Prison Food Chain

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Michella Abel
ANTH4113-001
10/16/12
Professor Dowell & Hirschfeld
Capstone Anthropology
Prison Food Chain
The United States has had reform after reform of their prison systems in an attempt to better them and in hopes of making them not only a punishment, but a rehabilitating system. The prisons of today are not what these reforms hoped to achieve, they are over populated, dangerous, and under-funded. Gangs have taken over the positions that wardens are supposed to fill and they rule by survival of the fittest or at least survival of the better connections. In order to achieve the reforms’ goals, data collected from ethnographic and statistical studies must be put to better use. Prison gangs have become a huge contributing factor to the overcrowding within the prisons due to its positive correlation to repeat offending and high recruitment efforts. The word Penitentiary comes from the Greek word that means to be penitent. The reality of what it is like to be in a prison may not be what most people believe it to be. There are different levels in the prison system that offenders, pending on their crime and record, will be assigned to.(Marchese,45) Super-max Prisons are for the worst of the worst offenders. Maximum security houses a variety of violent offenders. Minimum security and halfway houses restrict the comings and goings of the lowest menace threat in the system and help to make an offender ready to rejoin the outside world. The prison society is based upon a set of social rules and boundaries built and based upon respect and fear. Each kind of prisoner has a different way of obtaining this respect and attempting to claim the prison food chain. A prisoner that was transferred would need to fight another prisoner to establish his place among the hierarchy. Prisons are a society unto themselves and outsiders are not welcome as scientists and journalist have discovered.(Fleisher,1989) To be a prisoner and be at the top of the hierarchy has multiple meaning for that individual, how he got there and how he keeps that position varies from one inmate to the next. Every inmate at the top of the food chain in the prison system has his or her own story as to how they got where they are, and how long it took them to get there, but the common thread is their gang connections and affixations. The top of the hierarchical system however are the guards. The guards are one of the prisoners’ only interactions with the outside world that is guaranteed and occurs on a regular basis. The Stanford Experiment in (1971) showed how guards and prisoners interact on the bases of who has the authority and who doesn’t. Stanford students played the role of guards and some as prisoners. It didn’t take long before the students started to really believe they were guards or prisoners. The student guards became more forceful in their commands, and showed less respect for the students that were prisoners. The student prisoners showed more compliance for the guards and submissive, even thou they were just role playing. The experiment was forced to release all of the participants after the students playing the role of the prisoners started to riot and entrench themselves within the cells. Their ability to separate reality from their roles was so greatly diminished they actually started attacking each other. There are theories that this diminishing started when they were all very publically arrested for show, but to them it felt very real.(Zimbardo) Fleisher attempted to study the prison society by becoming a guard at a prison, but soon discovered that even he could not separate himself from the role of a guard, “I began to think of myself as a correctional worker… I was becoming lost… What hacks did was right what convicts did was wrong”.(Fleischer,1989,112) There are federal cases in which inmates claim that guards either go to far to prevent gang activity or don’t do anything at all to protect them. Babock vs. White...
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