Women are notoriously more difficult prisoners than men.
Boys love rules and order. They grow up playing sports—all rules and order and you’re punished if you break the rules. It makes them feel safe.
Even when they pretend—there are still rules. Cops and robbers. Soldiers. There are hierarchies and systems that must be obeyed.
Women—girls dance. They play house. The rules constantly change—if they exist in the first place. Usually they just make them up as they go along.
Women make pain-in-the-ass prisoners. In many prisons they allow women to wear their own clothes and cosmetics because it makes them easier to get along with. They get to be individuals. That seems fair. ‘We’re all different people. We may be in prison, but we’re still human.’
Men are easier to deal with if you strip them of their individuality. Give everyone a buzzcut and a jumpsuit and they’ll get in line. That seems fair to them. ‘We’re all equal now. It’s the same for everyone.’
Try telling all the women in your prison they have to cut their hair and no one can express their individuality.
Go ahead—I hope you’re wearing a protective cup at the time.
The received wisdom is that men are tougher than women. Tell all the women you know they have to behave the way you say. Actually get them to do what you want.
Also, women fight nasty. It’s not 90% bravado, smack-talking and face punches. It’s out-of-nowhere eye-gouging, hair-pulling, nails-down-the face, maximum carnage. Women have no rules. Women eviscerate your rules then skip rope with the intestines and sing a happy tune.
Governor Ferguson came in and shut down the drugs supply (or a line of it, anyway) on her first day.
She wasn’t new—she knew what female prisoners are like.
She didn’t allow them to think for one day that she was to be trifled with.
So of course someone spray painted her likeness on one of the buildings in the yard.
With a cock because the building is full of artistic geniuses with something to say.
And that something was: The new governor has a big dick.
Well, one certainly hopes so.
(It was impressive.)
That’s what I thought after the red mist cleared, that is.
I’d been editing the Officers’ Handbook (a long-desired project Governor Ferguson had signed off on; that thing must have been typed and organised by a caffeine-addled chimp) when Katie inserted her phone between my face and the pages in front of me.
‘Have you seen this?’ She whispered gleefully.
I blinked—the screen too close to my eyes to register a coherent image at first. The shapes resolved themselves and ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ began to play in my head.
My Resting Death Face came to the rescue again. ‘Wow. You’d think with so many drug users in here they’d have kept the aerosols locked up. Wonder where they got the spray paint.’
Katie looked confused. Her sweet, round face fell. I’d never gossiped correctly for her liking. She pointed at the screen, ‘It’s supposed to be the Governor.’
‘Yes, I see. Someone has defaced government property as a way of reasserting their dominance over a person they see as trying to control them. It’s someone with experience with the medium, too—there are no drips.’ This was when I noted their very kind assessment of the Governor’s appendage.
Brow furrowed, she hustled over to Sam—who’d already seen it, but they giggled afresh.
‘Where did you get that, anyway?’
Chin lifted, defiant, ‘Linda sent it to me.’
I nodded. Of course she did.
There were CCTV cameras everywhere—they’d certainly catch whomever had done it and they could enjoy a stay in the slot.
Disrespectful and tacky. That’s what it was.
I wanted to paint over it myself. I filed away the fantasy of finding the person who did it and forcing them to paint over it with a toothbrush while Governor Ferguson looked on approvingly for pre-sleep pondering and got back to work.
* * *
What the fuck is the point of CCTV if it can’t catch someone painting a bloody great image on the side of the building?! Those cameras are everywhere!
There was a steady stream of inmates in and out of the governor’s office but she clearly had to obey laws and the Geneva convention. I had some ideas for getting information out of people. In general, I was all about consent, but in this case an exception could be made.
Why did this bother me so much? She was a grown up—it wasn’t her first day dealing with prisoners.
Because humiliation was a hard limit for me. Of course. They’d tried to humiliate her.
The realisation—rather than offering clarity—kicked my rage into over-drive.
YOU DO NOT HUMILIATE GOVERNOR FERGUSON.
NOT ON MY WATCH YOU—
There she went. Walking with a purpose. Something happened.
What a strut.
Back to work.
* * *
‘Governor Ferguson’s Office.’ Loved saying that.
‘Mr Channing.’ I stapled some papers that didn’t require it to relieve some rage and to sound busy.
‘How is it going—I heard there was an incident…with some…spray paint yesterday.’
‘Just prisoners asserting dominance where they have none. It’s been handled.’ And the Governor and I have discussed how to handle you, too, Skippy.
‘Well, that’s good to hear. I wouldn’t want to think she was out of her depth already.’ He sounded as though he’d very much like that, indeed.
‘I wouldn’t say so.’ staple
He sucked air in through his teeth. ‘A death of a prisoner…a big fight…now this… It’s not an auspicious start.’
‘There will be an investigation on how a prisoner got this far with drugs in her bowels, right? Don’t we have to wait to see who’s responsible for that?’
‘Well.’ There was a pause—justice sounded awfully boring when you could throw a brand-new female governor under the bus.
staple staple staple ‘Is there anything else? I’m just…’ staple!
‘She making a lot of changes?’ He sounded concerned.
‘I’m just a busy, busy bee, that’s all.’ I slammed my hand down on my stapler. STAPLE! Ow. I instinctively drew the side of my hand to my chest.
‘I’ll let you go then. I’ll check in later.’
I hummed a goodbye and put down the receiver. My hand, my hand. Visualise the pain as energy, radiating out of the body. Embrace it—don’t fight it.
Contrary to popular opinion—masochists do not enjoy all pain. But we know how to handle it.
The Governor stopped in front of my desk, her hand on the door to her office. ‘Ready for our meet—are you all right?’
I collected my binder and lead the way into her office.
‘I’ll make tea.’ She disappeared into the kitchen attached to her office.
‘Thank you.’ I settled in the chair on the left—wondering which seat the deputy governor had sat in during their little after-work drinks do a few days before. No. None of your business, Gavin. It’s not done to pry.
Besides, the Governor had to get Deputy Bennett on side anyway. Poor woman. Her mother was dying. And she was clearly smitten with the Governor.
Still, she got to spend time alone with Governor Ferguson. When it was quiet. Had they turned off most of the lights? Was it an intimate getting-to-know-you chat?
I jabbed my thumb into the still-sore side of my hand. An anti-torture technique—intentionally cause one type of pain to distract yourself from another, unwanted pain.
Kettle filled and clicked on, Governor Ferguson joined me and took her seat—unbuttoning the bottom button of her jacket. ‘Any … phone calls I need to know about?’
‘Just before you came in, actually.’
‘I’m sorry I missed it.’ She folded her hands on her desk. ‘Now, what happened to your hand?’
‘Fervent stapling injury. Hazard of the job.’ She didn’t ask what he’d said—did she just trust me to deal with him? Trust. I nearly shivered.
‘Well, be careful.’
It was a nicety, but any allusion of care sent a warm ripple through my stomach. I smiled, ‘I shall. Do you—‘
The kettle clicked off and she stood.
‘Governor, I don’t mind…’
She smiled while passing me on the way to her kitchen, ‘I know—I simply prefer to make my own food and drink.’
I whispered to myself ‘It’s not service if the Master doesn’t want it.’
She called from the kitchen, ’I sorry?’
‘Nothing, Governor.’ Making drinks for Dominant women was one of my favourite ways to show my reverence, but if the woman didn’t want it then I was just being pushy. Which was not submissive. No, no.
I was wagging my finger at nothing when she returned with a tray of tea things.
‘Are you all right?’
Flexing my hand, I offered a tight-lipped smile. ‘Fine.’ This was like the first time I met a D-type after I entered the scene. Fifteen years ago. It was just coming off her in waves. Yeah, it had been a long damn time since I’d…anything.
That’s what it was. It had just been a long time since I’d had anyone to serve or belong to or anything else with.
She began dressing the tea.
The Governor obviously cultivated her command presence, as well, so even if she wasn’t in the lifestyle, she wore Eau du Authority all day. The pieces were coming together—I began to feel less out of sorts.
God. She even sets out tea things precisely.
‘I’ll be mother.’ She smiled and lifted the milk.
I nodded, biting back a laugh/sob, aaaand we’re back to being out-of-sorts. You can be whatever you want. Role play? Governess? Nurse?
I have to find someone to serve. Soon.
Clearing my throat I thanked her and put my binder on the cleared portion of her desk. We were supposed to be reviewing the sections of the Officers’ Handbook I had questions about.
‘I’d like to discuss something else first.’ She held up a hand, ‘Your notes thus far have been quite thorough.’
I closed the binder and sat back, though still upright, in my chair. ‘Oh. Of course.’ Let’s chat about whatever you’d like.
She opened her palm towards my tea, ‘Please.’
It was perfect. Of course. The third time she made my tea and it was just right. They say the best Dominants understand how to be the best submissives.
Governor Ferguson sipped hers, as well. We both replaced our cups on the tray then she sat back in her chair and regarded me for several seconds before asking coolly, ‘How’s your hand?’
The atmosphere had changed. It was less friendly. ‘It’s fine. Thank you.’
‘Would you mind lowering the blinds?’ She gestured towards the shade over the three large windows that looked out onto the rest of the front office. It was halfway down already.
I lowered it the rest of the way and pulled it back until the mechanism caught then pointed to the window on the other side of her door. Before I could ask she smiled and said, ‘No, have a seat.’
Even a bit thrown off her half-dimple got to me.
I felt like I’d done something wrong. Had I done something wrong? Resuming my seat, I composed myself. Not having a script was the worst.
After another pause, she leaned forward ever so slightly. ‘You have been rather naughty.’ Her tone was conspiratorial, her voice whiskey-soaked velvet.
There are times when my Resting Death Face fails me. This was one of them. I felt my expression go slack and my lips part.
I murmured, ‘Um. Governor?’
With a knowing look, she retrieved a file from her desk and placed it on the blotter. ‘Your application for this job… it doesn’t include all of your education.’
I heaved a comically large sigh, ‘Right. No. It doesn’t. No. I lied…by omission. Yes. It’s true.’ My head was rushing with blood and the room began swimming. I gulped my tea, which was too hot to do so, but I didn’t care. Caffeine and sugar, help me.
‘That’s why I lied. Yes. I lied.’ I couldn’t bring myself to say I was naughty.
She observed me, amused. ‘So you could work in this job. Because you enjoy being useful to a “quality individual”.’ The Governor pronounced the words carefully towards the ceiling, then returned her steady gaze to me.
I nodded more than necessary, relieved things hadn’t gone…wherever they’d seemed to be going. ‘Right, yes.’ Finishing my tea, I found my balance, ‘I figured out what I wanted to do and think it’s important to be who you are and not try to live up to anyone else’s expectations. You’ll just make yourself miserable that way and other people will never be satisfied anyway.’
Lifting her cup she asked, ’And are you satisfied, Constance?’
Furrowing my brow at her, people often didn’t think unambitious people could be happy, I answered, ‘Very. I’m very satisfied.’
She tilted her chin up in an “I see” gesture them sipped her tea. I prepared myself for a conversation about living up to one’s potential—high-powered people (especially women) got offended if you didn’t also go for gold. They felt you were letting the entire team down. Or judging them.
It’s all right. Stay open and calm. Being defensive makes a person seem like they’re lying—trying to convince themselves of what they’re saying. Show them you’re happy just as you are.
Replacing her cup on the tray, she ran her tongue over her bottom lip then leaned forward, preparing to speak. She knew how to use silence to her advantage. Only insecure people filled the quiet. I waited though bursting to speak.
‘Being who you are—not living up to anyone else’s expectations. Those are bold acts in this world. Particularly as a woman.’
I nodded. We were on the same page here. Let her talk and see where we diverge.
She nodded, as well, still amused. My lack of ambition was quite the entertainment. Maybe I didn’t like her so much after all.
‘Being useful to a quality individual…’ Her dark eyes glittered. ‘Is that what you do at The Velvet Curtain?’ Her voice dropped to a whisper as the room went wobbly.
When I didn’t respond (luckily my face had frozen this time—there was no way to know when it would be on my side or not) she produced photos of me at the entrance.
‘That is you, isn’t it? At the BDSM club—The Velvet Curtain.’
Oh. So that’s how it was. Every door and window within me shut. I was me again.
I looked at her, clear-eyed. ‘Dungeon.’
‘BDSM clubs are called dungeons. Yes, that is me. Last Saturday. There was an educational—pressure points. Do you have all of your employees followed and photographed?’ There was no morality clause in our contracts. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
‘Only the ones who intrigue me.’
I calmed the rage flickering on my emotional horizon before responding.
‘A woman who deals with people who are constantly playing mental chess with her will understandably develop a tendency for duplicity in an effort to maintain the upper-hand. It’s the only way to survive. Let alone maintain any sort of dignity. Everyone’s constantly grappling for power-over, which I find boring, exhausting and ultimately unfulfilling. I, however, come from a background of power-with. It requires being straightforward and self aware, sometimes painfully so. But everyone gets so much of what they want that it’s worth it.’ I stared hard at her. ‘I don’t play chess and find it offensive when people attempt to play it with me without my consent. Never do that to me again.’
A micro-expression of surprise passed her face before she recovered, nodding her head once, ‘All right, I apologise.’
It had been so long since someone had breached my boundaries to that degree—in an effort to gain control of me, no less. My heart was racing. I envisioned my amygdala going into overdrive and tried to visualise it calming down so I could focus.
‘Was there a reason? I have blatantly been on your side from the first day. Or are you so accustomed to people attempting to play you you simply know no other way to be? Have you ever had a straight-forward, power-with relationship in your life?’
We hadn’t known one another long, but this was the first time I had spoken to her as an equal. She had my educational background in front of her now and she wasn’t inspiring my submission. So there was neither any reason to pretend she was my superior nor was I feeling particularly obsequious.
The Governor’s face relaxed. ‘I don’t know what that means.’
I explained matter-of-factly, ‘It’s when two people work together to get everything they both want out of an intentionally power-imbalanced relationship.’
She snorted, ‘That’s impossible.’
‘Every relationship I’ve had—and many of the happiest ones I’ve seen—would prove otherwise.’
‘Are you in one now?’ Her lip curled, her tone taunting.
‘Not all of my power exchanges were designed to be long-term.’
She blinked in confusion and I continued.
‘There are different types of power exchanges—or authority transfers because one person gives authority over certain parts of their lives to another person—but the way that works for me involves contracts. Some people use them and some don’t. I do. I’ve had short-term contracts to learn various skills or to accompany someone on holiday because they didn’t have a submissive at the time and I wanted to serve someone. Or whatever. But in those instances, a long-term relationship with that person wouldn’t have been feasible because we were incompatible in other ways. Length of time together isn’t the only measure of success in a relationship.’
The Governor actually seemed at a loss for words for a moment. She sipped her tea, which must have been cold by now. I cringed internally.
‘Contracts and authority transfers… that seems normal to you?’
‘Yes. Exactly. To me. Just like some people naturally write with their right hand and some write with their left. I naturally need to be useful to dominant women I trust and respect.’
‘No one asks why people write with their right hands. Because they need to write things down and that’s the hand they started using writing implements with. Because people have relationships and that’s how I have mine.’
She regarded me with that look, brow slightly furrowed, as though not sure what to make of me.
I smiled, ‘Non-kinky people conduct their relationships in individual ways too. Some have to call one another fourteen times a day. Some are fine not seeing one another for a couple days at a time. Some feel the need to bicker over every tiny thing—who will drive to dinner, where they eat, what film to see—and that’s what makes them happy. That’s how they conduct their individual relationships. The difference is power exchange people know beforehand what they need and want and discuss it. Some people—like me—write it down and review it at pre-defined intervals. We recognise people change and grow and that most relationships don’t last forever and allow for that.’
‘Well aren’t you evolved?’, she asked dryly, lifting her cup, then thinking better of it, and replacing it on the saucer.
I laughed, ‘Oh, people get their feelings hurt and World War Three happens in the community occasionally. But we work with some heavy things. You can’t ethically run someone’s life if you don’t have as much information as possible.’
The Governor’s eyes narrowed as she looked me up and down. ‘It seems odd you’d let someone “run your life”. You’re so… together and capable.’
‘Thank you. No one wants to be in charge of a giant mess of a human. I can be more use to my Dominant if I’m together and capable.’
She regarded her cup then asked smoothly, ‘Would you mind emptying my cup in the sink in there and pouring another cup of tea for me, Constance?’
Oh, now she wanted my service.
‘Governor. I’ve been in the BDSM scene for fifteen years.’ Her eyebrows rose at the number. ‘When you play with power that long, you learn to recognise how people use it out in the traditional world. Now. I could be coy and say,’ I dropped my voice to a flirty tone and leaned forward, grinning, ‘“I thought you preferred to prepare your own food and drink.”’ Sitting back, I returned to my usual timbre, ‘Or I could point out that now that you know something intimate about me you’re trying to use your natural command presence to get me to serve you. As some sort of amusement. I asked you not to do that again.’
To her expression of surprise I added, ‘I don’t care how you engage with other people, Governor Ferguson. As I said earlier, your need to play chess with them is understandable and probably partially ingrained. But I’m on your side and I want the best for you. Don’t insult my intelligence, please.’
She began to protest then changed her mind and drew her mouth tightly closed then nodded. ‘Understood.’ Exhaling a sigh through her nose she tilted her head to one side, ‘I suppose I should be grateful you’re on my side.’
I burst out laughing, ‘You’d be surprised how many people have said that to me.’ We regarded one another for a moment. ‘Now. I am closer to the kitchen than you are—if you’d still like me to empty your cup, I will.’
Once our cups had been refilled I asked, ‘Is there anything else you’d like to know about power exchange?’
‘No.’ She offered an open-handed gesture, ‘You seem to know what you need.’
I nodded and picked up my binder—happy to get on with our planned meeting.
The Governor regarded her tea, ’How did you know? When? About… being…’
Smiling to myself, I laid the binder on my lap and recited my Kink Origin Story about being teacher’s pet from age twelve and enjoying cleaning the boards and erasers and straightening desks or grading papers for The Favourite teacher each year.
‘You received better grades, though, right? Special treatment.’
‘No, it was always my English teacher—the class I was best in. I didn’t need to suck up. As a submissive, you want to do well for your Dominant—you want to please them—so it makes sense that even then I’d choose someone who taught the thing I loved most and wanted to be like.’
She shook her head, ‘If you wanted to be like them wouldn’t you want to be a Dominant?’
‘People on both sides of the slash—Dominants, Masters or Leaders on one side and submissives, slaves or followers on the other—need similar qualities. Patience, loyalty, intelligence, integrity, compassion, a commitment to communicate even when it’s hard and sucks big donkey dick. Sorry.’
Her dimple appeared when she snorted, ‘It’s all right.’ She shrugged, ‘Communication sucks big donkey dick.’ Her guffaw at my expression to her repeating my words was genuine.
I remembered why she was attractive and sipped my tea to regain composure.
‘As I was saying, both people need many of the same qualities—it’s just about how you enjoy using those qualities.’
She nodded slowly, taking on the new information. ‘Some lead, some follow.’
‘Right. Like in the military. Nearly everyone is both leading and following simultaneously. But as long as you have a strong leader you’ll follow them anywhere. And we don’t think of soldiers as being weak.’
‘That’s true.’ Looking into her tea cup, she continued nodding, considering this. ‘I suppose it’s quite the compliment if a strong-willed, capable person chooses to follow you.’ This was spoken mostly to herself.
I chose to respond anyway, ‘Yes. I use the word “submit”. Other people use “surrender”. It depends on the person.’
The Governor met my eyes. ‘You submit to someone.’ She looked at me as though I’d walked into her office for the first time and just sat down. ‘You submit to someone.’ It wasn’t said in judgement—just a statement. This is what this person does.
She looked at the photos on her desk, then looked at my educational background, further acclimating this information.
Returning to me she said, ‘She must be something else.’
‘There is no “she” at the moment.’
‘That seems like a waste.’
‘Really, Governor? You don’t seem like the sort of person who’d think a woman’s worth is based on her being part of a couple.’
‘Oh! No! I meant, a waste for some Dominant woman to have her life running like clockwork. I bet you’re incredible.’
Of course she instantly thought of the Domme’s point of view. I smirked. ‘That’s very kind of you, but it depends on what the other woman wants. What one person could think of as the perfect sub would seem useless to another.’
Shrugging, she shook her head, ‘How many styles could there be?’
I whispered, ‘As many as there are people.’ Sipping my tea I continued, ’Then when you pair them off (or put them in groups—some people are in sort of families or houses) their dynamic has to be defined by the people involved. It’s great because it’s made for you, but it’s awful because it requires so much communication.’
‘You have to start somewhere—how do you…’ She twirled an elegant hand.
‘There are books. Paradigms of Power by Raven Kaldera is great. It’s essays about a variety of styles of power exchange. Lots of people start with something that already exists in the world with a hierarchy or a power differential—military, Victorian households, CEO/COO, anything really—then tweak the rules and invent rituals that reinforce the authority transfer in a way that works for them.’
She wanted to ask something but hesitated; suddenly her notebook was fascinating.
Her voice was quiet, ’Does anyone do… Governor/inmate?’ She regarded me from the corner of her eye.
‘It wouldn’t surprise me.’
She faced me straight on. ’You didn’t laugh.’
‘Governor, everything is a thing. I assure you, whatever your deepest, darkest fantasy is, somewhere someone is doing it.’ I held my hand up, palm out. ‘I’m not asking what it is—I’m just saying—someone (or a group of someones) are doing it for the fiftieth time as we speak. They’ve probably built special props and furniture to facilitate the process. There is nothing new under the sun. There are only kinks and ways of being you haven’t heard of yet. I haven’t heard of people turning Governor/inmate into a power exchange, but that doesn’t mean no one has.’
It was again as though I had walked into the room for the first time. People were so accustomed to being judged for merely existing they often needed a moment to accept not being judged. I’d cried the first time I’d realised someone accepted me for me.
‘But…there must be activities you find…’
‘You can’t help what you have a visceral response to, but I just avoid those scenes and have those things on my hard limit list.’ To her expression I added, ‘Things that a Dominant shouldn’t even bring up. Words they shouldn’t say—places not to touch. Things like that. But just because those things send me to DEFCON 5 doesn’t mean no one should use them. As long as other people are aware of their risks, are adults and consenting—they can do whatever they’d like. If you want someone to hold space for your freakyness you have to celebrate other people’s freakyness.’
Both immaculate eyebrows jumped, ‘Celebrate it?’
‘People being true to themselves when the whole world (including other kinky people) is telling them they’re a bunch of perverted freaks? Yeah I celebrate that. I can be happy for someone getting their long-held fantasy even if every part of that fantasy is a hard limit for me because some people would throw all of us in the same padded cell and set it on fire. If wouldn’t matter if I was saying, “No, that’s the weird shit—I’m not into that!”’
Her eyes danced over me, corners of her lips curling, ‘Seen some things, have you.’
I deadpanned, ‘That will never leave me.’
She laughed. Her smile was beautiful. After sipping her tea, ‘So. What are you into?’
‘Well, Governor. That’s not appropriate for work.’
‘We were just talking about power exchange.’
‘That’s my relationships. That’s like asking someone if they’re gay or straight. It’s an orientation—it’s how I relate to people in relationships. If more people were familiar with the terminology it would just be another thing to ask about when trying to set someone up—if a person likes going to the opera, traveling or if they’re into power exchange. It has nothing to do with sex.’
‘It doesn’t?’ Amused, tea cup paused halfway down to the saucer.
‘No, I’m asexual. The majority of my contracts strictly forbid sexual contact.’
She was so still for so long it was as though a pause button had been engaged. Of everything that had been discussed today, this is what had broken her mind. Ah, preconceived notions. They were a bastard.
‘But.’ I said, ‘This isn’t really an appropriate conversation for work.’ Checking the clock, I added, conversationally, ‘And our meeting has run over by a vast margin. If you’d like to continue this discussion outside of work, I would be amenable. Also, I’ll send notes on the next section of the Officers’ Handbook by the end of the week, yeah?’
‘Yes, thank you.’
As I was leaving, I heard the Governor’s cup finally make contact with her saucer.