FEDERAL PRISON RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
I am pleased to share another guest blog from my friend and client, Kenneth Flaska. You can read all of his Ken’s blogs here.
“Before coming to federal prison, Justin and I formulated a strategy as to how I would interact with other prisoners. Our plan was to be a loner, the guy on the fringe who does not interact with others unless it is necessary.
Justin reminded me that I was not going to federal prison to make friends. I was trying to be invisible. For the most part I have followed this script and it has worked well for me. While I have become “friends” with several other prisoners, I have tried to make sure we share common values. ( yes, even prisoners can have values, especially those prisoners who are ashamed and remorseful about their conduct).
When I arrived at federal prison, I could easily spot the guys I really needed to avoid.
They displayed various traits including, but not limited to, screaming, being quick tempered, being racist, being overtly political, being overtly religious, possessing contraband, smoking, stealing from the chow hall, gambling, selfish behavior, etc., etc., etc.
Recently, I had an exchange with a young man in my cube who exhibits many of the above referenced characteristics. This young man arrived several months ago and I decided, very quickly, to have minimal contact with him. He had bad news written all over him.
The problem is that we live together, and at times, interaction cannot be avoided. This young man has tried to joke with me. When he asked me for legal advice, I referred him to another former attorney since I had very little experience in criminal law. He laughed and would state”Here comes dat lawyer that don’t know them laws”. He also would joke that I was too old to be at the weight pile lifting the weights I lift. “Old man gonna hurt dem muscles pumping dat iron”. I ignored the banter knowing that this guy could be a problem.
Last weekend, there was a pick-up softball game and some guys asked me to play.
I did, and I enjoyed myself. The young man was on the other team and was not a very good player. (striking out twice in slow-pitch softball is not a good look).
Back in our cube, He was again joking with me saying I was lucky to get so many hits. My internal frustration bumped up a couple of notches and I suggested to him that a career in softball was not in the cards for him. As the words tumbled out of my mouth, the rational part of my brain was telling me I was making a mistake. (my rational brain was right!) My young cellmate became very agitated and stated I should not be making fun of his athletic abilities. (lack of abilities?). He went on to berate me and I simply exited the room. (avoid conflict at all costs in federal prison).
Later, I told him I was joking with him in the same fashion as He joked with me. That did not register with him. Some of my other cellmates told him he was very disrespectful and suggested that he apologize to me for his actions. He declined. I have not said a word to him over the last 7 days. He has tried to joke with me on two occasions but I did not engage. It is an awkward situation that I created by ignoring my own rules of federal prison engagement.
In the real world, this situation would be over. We would agree to disagree, shake hands and co-exist. In federal prison, things are different. If I hold out the olive branch, I will be viewed as weak by my young cellmate and some of my other cellmates. This could lead to further verbal abuse. Hence, I will maintain the “cone of silence” until an apology is forthcoming.(Could be awhile?)
We have all planned to act in a certain fashion and then violated our own plan to our detriment. Being in a federal prison setting simply adds an additional layer of complexity to social situations. You have to walk a fine line and it is difficult to always be in balance.