- A place where persons convicted or accused of crimes are confined; a penitentiary or a jail.
- A place or condition of confinement or forcible restraint.
- A state of imprisonment or captivity.
While prison is a physical place made up of buildings with barred windows, locked doors, and surrounded by fences intended to keep people securely and safely away from society; it is also a state of mind that imprisons the spirit in ways that no parole can ever free them from.
- Action, process, practice.
- Characteristic behavior or quality.
- State, condition, quality.
- Distinctive or characteristic trait.
- Doctrine, theory, system of principles.
- An attitude of prejudice against a given group.
–ism is a suffix added to the end of a word which transforms the root word.
Prisonisms are the shackles that bind the mind and spirit that can only be unlocked from the inside. They are the prisons of our own making that we have confined ourselves within, often for a life sentence. Only God has the power to commute your sentence. No amount of education or re-education, counseling, or religious programming can set you free. A popular Bible in prison is the “Free on The Inside” Bible published by Biblica explains in simple English how God can set you free, but it all starts with you. You have to take the first step. For many people fear is what keeps them bound. Fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of being ridiculed or ostracized by their associates, fear of being alone. Prisonisms are often the root cause of recidivism. Errors in thinking that cause an individual to slip back into a pattern of criminal behavior, if they ever left it.
Alcoholism: Psychophysiological dependence on alcoholic beverages.
Substance abuse is a major underlying factor in crime. Studies report up to 90% of crime is related to or committed under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This continues to be a problem for those who are incarcerated. “Spud juice” prison home brew is readily available and consumed in amounts sufficient to get drunk, as often as a prisoner can afford to. Brewing alcohol in prison is big business and an organized crime. Teams coordinate the theft of ingredients from the chow hall and individuals steal from other initiates to pay their bar tabs. Half-hearted attempts by custody staff to prevent theft from the kitchen and lax security in the housing units makes this possible.
AA/NA groups are held in every prison, but too many attend these groups for the wrong reasons. They want to look good for the Parole Board rather than change their ways. For those individuals, coming to prison wasn’t hitting rock bottom and they are not prepared to admit that they are powerless over their addictions. They are dying for a drink.
Barbarism: An act, trait, or custom characterized by ignorance or crudity.
The corrections officer’s union advertises that their job is the most dangerous job in the state, which propagates the stereotype. Violence in prison is accepted by far too many as being part of the sentence. The price you pay for committing a crime against society is to serve time in the “Thunderdome”. Some prisons have the reputation of being gladiator schools.
Coming to prison is a rite of passage for being a gang member and a fertile ground for recruiting new members. “There is safety in numbers” is the recruiters mantra. “Us” versus “Them”, predators versus prey, CO’s versus inmates, black versus white, gang versus gang, strong versus weak, young versus old. The old wild, wild west idea of an armed society is a polite society is propagated from one generation to the next. Defy authority; rules are made to be broken; stupid is as stupid does; ignorance is bliss; life imitates art imitates life. A vicious cycle of depravity. Life is cheap. Only the strong survive.
Some people say that capital punishment is barbaric. I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s not the only thing barbaric about the criminal justice system.
Dogmatism: Arrogant, stubborn assertion of opinion or belief.
In prison there is no mutual cooperation because everyone believes that they’re right and everybody else is ignorant. “I’ll see it when I believe it” describes the state of unreality many prisoners live in “LaLa Land”. Students arguing with teachers over school rules and policy. Everyone is convinced that they have the best, most accurate insight into human behavior. They know the best way to get things done whether it be cooking, cleaning, or jailing. Life could be so much better if everyone else did it their way. They deny your reality and substitute their own. They rearrange and reinterpret the facts to fit their own conclusions. “I’m right and you’re wrong.” When something doesn’t work out or they get caught it must be somebody else’s fault. There must be a snitch, “I’m too slick to get caught.” Conspiracy theories; slavery; white power; “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll”; reality television is real; sports and hip hop will make you a millionaire; easy money; every woman wants what I’ve got; Orange is the new black; Next time I won’t get caught; I’m a bad man; A tough guy; A gangster; A fighter and a lover. “I’m never gonna change, but I’m never coming back to prison.”
Until attitudes change, lifestyles will not change. Dogma blocks any attempts to enlighten through the willful disregard of truth.
Hedonism: Pursuit of or devotion to pleasure.
“If it feels good, do it.” Impulse control is an issue for many people in prison. Their daily pursuit is pleasure: food, TV, alcohol, sex and not necessarily in that order. They don’t worry about others, they are the most selfish people on earth, only concerned about themselves. They look for ways to “get over” on people. Their idea of work is doing nothing for something. They always look for the easy way out, getting someone else to do it for them.
They trade the main course for an extra dessert. Up all night, sleep all day; Party animal; Eating machine; Rap star; Pop culture trivia expert. They have multiple baby’s mamas, none of which is their current wife or girlfriend.
They have never worked a day in their lives (legitimately). They never have a dime in their trust accounts because they owe restitution, but always go to the store. They live on coffee and honey buns (the breakfast of champions) and nacho do’s. They deny themselves nothing today and put no thought towards tomorrow or how their actions impact others. “Eat, sleep and be merry for tomorrow die” is their mantra.
Fatalism: The doctrine that all events are predetermined and unalterable.
For some, coming to prison was inevitable. They see themselves as the product of their environment. The child of poverty, growing up in a broken home, raised by their grandmothers because their addicted mothers were unfit, never knowing their fathers. Running wild on the streets; never having anything of their own except a record; state raised.
Entitlement mentality: Bridge Cards; Welfare; Cash Assistance; Unemployment; No education, can’t get a job, but why bother? They take no responsibility for anything. The system is broken, the cards are stacked against me. The cops are out to get me. A felon can’t get a job, so I’ll keep selling dope on the corner and see how long I can stay out of prison before I get caught or killed. Dropped out of school to hustle, doesn’t see any value in earning a GED. Book learning can’t prepare you for a life on the streets. Life is hard so I have to be hard too. Life is painful so I take drugs to dull the pain. Life is a bitch and then you die. There isn’t anything else, no after life – no god would be so cruel as to make us live this way.
Without the good news of the gospel of Christ the people parish. Fatalistic people need a compelling reason to live life as if life – both theirs and others – really matter.
Institutionalism: Use of public institutions for the care of those who are mentally disabled or who are criminally delinquent, or incapable of independent living.
In the 1980s two things happened to cause an explosion in prison populations: Mental hospitals closed leaving the mentally impaired no place to go except the streets which in turn lead them to prison. The second was the imposition of longer prison sentences. Prison became a maze with no way out for many people.
Prison is a highly structured place: set times to eat, work, study, and play. This is something that many in prison couldn’t change on their own. The state provides three meals a day, shelter and clothing. No responsibility to do anything for yourself. For those who lived on the streets, it doesn’t get much better than that. Also, for those with mental issues, they are getting some mental health care such as counseling and medication to help regulate their mood or to help them sleep.
For some spending long periods of time behind bars leaves them behind. Family and friends move on or die, technology advances put them at a disadvantage and leave them so lost that the world they return to is foreign to them. They simply seek to return to the security of the simple life that they’ve come to an accommodation with in a love/hate relationship.
Puerilism: Childish behavior in an adult.
Many men in prison are literally and figuratively in a state of arrested development. Grown men who are very immature. They throw temper tantrums, act out to get attention, and have no self-discipline. Gray hairs acting like teenagers: following youth culture, music, and dress styles. They insist on having their way and will make a scene to get what they want, when they want it. Many have the attention span of a humming bird. Afflicted with ADHD or other mental disorders, they are unable to focus long enough to learn anything from their required programming. Forced to sit through classes without the benefit of medication that would allow them to concentrate, they are disruptive to others and have disciplinary problems. They run the yard like they ran the streets and are unable to lay down when they receive tickets and have to serve LOP (loss of privilege) which only compounds the problem. Unable or unwilling to follow directions or obey rules, they can’t complete a program or a parole. Self-medicating to try and regain a “normal” feeling only compounds the issue. They are more like the pirates than the Lost Boys living in Neverland.
Diabolism: Devilish conduct or behavior.
While the barbarians are sociopaths, the truly diabolic are psychopaths. They have no conscience. You can see the predatory look in their eyes, like the big cats eyeing the wildebeest. They test the fences always looking for weaknesses to exploit. They know exactly where all the security cameras are. They are loners who are never alone. They surround themselves with minions that aspire to be like them.
They hate the world they live in and anyone who is not like them. They judge everything and condemn what they determine to be soft. They despise those who have prosperity and happiness, just like the Grinch. They are distrustful of any authority. They live life by their own rules. They demand respect but rarely give it. They value no life but their own.
When given a choice between a legal or illegal opportunity, they always choose the illegal one. They see themselves not just as living on the fringe of society, but outside it as true outlaws. They are rebels without a clue. They are truly a menace to society. They are pathological liars who believe their own lies. The truly unrepentant and unremorseful. The only thing they regret is getting caught.
These are the ones that Christ died for because nobody else would. They are filled with legions of demons that only Christ can excise.
Defeatism: Acceptance of or resignation to the prospect of defeat.
Many people who come to prison proclaim their innocence and mount a boisterous and rigorous appeal. There are others, however, who arrive beaten up and broken down by the criminal justice system. These people have resigned themselves to the end of their lives as they know it. Whether they are actually guilty or not doesn’t matter at this point. They have lost everything: family, friends, jobs, assets and just want to get their prison sentence over with. Emotionally and spiritually drained, they have lost faith in society and the government bureaucracy that they thought once cared for them and have now given up hope of a happy ending.
These people are more or less law-abiding citizens who ended up in prison after their first encounter with the criminal justice system and never imagined that they’d be on the inside looking out. Facing long prison sentences, they are ill prepared for life behind bars. They are not hardened criminals, but someone who made a mistake, a lapse in judgment and will pay for it with the rest of their lives even after they are released. They have gone through a life altering experience and it has broken them. They have no energy, the has gone out of their eyes. They don’t feel like they have anything left to life for. They feel abandoned by God and their prayers go unanswered.
These are the least of these that Jesus said we should give a cup of water to. They need to know that Jesus hasn’t left them or forsaken them.
Parasitism: The characteristic behavior or mode of existence of a parasite.
There are two types of parasites in prison. Those who live life vicariously through others and those who are a financial drag on society.
Social parasites are busy bodies, gossips, rumor mongers, ear hustlers, nosey neighbors. They don’t have a life of their own so they are in everyone else’s business. They can’t keep a secret and don’t really try. They are information brokers. They butt in where they don’t belong, join in conversations uninvited. By focusing on everyone else around them they never address their own issues. God is the only one they should be listening to and he would gladly use their talents to spread His gospel among all men.
Financial parasites live off the largess of others. They borrow from family and friends, bunkies, cubies, and the “store man.” They may be either too lazy to work or enjoy living far beyond their means. They have an entitlement mentality and believe that someone will take care of them: parents, spouse, significant other, or the government. They don’t adequately monitor their spending habits or cash flow and have frequent confrontations with their debt holders. Their solution to their financial problems in prison is to lock up and ride out, then start over someplace else.
In the world foreclosure, repossession, calls from collection agents and bankruptcy are familiar events. Payday lenders, pawnshop brokers, welfare, cash assistance and SSID are their way of life. They won’t do anything to jeopardize these by getting a GED or job training. The only debt they don’t have is a debt of gratitude.
Parasites need to learn that the only one we should be dependent upon is God. He wants to provide all they need if they would only agree in return to be generous to others.
Here are a few more –isms that can be used to describe some facet of prison and the prison experience. If you aren’t familiar with the word look it up in a good dictionary: