Monday, June 30, 2014

A Slice of Prison Culture

It's instinctive, if unfair. But I rarely wholly trust any man with a thin scar down their face. Being slashed, "striped", is one of the traditional prisoner expressions of disdain for debtors and sex offenders - nonces.

Such is the prisoner subculture. Nonces are, as a matter of social policy (so to speak), the excluded, the despised and the legitimate target for the violence of other prisoners.

Except I never did buy into this. In my early years, my appreciation of the subtleties of moral criminal reletavism was not all that it could have been, and I expressed myself as forcefully as the next man in relation to sex offenders. As the years passed and my moral education deepened, I withdrew from this part of the subculture.

There were three reasons for this. Firstly, the prisoners' moral calculations were a tad askew. While all sex offences have a "yuk factor", this needn't lead to the conclusion that all sex offences were inherently "worse" or caused more harm than non sexual offences. I killed someone. Who am I to tell a rapist that he is worse than me, and beat him?

Secondly, there was the problem of "justice". We cannot demand for ourselves what we would deny others in the framework of justice. The very men who inflicted vigilante beatings to nonces would howl to the rooftops if a mob turned up at their cell door.

On the landings, though, in the grubby reality of prisoners social life, what caused me pause was the sheer hypocricy that I witnessed. Sex offenders who were wealthy, or who could seriously fight back, or - most significantly - a nonse who could supply heroin were not invariably hounded. They were often treated with more distinctions. Whereas the sex offenders who were isolated, weak, vulnerable, were invariably abused. Such bullying dressed up as a principled stance against sex offenders was, is, pathetic.

I do not condone violence between prisoners based on their crimes. Not then, not now. As well as being morally suspect, such violence only plays into the hands of prison staff. It undermines any attempt at prisoner solidarity and is utterly pointless.


  1. An interesting and thoughtful contribution on a very touchy subject, Ben. I agree that there can be subtle - and not so subtle - distinctions. I well remember the case of a very stacked and confident body-builder at one C-cat who was in for having sex with a 15-year old girl at a nightclub where he moonlighted as a bouncer. He'd never gone on the numbers and he wasn't shy of telling anyone what he was in for. Because of perceptions of the context - a nightclub for over 18s only, she looking and dressing much older - and that fact that there was nothing kinky in it, most of the lads didn't regard him as a nonce, more as a victim of circumstances. "Well, it could have happened to any bloke," seems to have been the general view, even shared by most of the screws.

    Of course, the fact that he could have knocked most of the lads on the wing into the middle of next week may also have played a part in the way he was regarded. As it was, I never heard anyone call him a nonce or a bacon! Funny that...

  2. Perhaps one could also remember that some sex offenders are innocent, resulting in broken lives, misery for them and their family and friends. I have been closely involved with someone who was charged for sexual offences for 9 years and then had their conviction quashed. We, his family and friends, put up with years of 'abuse' at visiting times as did he himself. He maintained his innocence for years and was therefore 'abused' by the prison service, police and probation services. Once his conviction was overturned - not a word from any of them - just a life in pieces, no job, no future - the same outcomes as if he was guilty.

  3. It's sad there is so much violence in prisons, I reckon if a prisoner wants a fight he will find a reason to pick on someone. I know there are 6/7 nonce only prisons in the UK, maybe this is the only way to solve the problem anf reduce the hatred against child sex related criminals.

  4. An intriguing outlook from someone who has actually served time. I am glad you posted this as to people who have never been involved in prison culture, the demand may seem a tad bit outlandish or cartoonish. Unfortunately, they are all too real and must be dealt with accordingly also.

    Eliseo Weinstein @ JR's Bail Bonds


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