Stephen Donaldson’s first encounter with imprisonment followed a Quaker protest at the White House against the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia in 1973. During his incarceration at a Washington, DC prison, he would be revealed as a journalist to the warden and moved into the general population where he experienced a brutal gang rape on his first night there. Following his release, Donaldson would hold a public press conference lambasting the system that afforded such easy opportunities for assault and identifying the prison leadership as complicit by allowing such actions to continually occur under their oversight. Donaldson’s experiences were not unique. A bisexual, white, male, Donaldson story reveals the necessity of exploring mass incarceration in all its facets including sexuality and race within institutions themselves. Through repeated stints in federal penitentiaries, Donaldson recognized the pervasive indifference towards prisoner welfare demonstrated by leadership at all levels in the prison system and devoted the remainder of his life to fixing such egregious violations of human rights and dignity among the incarcerated.
Motivated by his own experiences inside these facilities and the decades-long battle against post-rape trauma, Donaldson joined and then served as president for the organization Stop Prisoner Rape (now known Just Detention International) which fought for recognition and reform of the prison system as mass incarceration grew increasingly prominent in the 1970s and 1980s.
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