Amanda Knox wrote an essay for Broadly about her experience with relationships in an Italian prison when she was infamously behind bars from 2007 to 2011. The former American student, 29, was convicted of murdering her roommate Meredith Kercher while studying abroad in Perugia. She was later exonerated in 2015 by Italy’s highest court.
The Seattle native opened up about her relationship with a fellow female inmate, Leny, whose name was changed in the article. “I was cautiously friendly,” she said. “She told me she was a lesbian and I told her I was straight. Leny told me about how, in Italy, she had experienced a lot of judgment and closed-mindedness. I sympathized. When I was 14, a rumor went around my Catholic high school that I was a lesbian, alienating me from everyone but a small group of my classmates. Later, I became an LGBTQ ally and helped found the Gay-Straight Alliance at my high school. When I told her that, Leny grinned ear to ear. Afterward, she scampered, puppylike, alongside me as I paced the exercise yard — the next day, and the day after that, and eventually every day.”
Knox described how they became “almost friends.” She would let Leny listen to her CDs, and they would chat and play chess together. “At least initially, Leny might not have been trying to seduce me, and was actually just in need of someone kind to distract her from her loneliness. This is common,” she wrote. “Contrary to what you might guess, many prison relationships aren’t about sex — just like most relationships outside of prison.”
The now-freelance journalist noted that intimacy in prison is strictly forbidden, and those in relationships face severe consequences, such as formal write-ups, solitary confinement or transfer to another facility. “Leny wanted to hold hands. ‘I’ve changed women before,’ she’d tell me. ‘I can do things to you that no man can.’ I felt objectified and I’d get annoyed. ‘You can’t change me,’ I’d respond. She’d think I was playing hard to get,” Knox recalled.
“One day, Leny kissed me,” she continued, “I gritted my teeth and half smiled, wavering between embarrassment and anger. It was bad enough that the prison institution took ownership of my body―that I was caged and strip-searched on a regular basis and had already been sexually harassed by male guards. As a prisoner, Leny should have understood that, but unlike me, Leny was serving a short stint, and didn’t feel as acutely as I did the loss of privacy, dignity, and autonomy.”
Knox cited the support of her family and friends as the reason she didn’t need an intimate relationship while serving time. “I told Leny that since she couldn’t respect my boundaries, we couldn’t be friends anymore. Things became tense,” she wrote. “I was relieved when she was finally released, although she continued to write. She sent me jazz CDs, which she inscribed on the inside jacket, ‘Love always, Leny.’ I never replied.”
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