Crime and Recrimination
Ever wondered how a person ends up a felon? I mean a serious felon, you know violent assaults, b & e, armed robbery, murder, all of that lovely stuff. I do. I wonder about this stuff a lot. Ever wonder about how a person survives in prison? Something about abhorrent behaviour and life on “the inside” just seems to get my juices flowing (not in a perverse way, you). I have become a fan of Scared Straight on the Thursday night lineup. Guess what? That program has been around since the 1970s. No lie. I first read about SS in a 1978 Readers Digest when I was a kid and I never forgot it. There was a colourful sketch of a big, black convict snarling into a blonde teenager’s face. The conversation was repeated verbatim in the column with the con taunting “aww you cryin kid? And I thought you were a real tough guy.” (Yes I can still remember reading those exact words. Impressive huh?)
It is a fascinating premise on television but I am quite certain the show is heavily edited and not just for time’s sake either. There is no way those kids are reduced to tears only by the scenes we are allowed to watch. Those cons are nasty. I’m sure there is a strict rule about not touching the kids but one never really knows when the cameras aren’t rolling. There are all sorts of convict-juvenile training snippets on youtube although these are not from the new program. Even the SIMS program is into prison. Check out Jail Mod. The animation is impressive. The real life results of Scared Straight are even more impressive or else I would guess the program wouldn’t still be running after 33 years. Watch Prison Program Aims to Get Teens to Avoid a Life of Crime.
Here is a piece of the Scared Straight 1978 documentary.
And a one minute tour of a San Quentin jail cell. Imagine living in a 10 foot by 7 foot room with another person? The toilet and “kitchen” are squeezed into that space (I won’t venture into how unpleasant it must be when a cellie uses the toilet).
To coin a phrase from Axl Rose’s vocabulary Welcome to the Jungle: San Quentin State Prison.
Prisons are categorized much the same way as prisoners. San Quentin State Prison, California for instance, houses some of the most violent, vile offenders in America. It is also the oldest prison in the state and conducts executions via lethal injection. Lethal injection remains a controversial subject today. There are reports of prisoners who have been subjected to significantly painful, slow deaths through injections that were either administered incorrectly, or that had insufficient sedative to render the prisoner unconscious before the paralytic drug, pancuronium bromide, led to suffocation. Ouch. Watch the story of life inside the San Quentin State Prison, a peek into the life that the hardened convicts try to depict to young offenders during their Scared Straight tours. Watch American Justice – Fatal Flaws – Part 2.
Nowhere is the hereditary instinct of flight or fight truer than in prison. Imagine working among inmates in San Quentin? If becoming a CO (corrections officer) is high on your list then take a glimpse at the formal, upbeat video about How to Become a Correctional Officer. Now have a look at From a Correctional Officer’s Point of View – Hard Time Part 1 And a tongue-in-cheek (?) animation called So You Want to be a CO. Some of the CO stories involve their getting stabbed, beaten, held hostage and even killed. A CO is 2nd on the list of highest job-related fatalities. The salary is average and abuse from the inmates is typical. One of the most vile offences an isolated inmate can conduct against a CO is to “gas” that person. Gassing involves fermenting feces and urine for several days in a cup. When the CO opens a convict’s window to insert a food tray, s/he finds herself gassed with the prisoner’s body waste. Talk about shit hitting the fan. Watch Inside Super Max – Part 1
If male corrections officers have a tough job, females have to be doubly cautious around male inmates. The prisoners regard women as sexual objects, temptation and mental torture. They believe women are hired into male prisons specifically to torment their sexual needs and they are very vocal about it. Watch Inside Super Max – Part 3. A female corrections officer who was paired with another female, was raped at one institution. The prisoner later admitted to the officer who hadn’t been assaulted that it hadn’t mattered which of them he raped and that his victim had done nothing wrong. He simply looked for the opportunity to rape either one of them and she’d placed herself in a vulnerable situation.
Sex assaults amoung inmates are a fact of life inside prisons and they are often brutal. Gang rapes are not unusual. Young newcomers to the pen are the most vulnerable targets and other convicts who would like to protect them are unable to do so, lest they sacrifice their own safety. COs are given training to prevent prison rape but there are so many prisoners and so few COs they are seldom successful. Watch Real Prison Rape.
Equally disturbing are the occasional female COs and the numerous women civilians who develop a rapport that blossoms into a romance with hardened criminals. It boggles the mind that some of these women are “death groupies“, that is they are attracted to violence and murder but since they are unable to bring themselves to murder, they instead become attached to a man who has killed. Often their choice of “boyfriend” or even “husband” is a rapist and/or a man who has murdered women. There even exists support groups for women whose “men” are incarcerated. For some women loving and even marrying a prisoner lends them the illusion of control over their “relationships” and a false sense of security. He can’t cheat on her with another woman and he can’t leave her since he is imprisoned. Their “bond” is the ultimate ball and chain (pun). Incredibly many women remain sexually and emotionally loyal to their incarcerated husbands and boyfriends. They live celibate lives. They don’t date. They convince themselves that theirs is a stalwart bond and “till death do they part“. For women whose lovers reside on death row, that vow is quite literal.
Perhaps a rescue fantasy inherent in a woman’s choice to love an incarcerated man. If she can love him enough, she can change him from a violent criminal into a kind-hearted gentleman. It’s not surprising that women, the nurturers and backbone of the family, would tend to think that way. She certainly doesn’t picture her lover strangling or stabbing her to death as he surely would if given half a chance. I once met a woman who somehow had met and fallen in love with a rapist. He claimed he received 2 years for his crime and he had only 1 year left to serve. At that time I worked for a police station and my acquaintance asked me if I would check his profile to see if he really had committed rape or if he was lying to her when he swore that he was framed (they all are you know). Of course I didn’t do anything of the kind. It was a sad, brief glimpse into the mind of a woman who loved a convicted rapist. She was decidedly dubious and unhappy and yet she pursued the relationship anyway. I do hope he didn’t eventually assault her.
The woman’s situation reminds me of a fable about a scorpion and a toad. A scorpion wished to cross a creek but of course it couldn’t swim. A toad saw her dilemma and offered to carry her across on his back. The scorpion climbed aboard but just as the toad reached the middle of the creek, the scorpion stung him with her poisonous venom. As the two began to drown the toad asked incredulously “why would you do such a thing? Now we will both die.” The scorpion simply replied “I can’t help it. It’s in my nature.” All the kindness in the world won’t change an evil man or woman. They are who they are and they will destroy anyone who crosses their path.
I read a memoir about a girl whose father left her mother and in doing so he also abandoned his daughter. The girl was distraught and pursued her father for a year without any luck. When she asked her mother why her father didn’t love her, her mother’s wise response was “don’t go looking for butter in a hardware store.” In other words don’t seek where ye won’t find.
The most chilling convicts are not violently out of control. They are the cons who sit and matter-of-factly discuss their heinous crimes as if they were chatting about the weather. There is no inflection in these mens’ voices, no change of expression and clearly no remorse whatsoever. Watch Raw: Accused Killer Confesses to Murder . Whenever the occasional inmate expresses regret for committing his crime it is not due to newfound empathy for the victim but rather self-pity about the loss of his freedom when he became incarcerated. Watch The Iceman – Richard Kuklinski – 1
COs and inmates within prisons are well aware of the convict code, a far more powerful infrastructure than the prison’s actual rules. Watch Lockup – The Convict Code – 1 of 5 By contrast watch the utterly unrealistic hilarious 1950’s Hollywood depiction of Convict’s Code. Following the code is not optional unless an inmate wants to either wind up dead or become incarcerated in a special segregation from the rest of the prison population for the remainder of his time behind bars, even if that time is life.
Lifers in fact are amoung the most dangerous criminals in any institution. Their perspective, that they will never be released from prison and therefore have nothing to lose, makes it all too easy for them to murder other inmates without much provocation. When an inmate looks at a lifer “wrong” or gets in his way in a shared cell, a lifer may well beat or stab the unfortunate inmate to death. A lifer flies from 0 to furious in the blink of an eye and the damage to another human being is almost impossible to imagine. Watch the animated (yet still difficult to watch) Life in Prison.
As interesting as I find this topic to be, I have enough sense and I am grounded enough in reality not to pursue a “relationship” with a prisoner. I do draw the line on becoming a death groupie. I know when I am out of my element and I believe fully in self-preservation. I’m satisfied reclining on my couch watching crime stories on Dateline NBC. I don’t intend to get any closer to the sadistic puzzle known as a mysogonist than that.
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