From the degradation, trauma, and culture shock that happens when a new inmate is imprisoned, there is absolutely nothing positive or exciting for them. However, the bigger problem lies in the fact that prison is meant to be an enclosed space for the housing and reformation of inmates while they are serving their sentence, undergoing appeal, or after being convicted of a crime, but the prison culture and traditions may allow for little positive change to happen.
When introduced to the prison, new inmates may often have to deal with intense culture shock while working their way up the ladder by gaining respect and conforming to the language, norms, and rules of their new territory. In the case that such inmates get freed, they may leave the prison more dangerous or worse than they came in. As most jobs also may refuse to employ ex-convicts (without a sealed or expunged record), we see a trend where ex-convicts may resort to their old vices just to get by or because it has become an ingrained part of their personal lives.
No matter where a prisoner is incarcerated in the world, new inmates can be negatively affected by prison culture. In this article, you will find seven ways in which prison culture can negatively affect new inmates, and they are:
1. Physical Violence And Abuse: Authority among inmates can include bullying and violence. There is always an “OG” or authority figure among the inmates who control the affairs of the inmates or has thought or fought his way to the top. Sometimes, a prisoner’s reputation from the outside precedes them and their status and respect are already established. Other times, a prisoner may beat their way to the top or step on the wrong toes and get beaten. With an increasing rate of shank fights and gang battles even within the prison walls, new inmates can quickly discover that they must stand up for themselves against any form of threat, or else they could end up cheated, assaulted, raped, or killed. One rule of the prison is to never snooze, and some inmates learn this the hard way. In the shower, cafeteria, restroom, and even the yard, inmates must always stay alert.
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2. Defiance: According to a 2012 research into workplace violence in correctional facilities in Australia, the rate of violence against authorities and workers in male prisons covers about 44.4% of the whole data set. The offenses range between rape, verbal assault, beatings, and stabbing of workers by the prisoners, especially since some prisoners may believe they have nothing to lose. New inmates may have a clash of values in adhering to rules between inmates versus strict facility rules and eventually may feel the pressure to conform to prison culture to survive, especially if the top man within the inmate prison pyramid of power promises protection. New inmates (serving life sentences) may quickly learn that once they control a certain amount of respect within the facility, they can do as they wish and mostly get away with it; after all, they may think: What would the authorities do asides from increasing their sentence or placing them in solitary confinement? Absolutely nothing else may cause them fear or concern. In the case that the inmate gets free, there can be a rise in defiance and lack of heed to local laws or authorities.
3. Gang Affiliations: Even if new inmates get into prison with good and positive societal morals and values and are initially opposed to conforming to the inmate prison culture norms and rules, they may easily get roped into the prison culture if they don’t know the prison Do’s and Don’ts. An example is blindly or ignorantly accepting gifts or favors that can place them in a vulnerable situation to owe a debt that they have to pay back, and if they can’t, there may be negative consequences such as physical violence and abuse. This is how some gangs may increase their circle. This means a new inmate could risk becoming a member of a criminal cabal that extends past the prison walls and eventually become hardened if he or she makes it out.
4. Loss of Personal Values: One thing that is almost impossible to do in prison is to uphold religious beliefs that support non-violence and not stealing, lying, or cheating. The cultural and established norms and customs of many prisons do not support positive morals and values. Newly incarcerated individuals often come in with nothing materialistic and only have their solid words or character to show. Many new inmates quickly see that in adapting to one’s environment, certain beliefs must be watered down or abandoned. Fighting, sexual abuse, bullying, lying, and gaining and losing respect, amongst others, can be the norms of a prison. Criminals with a known, established, and unmistakable reputation, criminal history, or gang affiliation may get better treatment, and new inmates may gain respect when they act more rashly or violently.
5. Broken Homes: Going to prison, no matter how short, already creates a stigma if an inmate gets freed, but when that inmate begins to check all the stereotypical boxes, the result is usually unpleasant. Broken homes can be created when an individual becomes incarcerated leaving an incarcerated individual's family to fend for themselves. Some new inmates have to learn how to fend for themselves in prison and may respond to any form of confrontation with violence even better than they fended for their family when they were on the outside. After all, new inmates must often adapt to and survive in their smaller environment (until any release) by building their level of respect, power, status, internal and external affiliations, and lessons learned (which leave no room for risks), and all these usually revolve around violence and becoming strategic and calculating to survive. Irresponsibility and unaccountability are two common traits that a new inmate can inherit even if they acted responsibly at home prior to incarceration due to the pressure to conform. This can have a negative impact on their mates, children, family, loved ones, and the incarcerated individual.
6. Sexual Abuse: Although rare, there are stories and reports of same-sex rape happening in prisons all around the world. Any sign of weakness can mark a new inmate as a target for rape by sexually repressed convicts. Prison culture can include the hunt-or-be-hunted rule.
7. Impaired Social Skills: After a while of staying in prison, new inmates can get accustomed to the prison language, and everything gains a new meaning. If they eventually get free, their manners and language can take some time to get back to normal. They can become triggered by the most harmless gestures. This can impede their ability to interact with others in their family, various social situations, and/or stay employed.
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The social and physical environments of new inmates around the world possess great potential to influence them, and they should be properly oriented and incentivized to remain true to whatever positive morals and values they carry within themselves to not allow toxicity, dysfunction, and any negative experiences to destroy their positive morals, values, and good character. This may be difficult and easier said than done when faced with decisions that can jeopardize their safety or threaten their day-to-day survival.
However, it is important to know that one can pass through the prison and not absorb its culture by keeping a low profile and following the Do’s and Don’ts (literally being wary of trusting every inmate, avoiding confrontations or fights, “picking and choosing one’s battles”, staying out of trouble, and working on one’s physical and personal development and growth). It is imperative for new inmates to choose where their ultimate focus lies and acquire or build adequate social, survival, coping, and physical skills to stay healthy when they become incarcerated.
New inmates can do things such as focusing on respectfully working to de-escalate hostile situations that confront them, staying connected through family, friends, and others about what’s going on in the outside world, exercising, or spending time in the prison library to focus on learning about appeals for one to get released to return to and thrive in society. All incarcerated individuals can choose to positively free their minds (even if serving life) when dealing with the negative effects of prison culture.