By Christopher Zoukis Prisons are political places. Nothing shows this more than how those in prisons choose to refer to themselves. Some prefer the term prisoner. Others prefer inmate. And still others favor convict. Since prison is such a political environment, it is important to refer to those in the prison context pursuant to their
The Supreme Court recently ruled on a case that implicates serious constitutional issues that affect every person ever charged with a crime. In Maryland v. King, the Court heard argument on the State of Maryland’s assertion that it should have the right to collect DNA from any suspect arrested for committing a serious felony, not
“Strap up or punk out!” came the angry voice.
I turned and saw a giant of a man covered in tattoos. By his side were four of his gangbanger homies. I was in trouble.
Returning my blank stare, the ringleader said, “What are you waiting for? Get up and do something or get got!”
The fight that transpired was not fun or pretty. Five thugs against one medium-sized guy is not what you would consider a fair fight, even in a prison setting, but that is how it goes. Lawless, reckless, and violent. Nothing more and nothing less.
You might think that under the guard’s watchful eye these things wouldn’t happen. You might think that the guard was unaware. And you might think that those responsible would be punished and the victims protected from further harm. You’d be wrong on all accounts. The price of prison life.
The encounter described above happens every day in cell blocks in American prisons. To be clear, this didn’t happen to me. But similar events have. A few years ago, when I was housed in a rougher prison — one housing only aggressive but “youthful” men — this type of event was a regular occurrence. I often had to fend off two or more attackers or robbers. That was the price a young white guy had to pay in those prisons.
The sad truth is that prisoners in this situation usually have no recourse. In the cell block there are only two options: fight or run. The guards won’t protect you. The Aryan gang might, but only with consequences potentially worse than taking your chances with 4-to-1 odds. To state it simply, life can be — and often is — a living hell. One can tango with the dangerous dance partners, or endure a long sit in the hole in protective custody. While neither is fun, the latter is unthinkable to most.