Relationships Between Prisoners and Guards

By · Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

The relationships between prisoners and guards differ in accordance with security levels. In minimum-security camps, there is a much less hostile atmosphere. I have been confined in minimum security camps since 2003. Currently I am confined at Taft Prison Camp, and I find the officers here to be friendly and unobtrusive. They do not go out of their way to harass the men serving time. As long as an individual is not causing problems, a prisoner will get along fine with all staff members in minimum-security camps.

As one moves higher in security level, on the other hand, the relationship between staff and inmates becomes much more antagonistic. Guards, who prefer to be referred to as officers, seem much more concerned with citing prisoners with disciplinary infractions. Prisoners feel as though they are being invaded, or that their sense of manhood is constantly being violated. That leads to a hostile atmosphere. The higher the level of security, the more it becomes understood that prisoners and staff members have nothing in common. Those prisoners who do cultivate relationships with staff may find themselves targeted by recalcitrant prisoners.

I have always kept a respectful distance from staff members. As a long-term prisoner, I understand that staff members have a job to perform and that they are not interested in me as an individual. They do not support efforts I make to prepare for release; to them I am more of a prisoner than a man. I am always respectful of staff authority. Yet I know that they focus on preserving the security of the institution. Regardless of how friendly they may seem, I know they have the power to disrupt me and my family by transferring me to a prison thousands of miles away. I am respectful, but not cozy with staff.

During the 21 years that I have served, I have known very few altercations of a physical nature between inmates and staff. One of the prisoners with whom I was confined in the penitentiary, killed a guard with a hammer. I’ve known a few others who punched a guard. Yet those altercations were rare, as all prisoners knew that severe consequences followed any inmate assault on staff.

Most prisoners understand and respect the job that staff members have to perform. They accept a high degree of mistrust and cynicism from the staff. Yet it is not unusual for prisoners to serve many years without altercations or confrontation with staff. There are frustrations, of course, but frustration is part of living with others, in or out of prison.

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