It’s either funny or pathetic to envision, but flirting happens quite often. I think some of the men are actually hoping for sexual favors from me, even though I could almost be their grandmother. Trust me, if they could get away with it that is where they would go with it. A female teacher could be 300 pounds, have all kinds of zits on her face and be 92 years-old, and they would still flirt with her, because there aren’t too many females around. But, usually, the main reason is they are trying to manipulate, to soften up, or to charm. They will make little comments like, “Those earrings are really pretty, Ms. Chamberlin.” “Your hair is really ‘new school’.” “That color looks great on you.” “You look like you’re no more than 35 or 40.” Seriously! They say silly things like that!
I think many of the men probably mean well, and aren’t actually flirting. But many of them are trying to soften me up, and I have my standard responses. I’ll say, “Son, you’ve been in prison too long.” Or, “Son, $0.65 a day doesn’t do it for me.” That tends to give them the hint to back off.
Usually, it is the younger ones who are doing this. It isn’t the old men flirting; they are usually a bit more respectful. It tends to be the younger ones who think they can receive some kind of favor. Maybe they want a better grade, or to get away with something in class. Or they hope I won’t notice they are stealing, or whatever it is they have on their agenda.
They are always trying to get information. They will ask, “Are you married? Do you have kids? How many? Where are they? Where do you live? What kind of car do you have?”
One student said, “Do you smoke?”
I said, “No.”
He said, “Does your husband smoke?”
I didn’t tell him I didn’t have a husband but instead responded, “No, and I’m not bringing you any cigarettes.”
He looked at me really funny, because he realized I knew what he was trying to do. He wanted to see if he could get me to bring him in some cigarettes. One cigarette can be sold for up to $6.00, so inmates often fish for clues that a staff member is interested in making a little extra cash. Eventually, they will catch on as to who won’t cooperate with their shenanigans.
You just don’t give them any personal information. You can be kind, but I usually say, “You know I don’t give out that information,” or, “That’s kind of personal.” Sometimes it takes a blunt, “That’s none of your business.”
You have to be careful, because they are always looking for information. They work among themselves to try and piece it all together. The next move would be to look for ways to “get over” on a staff member for one thing or another. For example, if they can get the sense someone might be hurting financially, then that person would be more likely to bring them a cigarette, or sneak them in some food, a cell phone, or some pills in exchange for cash.
But if you even give them a piece of candy, look out. If you give them something one time, then they have you, and they can blackmail you further. It has happened to numerous people. It is a very slippery slope, and you do not want to go there. When they’re done blackmailing you, they’ll report you to the authorities.
Janice M. Chamberlin, a licensed prison educator in Indiana, is the author of Locked Up With Success. In her book, Ms. Chamberlin shares stories not only of the challenges she has faced, but also the triumphs she has seen in the prison classroom setting. She has successfully developed a system that can unlock potential even in the highest risk students.