cement slabs, shivering in the cold while waiting their turn to have their orifices inspected for contraband. They go to showers only to find that there are no towels to dry with, no underwear or socks to replace the dirty ones they wore in; if they have the temerity to suggest that perhaps there should be towels, underwear, and socks in the shower, they are berated by administrators more concerned with the fact that the inmate dared complain than with the nature of the complaint. Administrators, in fact, make it a point to discourage anyone from complaining about any aspect of their lives in prison. Such discouragement might not be as direct as the beating of old, but it can be effective. One warden is known for his ingenious methods: if someone complains that the silverware in the kitchen has crusted food on it, the warden simply has them transferred to the pot room in the kitchen, telling them to see personally that each item of silverware is spotless. The word gets out quickly, and inmates stop complaining. An inmate once complained that officers were wrestling and joking loudly on the run in front of his cell after midnight. He was moved to a different building, a much less desirable location, and told that he would not have to contend with wrestling officers in his new location. The officers kept wrestling, but no more inmates complained. It should come as no surprise, then, that inmates feel they cannot deal reasonably with officials they know that, at the whim of a miffed official, their lives can be made much less comfortable than they already are. They may suddenly find themselves with new jobs on the bar-dusting squad, or wake up two midnights in a row to find officers going through their belongings, saying it’s part of a random search. Two days later they may be called to an office and told they are being tried for the possession of a paperclip found during the “random search.” p ENOLOGISTS contend that, in order for an offender to learn to obey society’s rules, he must first learn to obey the rules set forth in prison. The logic is that he cannot be expected to behave in an unstructured environment if he cannot behave in a structured one. This argument is valid, but only if the rules under which he lives are justified or, failing that, at least reasonable. Obeying rules simply because they are rules will not bring about any changes in behavior. And TDC’s rules are in many instances so vague and dependent on interpretation that they cause inmates to lose, rather than gain, respect for the very nature of rules, society’s or otherwise. The old saying that rules were made to be broken could have been coined by someone serving time in TDC. For instance, the rule against trading and trafficking is a necessary one in any prison, if for no other reason than to keep track of property moving between inmates. But it stretches reason to use this rule against an inmate who accepts a cold drink from his buddy or borrows a magazine from a neighbor. Everyone understands the need for rules against possessing contraband in prison. But while most free-world people envision knives, drugs, and other serious breeches of prison security, inmates see the contraband rule used to punish them for having a rubber band wrapped around their letters from home. This is not necessarily the norm; it does happen, however, and only causes inmates to reason that virtually anything they do or possess can be a rule violation. In many instances, they just say, “To hell with it, they’re gonna get If prisoners grow weary of their self-imposed warfare, their hostility will have to seek other outlets. me anyway,” and cease to try to function within the rules. An inmate may unwittingly enter the library through the wrong door, through the one marked “Officers Only,” and be told by the officer inside to retrace his steps, this time “doing it right.” As he performs this demeaning act, however, an officer on the other side reprimands him again for going through the wrong door. He is treated like a naughty child, but his bitterness and anger is full-grown. No penologist in the world can convince this inmate that prison rules will make him a better citizen. Violence between inmates is often the result of such encounters with officers. A day of such infuriating confrontations with guards ends with an inmate feeling tense with pressure that seeks relief, that must have an outlet. In the present environment, the only logical release is physical, and the only safe target for this release is another inmate. This accounts for violence over such trivial acts as bumping into another inmate and failing to say, “Excuse me.” Disciplinary records won’t reflect that the true cause of the incident was an inmate’s anger at being humiliated by officers, his feeling of impotence when dealing with guards who need to prove that they are indeed “running the show.” And there is no question that the inmate is better off venting his anger and frustration on a fellow inmate. He may later regret the incident, but he will most likely feel a decrease in tension, at least for a short while. Another factor leading to inmate tension is that TDC’s recreational facilities are geared toward grouping many inmates in common areas, such as dayrooms, where televisions are installed along with bench seats for perhaps one-third the population of the wings. This leads not only to increased noise, as inmates who cannot find seats mill about or engage in loud conversations, but to quarrels over who gets the few seats available. TDC does not allow in-cell recreation \(radios are allowed, but rural locations allow only minimal leave their cells at every opportunity. Personal televisions, purchased through unit commissaries and hooked into existing cable systems, would allow many inmates an alternative to crowded and trouble-prone dayroom situations, as would portable cassette players, musical instruments, or even board games that could be played in one’s cell. As long as TDC encourages inmates to gather in small dayrooms for their recreation, trouble will be the main feature. What Can We Expect? One of the ironies of the prison violence picture is that, should TDC officials succeed in curbing the attacks of inmates on other inmates, they could find themselves in a much more precarious situation. As long as prisoners attack each other, they won’t fight the system. But should they grow weary of their selfimposed warfare, their bitterness, frustration, and hostility will have to seek other outlets. This could result in a tremendous loss of property and possibly the loss of many lives. It is not a pleasant thought, but a highly plausible one. For, as quickly as the violence seemed to materialize, it could halt. A lull might occur while prisoners stew and whisper in chow halls and in workplaces. They may convince themselves that their real enemies are not each other but prison officials. If this should indeed occur, prisoners will only be partly to blame. They have been denied self-respect and thus can hardly be expected to display a respect for others or for the property of others. So what can be done? Many things can be done, but they include a basic rethinking on the part of society, legislators, prison administrators, and THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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