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Wolves Eat Dogs

May 7, 2012

  January 4, 2011

A Reform Essay


By Davin Douma

             I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the chow hall watching the ebb and flow of prisoners during a yard movement.  Men in grey were going from point A to point B as quickly as possible without running.  Their brogans were making a distinct clopping sound on the concrete.  It was December, heads were down, the wind was cold, and a disembodied voice was yelling at prisoners over the loudspeaker whenever they stopped for any length of time.  “It’s called movement for a reason!  Kick rocks!  You in front of the admin building!  Yeah you, with the gray cap, get moving.”  Most of us ignore the yelling.  What are they going to do, put us in prison?

            Ever since I was a kid I have been a people watcher.  I used to go to the mall and just sit on the benches in the middle of the esplanade and watch people do their thing.  You can learn a great deal just by watching if you pay attention.  Moms herding their kids.  Husbands looking bored and stupid holding a purse.  Young girls screeching and young boys horse playing.  You get the picture.  In prison, if you pay attention, you can see why things are so screwed up.  You can see why prisons create worse criminals going out then coming in.

            In prison there are two sets of rules.  There are the rules the guards set up and the rules the prisoners set up.  If you break the guard’s rules you go to lock up, a jail within the prison.  If you break the prisoner’s rules you could die.  When the two sets of rules come into conflict, as they often do, the prisoners follow their own rules first.  After all, lock up is a lot easier to deal with than a body bag.  The rules that prisoners come up with are not nearly as important as who is creating them and how they are enforced.  If you want to know who and how, this is where movement watching gets interesting.

            When two men are coming towards each other on a sidewalk, someone is going to have to give space.  Where one stands in the pecking order determines how one behaves.  The higher man just keeps walking straight and gives no ground at all.  The lower man moves to the side.  This all happens as a result of a slight glance each man takes of the other.  One’s posture, one’s pace, one’s carriage, and one’s reputation all play a role.  But what is the secret ingredient?  What is it that makes one man step aside and one man walk on?  The secret ingredient in the pecking order is aggression.  Alpha males outrank betas, and super-alphas outrank everything.  This same principle holds true outside of prison as well, but not nearly to the same degree.  The difference between an alpha and a super-alpha is the same difference between a dog and a wolf.  Wolves eat dogs.

            At this point you might be asking, what does this have to do with the prison system making criminals worse?  In any social environment there are people who set the pace and people who follow.  In a corporation the leader sets the pace, establishes the mood, and basically determines how everyone will behave by his own example.  If the boss yells and screams at people then the men under him will eventually use similar tactics.  Remember that the top of the heap, the winner, is the person who gets emulated, not the loser, not the kid in the mail room.  In prison this social truth has serious ramifications.

            The guy at the top of the heap in prison is the most violent, most sadistic, and most deplorable.  In prison the worst is the best.  The man most likely to stab you with a shank is the one you move for on the side walk.  He is the one who builds a retinue of follows.  He is the one that sets the mood.  When you have a real bastard as the top dog of the cellblock, everyone else in the block gets just that much more aggressive.  More people get into fights, more people use drugs, more people brutalized other prisoners.  The belief is that if you are a bad ass everyone will leave you alone and you are less likely to be a victim yourself.

            In prison, the maniac at the top of the pecking order gets all kids of breaks.  Like in the free world, the top dog gets rewarded.  He gets better cells.  He gets better food.  He gets deferential treatment from staff (they don’t want to deal with the problem).  Other prisoners see this and learn from it.  If you don’t want to be a victim, be a victimizer.  The kid coming into prison for five years is well down the pecking order.  The only way he is gong to move up is through aggression.  Give the kid five years in the joint living with predators and he will either come out a predator himself, or someone who did a lot of their sentence on their knees.  On the inside, the young and the old have it the worst.  When that car thief comes back to prison it’s going to be for burglary or robbery or maybe even a homicide.  People on the streets are not going to be prepared for just how aggressive he can get in a bad situation.  The lessons he learned for dealing with stress he learned from the super-alpha.

            Prisons do offer a number of rehabilitative programs.  But they simply can not compete with the environment itself.  For example, if a prisoner takes a program like Thinking For A Change, they will get fifty hours of positive enforcement over a six month time span.  At the same time the prisoner will receive 2,912 hours of negative enforcement from the prison environment.  There is no comparison.  Prisons simply can’t get people to think about living positive lives when they spend the majority of their time trying not to get robbed, beaten, raped, or killed.  But luckily there is a solution.

Historically prisoners have been dealt with as a group.  Everyone is lumped together based on felony convictions.  What needs to happen is a separation of the predators from the prey.  Predators need to be incarcerated in prisons where they can only prey on each other.  Predators, and especially super-predators, only make up between 12 and 15 percent of the prison population.  This can be verified by the number and category of misconducts issued each year.  There is no connection between the crime a predator is sent to prison for and the predatory behavior in prison.  In other words, prison predators are not necessarily doing time for a violent offense.  Frequently, they are nonviolent offenders doing time for drug  convictions or behavior related to gang affiliations.  Predators needs to be segregated based on their behavior in prison, not their behavior prior to prison.

By taking the bad apples out of the basket the others have an opportunity to do something positive.  Not everyone is suddenly going to find the right path in life, but at least this way they will have a chance.  The real beneficiaries of this change would be society.  If you don’t want monsters coming out of prison then society needs not to create them.  The only way to change what comes out of prison is to change what goes on in prison.

copyright 2010 Davin Douma

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One Comment
  1. Terry Riddles permalink

    Great read Davin, glad to see you made it to the free world. You probably don’t remember me, but you trained me in Aikido for a short period at Wackenhut.

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