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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Quinton E. Baker, February 23, 2002. Interview K-0838. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Baker's prison experience

Because government officials knew that sending the protestors to a segregated prison would increase their defiance, Baker, Dunne, and Calhoun were sent to Morganton. Though Baker and Dunne went to the same correctional facility, they ended their relationship because they feared what the other prisoners would do if they became known as homosexuals.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Quinton E. Baker, February 23, 2002. Interview K-0838. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

The reason that we were sent far away, Morganton is, as you know, west of here. The reason we were sent far away—
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Sam Ervin that is where he is from.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
Right. They knew that we would not cooperate if they put us in a segregated prison. They knew that they would have had a hunger strike; they knew that would have had difficulties. I mean, there was no way, and I think that either the governor or somebody made it clear that there was no way that we were going to do all of this for desegregation and then accept being put in a segregated prison and do nothing. So, they transferred us to—
CHRIS McGINNIS:
To avoid a reason to demonstrate
QUINTON E. BAKER:
They transferred us to places where there were desegregated prisons.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Was Terry Sanford the governor at the time?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
Yes.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Wow.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
Terry Sanford was the governor at the time. And so, prison was, we worked not like you see them on the highway now, we cut down the trees and we burned the bush and we built roads in the dead of summer in the heat. It was very much. We were—the prison was a dormitory, so it was like split. There was a hallway in the middle, there was sort of a cell on this side and the bunks were sort of around the wall like that, with the door was here, the TV would be over the door, and it was just two bunks per person. You were told when to get up, you were told when to go to bed. You were given a change of clean clothes once a week, you could take a shower every day, but you didn't have anything clean to put on. If there were enough guards on duty, we got yard time sometime after we came in. Mostly on weekends, we would get yard time, because when we came in from work, it was just dinner. You were allowed to write three letters a week. You had to have people on your list, people that you could receive mail from, you could receive a newspaper. Everything that came into the prison was read, people could send you money that was kept in a, sort of an account for you, you were given plastic dollars, and you could pull out so much of it at a time in order to buy candy bars or those sorts of things. You—it was interesting to talk to the people who were there, they were there for different reasons than we were. I wrote about twelve letters every week. I wrote my three—and people who were illiterate and didn't know what to say. I think that the most poignant thing about it is that you—being in there for the period of time that I was, which wasn't really—relatively speaking wasn't that long—
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Did you spend the full year and a half?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
No, I didn't I served for four months and then Terry Sanford got us out.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
He just excused or pardoned you?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
No, they paroled us. I went to the University of Wisconsin on parole. And John went to Harvard on Parole—he went to Yale, I'm sorry.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Did you and John maintain your relationship in jail, or was there not really any opportunity?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
No, we did not maintain our relationship in jail. There were opportunities, but I wasn't maintaining a relationship with anybody in jail, that was the common conversation around there. [Laughter]
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Common conversation about homosexual activity?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
Yeah
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Hooking up in jail.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
Hooking up in jail. Drop the soap.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Right
QUINTON E. BAKER:
All of the stuff.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
So you were not maintaining any kind of relationship— [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
CHRIS McGINNIS:
This is the third side of my interview with Quinton Baker; the number for this tape is 02.23.02-QB.3. So, you never really got a chance to see John, John Dunne in prison. You might see him in passing—
QUINTON E. BAKER:
I would see him in passing, I would talk to him through the bars, but we didn't really have a chance to interact, and part of it.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
You didn't want to have any kind of sexual relationship in jail?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
No
CHRIS McGINNIS:
And why, you seem adamant about that.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
No, I did not want to have any kind of sexual relationship in jail.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Were you worried that if you were with one person, then that would lead to expectations of you being with other people, was there any threat of physical violence, it was minimum security, so—
QUINTON E. BAKER:
It was minimum security, it was a dormitory, and it was about survival. Prison is about survival.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
So, even being minimum security, it is about survival.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
It is about survival. It is about being able. Survival involves more than just physical survival. It is the psychological and emotional support that you get from other prisoners. If you get identified as a ‘punk’
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Meaning someone who has sex?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
Someone who has sex or someone is being used by other men in prison.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Exactly
QUINTON E. BAKER:
It does not, your survival gets compromised. Your ability to interact.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
You are seen as a sexual object and not an equal.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
That's right and you become that.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Not as a peer necessarily.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
Right. And though I would—it was. I had to learn how to interact with prisoners in a way that could be social and have them respect me.