Port Oakes Penitentiary

From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe

Jump to: navigation, search
It's my job to give captured heroes a good home. Better than the one they gave me.
— Warden Jacob Hobbes, a.k.a “Herocatcher Jake”

The Port Oakes Penitentiary is an institution loosely affiliated with the Rogue Island Police. Located eight miles west of the city of Port Oakes, it has separate living areas for men and women, but prisoners work together on the prison farm and at other work sites.

The Port Oakes Penitentiary has been described as “the world's largest prison for superheroes.” This is misleading, as former superheroes make up a minority of its population. The Pen has also been described as “the world's only minimum-security prison for superpowered inmates.” This is more accurate. Though prisoners sleep in locked cells, the Pen omits many security measures that are standard in prisons for supers. Prisoners are frequently granted work release after a year of (very) good behavior and completion of a training course. Many prisoners on work release remain at the Pen despite having opportunities to flee.

The Pen's lax approach to security may reflect its unusual aims. Staff members call themselves "corruptional officers" and openly admit that they are not trying to do justice. They appear to have calculated that the best way to make their jobs pleasant and profitable is to make prisoners happy. The Pen's prisoners have traded their freedom and their hopes of conventional success for near-perfect safety, interesting company, and the strange luxury of living in overlapping positive auras.


Not just for superheroes

Dangerously violent criminals are not sent to the Port Oakes Pen. In the Rogue Isles, such criminals usually either thrive, receive “street justice,” or face the wrath of Arachnos. Warden Hobbes reports, and recent prisoners confirm, that the prison houses three populations:

  • Two-bit crooks who neglected to bribe the police. The Port Oakes Pen was originally constructed to house these petty criminals. The vast majority of convicts sent to the Pen are in this category. Most of them have relatively short sentences of two to five years. For those who become attached to prison life, the sentence can easily be extended.
  • Superheroes who tried and failed to take on the corrupt RIPD. Though their sentences are long—invariably ten years or more—most captured superheroes are granted work release in their second year, and most then flee the Rogue Isles. Several dozen have stayed, despite having opportunities to escape without violence.
  • Superpowered rogues who made dangerous enemies and found themselves in desperate need of a safe hideout. The officers of the Pen are happy to house these willing prisoners, as they are highly cooperative, and their labor is profitable. The number of prisoners in this category has grown steadily since the Rikti World Invasion in 2007. The Pen gained a reputation for safety when officers and prisoners of the Pen fended off a Rikti attack while sustaining few casulaties.

Officer Sergei Pavlovich, director of the K9 corps at the Port Oakes Pen, disagrees with this characterization of the Pen's prisoners. “None of our prisoners are heroes when they arrive. We make them heroes. If they stay. It takes two, three years.”

An unusual approach to security

Pavlovich's comment may refer to the Pen's practice of offering prisoners power enhancements as a reward for good behavior. It is the world's only prison for superpowered prisoners with such a policy, and one of few that has a strict policy against the use of power-suppressing drugs and devices. Security at the Pen relies on secure construction, pervasive damage resistance and regeneration auras, and superpowered guards with immobilization and hold powers. Heavy, “hero-proof” irons are used when prisoners without work release authorization must be taken outside the facility.

Security at the Pen may also benefit from the officers' experience. A large majority of the “corruptional officers” at the Port Oakes Pen have gone to prison in another country for a non-violent offense. Having been prisoners themselves may help guards at the Pen to predict what their prisoners may do to try to escape or to undermine security. It may also help them to avoid situations that would lead to grievances.

The Pen's unusual approach to security is effective by one measure: there are no recorded cases of prisoners escaping during the first year of their sentence. The prison's highly unusual policy of offering work release to prisoners after a year, conditional on good behavior and completion of a training program, makes it extremely common for prisoners to escape during their second year.

Dr. Alicia Dominguez, professor of criminology at Steel Canyon University, speculates that this high rate of escape may be intentional. She explains:

The policy takes the idea of time off for good behavior to an extreme. It's effective at achieving the Pen's goals, which aren't the goals of a typical correctional institution. When petty criminals flee the Pen, they become a reliable source of bribe money for the Rogue Island Police. Captured heroes who escape the Port Oakes Pen are “reformed.” They flee the Rogue Isles immediately, and they rarely work with law enforcement again. Police in most countries don't trust anyone who's spent a year in villains' custody. Prisoners who choose to remain in the Pen, despite having the opportunity to escape, provide profitable labor. Especially the supers—it only takes one plant controller and one storm summoner to grow a bumper crop.

Whether or not the exploitation of prisoners' labor is the Pen's central purpose, it is clearly necessary to the institution's operation. The Port Oakes Pen receives no public funding. Its finances depend entirely on revenue from the sale of prison-made goods and the lease of convict labor. Officers of Pen adamantly insist that they do not use forced labor. “Our prisoners want to work,” claims Warden Hobbes. “Especially the supers—they want to use their powers.”

Why don't they all escape?

Why would prisoners with an easy opportunity to escape, without doing violence, choose to stay in the Port Oakes Pen voluntarily? The small-time criminals in the Pen may judge that it's better for them to serve out their sentences than to flee during work release and owe bribes to the RIPD for the rest of their lives. For many Rogue Isles natives, emigration isn't an option.

The motives of the superpowered rogues are also clear. They believe, quite reasonably, that staying in the Pen keeps them safe from their enemies. Violence in the Pen is rare, thanks in part to all the damage resistance auras, and there appears to be no gang activity. Intruders have never been able to get inside the Pen. Some rogues (and at least one hero) have warrants out for their arrest in another country. They have chosen to live in the Pen to avoid a long sentence in a more punitive institution.

The big puzzle is why the defeated superheroes don't all escape at the first opportunity. Fear of dangerous enemies does not explain why most of them stay; most of the captured heroes could live safely in their home countries if they escaped. Some former prisoners report that the corruptional officers' use of buffs as rewards can have profound psychological effects. One recent escapee anonymously writes:

They had a big mirror near the entrance to the showers, and they posted a guard with thermal radiation powers at the entrance. Every time I left the shower room, I'd see myself in that mirror, and the guard would point at me and give me a blast of healing warmth. After a few weeks, I started feeling a warm glow when I saw myself in that mirror, even before the guard pointed his finger. Now, when I look in a mirror and I see myself in a T-shirt or a blue buttondown, the glow isn't there. I start thinking, have I lost muscle, or did the horizontal stripes make my shoulders look bigger? I really did look better in prison stripes than I did in my hero costume. Then I start daydreaming about my time in the Pen. Sometimes I even fantasize about going back there. I know that's ridiculous. I'm free now, and I'm married, and my wife and I just had a baby. I shouldn't be having these thoughts. But I can't get them out of my head.

Some of the captured heroes appear to be staying in the Pen voluntarily because their powers or the powers of the prisoners and guards around them makes it a good place to live. One imprisoned former hero, Dr. Michael Iodine, explains his motivations:

People ask me why I don't run away when I'm out on work release. They don't know what it's like to be radioactive. I used to have to wear lead-lined clothing to avoid exposing other people to radiation. Even then, I had to use some of my mental energy directing the radiation away from my face. In school, I wore a helmet with a visor so that I could concentrate on the material. When I got to the Pen, the officers issued me a standard uniform. They told me there are so many damage resistance auras and regeneration auras everywhere that it just doesn't matter if people get a bit of radiation exposure. When I'm out on work release, I have to wear lead-lined clothing on the way to the work site. But when I'm back in the Pen, I can dress like everyone else. It's the first time in my life I feel normal.

Some prisoners may be motivated by the prospect of longevity. Thanks to all the regeneration auras in the Pen, life expectancy for prisoners there is reportedly very high: 86 years for men, 89 years for women. (Statistics on non-binary prisoners are not available.) The oldest prisoner in the Port Oakes Pen, as of July 2020, is a veteran of the Spanish Civil War.

The longevity of prisoners in the Port Oakes Pen invites bitter comparisons. One current prisoner, a former supersoldier, writes:

All supers are exploited. At least here they're honest about it. And they don't put us in harm's way. They don't pretend to honor us and then treat us like expendable cannon fodder, like the army did. Sure, supers get world-class health care in the army. But what happens after you leave the service? Veterans don't get world-class care.

Corruptional officers

“Corruptional officer” is the official title for guards at the Port Oakes Penitentiary. A majority of them are superpowered rogues of the corruptor archetype. All of them have some ability to provide either healing or protective buffs to each other and to their prisoners.

Job announcements for the Port Oakes Pen state, “Prior experience in the correctional industry preferred. Prior experience as a correctional or law enforcement officer considered disqualifying, as is any record of violent crime.” The implication is that the Pen prefers to hire non-violent ex-cons as guards. Most of the Pen's officers fit that description. Roughly half have spent time in the Ziggursky Penitentiary. Though a criminal record is preferred, it is not required. A significant minority of the corruptional officers are natives of the Etoille Islands who have never been arrested.

Training to be a corruptional officer at the Port Oakes Penitentiary takes fourteen months. Though the warden is formally in charge of training, the head of the K9 corps, Pavlovich, effectively runs the program. The details of the program are confidential, but it is known that every new officer is required to tame a wolf. It is also known that officers study how to help people who have experienced trauma. “They are all traumatized animals when they get here—new prisoners, new COs, all of them,” Pavlovich explains.

Among the villains and rogues of the Etoille Islands, the corruptional officers at the Pen are widely regarded as weaklings. The COs who are ex-cons have all been defeated at least once, by the police, and most of them lost a lot of fights while they were inmates on power-suppressing drugs. As for the COs who are natives of the Rogue Isles, there is a perception that they were too weak or too soft to work for Arachnos or one of the other major villain groups. All the COs have chosen to work for a modest salary at a low-prestige job, despite having superpowers.

The corruptional officers see themselves differently. One CO, who identifies himself only as “Little Mikey,” writes:

We're not weak. We just don't want the things other villains want. I never wanted an international network of spies, or an army of robot minions, or a mystical macguffin of mighty mightiness. I just want a steady job with three weeks' vacation, good health care, and a few hundred heroes in cages who call me “sir” and mean it. Oh, and I also want to sleep with other corruptors. I mean, literally sleep with them, in bunk beds. Sure, my home looks like I got left behind in basic training, but when everyone's there, it feels like luxury. You know how buff auras work, right?
Personal tools

Interested in advertising?