Amanda Knox, who was convicted but then acquitted of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher, has written a detailed account of how a lesbian inmate tried to seduce her during her years behind bars.
The idea of straight women in prison resorting to lesbian relationships “brings out the horny teenage boy in many of us,” but sexual bonds were often a reflection of a desperate yearning for companionship in a brutal environment, Miss Knox wrote.
She was incarcerated in Capanne prison in Umbria, between 2007 and 2011 after being initially found guilty by the Italian judicial system of killing and sexually assaulting Miss Kercher, her flat-mate, who was from Surrey.
Both young women were taking a year out from their university courses at home to study at the University for Foreigners in the medieval walled town of Perugia.
Miss Knox revealed for the first time that while serving her sentence she was befriended by a female inmate, a small-time drug dealer, who tried to initiate a sexual relationship with her.
The woman, whom Miss Knox calls “Leny”, initially seemed happy to just be friends as a way of guarding against the loneliness and isolation of prison, but after a while tried to persuade the young American to become sexually intimate.
“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. One day, Leny kissed me,” Miss Knox wrote in an essay entitled “What Romance in Prison Actually Looks Like” for the website Broadly, part of Vice News.
“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.”
Miss Knox broke off the friendship, telling Leny that “since she couldn’t respect my boundaries, we couldn’t be friends anymore.”
The American was relieved when Leny was finally released from prison, but annoyed that she wrote letters and sent her CDs with the message ‘Love always, Leny”.
She revealed the relationship as part of a wide-ranging reflection on how many women prisoners, who would normally classify themselves as heterosexual, often resort to sexual relationships with their fellow inmates.
She acknowledged that there is something “titillating” about the idea of cooped-up women prisoners having sex with each other.
“The idea of women in prison brings out the horny teenage boy in many of us – perhaps it’s the implied lesbianism—but there’s also something deeper,” Miss Knox wrote.
“It was common for inmates to form an intimate partnership,” she wrote. “Inmates had crushes on one another.
They passed love letters through the bars…and gave each other presents.
There were tearful breakups, and sometimes fist fights between new partners and exes.
Many of these women will have identified as heterosexual – colloquially, they were ‘gay for the stay’.”
Miss Knox offers a fascinating insight into her time in jail, about which she has said little in the past.
She was extremely reserved with other inmates, keeping herself to herself. “I didn’t really have friends in prison,” she wrote.
Regarded as a celebrity because of the huge media attention that the Kercher murder case garnered, she was resented by other prisoners.
“Most of my fellow inmates were bigger, tougher, meaner, more desperate, and had less to lose than me, so I never let my guard down.”
She managed to survive by helping poorly-educated prisoners write letters and translating for inmates who did not speak Italian a large proportion of the prison population in Italy is foreign.
She argues that many of the bonds forged between the women in jail were largely to do with seeking comfort and solace in an unforgiving environment.
“Relationships in prison are sometimes about sex, but more often they’re about human connection. Because prison is an awful place: It is designed to deny people of their desire to connect.” Women demonstrate “greater sexual fluidity than men,” she wrote.
Since being released from prison and returning to her home town of Seattle, Miss Knox has written articles from time to time, most frequently for the West Seattle Herald.
Miss Kercher, 21, was murdered in the house she shared with Miss Knox and two young Italian women in Perugia in November 2007, just after Halloween.
She was found in a pool of blood with her throat stabbed several times.
Miss Knox and Mr Sollecito, her then boyfriend, were convicted of murder and sexual assault in 2009, then acquitted in 2011, then had their convictions upheld in 2014 before being definitively acquitted by the Supreme Court in Rome in 2015.
Rudy Guede, a local drifter who was born in Ivory Coast but grew up in Perugia, is the only person to have been definitively convicted of the murder and is serving a 16-year jail sentence.