Why Can’t Guards Stop Prison Rape?

By · Saturday, October 18th, 2008

In my book, Inside:Life Behind Bars in America, one of the chapters describes a gruesome rape scene. The scene took place in a high-security penitentiary. Two wily and hardened convicts lured two new prisoners who were weak into a false sense of security. The group of four prisoners snorted meth and drank pruno together. Then, while the group was supposedly getting along inside a cell, the two stronger prisoners overpowered the weaker prisoners, raping and sodomizing them repeatedly.

One reader of the book wrote to ask how such a sexual orgy was possible in a high security prison. The reader felt as though someone should have been on patrol to help the weaker prisoners. She questioned how prisoners could get away with such behavior in a high-security prison.

High security prisons are dangerous places. They are dangerous because more than 1,000 prisoners are locked inside concrete and steel human warehouses, and administrative policies extinguish hope for the men inside. Administrators rely on surveillance cameras, metal detectors, locked gates and doors, as well as correctional officers to maintain security in the penitentiary. Yet the prisoners are locked inside the institutions for years, or even decades at a time. They know where the blind spots are. They know when the officers will make rounds and the prisoners develop a sense of who is weak and vulnerable. Like any predator, they can spot the easy prey.

Prison policy makers can post memorandums that encourage weak inmates to seek assistance from staff. Yet those platitudes miss the dynamics of penitentiary life. Prisoners who seek assistance from staff in high-security penitentiaries risk retaliation from those in the prison community who adhere to the tacit convict code. Once a prisoner is saddled with the snitch label, other prisoners will ride him for the duration of his sentence. Prisoners who are forced to serve their sentences in high security prisons should accept a viper pit, and use all of their creativity to persuade administrators that they are worthy candidates for reductions in their classification status.

I served longer than 16 years in higher security prisons before staff members transferred me to minimum-security camp. My disciplined adjustment enabled me to thrive through my prison term and avoid a single altercation with others. Whereas the two victims I described in my book engaged in activities that made them vulnerable, I recognized that the dangerous environment of prison required that I avoid interactions with those who courted trouble. Living a goal-centered adjustment enabled me to prepare for release while simultaneously avoiding problems in prison.

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