Prisons can be quite a dangerous place. The usual stereotype is that in order to survive the entire duration of your sentence, an inmate just has to join a prison gang. That’s the usual thing that everyone sees in movies and other mainstream media: convicts have no choice but to join a prison gang – but is that what’s going on inside a penitentiary?
Why Do Prison Gangs Exist?
Before the 1950’s, prison and penitentiary gangs never existed. Best-selling author David Skarbek explains in his book that before gangs ever existed, prisoners lived by certain codes. Everyone behind bars was expected to abide by this convict code.
The code dictated that inmates should provide help and support to one another. That included keeping a tight lid and not helping prison officials from gathering information about fellow inmates, which may lead to either disciplinary measures or legal matters.
Everyone inside kept an eye on each other in a type of brotherhood. Sure there were disputes among inmates but the code helped to prevent violence. That worked along with ostracism and the terrifying reputations of some of the inmates. That was how it was when prison populations were small and easy to contain.
With the rapid increase in prison population, the inmates couldn’t expect everyone to abide by the code anymore. Some newbie inmates would help government officials with intelligence gathering from within. There were more inmates who disregarded the code altogether and the violence increased. Thus gangs began to form in the 1950’s with inmates seeking protection.
Prison gangs provided some sort of structured protection for the inmates. Tattoos became a practical way to identify gang members. Each gang member contributes something to the group. Thus these gangs were able to provide protection for inmates where prison officials could not.
How to Survive Prison Gangs – Essential Tips
The very first rule to remember is that you shouldn’t join a prison gang. Nowadays, they have evolved into something different than what they were envisioned to be in the 50’s. Note that convicts are not required to join one.
Nowadays, gang members function like soldiers and they are required to obey orders from gang leaders. Obedience is strictly mandated. Joining a gang is tough, living life as a gang member is tougher, and there are usually just two ways to get out of a gang – you complete your sentence or you die in jail.
Note that a lot of the violence in prison these days usually involves gang members. You can avoid a lot of trouble and violence by avoiding gangs and their warring members.
Here are a few more tips on how to survive prison gangs:
•Prison gangs are separated by race/ethnicity. Learn to respect that. That also means you have to learn to separate racial and social boundaries. For instance, don’t wander around the Mexican turf if you’re not Mexican. However, there are exceptions especially if a certain race is a minority; e.g. prisons in Southern California have Hispanic gangs taking in Caucasians simply because they’re a minority.
•Don’t be so trusting. In fact you shouldn’t trust anyone in prison. Don’t trust the guards working there. Don’t trust inmates who are being nice to you. Always anticipate the fact that they have some sort of ulterior motive.
•If someone lends you something or does you a favor you should almost always expect that they will want something in return – there is always something that people want in return.
•Make it a point to return anything – emphasis on “anything” – you borrow from an inmate.
•Show allegiance to your race. Don’t high five the Latinos and then mingle with the Asians – if you do that expect that you’re going to get trouble from both sides.
•Never agree to hide stuff in your cell. That can and will almost always get you in trouble. If someone asks if they can hide some sort of contraband in some inconspicuous place in your cell do not agree to it. Now, that you have refused someone, expect to get some trouble from that guy.
•Control your temper. If another inmate gets ahead of you in line or grabs more grub from the pantry then let it slide. Avoid conflict especially from gang affiliates.
•Exercise to release all your frustrations. The system is crooked but let it all out on the exercise yard.
•Use your best poker face you have ever made in your life. Never expose your emotions, especially fear, anger, or pain. Some inmates even get irritated by sheer happiness.
What If You Don’t Have a Choice?
There are correctional facilities that are worse than others. Expect prisons that have really tight security to be more dangerous. In case you have been sentenced to do time in any of these places then the only recourse for you to survive is to join a prison gang.
Here are a few things you should know in case you joined a gang:
•Prisoners join prison gangs for different reasons. Don’t assume that the other fella also joined for the same reasons you did. Some join to gain safety in numbers while others were just forced into it.
•Make sure to follow gang rules. It may require you to do something brutal like beating another prisoner half to death – remember that other gang members will be watching just to make sure that you comply.
•Once you’re in a gang, expect to be at the bottom of the proverbial food chain. You will take orders and it will feel like you’re the lowest ranking soldier in a huge hierarchy.
Note that gang life inside prison is nothing like what they show you in TV. It’s actually a lot worse. Remember that when you join a prison gang you will be expected to fight. In fact, expect that you will get into fights whether you started it or not.
It will be pretty hard to get out of the gang if you start in one. One way to defect out of a group is to join another group or gang. One prisoner found his way out of a gang by joining a faith-based group that helped prisoners get adjusted to life outside of prison.
Getting out of a gang will also mean that your former prison gang may come after you. Getting out is just as tough as getting in. That is why the usual advice is to just don’t join a gang at all.