Prison can be rough: It can also be a positive experience for those who seek and receive help for the issues that lead to prison, which does not occur often. A cast of personalities comprise the abyss of prison. From some spring enlightenment, displays of moral fortitude, exemplary characteristics; others demoralization, sexual perversion, denigration, solicitude, debauchery, the darker side of humanity. The truth is that many aspects of prison are degrading and humiliating to those who have maintained their dignity and self-respect; however, prison is not always as portrayed in books and movies. A “snap shot” will not reveal the whole picture. Even documentaries on prisons leave a false impression about the whole of prison life or the prison experience. I know. I have lived most of my life behind steel bars, concrete walls, and fences layered and lined with row upon row of razor wire to separate me and my peers from the civilized society. I write this to assure the youth that there is nothing glamorous about incarceration, since I have read and heard how some juveniles and young adults give props to those who have been to jail, prison or “juvvy,” for having survived the experience.
In some segments of society those returning form prison are given a favorable street-status: a reputation of being a “tough” person, a Gangster who may have had to fight daily to make it out alive; someone solid who rode hard, did not “rat” and did his or her time without taking down the neighborhood. Some may have did similar things and been all of that, but for the most part, very few have that experience. But, with the State of Georgia prison system having thirty-two prisoners and one guard murdered since 2010, it proves that prisons can be a dangerous place. Statistically, though, and in actuality, the vast majority of people who go to prison never have a physical altercation. In relation to “riding hard” and not taking out the neighborhood, an over-whelming number of criminal defendants plead guilty to shorten their sentences; only a small percentage of which do not assist the government by implicating others in crimes in order to get the reduced sentence. (See note below for clarification about guilty pleas.) Some who testify and make deals are worse than Judas in the Bible who betrayed Jesus Christ and got him executed, because they lie to get a deal. Numerous criminal defendants fabricate higher drug quantities and exaggerate other committed criminal acts so that the prosecution recommends a larger sentence reduction for providing “substantial government assistance.” Personally, I do not see that as honorable, or something that is worthy of praise or favorable recognition.
I have seen several televised documentaries over the years about “Jail House Rats” conspiring and fabricating evidence against people for time reductions. The unscrupulous conspirators do so by collecting information through conversations with the quarry/prey and others to “create” drug or criminal conspiracy cases. In conspiracies, the testimony of others is enough to send someone off to prison for decades or the remainder of their life. In drug cases, it is called “Ghost Dope” because no actual drugs exist, only the testimony or conversations between parties that ultimately lead to the conviction. Even with prosecutors knowing defendants lie and fabricate stories to get more time off, the prosecutors still do not hesitate to use the testimony (and may even encourage the fabrication of evidence to help them have more ammunition to get a plea from their target). A small number of prisoners exist who lure potential victims into conversations about past criminal activities to collect information to send to prosecutors in an attempt to get a sentence reduction. Many will lie or exaggerate to make the information seem more important. I personally know of one person who provided information to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police about the murders of an elderly couple whom the murderer bragged about killing while he was in a U.S. prison. The murderer later received two life sentences in Canada; the prison informant complained to a mutual friend that he only received a two-year sentence reduction. He had expected to be released for providing the information that lead to the Canadian’s conviction.
Most prisoners are not so scandalous as to create crimes to get deals. Though many may make deals with the devil to get time off, only a few are so morally deficient that they create crimes to get the deals. To cooperate with the prosecution is one thing, and maybe it is what is needed to protect society–telling lies against another person for a lesser sentence is an entirely different matter.
Cases like the one against former mob boss, John Gotti, seem to violate ethical codes, when the prosecution uses testimony from a serial murderer like “Sammy the Bull,” who confessed to almost twenty murders for a five-year plea deal to testify against John Gotti, who received a life sentence and later died in prison.
NOTE: Not all who plead guilty make a deal to testify on others: some just do it because of the evidence stacked against them and the unlikelihood of winning if going to trial. Either way, though, the prosecution makes a deal for a shorter sentence to avoid spending the time, money, and resources necessary for taking a defendant to trial. That fact proves something a lot of criminals in prison hate to admit–pleading guilty is helping the state or government. Ninety-six percent of federal defendants plead guilty: state court plea bargain averages are probably the same. Unfortunately, many of those who plead guilty actually take a plea on charges they are not guilty of committing because it was part of the deal with the prosecuting authorities to “clear the books.” Throughout the years I have met a few who pled guilty to multiple crimes as a package deal for a reduced sentence.
PRISON POLITICS: As reported on a televised documentary, even though John Gotti was a powerful figure on the streets of New York, prison predators zoomed in to make him pay for protection. No one is guaranteed amnesty from prosecution by those enforcing silent prison codes written by unknown authors: Not even a mob boss when left to fend for himself.
Someone sent to prison for murdering someone may actually be a coward and be victimized while in prison. It is easier to stand fifteen feet away and blast someone with a gun than it is to go toe-to-toe in a knife fight or other forms of hand-to-hand combat. It does not take a lot of courage to gun down defenseless or unsuspecting people. It takes a lot of courage to deal with a combatant on equal terms. Please do not misunderstand what I wrote. That is not applicable to everyone in prison for such crimes. Some prisoners are notorious and extremely dangerous; however, most of those find themselves locked in a cage twenty-three hours per day, often after assaulting or killing another prisoner or prison guard. Nevertheless, very few prisoners have to physically defend themselves while serving time in the vast majority of American prisons. The point is, everyone does not have to be skilled in hand-to-hand combat to survive in prison. If such skills were required for survival, only a few would make it out alive. In general, survival in prison depends more upon the personality of the person and the nature of their crimes that lead to prison, more so than it does upon their size or combat skills. A petite person with a strong personality, who the more dominant prisoners respect, may get out of prison unscathed, while a larger, ostracized person with a weak personality, becomes prey to the predators. Truthfully, a larger person is more apt to be physically challenged than someone not so large. Prisons are filled with staff and inmates suffering from a “Napoleon’s Complex” (an inferiority complex rooted in insecurities and the lack of physical stature, which leads to the afflicted going to extremes to prove that he or she is “tough,” and do so at the expense of others).
As shown with Mr. Gotti, powerful people may be preyed upon by the unknowns of society. On the other hand, an unknown may become recognized or powerful inside prison for a variety of reasons: being a “Stand Up” person (not informing on others, standing their ground in physical altercations, fighting for what is right, standing behind their word); being ruthless, yet honorable, reliable; maybe even for changing their lives, helping others, and ironically, by staying out of the mix. To become powerful in prison requires getting involved in the mix (running drug and or gambling operations, participating in prison politics (determining who can stay in general population, who has to go, who gets “hit” (piped or stabbed or both), or by organizing prison disturbances (food or work strikes, violent protest against prison administrations, etc.), behaviors which carry major consequences). But, in my opinion, no matter who they are, what they have done or claim to have done, every prisoner deals with degradation and humiliation. It is the nature of the beast. All prisoners have to get strip-searched (must remove all clothes at the command of a guard who inspects and views private areas to look for hidden items); get told when to go to the chow hall, when to stand for security counts, who can visit or who they can call on the phone and for how long they can speak. Many prisoners are stripped of far more than their clothes (pride, dignity, integrity, self-respect ….).
A prisoner may be recognized in society and prison by writing a book, or by doing something constructive, such as creating or teaching programs to help others, or by learning and teaching life skills to help others become better people. The press never hears about those prisoners because the press goes to prisoners who cause trouble or who get out and commit horrendous crimes, and thus become poster-children for the politicians who push “Tough-on-Crime” bills. Those bills are often written by members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose contributors include officials from the private prison industries that profit from high incarceration rates.
In Part II I will write about the influence of the private prison industry on prisoners and the politicians who vote to push the agenda that assures high incarceration rates in America.
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