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
- 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
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
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
“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
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