The ‘Aa-hua were an all-female civilization with limited contact to the outside world. In the following excerpt, an anthropologist describes one part of their prison system.
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… This next section is markedly less accessible. There is no stairway or ladder to go back up; it explicitly requires physical cooperation from above in order to exit. Personnel are forewarned that this floor and below will not be evacuated in an emergency.
The prisoners in this section are known as “the ones whose urethras burned.” They are kept in long narrow cages, on their backs. Their wrists are bound to one end of the cage, and their ankles to the opposite end. Within the cages, they can barely move. Unlike the general population of prisoners, they do not wear a shred of clothing, save for a tight-fitting cloth sack over the head. Tied off at the neck, it covers all but the prisoner’s mouth. These prisoners who could not move have no need to see. Packed within inches of one another, they experience the worst parts of both of solitary confinement and overcrowding.
One of the few degrees of freedom allowed to the prisoners is that they can thrust their hips upward. This movement is a critical part in managing their body waste. For while imprisoned as “one whose urethra burned,” it is impossible to urinate normally. In order to rid the one’s bladder of urine, there is a convoluted mechanism built into each cage.
First, a rigid metal collection tube descends from the top of the cage and is kept buried tightly in the prisoner’s urethra, blocking the urine from escaping. This tube has a small opening on its side of its tip. By thrusting her hips up against the top of the cage, a prisoner can cause the tip of the tube to penetrate into her bladder, allowing urine to flow into the hole. It is only by voluntarily raping their own urethra that these prisoners can ever relieve themselves.
For the best-behaved prisoners, the collection tube is smooth and narrow. Sometimes the prison guards modify the tubes to be more punishing. For minor discipline, they force the prisoner’s hips down to expose the tube, then rub an irritating substance on the outside of the tube, such as chili paste. For more lasting abuse, the guards intentionally damage the tubes, such that they become bumpy and crooked, in order to make it more challenging for the prisoner to accept into her urethra. And for especially detested prisoners, the guards wind rough fibers around the length of the tube, which scour the prisoner’s urethra on its way in and drag skin with it on its way out. This causes painful, itchy rashes, and in extreme cases, bloody lacerations and prolapse.
In order to urinate, simply raising one’s hips is not the end of the story. Doing so from inside the cage, the groin pushes up on a plate that closes a valve in the tube. Thus, only a little bit of urine can flow into the tube, and the prisoner has to lower her hips back down to open the valve and allow the urine to drain. It takes dozens of up and down motions, filling and draining the tube, to empty the bladder.
Once the urine drains from the tube, it collects in the first of two reservoirs belonging to each cage. This primary reservoir is smaller and deeper. There are two outlets on the bottom of this reservoir. One leads to an upside-down U-shaped pipe, like in a toilet. In order to “flush” the urine out of the reservoir, the prisoner has to raise the water level until the pipe allows it to siphon out.
However, to flush the reservoir is made diabolically more challenging and all the more important by the second outlet, a tiny hole at the bottom of the reservoir. If there is any liquid in the primary reservoir, it will slowly drain from this hole into a return tube. This return tube is attached to a gag in the prisoner’s mouth, which forces the prisoner to swallow her own waste. The gag is shaped to make it impossible for the prisoner to block the tube with her tongue or to spit out the liquid. Failure to swallow the liquid would cause the prisoner to drown—there are no safeguards against this, but in practice, no cases have been recorded.
The result of this design is that, in order to have any benefit, the prisoner has to violate her urethra vigorously to fill the reservoir quickly enough to flush it before she expended all the urine in her bladder. Too slow of a pace results in all of the urine draining through the return tube, forcing the prisoner to drink it up. Some drainage through the return tube is unavoidable. Even when the prisoner succeeded in flushing the reservoir, she must still drink a portion of the urine. The process is a daily battle of exhaustion, but it helped keep the tightly confined prisoners in shape.
In some prisoners, the intense stimulation inside the genitalia and the frantic humping against the top of the cage can bring the prisoner to orgasm. This, and any other kind of masturbation, is forbidden. Unfortunately, this is not something a prisoner could help. A prisoner that experiences this quickly becomes addicted, to the chagrin of the guards. The punishment of these prisoners is brutal and relentless. Not a single one has ever survived her sentence, a fact that is well known to the inmates. Such a prisoner’s descent into pleasure is fraught with anxiety and self-hatred, for she knows it will bring about her demise, yet she is not able to resist the impulse.
This obscene behavior is not immediately distinguishable from normal urination, but the guards watching over the section have a keen eye for catching it. They are also curiously adept at sensing when a prisoner’s efforts are about to pay off. To conserve their efforts, the guards do not intervene until the prisoner is at the brink of ecstasy, in case the prisoner would exhaust herself before finding release. Only when she is near, do the guards swoop in. The guard first pushes down on the abdomen to stop the prisoner from moving, then presses a baton against the prisoner’s neck to stop her from breathing. These two actions abruptly bring the indecent act to a crashing halt. The prisoner is made to pass out, ever unsatisfied. Despite only seldom reaching climax, the prisoners are not sufficiently deterred, and there continue to be incidents.
Due to the flushing mechanism of the primary reservoir, a prisoner can remove only a specific amount of urine at a time. Too much, and any extra that is not enough for a second flush has to be swallowed. Too little, and the entire amount has to be swallowed. The guards control the amount by adjusting the height of the siphon pipe. Supposedly, this allows them to accommodate different prisoners’ bodies, and the pipe is meant to be calibrated within a few days of a prisoner’s arrival. However, it has not always been done in a timely or precise manner.
Adjustments to the flushing level are more often made to torture prisoners. A guard can gradually raise the flushing level until the prisoner either does not have the stamina or the bladder capacity to succeed. Some prisoners have been executed this way, with the flushing threshold set impossibly high. Over the course of days, the prisoner would die of dehydration, having nothing but recycled urine to drink.
The schedule for these executions is kept secret from the prisoners until just moments before they are carried out. Prisoners sentenced to die in this way have their cages covered with a sheet. According to the culture, the sheet separates the prisoner from the realm of the living—as soon as the sheet is in place, the prisoner is considered dead, despite the protracted period of living agony that lay before them. Realistically, the sheet prevents prison staff from interfering with the procedure by unknowingly giving the prisoner water or ‘correcting’ the cage’s flushing level.
These days, it is less common for guards to make the reservoir impossible to flush, other than for execution. They would have to be careful and remember to return it to normal, as the unscheduled death of a prisoner at the hands of a guard is cause for severe reprimand. Bizarrely, it is treated the same as aiding an escape. Short of potentially killing the prisoner, a guard can set the flushing level high, but not impossibly high: just at the prisoner’s bladder capacity. With that, the guard can leave it for an arbitrarily long time.
It only takes a third of the bladder’s capacity for a person to feel the need to urinate. If the prisoner gives in to her body’s desire to urinate as soon as she feels it, there would not be enough to flush. For this lack of discipline, she would be punished by being forced to swallow her urine. The apparatus carries out this training consistently day after day, without the need for human intervention, and without compassion. An optimally tuned siphon pipe ensures that the prisoner will spend two thirds of her life enduring the pain of needing to urinate yet not being able to.
In this section, every aspect of the prisoners’ lives is tightly monitored, including what comes out of their bodies. To this end, the siphon pipe does not drain directly into the prison’s plumbing. Instead, it drains into a secondary reservoir, for the prison staff’s review. Monitoring the amount and quality of the urine helps the guards keep track of the prisoners’ health, especially during long-term torture regimens. For example, a prisoner can efficiently be kept at the verge of dehydration for months without complications.
A prisoner’s urine is permitted to be inside her bladder, her mouth, or one of the reservoirs of her cage. In the exceptional case that any of it is found somewhere other than those designated locations, it is up to the guards to clean it up. In return for the trouble, the prisoner responsible would receive a beating. She is not removed from the cage for this; instead, the guards jab her through the bars with their heavy batons. Of course, the tiny cell provides no refuge from these attacks. Tender, easily accessible areas of the body receive most of the abuse—the breasts and abdomen. The surrounding prisoners made aware as well, not only by the noise but also by the droplets of sweat flung from the prisoner’s body in the violent impacts.
Although the collection tube tightly obstructs the urethra, a blow to the pelvic region can still cause urine to be ejected. The prisoner can try to prevent this by squeezing down on the tube, requiring that she stay focused. If she were to lose control of her bladder during the beating and wet her cage again, she will be scheduled to be beaten again the next day. The next beating would be more painful from bruises sustained the day before. This has a way of continuing indefinitely, as the guards prefer to beat the prisoner to the point of incontinence.
The reservoirs are covered, to keep the section from smelling of prisoners’ urine. Even with that, the atmosphere is by no means pleasant. For one thing, the section reeks of sweat, exuded liberally in the grueling physical demands of survival. But above all else is the unmistakable musky odor emblematic of the entire section’s frustration. The relative seclusion of the section offers poor ventilation, and the air hangs warm and humid. Guards that are required visit the section try to make their stays as short as possible, and discretionary visits are generally avoided. A few minutes are enough to make skin wet and clothing damp, whether by a visitor herself sweating in the heat or by the clammy air clinging to her cool, dry body.
A few guards have the misfortune of having lengthy assignments in the section. There is usually at least one guard stationed to watch over the prisoners and another guard on duty for taking care of the prisoners’ needs. The watchers are tasked with being present for around six hours continuously. They generally choose to strip off all of their clothing before entering, with the insignificant exception of the boots and hat. They perform their duty in the nude, to prevent their uniforms from getting wet. The caretakers enter a few times each day, and the responsibility rotates every two days. They wear smooth gloves and a thin apron, and like the watchers, generally nothing underneath. Although their uniforms can thus be spared, these guards’ hair is a lost cause.
The guards’ appointments are but the blink of an eye compared to the prisoners’ sentences. They endure the inhospitable atmosphere every hour of every day. There are no breaks to go outside. The only possible bright side is that they might forget what fresh air is like.
The caretaker guard’s foremost responsibility is to inspect and empty the secondary reservoirs. The floor plan of this section poses a mild inconvenience. There are no drains in the area with the cages. During their rounds, the guards are to carry the reservoir to a shared drain at the end of the section, empty it, and return to give the prisoner some water. An unpleasant tension between the prisoners and the guards has arisen from this inconvenience. The prisoners couldn’t help but urinate, yet whenever they did, it meant more work for the guard, who would have to walk the waste over to the drain. It is speculated that this was an intentional aspect of the prison’s design, with the purpose of fostering this antagonism.
The guards have an underhanded alternative to the walk: they can instead pour the secondary reservoir back into the primary reservoir, forcing the prisoner to drink it, and accordingly give her less or no additional water. This affords the guard a modicum of convenience, and the only cost is immense suffering for the prisoner; that is, there are no repercussions for the guard. The watcher is not inclined to speak up, for she knows that she will have a turn at being the caretaker as well. This small amount effort saved adds up across all the prisoners in the section. The prisoners have no possessions with which to bargain for mercy, nor can they perform any favors, owing to their immobility. The best they can do is humiliate themselves for the guards’ amusement and beg to be forgiven for their physiological needs. Neither of these much sway any of the staff.
The other major responsibility of the caretaker guard is to feed the prisoners. Prisoners in this section are allotted one scoop of powdered animal fodder each day. The dry feed is easy to choke on; it has to be mixed with water before being fed to the prisoners. The easiest way to do this is to dump the powder into the cage’s primary reservoir and to let the prisoner wash it out herself.
If the feeding comes at an inopportune time, when the prisoner is urinating, the food disperses throughout the reservoir, and the prisoner would have to drink the entire reservoir to be fed. However, she would first have to notice that the food was added, which was easy to miss during the strenuous exercise. Wasting food was generally frowned upon in the society. If a prisoner flushes her food, wittingly or not, it would be evident when the staff reviewed her secondary reservoir, and she will be forced to fast for several days in recognition of her display of satiety. There are no regulations on what the caretaker is to do with these prisoners’ allocated feed, which has created some perverse incentives when the guard on duty happened to keep some animals and found leftovers to be at all useful.
Day and night, the section is filled with the sound of muffled cries. The soft flesh that envelopes hard metal rods thrashes about and pounds against unyielding, inescapable cages. It is never really quiet, but there are measures in place to prevent any one prisoner from making too much of a racket.
Some of the prisoners have nipple piercings, which the guards refer to as the “quiet rings.” If a prisoner is deemed to be too noisy, or if the guards want her to stop moving for any other reason, they connect the rings with a cord that loops over the cage’s top bars. Then, they tighten the cord until the prisoner’s chest is pulled into the air by her breasts. Finally, the guards clip the cord in place and leave the prisoner suspended. It is hard to breathe in this stress position, and vocalizing anything is out of the question. Without being able to push up with her back, it is impossible for the prisoner to raise her hips anymore. She can manage the pain in her nipples by transferring weight to her head, but the neck is too weak to support it for long. Cramps would spread across the prisoner’s back and neck. Throughout the punishment, her muscles gradually tire out, and the pain in her nipples intensify as they take on more and more of her weight.
Suspension from the quiet rings, as cruel as it is when put into practice, is more of a threat; when it finally happens, it is not meant to come as a surprise. A prisoner who does not have the piercings has the luxury of two warnings. For each of these, one of her nipples is pierced. The piercing itself is the warning; that is, there is no meta-warning that comes before. The guard can optionally notify the prisoner that it would happen as she prepares the tools, but at this point, no amount of correction or apology will stop it from happening. For most prisoners, a single warning is enough to silence them permanently.
On the other hand, there has been a tail end of exceedingly defiant women and girls who dared persist in disrupting the peace. In the short term, the punishment works without exception, forcing prisoners into submission through the crushing pain and exhaustion alone. But when a prisoner recovers from the physiological stress and continue to rebel, the punishment is repeated, and she would discover two ways in which the first session had been downright merciful.
The first is that the guards only tightened the cord just enough so that the prisoner’s back lifted off the bottom of the cage. A repeat offender is lifted until her chest reaches the top of the cage and her nipples are strained against the bars.
The second is that the guards ended the punishment when the prisoner submitted. A subsequent punishment carries on until inevitably, the nipples can bear the prisoner’s weight no longer. One of the rings would tear free. A caretaker would later find the prisoner covered in dried blood, usually unconscious. To preserve the body’s symmetry, the remaining ring is torn out by force. If the prisoner’s behavior were corrected, then the wounds would be allowed to heal, although the body would never fully return to normal.
The loss of the rings does not grant the prisoner two additional warnings. A third infraction is penalized with two new piercings and another session, all at once. Hanging from fresh piercings offers a different experience. The damaged skin and flesh become weaker each time. Gradually, a repeat offender’s breasts are cut to pieces. Lying face up helps minimize the blood loss, but eventually, the injuries become fatal.
Currently, the prisoner population in the section is growing, with prisoners being added at a rate that outstrips the completion of sentences. In fact, no prisoner has been released from the section of late, and no data is officially disclosed about past prisoners. Unofficially, the guards are certain that it does happen, but there is no consensus on how often. The only confirmed cases of prisoners physically leaving is of the deceased. They are not returned to the surface. Their bodies are dragged into a small room at the end of the section that must be unlocked from outside. Inside, the limbs are bound. The bodies are disposed of through a narrow shaft in the floor scarcely wide enough to fit a person.
Through this shaft is the lowermost section of the prison.