not include your own experiences?
BH: Did. I weave my own experiences in throughout the book to guide the reader into better understanding of the research I conducted. I did not; however want to rely on my own experience when writing this book. What I learned was that everyone’s experience, based on region, religion, educational level, and other social factors, is vastly different from prison to prison.
PI: What do you hope to accomplish by writing this book?
BH: An intelligent national discourse about not only black men and human sexuality in prison, but black male sexuality in general. Prison is merely a microcosm of the reality black men face in terms of human sexuality overall, only without the fuss and bother of political correctness and thoughtfulness.
PI: I’ve heard a few former incarcerated straight identified males say that while locked up they did whatever they had to survive, including have gay sex; however none of them admitted to enjoying it. What do you have to say about that?
BH: Very, very possible. There is a distinct difference between sexual behavior and sexual orientation. For example, if I slept with a woman tomorrow, would I now be heterosexual? No. My orientation is still same gender loving, even thought the sexual act I engaged in at that moment, was heterosexual sex. Society says, and particularly black women, that the reverse is not possible, and they get immediately grossed out by the notion of two men being together, if one of them is interested in her. On a deeper level, many hetero blacks think of homosexuality as a virus that, once you engage in it, even one time, you remain infected with it forever and thus not an eligible mate.
PI: What is the biggest misconception that people have about same sex relationships behind bars?
BH: That they are based on intimidation and rape. Among black inmates, this is far, far less common than with other ethnic groups. They are more focused on loyalty and fulfillment of each other’s emotional and sexual needs than many would even dare to imagine. Some of the most loving relationships I have ever had were with men behind bars. Less shallow than many gay men I have met on the street, which is more focused on looks as opposed to substance.
PI: This is Volume One of “When the Lights Go Out” when are you going to release the next volume?
BH: September 2013 giving this book a year of solid promotion.
PI: What next for you professional?
BH: Continue writing books, and promoting the screenplays I have written as well. I just finished a screenplay entitled, “Bo’s Ring,” which is about the life and murder of Emmett Till in 1955. It is a great screenplay!
PI: When and where do you plan on promoting this book?
BH: I have done several radio interviews, massive marketing on social media, and I have just hired a PR firm to gain further press coverage on a national level. Stay tuned!