Monday, August 23, 2010

Bullying

To the cynical outsider, prisoners comprise a predatory community who are quite happy to beat each other senseless in the cause of removing a man's goods.

As a sweeping view, this is not true. Prisoners gravitate towards a quiet life as much as anyone else. That said, bullies exist in every area of life. But in prison, they are most usually the ones with who carry a key-chain.

Different prisons have different cultures. All prisons are not the same, in the same sense that a small country village is not the same as an inner-city suburb. The culture is different; the attitudes of the people and the social bonds take different forms throughout the prison system.

Broadly, Lifers are more law-abiding and less criminal in attitudes compared to short-term recidivists. As an all-Lifer prison, then, this place is bereft of violence and bullying. The culture wouldn't support it and other cons would not turn a blind eye. A bully would be seen as being a challenge to the peaceful co-existence of the community.

In a local prison, though, with a very high turnover of population and overwhelmingly comprised of short-termers, the society and its bonds are different. If you are only in prison for a few weeks, you have no stake in the stability of that community.

This type of culture does allow for more bullying. Other cons will often turn a blind eye. More profoundly, the fractured and temporary nature of social bonds in such prisons implies that there is insufficient time for the prisoner community to apply social pressures to inhibit disruptive behaviours. Violence and the threat of violence may often be the most utilitarian option.

This isn't to attempt to unravel the official view of bullying. What you or I may characterise as a very reasonable attempt to collect legitimate debts, the prison classifies as bullying. That the prison deliberately attempts to severely restrict our access to goods or services ensures that there is a black economy, with high interest rates. This is standard economics! But attempts to collect unpaid debts are more problematic. Without a legitimate means to enforce payment - no County Court on the landings! - the debt collection may well adopt a more robust form than a snotty letter.

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