Saturday, February 13, 2010

#28 Should inmates ALWAYS obey? (retro)

Should Inmates ALWAYS obey?

This can be kinda controversial depending on what you are willing to see in the title, and I am sure no prison is going to agree with me on this one… such is life.

Before I get to that discussion, I am sending out the orders for the “Grades of Honor” books late this week and early next week, so if you have requested one from me, I will be sending those as soon as I receive your requests and payments. I didn’t want to ask for them too soon, I wanted to be in a position to send them within 2 or 3 days after I receive it from you. That time allows me to get the number of books ready beforehand.

Today, after blogging, I am going to print out some more works, and get ready for the mailing later this week. I am also going to work on polishing my prison blog book and have it ready by the end of the month.

If you have not requested one of my “Grades of Honor” books, email me about it so I can get a copy ready for you on the next mailing days near the end of the month. If you have already asked me about it a week or so ago, then I can send yours late this week and next week.

At any rate, email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com to ask how you can support my writings by sending a gift, or purchasing some of my works. I appreciate everything you guys have done for me, I really do.

Now, let’s talk about the title. Should inmates always obey all the prison rules and officers while incarcerated? Here is my overall answer:

Absolutely not.


Does that bother you, that I said “no”? I suppose it would if you didn’t really understand what I am trying to share with you. It’s interesting because I wrote a blog awhile back called “Good inmate”. It’s not on this blog because I wrote it awhile back before I wiped everything off the previous blogs. In fact, if I can remember, I am going to try to find that one and post it here.

Now, a mom or a wife or a girlfriend might have issue with my statement because what you see on the outside is not what is really going on inside of prison. Mothers just want their loved ones to “stay out of trouble” and “do what they tell you”.

On the outside that sounds like great advice because it is. In prison this is not how the world works. Staying out of trouble while in prison is almost like an oxymoron, and doing what they tell you is almost telling your loved one to surrender his life over to the prison.

“But I just want him to do his time so he can come home.”

I understand, but if it was THAT easy, it would indeed be great advice. But the rules of prison go much further than any written word that DOC can put in a book on online for you to scan through.

Should inmates ALWAYS obey their superiors? Let’s first be specific in what we are talking about, and to do that, let’s define the word, “obey”:

Obey: “to do what is commanded by (person, law, instinct, ect)”

That sounds like we also need to define “command”:

Command: “a statement, given with authority, that some action must be performed”.

So knowing this, what we are talking about is the idea that every inmate should always do what is commanded by the authority of the prison. That sounds about right. But I am betting some of you are thinking that the definitions and the foundation of the rule completely supports the argument against me, that inmates SHOULD always obey the rules and authority.

Not necessarily.

Understand first that we are not talking about a lawless society, or anarchy. Yes it is prison and a lot of things happen there, but there still has to be a overwhelming level of security. If not, far more inmates would be killed by other inmates (and even officers) if there was no structure of law.

So don’t get this confused with me saying that inmates should reject every rule and everything told to them by officers, that is not what I am saying at all. If you believe that, you missed the key word in the title statement:


Few things in this world is absolute, and man’s rules are certainly not one of them. A law made is only a guiding outline, subject to interpretation. Our own judicial system is a perfect example of that. One guy robs a bank and because he is poor and a minority, he gets 30 years. Another guy does the exact same thing in the same state and gets 5 years, because he has money and a great lawyer.

In prison, there are many rules to know, and the prison sticks to its guns on them all, but to expect every inmate to honor every single rule while in prison is foolish.

“But what you’re asking inmates to do is break the rules!”

Well…not exactly. I’m saying that the inmate has to survive the best way he can, and sometimes that means taking steps to give him the best chance to make it in prison. An inmate has to be able to listen to himself and help him do the best things for him, because prison rules do not help an inmate do that; prison rules makes drones out of inmates. That’s fine for the prisons, but destructive for the mentality and self esteem of an inmate.

“I still don’t understand why you’re saying that inmates should break rules”

I’m not saying that inmates should mindlessly break rules, I am saying that inmates must respect all prison rules, but also be intelligent enough to consider some that are only there to control the inmate, rather than help them cope with prison.

You see folks, prisons do not help inmates in rehabilitating themselves, nor does it help them develop a positive frame of mind. But as soon as inmates get in trouble, whether by their fault of the circumstances around them, the only course of action the prison has is punishment.

You get a write up or thrown in the seg cell if you break the rules. There is very little room for an inmate to develop a conscious rhythm of thought in cause and effect because in a very negative situation, positive thoughts and actions are at a premium.

And what is the source of almost all the negative things in prison? Stress, depression, anger and condemnation. You don’t see it because you’re not in prison 24 hours a day, but if you were, you’d see how it slowly tears away at a person’s persona, leaving a more negative and stressful person as days go by.

The BEST way to fight that while in prison is to find ways to cope, to find ways to make life a little easier for you while you are in prison. And more times than not, some of the best ways involve “bending” rules a bit. Other times it means standing up for yourself when you truly believe in your heart that the prison’s decision on an issue was wrong.

Still don’t follow me? The let’s put some examples to this.

My mom told me the same thing many of you told your loved ones; to do what they tell you and try not to start any trouble. Well, I can count the number of fights I’ve been in all my life on one hand and have a finger or two left over, so me starting physical confrontations was certainly NOT in the plan.

And if you read my first book of “Grades of Honor”, you know how I felt when a guy talked to me about having a “hustle”. I was absolutely convinced that if it was against the rules, I was going to avoid it and anyone who did it. I just wanted to do my time and go home.

That was very early in my incarceration…and that belief went down the tubes inside of a week. Why?

Because the burdens of prison life are FAR more than you can imagine unless you’ve been there. Prison life isn’t just about incarceration. It’s about guilt, shame, condemnation, fear, anger, sadness, depression and many other feelings.

The extra problem with this is that in prison, you don’t get help for it. You have to deal with it yourself. If you have similar problems you can go to church and talk to your pastor, or go to the movies, or go buy something to cheer you up, or go see a friend, go to the park, go online to find help or anything else. In prison, those options don’t exist.

So they sit in that person’s head and heart, eating away at them.

If you don’t find a way to cope and defeat those feelings, you stand every chance of losing yourself inside the prison, even if you are released and go home. Your humanity, your self esteem and individualism rotted in prison. In short, you’re worse than you were when you entered prison.

That was what I was fighting when I first entered prison, and I thought if I just “do good and obey” while in prison, everything would be ok…it wasn’t.

If you read my first book, you know this part, but in “Grades of Honor” I talked about when one of the inmates came up to me and asked me to write a letter for his girlfriend. There was no hiding that I looked like a college grad, because I was, and guys could tell in how I talked. So he figured I could write a better letter than he could for his girlfriend.

I did, and he gave me a pack of cookies for it. To this date, those cookies were probably the most delicious tasting pieces of sweets my tongue has ever had the pleasure of getting acquainted with. Why?

Because at that time I had no money and was very depressed. It was so hard to see other guys buying snacks and other foods, while I sat there broke and depressed. And with prison meals over by 6pm, I was going to be hungry until 7am the next morning. If I could just get a snack or something to tide me over, I would feel a bit better.

So when an opportunity came to earn something to eat, I took it. But you KNOW of course that is against the rules. That is called bartering, and no prison allows that. That is against the rules, but it was either honor the rules and suffer, or ignore them, and make it through one more day.

See, the absolute of following rules sounds simple to most people, and they would be upset if their loved ones was doing what I just explained, bartering for goods. But if you got a call from your son, daughter, husband, boyfriend, ect and he explained the situation, and how he didn’t want to break the rules, but felt so down that he had to do something to make it, I don’t think you’d have a problem with it either. Your most important hope is that he can get through it, not that he does it perfectly.

The same goes with obeying the authority, but this is much more delicate.

In my time in prison, I did my best to respect every officer; if they told me to do something, I did it. If they appointed me to some position, I took it because I really didn’t have a choice. But if I felt that the situation was unfair, I made sure to let them know by writing about it.

You see, if I talked back at them and argued, they would always win on the “direct order” directive. In prison, inmates are supposed to always respect the “direct order” when given by any officer, or employee of the prison. Not just officers, mind you, this applies to the nurses, teachers and anyone else in the prison. If they instruct you to do something, and you refuse, that is a write up.

I never got a write up for that, because I knew that was a charge I could never win, even if they were wrong. I hated that order because it in effect allows any officer to be right all the time…even if they are not.

I have been in altercations with MANY officers over my time in prison, but never a shouting match, because I would never win that. But if I just surrendered to it and did what I was told, then I lose a piece of me to the prison. If I was wrong in a situation and lost, that is punishment to my pride. But if I was right and lost, then it punishes my self esteem, and I don’t think I was willing to give that up without a fight.

So I write. While I did obey the actions told of me by an officer, I was in complete retaliation in spirit to the action, and would write a grievance or letters about it. Let me share an example with you:

While I was at Tyrrell Prison Work Farm, almost about this time of year, since I remember my journals talking about the NBA Playoffs, I was instructed to move to the kitchen dorm, since I was now being put in the kitchen to work. I had at the time resided in another dorm, and would now have to move all my belongings from one dorm to the other.

You have to understand, I wrote a LOT, so I had lots of papers with me…LOTS. It took me a few trips to move all my stuff from one dorm to the other side of the prison. But one of the last things I had to move was my bed. The big lumpy mattress had to be moved as well, since it was considered my property. I am no 98 pound weakling, but I am also not from Muscle Beach either. It was too heavy to move by myself.

So I went to the front desk and asked an officer if I could borrow a cart so I can move the mattress. He told me there were none available (liar), and I explained to him that I was told to move to another dorm and the mattress was too heavy to move that far. He asked me how did I get it there when I first got to the camp, since you are assigned your stuff, including linens, pillow and mattress when you arrive, and you have to take all that to your bunk yourself.

I told him the truth, they provided carts for us, which is what I assume was normal protocol. He told me that I’m going to have to move it myself, and I told him that I could not. His response:

“You GON’ move them!”

To which I said, “then they won’t get moved” and walked away. This is important because many officers like to “end the discussion” with an inmate, and hate it when inmates “end the discussion” with them. He hated that and tried to tell me to come back.

I kept walking, absolutely frustrated in the situation and burning up inside.

The officer didn’t appreciate me walking away from him, and called the sergeant who was near where I was, as I was walking back to the dorm. I heard it clearly on the hand unit of the sergeant that he wanted him to detain me, so the sergeant saw me and asked me to step over to him.

He asked me to go with him back to the booth where the officer was, and asked what was going on. I explained clearly to the sergeant that I asked the officer for a cart so I can move my mattress to the kitchen dorm, and he told me they didn’t have one available, and told me that I was GOING to move it without a cart. I told him it was too heavy for me to move, after making several trips back and forth with my other belongings

The sergeant instructed the officer to find me a cart, and I could tell that officer didn’t appreciate being told what to do for the benefit of an inmate. But I won my case, got the cart and was able to finish moving the mattress.

You see, if I simply obeyed the officer and tried to move that mattress myself, I would have lost on many levels. I would have been drained physically, I would have been angry inside and the entire day would have been far worse for me. That’s not how you cope in prison. Coping does not mean, “just dealing with it”. Sometimes you have to make a stand for yourself.

And the truth is, I could have likely gotten a guy to help me move it, in fact I think one or two guys DID ask me if I needed help, but this wasn’t about that. If I really HAD to do it, I could have likely gotten help, but this was about self esteem. This was about being able to do your best to respect the rules if the rules are REASONABLE. In this case, I knew that officer was lying to me about the carts, and then tried to force me to do something I wasn’t that capable of doing. It was about him making my time harder for me than it needed to be, which was NOT his authority as a prison officer. I needed help, and he clearly was refusing to help me because he was too lazy to get off his butt and do something. Sometimes when officers get frustrated with inmates, they like to whip out the direct order and make people comply. That’s what he was using with me when he told me that I was going to move that mattress with no help.

That in effect, is a direct order, but it was also an unreasonable order, so I felt that I had the right to reject it, as long as I kept my cool about me. If I had gone into a rage, and cursed and stuff like that, I doubt I would have been shown favor by the sergeant. But because I kept calm about it, even though I was very, very angry inside, I was able to get a better resolution.

So, should inmates ALWAYS obey prison rules and the prison authority? No, they should not, but they SHOULD always respect the rules and understand the reasons for them. An inmate’s dignity should not be treated like dirt by any prison, because it defeats the entire purpose of rehabilitation.

I think if you got the last 10 million people that has ever been in prison, and asked them if they honestly obeyed every rule in prison…I would wager that MAYBE a couple of thousand guys may have obeyed every rule, but I will also wager that those guys were very short timers, maybe a couple of months in prison. Not long enough to have those kinda problems.

There is a difference in respecting the rules and authority as to obey them. I respected the rule of no bartering, but I did not obey them because my need to cope was greater than that rule. But I respected the rule enough to not do it in any officer’s face. In fact, a lot of the better officers even said as much. Many don’t mind inmates doing what they have to do to cope, because it also gives them some peace. A guy drawing pictures for money is not causing trouble, even though he is doing it to sell. Officers know that, but they are willing to let it slide as long as they don’t make it too obvious.

So even on the prison side, there is an understanding that all the rules don’t have to be obeyed, it is a guideline, but they all must be respected. I got no problem with that, and I did the best I could on that. But expecting your loved one to never have any trouble or break any rules is really kinda unreasonable.

It’s like walking outside in a thunderstorm with no umbrella, and NOT getting wet.

Oh well, this took longer to write than I thought, now I gotta get to my other projects. Please email me to ask how you can support my writing, I am always open to someone sending me a gift to keep writing, or someone asking about my books. Email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com.

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