The other day I was in the education department helping this young cat work on getting his GED, and in between his needing my help, I day dreamed. Memorized into a slight trance like state watching the pencil secured between his thumb and forefinger, fanned back and forth so quickly, the mere blur of yellow was the only thing kinda seen.
Out of the peripheral of my awareness and to my left, I noticed a female guard walking passed the half cracked, small single windowed door of the classroom we were working in, making one of her many required security rounds. Her presence into my awareness drew me away from what I can’t remember what I was thinking about, and instead my day dream became about her. Not as u may think or how I may have made it sound. It was more like…
I was sitting where I was, doing exactly what I was doing, but instead of her making a security round, I noticed her being attacked by another prisoner. I’m talking, down on the ground, pinned down, helpless, fighting, looking up at me, like help, please! The question of what was I going to do was as much non verbal in my head as it was direct, it was an instant and immediate impulse, no words were required, no hesitation giving myself permission to pull dude off of her.
In the freeness of my imagination, she was no prison guard, but a woman, a person who needed help. I may not have known her personally, but the greater reality is her as sum ones wife, daughter, sister, friend, mother etc. and if it were my sister, wife or mother in that same situation, I’d mos definitely want whomever was in my position, as imaginary as it is, to step in and help her. In fact, I wud have no problem blaming that “whomever” if they didn’t.
But then things started to change in my head, to thinking about how I might get into sum shit if I were to get involved. I mean, the only physical risk of the moment I saw was if dude got up on sum karate type shit and kicked my ass, but I’m thinking, me and ole girl wud jus double team him and get up outta there, right?
OK, so, at this point a feeling of institutionalization kicked in and switches my thinking over into a consideration of what other consequences I might have to deal with if I violated rule number one of surviving prison. “Stay out of other ppls buisness, period”! Even if that buisness be the raping of an innocent woman. Sounds crazy, I know, but prison is a crazy place. It has a completely different set of rules and cultural practices then in free society.
Before I continue, let me say for the record I have not been a witness or been involved with ne such events, and I pray I never am, these are jus the imaginings from the imagination of an artist day dreaming.
Perhaps, to see for himself the kind of man I am.
Cos in certain prisons across the country, I cud be killed or in the least, seriously injured for helping a guard like that, and definitely ostracized by the majority of the prison population I lived amongst for violating not only rule number one, but also rule number two: its “us” and “them”, or rather “us” vs. “them”…adversarially. Again, even if its a female guard about to be raped, she is still a guard, a “them”, and therefore, on the other either side of the line that has been clearly drawn and u don’t cross one of “us” for one of “them”, period!
And yes, that statement sounds cold and irrational, even feels that way to me as I write it, how there wud ever be a situation when coming to the aide of a woman in a life or death situation wud be cause for a second thought. Part of my point here is to highlight one of the ways a prison environment can make a man worse to survive it then when he came in it. Turning him into what he is not, or less then what he cud be.
Prison and free society are simply two different worlds, with two different mind sets and rules. A man must become sum thing different then what he was in free society, learn to live by new rules, new and strange cultural practices. Let me give u an example: Say u return home from off vacation and u discover valuable property has been stolen from ur home, car, or business. What wud u say is the appropriate or dare I say “normal” response or course of action? Call the police, right? Make out a report, file for insurance, etc. OK, cool.
The rules and social etiquette ‘el mundo de pricion’ (in the world of prison) are quite different. In here, if property of value gets stolen or is taken from u, and u alert the officers or call on them for help, u are labeled a snitch….the worst of reputations to have in prison. In free society, calling on the police to assist u against ne form of assault or thievery is what the police dept employs ppl for, thats why they’re there, to help those who find themselves in situations where they don’t know what to do or can’t help themselves. But not in here, culturally speaking, the only job of the correctional officer is to catch us in the wrong, and its our job to not let them. Helping the officers catch sum one doing wrong, even if that wrong is stealing from u, violates rule number two.
Such a mentality is absorbed into our thinking thru sheer survival of this place, or better yet, self preservation, we don’t do what will seperate us from the herd. Separation from the herd is death, we don’t do ne thing which wud make the herd turn on us. There are smaller, more divided groups, clicks or gangs making up our herd, yet we remain one, single herd.
The “us vs. them” mentality also breeds an under tone of discontent and dislike for correctional officers, simply because of where they work. Which may be the only job available to them in order to feed and care for their families. I think it’s not the person that’s disliked, so much as it is the attachment of feeling helplessness (powerlessness) living under the conditions of prison isolated from loved ones, stripped of what makes u feel free, alive, like a man.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no advocation for either the correctional or police officer, its more a respectful admission for the position in and of itself. I understand the necessity of the position or profession. Cud u imagine what wud happen in either world, prison or free society, if there were no police?
The stigma of brutality, racial profiling and injustice spread out amongst the poor and darker then white skin tones from the police depts in recent yrs, as in past yrs, is disgusting. But not all officers of the law ought be held responsible for the ways and actions of the whole dept, its inappropriate thinking to group all officers into the same group as the racist, egotistical and misogynistic officers. That’s like officers grouping all black ppl into the same stereotypes! That ain’t cool, right? So it can’t be cool when we do it.
If there were no police in free society, who wud my Mother, my Niece, my Wife, Sister or female friends rely on for help if a burglar tries to break, or sum one steals their car or god forbid tries to rape them? I’m locked half way across nowhere! I can’t help nor protect. ( helplessness)
Now remember how different it is in here. What am I to do in prison if sum thing of mine gets stolen? Alerting the correctional officers for help will make me an out cast amongst the herd, put my other valuables at risk of being stolen as well and have a ‘snitch’ reputation following me wherever I go.
According to prison cultural etiquette and social rule, my options are (A) let it go and do nothing (which will put an easy mark target on my back) or (B) find out who took my stuff and punch them in the face no matter who it is, tho finding the thief maybe a difficult task for a certain type of guy, u have to know sum body or be sum body around here to get that type of information. In the event option (A) and (B) are not available, there is always option (C), find out who is the known thief and punch him in the face. Both option (B) and option (C) sends a clear message to every one who is watching, and they are always watching, that they ought to reconsider stealing ne thing that belongs to u.
Insanity, I know.
In my latter yrs of doing time, I often question the cultural practices I lived by to survive this place, wondering of their validity in view of my out look on life these days. What about the man who comes in here who can’t fight, who jus doesn’t have what it takes to punch sum one in the face, who is jus not that type? What about the man like me, who is thru with hurting ppl, who doesn’t want to hurt ne one and wud rather be left to himself to be who he is becoming? What are we to do? How are we to survive? Again, prison forces men to become what they are not. They must then try to remember what and who they were before they came in, so they can try to catch back up with what they were becoming prior to their wrong turn.
In my younger yrs, I was one of those guys I spoke of earlier, who held an attitude of discontent and dislike for an officer simple cos he wore a specific uniform, never really seeing the person, only the uniform (with the exception of a pretty girl). I was also the guy who felt the pressure of feeling like I had to send the correct messasges to the watchers, if ne one tried me or tried to play me. If only to make up for when I first came to prison and didn’t know about those who watch and how to send them messages.
In my maturity, I’ve come to respect and value the position and profession of a correctional and police officer. Most are jus trying to feed their families, make a better life for themselves, regardless of the stigmas attached to the position, but not necessarily the person. If I ever found myself in a situation where my life was on the line, sum one was actually trying to take my life away from me and was succeeding, whether in the joint or on the streets, I’d welcome the help of either professional.
In the imaginary scenario of my day dream, the impulse or instinctual reaction to step in was as real as real life can get. It was only after a second thought, a moment of reconsideration as to the possible consequence I cud or wud incur as a result of that impulse that brought this story to life. In the end of it, I’d deal with whatever came my way in my helping her rather then walk on by. I wud be doing my right thing, and quite frankly, I wudnt be able to sleep with myself if I left her there to defend for herself. Leaving her to handle that on her own, based on sum prison code that is as about as real as is the easter bunny? Noit me. Not now.
And I’m not saying a woman in such a situation cudnt handle it by herself, but if she did need a helping hand, I’m not walking away when I have two to give.
Of the two prison rules I spoke of here, there is only one rule I live by now, and that is, u save a life needing to be saved, period!
Thanks For Listening
Jason B. Thompson
Categories: Jason Thompson