The written rules are easy; you can just pick up the handbook and learn them, or wait until A&O and be told them. For the unwritten rules, they aren’t so black and white. And you only learn them through experience or, if you’re lucky enough, to have someone go out of their way to teach them to you.
Last week we chatted about the written rules in prison, so today I wanted to chat through the unwritten prison rules if you are unfortunately headed down my same path, to help another friend out.
It’s easy to stay out of conflict with staff because you usually just have to use common sense and follow the basics of right and wrong and you will be fine.
However, staying out of conflict with other inmates can be much more tricky because someone fresh off the streets might not even know they did something wrong until they are confronted, or worse, punched in the face.
I was fortunate enough not to get punched in the face, but many of these rules I had to learn on my own, which was extremely frustrating at times.
Unwritten Prison Rules
Mind your own business.
By this I mean stay out of the business of others unless they have included you, stay in your lane, don’t ear hustle.
What is ear hustle? To most, it means gossip in prison, also known as inmate.com (i will get to later). Mostly it means you hear something others are talking about, and then you include yourself.
Inmates may respond multiple different ways to this. They can get angry and snap off; they might ask you aggressively if they were talking to you, they might jokingly pretend to roll up a car window or say hold on one second our phone is being tapped.
Either way, in prison, it’s not socially acceptable to include yourself in others’ conversations unless you are asked. It seems so simple if you overhear a conversation where they are looking for an answer that you know, and you just say excuse me the answer is blank, well in prison you just fucked up.
Don’t disrupt the order of the TV or weight room.
There is a structure here in the TV room. Everybody has assigned spots, and you get these spots by waiting for someone to leave with whom you have built a relationship with, and they leave the spot to you, or you offer to pay someone for it.
Also, don’t change the TV unless you are absolutely sure that nobody is watching it. It is good to wait for shows and movies to end before you try to change it, this takes some patience, but it will keep you out of conflict.
This is BOP (Bureau of Prisons) wide, but many places have day rooms or TVs around the compound, such as at recreation, where they are open to first come, first serve. The weight room has workout spots throughout the day, and certain people have laid claim to these spots. The way to get a workout spot is to go and ask the people working out if they have any additional room, or find slow parts of the day and get in where you fit in, but be careful not to grab any weights you want as they may be spoken for.
Wait your turn.
Waiting in line is a regular thing in an inmate’s life; showers, chow, commissary, and medical, so make sure you wait your turn and don’t cut or jump in front of anyone, even if you are given permission by another inmate, because the people behind him/her may not feel the same way.
Knock before you enter and if the window is covered, don’t enter.
So when people are doing something personal, taking a poop, or something sexual with themselves or another person, they will most likely cover the window into the room with some type of clothing or homemade cardboard cutout. So, the last thing you want to do is walk into any of the above. The only other reason there will be something obstructing the window to the cell or room is that a cop is conducting a search and in that case if you enter they will tell you to leave anyway.
Take care of your personal hygiene and take care of your clothes and bedding by washing them regularly.
The famous saying in prison is we are all grown men, and in that case, we shouldn’t have to tell each other to get in the water and wash daily, but sometimes we do. I had to tell one of my cellmates in Milan, and I told him to either start taking care of himself, so I don’t have to smell him or find another bunk, and he found another bunk the next day.
I guess I could have brought it to him a little less aggressive, but I thought it was common sense and it’s one of those things I will not put up with.
If you don’t regularly wash like after work or after a workout and wash your hands after using the restroom, then be prepared to be confronted within the first couple days in prison.
If you didn’t put it there, don’t touch it.
This is one of the leading reasons for an altercation moving somebody’s stuff. This goes for personal food items, magazines and books, artwork, laundry, and the list goes on and on. So, the general rule is if you didn’t put it there you probably should go on the safe side and leave it alone. This will cause you frustration at different times throughout your prison stay, but it’s always better than getting in a fight over something so simple.
You have to pick your battles in prison, and it’s usually just easier to find another washer or place to sit. You can always ask around, and someone might know who’s stuff it is and then get that individual and either inform them their stuff is done or ask if they are still using the area.
Pay your bills.
If touching someone’s stuff isn’t at the top of the list for getting yourself in trouble not paying your bills or debts is. There are only two things that an inmate has in prison. That is his money and his word, and if those two things aren’t in line, the person probably isn’t worth much.
The inmate population is generally not made up of the most responsible people, I mean look where we are at, but staying on top of your obligations regardless of why you’re in prison is a must. Whether you gamble, smoke, drink, or just eat from the storeman, you need to pay your bills because eventually you will run out of time and the debt will be paid through violence or by the people you run with.
Don’t disrupt someone’s nap.
If you are at a facility where it is safe to take naps, such as lows and camps, then make sure you don’t wake someone up from one, unless you have been given permission ahead of time.
This means being aware of your surroundings when entering your room and know if someone is sleeping in it. Also, your room might have two sides; it’s always best to poke your head in the other side and make sure nobody is sleeping over there either. Whether someone is sleeping or not will determine the level of volume you use and if you can turn the light on or not.
Don’t move into someone’s bunk without permission.
People like to pick who they live with, and as you go down through the different levels or classifications this becomes less important, but out of respect, it’s always a good idea to ask someone before you just move in. Obviously, when you first get to a facility, you are assigned a bunk number and many times you cannot control this move, but once you get established somewhere and start looking for a room, make sure you ask the individual who shares the open bunk before requesting the move. If the bunk is completely open, then ask the room if they mind if you move in. Somebody might have plans for the bunk, and if you disrupt that, then trouble can start.
Don’t use the bathroom designated broom or mop to clean your room or cell.
In the mop closet on each floor there is a broom and mop designated to the bathroom, and that is to stop cross contaminations, so unless you want urine and fecal matter in your room, use the right broom and mop. This will also be very embarrassing for you as everybody that sees you do this may not say anything to you, but they will tell everybody else.
Additional Rules for the Medium and Penitentiary
- Knock when you leave the dinner table; this is a practice that stems from the old days when there was no talking permitted in the chow hall, or the officers would beat the crap out of you. So the practice carried on after those days were over as it was a way for inmates to say have a good day, and it’s still practiced at some higher-ups.
- When people start at Pens or Mediums, they bring their boots to the shower in case something pops off, and you have to be ready on short notice.
- It is common practice to fight with your steel toes on because it’s believed to give you a competitive advantage.
- Also, people leave one leg out of your pants leg when using the restroom for a number two incase they are jumped by another inmate or group of inmates, they can then be more capable of defending themselves. I believe this is where the saying getting caught with your pants down comes from because it’s common practice to catch someone off guard if you are trying to beat the crap out of them in prison, there is no such thing as a sucker punch or unfair fight.
- Some inmates will only sleep on a top bunk because it is harder for someone to jump or assault them as opposed to being on a lower bunk where you are more susceptible to an attack.
- This brings me to my last one, no naps, or at least have a lookout because you can’t defend yourself while you are sleeping. You might ask yourself, why are people attacking you? Obviously, there should be a reason, and that reason is at the Pens and Mediums everybody runs with somebody, and if you are affiliated with a group or gang, you are accountable for everybody in that group’s actions. Therefore it might not be you getting the trouble started, but if you are caught off guard, it might be you taking the punishment. Prison is a cruel place, and I am thankful that I didn’t have to start at one of these facilities and my exposure to these types of altercations were very minimal.
Also, there are a lot more unwritten prison rules than the ones I listed above, but these are the basis of how an inmate is expected to conduct him/her self.
Thanks for listening!