How to Interact with Prison Guards
A fact of prison life is that you must interact with prison guards and other prison staffers, but this is a very touchy issue due to the politics of prison. While no advice can be comprehensive in this regard due to situations calling for different approaches, there are some basic tenets that, if adhered to, can help steer you either out of trouble or help keep you out of it in the first place.
The first rule of prison is simple: don’t snitch. Regardless of what happens, it is never appropriate to tell on fellow prisoners. A safer bet is to commit yourself to never, ever saying another prisoner’s name in front of a guard unless the fellow prisoner has first given you permission to do so. Let’s face it, prison is prison. Whether you agree with them or not, the basic tenets of prison should be adhered to in order to avoid issues. A good rule of thumb here is to simply mind your own business. Even if you see something you think the guards should know of, mind your own business. It is the prison guards’ job to uncover misconduct, not yours.
Another troublesome area is that some prisoners seem to want to hang out with the guards. This is another bad idea because fellow prisoners often view such inmates as snitches, even if this isn’t the case. Is it ok to be friendly? Sure. But never a friend. Likewise, you should never talk to a prison guard behind a closed door. At some higher security federal prisons it is even taboo to speak to a guard or go to the lieutenant’s office alone (as in the case of being issued an incident report). At such prisons the culture requires you to bring a fellow prisoner with you to hear everything that is said.
The best advice that anyone can give as it concerns dealing with prison guards is to be polite, professional and distant. No one likes a rat, bootlicker, or administration sympathizer. While being distant won’t earn you any favors, it will keep your reputation untarnished as it concerns fellow prisoners. This is the best way to go. And when in doubt, adhere your conduct to that of someone at your prison who seems to have others’ respect. More often than not this is a reserved type of individual who handles business when he needs to, but tries to stay out of the way and under the radar as much as possible.
If you have a question, it would be better to obtain an answer from a fellow prisoner that you trust. However, you most certainly can speak to the guards from time to time. For example, it’s common to speak briefly with the unit officer when retrieving mail. The above discussion consists of general prison tenets, not absolute codes of silence. Be smart, and not too close as it concerns relationships with the guards.
Generally speaking, front-line prison guards have one goal: to do as little as possible. As it concerns prisoners, this isn’t a bad thing. But the guards do get very involved to bring a troublesome situation back to normal so that they can go back to doing their own thing. Stay under the radar and you won’t have any problems with the guards.
While it isn’t uncommon to have a problem with a guard, as an inmate there isn’t a lot that you can do to change a prison guard. The best course of action is to put some distance between you and them. But, if it is a serious issue or if you feel that a reprimand is in order, speak with a trusted jailhouse lawyer to discuss possibly filing an administrative remedy against them.
If you are being threatened, extorted, or otherwise intimidated by a fellow prisoners, you should first speak with the group that you belong to (e.g., the group of prisoners that you hang out with or the shot caller for your race or car), then made a decision of how to move forward. This might entail confronting the abusive fellow prisoner and fighting them. It could also mean coming to some sort of truce. If, on the other hand, you feel as though your life is in jeopardy, you can “check in” to protective custody. Note that the Federal Bureau of Prisons uses the Special Housing Unit for protective custody, so you will effectively be going into the hole for an unspecified period of time.
If you, “check in” and the prison guards ask who’s been threatening you, you should tell them you feel your safety is in jeopardy and you need to be put into protective custody. When pressed, refuse to provide any names. You do not need to, nor do you want to, provide the names of other inmates. While others might have “run you up top,” this is an issue for you to deal with yourself. By involving the guards you will incur more bad will and be labeled an informant.
If you have told on someone or have been labeled an informant, it is possible (although difficult) to repair your reputation. If you have already snitched on someone, or others think you have, you need to set down a good track record of being a “good con.” Don’t associate with rats, cops, administration sympathizers, or other undesirable sorts. Show you are a stand-up prisoner and eventually people will realize this, though it could take quite some time.