INMATES & PRISON

Incarcerated Relationships: In Prison By: Rodney Fenner

Hello world. Coming to prison is immensely difficult. I hope no one reading this will have to do so, but it is an experience like no other, especially when you know you aren’t going to see the outside world for years. Navigating the world behind the wall can be hard too. If you don’t have a romantic or a family relationship to lean on, it makes it even rougher. Even with those two kinds of relationships, it will still be hard if you don’t learn to develop the right kind of rapports with the people who live and work around you. This is critical because you can make your stay substantially more miserable or you can make it significantly more tolerable. I say tolerable because nothing can make prison better except freedom from it, so tolerable is as good as it’ll get. I mentioned navigation because although there are people here who have only made mistakes, there are also people here who can’t rightfully call what they did a mistake. The catch is that you’re in such an enclosed environment that you have to be able to deal with everyone smoothly. You have to be able to dance gracefully through the moving lasers of prisoners. This is a delicate process because you don’t know who you will need. You don’t know who is genuine. You don’t know who is dangerous. You have to be a good judge of people. This is where you learn character discernment and social finesse. People watching becomes more than just a pastime. With such a high concentration of people who want to get over on any and everyone they can, you learn how smell a con before you can even see it coming. You’ll also be able to tell a genuine person by the energy they bring. It becomes complicated because you have to deal with everybody if you want your bid to go as smooth as possible. The terrific artist who killed six people. The spectacular poet who robbed more people than you have fingers and toes. The guy who’s extremely sharp on criminal law who kidnapped a family. Being able to establish and regulate relationships with these people is absolutely necessary. Very few of these connections will be lifelong, but you need them for the immediacy. For instance, if you’re about to get in a fight, having a good relationship with certain people can be the only thing keeping you out of the hole and possibly earning yourself more time. If nobody cared, there’d be no one to stop it. If you’re trying to meet a deadline on an appeal or motion, having a good rapport with the law library clerk is beneficial. Finding a way to live with everybody regardless of your personal opinion of them and make the interactions beneficial for you is key.
The same is true of c/o’s and administration. They are different beasts altogether. They think they understand, but they don’t. They think they know because the c/o’s work twelve hour days and administration may work eight or nine. So they think that because they’re here so much that they understand. Wrong. They’re experience on these grounds isn’t even remotely similar. Since they go home at night they can never fully empathize. They don’t eat what we eat. They don’t have to pay to talk to their loved ones. They don’t live in what basically amounts to a half bathroom. Some of them think they’re better than us because they go home every day and we can only dream about home. Some of them just simply don’t care about anything to do with us because this is only a job to them. There are some who let the “power” of wearing a different uniform than me go to their head. Naturally, there are more mental complexes and people with a combination of them too. Rarely, you run into somebody who cares at all or enough to go slightly beyond the requirements of their job. You need to build and maintain good rapports with them all though. You have to know who you’re dealing with to deal with them properly. The racist unit manager who can give you a job. The sympathetic sergeant who can get the pod’s appliances fixed. The insouciant counselor who does your annual review. Even the power struck captain who can keep you out of the hole. Every relationship plays a part.
Incarcerated relationships amongst those inside are an art. I’ve been down eight years without one institutional charge and without being in any fights because I’ve learned the social finesse game and play it with everyone around me. I’ve done things that most haven’t and made my bid as tolerable as can be by utilizing the maximum potential of these relationships. We are a community in here the same way as a community out there. I have neighbors and people in the neighborhood that I deal with in varying degrees. There’s the woman I know likes me, but I can’t pursue because I’m involved already and because of her job. The guy at the store (commissary) who gives me extra food sometimes. The guy who’s always fussing with his baby mama. We have to get to know the people in our neighborhoods behind their charges the same way you have to get to know people in your neighborhoods behind their reputations or their lack of one. Peace.

Rodney Fenner
DOC #1436377

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