By Christopher Zoukis

Image courtesy firstcovers.com

Today I put a water container — like a plastic shaker cup
— down on a table in my prison’s housing unit and walked over to the computer
area to check my email.  I was on the
computer for perhaps 10 minutes, then I returned.  Upon my return I was very disappointed to
find that someone had broken the plastic which connects the water container to
its lid.  Since nothing was missing, the
only motivation for doing so, that I can imagine, is that some inmate in my
housing unit was feeling like being sadistic. 
That someone was feeling like making another’s day a bit worse, for no
other reason than to do so.  While this
is not new to me, I still found it disappointing.

A lot of the work I do is thankless work.  I advocate for prisoners and their
rights.  I do so for free and am often
disconnected from the response to the work due to being imprisoned and not able
to be online or use normal email.  While
I have had a good response from those outside of prison, inside prison is a
different story.  Inside prison I’m just
some young white guy with red stars tattooed on his hands.  Inside, I’m simply some sort of target which
fellow prisoners feel that they should try to take advantage of, not because of
the color of my skin or because of my age, buy because I’m a fellow
prisoner.  For some reason, prisoners
seem to feel as though it is ok to screw one another over because we’re in the
same position.  It makes no sense at all
to me and it is very disheartening.  It’s
as if the guards aren’t kicking you or putting you down, a fellow prisoner is
more than willing to fill the void.

Prisons are cesspools of hatred.  Prisoners are abused by prison staffers, the
institution, and their fellow prisoners. 
Following the water container incident, my cellmate explained to me that
it’s not the individual prisoner’s fault, but the culture which the system
fosters.  I don’t know if I’m willing to
allow a grown man to be let off this easily — we are grown men, after all, and
are responsible for our actions — but I can understand his thinking.  If an animal feels that it is cornered, it
attacks.  Perhaps if a prisoner feels
that the only way to survive is to screw over their fellow prisoners, then that
is what they do.  Perhaps this is the way
for some of them.  But as for me, I’ll go
ahead and take responsibility for my own actions.  I’m a man and am more than willing to do so
because of it.  I’m not going to blame
others for my actions.

So, we’re back to the premise of this post.  We’re back to people taking responsibility
for their actions.  We’re back to grown
men — some of whom are much older than me — feeling that it is ok to screw
over those who advocate for them.  We’re
back to a man who went to prison for violating the law and continues to offend
and harm those around them.  So, I leave
it with you.  Is it the man’s fault or is
he a product of his environment?  If a
combination, how do we foster a more salubrious environment?  Obviously I’m not amused, but perhaps there’s
a silver lining to what occurred today? 
Perhaps this is a side effect of an existing problem which we can put
our minds together and fix.  If so, let’s
get the discussion started.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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