Prison culture and the prisoner society
DOI link for Prison culture and the prisoner society
Prison culture and the prisoner society book
People do their sentences in different ways. I can’t knock the people who do their sentences in the block,1 people who kick off. But it’s just not the way I want to do my time. I don’t want to spend a day in jail longer than necessary. I try and avoid doing anything that’s going to keep me in. I don’t want to give them or the system the excuse to keep me in longer. That’s the reason I don’t misbehave. Because I see that as a loss, a defeat, to do an hour longer. I’m always polite. The first thing they put down about me is polite and compliant. Two important words. Because I’ve learnt in the last few years that a weapon that staff can use against you is that they’ll smile and talk, call you by your first name and things, and then they’ll go in the office and kill you off on your file – write something bad about you. I even think about who I walk round on exercise with, and what I have on the walls of my cell, things like that. In the old days, they could fuck you up with their fists. Now they can fuck you up with their pen. The power of the pen is really mighty in prison nowadays. Psychologists have taken over prisons in the last ten years. They write the reports on you. If a psychologist says you’ve addressed your offending behaviour, then that gets you out. If a psychologist says the opposite, that keeps you in. I don’t have a lot of contact with staff. On my wing, they try to be quite approachable. [But] I just can’t relate to them. I’d never be the one who goes to them and says, ‘What did you do at the weekend?’ When I
was young, if an inmate was seen talking to staff, very often they’d be in trouble from the other inmates. Now, you see them playing pool and table tennis together, and all that. People would get a slap for doing that years ago. You can often have little victories over officers, without them even realising, in conversations. Like little head games, you know. One [officer] is a Liverpool fan, and I used to take the piss terribly and he never used to realise I was doing that to him: ‘Oh, did you used to wear a scarf to the match?’ And he doesn’t even realise that we’re taking the piss. That’s the best way to do it. Because if you let them know that you’re taking the piss, then they can always win. They can always win because we’re in prison. On my wing, it runs itself. They don’t need to control anything. Because we all want a quiet life. We all want to get out. So everyone behaves themselves because of that. It keeps you under control: getting into getting out. Most of the time, people have got it in their head, ‘I’m going home in a few weeks, I’m not interested.’ I’ve heard people say that, when this noisy guy moved on [the wing], people said, ‘Look, I’ll just put up with it. I’ll put my headphones on. I’ll turn my telly up louder. I don’t want to get involved.’ Whereas ten years ago, when they were first sentenced, they’d have been in there smashing the guy up. That’s the difference. A lot more than ever, [my loyalties are] to myself and to my kids. People are quick to jump up and say, ‘Let’s do this, let’s do that’, but a lot of those guys are doing short sentences. The ones who seem to be the vocal ones, who cause trouble, are the ones doing mid-range sentences, five-six years. The ones doing bigger sentences seem to be more controlled. They’ll go to a certain point, speak up to a certain level, and then walk away, cos, y’know, we’ve got too much to lose. I think people in any environment are drawn into little groups, aren’t they? And in prison it’s just the same. In some prisons, it’s done out of necessity, fear of violence. Personally I try and spread myself around quite a bit. I sort of say hello to a lot of people. But there are perhaps four or five people, one or two in particular, that I would call mates. A lot of the Asian guys, Muslim guys, I’ve noticed, their time revolves around their religion. It’s part of how they do their time. They pray a lot, they spend a lot of time talking about their religion and following that lifestyle. The black guys seem to sort of spread around a bit, but the Muslim community, religion is the main thing that gets them through their sentence. That’s their way of dealing with it. Drugs do play a big part in it. You can have a senior, heavy, armedrobber type character who’ll be hanging around with a house burglar simply because they both take smack. Whereas in the old days you wouldn’t get that. People were drawn to each other because of what they were in for. Now, to an extent it’s still to do with what you’re
in for, but the drugs have had a big influence on that. There’s tension between the smackheads and everybody [else]. Because nobody trusts them. If something goes missing, people know that they’re the ones. They’re usually in debt. The [drug] dealers attract a lot of people – there’s this expression, ‘powder power’. They kind of get an attitude when they’ve got their drugs, they kind of become something different to the day before when they didn’t have their stuff to sell. People try to be friends with you when you’re a drug dealer, but they’re not being friends with you, they’re being friends with your drugs, it’s not genuine. I’ve had a weakness for substance abuse: drink and whatever else. In my last prison, I was under a lot of pressure. I just started using [heroin] as an escape thing. And it quickly took hold, you know. It takes away all your worries. It takes you out of the prison system. It’s the best prison drug. It could have been invented for prison. One thing that’s come into prison in the last 10, 15 years, that I’ve noticed, and that’s politeness. People are polite to each other. People get offended if people aren’t polite. That didn’t used to be the case. You had to put on an aggressive image. People used to walk down the landing and deliberately knock people out of the way. Now people are ‘Excuse me, sorry’ – politeness has come into prison. If you’ve got a senior, heavy millionaire drug dealer on the wing, he will be polite and have polite conversation with a house burglar, whereas outside, he wouldn’t be seen dead talking to that person. But those people are still looked at as the senior people on the wing. Money has a lot to do with it. If you’ve got money, and you carry yourself in that way that [shows] you’re a sensible person, then people will respect you no matter what your racial background or whatever. You gain respect from people. To a certain extent, physical presence [matters]. You know, how someone looks, how violent they might appear to be. Intelligence has a lot to do with it as well. If you’re clever, it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got, people will still want to know your opinion. I don’t know about leaders, but there are people who people would always want to say hello to. Not because they’re the hardest person on the wing, or the richest. But just because some people have got something about them, haven’t they? People are kind of drawn to them, even in this sort of society. In more violent prisons, obviously the more violent person rises to the top, whether they’re likeable or not. If someone can bash you, you have to give them – even if it’s fake – a bit of respect, y’know. But in these more mellow places like our wing, you respect people for different reasons. Politeness, sometimes it’s taken for weakness. Sometimes you have to kind of toughen up your conversation. I enjoy talking about politics and the world and all that, but you couldn’t go in certain people’s cells and
sit down and talk about that. You have to be adaptable. Prison’s taught me how to be adaptable. You’ve got to live around the same people for a number of years, possibly, so you can’t just blank someone because they’re black or Asian or because they support Arsenal and you support Chelsea. You have to adapt. The golden rules would be: never go and argue against an inmate with an officer. Even if you agree that the member of staff’s right, never actually say it. Not grassing, on your mates or on anybody. Stealing from other inmates. That used to be a big, big one. But now, because of all the smack,2 that’s what’s changed things a lot in prison – drugs. Most people would never steal off each other or grass each other up, but now that’s just commonplace, grassing and cooperating with staff. In here, the ultimate penalty for breaking most of them rules is a violent outcome. Outside [prison], if I borrow ten quid off a debt company, the worst they can do is take me to court. In here, things get sorted out more with violence than they would outside. Outside I would imagine violence takes a while to come [i.e.] in a dispute with your neighbour outside. In here, you have to always have it in mind that … if you tread on someone’s foot in a paper shop outside, they’re not likely to come up to your room later and beat the shit out of you, whereas here it can happen that way.