How I Avoided Prison Subcultures

By · Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Prisons are like mini communities, totally separated from the wider society. Those who live inside find cultures that differ in remarkable ways from the America that most citizens know and love. In what I call the real world, citizens strive to reach their highest potential. People earn respect by working to educate themselves, by contributing to the world through their careers, by caring about the lives of others. In prison, those values do not mean as much. Prisons are oppressive communities, as none of the prisoners want to live inside the boundaries. Prisoners do not concern themselves so much with the virtues that distinguish people in the broader society. Instead, cope with the abnormal community by simply focusing on what they need to make it through another day.

In higher-security prisons, violence and power grabbing dominate the subculture. Rather than focusing on preparations for release, prisoners clique up and strive to create their own identities inside the fences and walls. They serve years and decades together, and for many, building a prison reputation within the community is an essential part of life. Yet rather than concerning themselves with intellectual distinction, careers, or the lives of others, high-security prisoners concern themselves with prison respect. For most, that means a reputation of standing up to authority, for paying any price to defend one’s perception of honor.

While I served time in higher security prisons, I created niches for myself to avoid interactions or altercations with the prison subculture. That strategy enabled me to reach significant goals that I set without encountering any problems. Some people mistakenly attribute my avoidance of problems to the fact that I serve a lengthy sentence for my conviction of being a drug kingpin. Yet I am certain that neither the crime for which I am serving time, nor the lengthy sentence that I serve, has had much of an impact on my ability to avoid prison subcultures and the toxic influences they bring.

Other than rapists, child molesters, or those who cooperated in some way with law enforcement, the prison community is indifferent to the crimes that brought a man inside. Leaders of the most powerful prison gangs began serving time for simple crimes like car theft, while those who formerly led organized crime syndicates may find themselves challenged by less notorious criminals in prison. My crime and sentence may have absolved me from suppositions that I may have cooperated with law enforcement. Other than that, it did not shield me from the challenges that every high-security prisoner had to face.

The choices I made inside were the reason behind my successful adjustment. I wrote about those choices extensively in articles available at, yet in essence, it was my absolute commitment to prepare for success upon release that kept me away from the problems that many encounter in penitentiaries. I have served more than 21 years in prison, yet I have never been a part of the subculture. My allegiance has always been on preparing for life outside. All of my decisions enabled me to focus on such goals; they kept me away from altercations and confrontations.

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