Chapter 31. Roles in Prison

Some would argue this chapter would have been better placed toward the front of the book, but I’ve placed it here to give you time to see for yourselves my point.

There are three distinct roles within the society of inmates:

  • Parent
  • Child
  • Combination of the two 

Let’s discuss the first.


This is the mature, usually older and most respected by all inmates and prison staff.  They are the ones who, if they are of strong personality, will set the tone for the unit or dorm.  If they are weak, in terms of character, most will just ignore them but give little consideration of their presence.


Whether immature due to age, societal norms of just plain stupidity, they are the ones who seek attention by being unruly and are mostly in trouble with prison staff as well as other inmates.  Much is not expected from them for many believe they cannot do any better.

Combination of the Two

This group presents a significant problem because they’re trying to appease everyone and actually have no sense of identity.  Usually older in terms of age but lacking in maturity.  They wish to be accepted by the inmate population who is in control of the particular dorm or unit; however, they will waiver, usually done secretively.  Perhaps, the most dangerous of any of the inmate grouping.

No matter who you are when you first arrive, you can set the tone who you are and if you are strong enough, that of your environment, too.  When I came into the prison system I was in my 40’s, now in my 50’s, I command the respect as a, “parent”, not yielding to either group.  My first introduction to prison at the age of 16, as a volunteer participant, then two years later as a volunteer chaplain helped me learn how to develop and maintain order no matter who came within my circle.  Today, what may begin as problematic matter will usually end in an agreeable relationship because I will seek to make it this way.

To cite an example.  A twenty-one year old inmate named “Post”, doing a four year bid was sent to a maximum facility at 17, bisexual and often found in homosexual trysts, carried a level of anger, I believe, as a survival mechanism, became angry at me and walked toward me in a threatening manner because of a statement he made while watching the news, against President Obama, with a room full of black inmates.  I told Post to close the door when it seemed he was not moving fast enough since he was unable to see he was inciting many against him.  He felt I was disrespecting him, so he approached me in a threatening manner and I stood waiting, with my hands in my pocket.

Two things:  You do not fight an older inmate, especially one whom the inmates respect as, “Pops” or a father role, and two, he being all of about 140 lbs., me about one hundred pounds heavier would have crushed him, chose to keep my hands secured and not visible so it could not be said I threw the first punch, and could not appear threatening.  My intent was to quell the moment and allow him to leave quietly, and he did after cussing me out by saying, ““F” you, you old “F”.”  Interesting enough, it was an eye-opener to me because it was then I began to see myself as what younger people saw me, an, “old” man.

Later in the day, I tried to approach him to explain why I asked him to leave, for his safety from the other viewers who disliked him immensely due to his sexual nature, but he could not hear me, still covering his fear with words.  Months later, my being the “Scrabble King” of the dorm, he having an idea he was good, and he was, would eventually come to my cube to play and before he left, maxing out, and with my having 20 to his 2 games, would then be able to hear me before he left, sharing with him words of wisdom.  He smiled, for the first time, looked me in the eye, and I knew then a friendship developed between this young man and I, who he called, respectfully, “Preacher”.  A long way from, “old F”!

We who naturally are the, “parent” roles must seek to change the environment where we are placed.  Those of the “child” role, must learn to respect the, “parent” because many of you are here because you did not have a good parent at home.  If God has given you a second chance to meet one in prison, use them to further yourselves into better men, and women, so you will not have to come by this way again, and those who are of the two, being a “combination”, it is time to make a choice who you will be.  The parent who wants to be their child’s “friend” loses respect as a parent.  When the child has grown into a mature adult, then friendship can develop, but never before.  Respect is something demanded from the parent to the child, and you need to determine who you will be so growth can take place.

Chapter 32


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