The Interrelation between Prison and Community Culture of Violence

Evil doers in society have taken many forms.  As young children, the evil doer takes the form of the boogeyman under the bed, which then turns into the class bully.  Later in life the evil doer is the drug user or beer drinker in high school, but then the evil doer suddenly is the man or woman next door.

Crime in society has always been present, but the person committing the crimes never has a distinctive look.  It could be anyone.  In todays society, there are more violent offenses being committed in schools and the workplace.  These places were once devoid of any violence and crime.  Violence exists within society and believably inside the prison system as well.  Society lives within a prison that it has created for itself, while inmates live inside a physical prison that society built.
Throughout the existence of criminal behavior and violence, man has attempted to theorize societys view and reason for the maladaptive behaviors.  Two criminological theories take a direct stand with the issue of societys prison versus an inmates prison.  The conflict theory and the rational theory express the needs and deficits in both instances, but most importantly, these theories give reason for the violence found in both situations.  The conflict theory is based on the belief that within society there is no individuality, but rather competitiveness with regard to power and values (Byrne, Taxman,  Hummer, 2008).  To better explain how the conflict theory performs in society, look at the underdog.

The underdog is too often stereotyped and assumed to be the deviant or the criminal.  Take for instance the following example.  A homeless man is frequently seen sitting in front of a local grocery begging for spare change from the grocery patrons.  Some patrons give the homeless man money out of concern and pity, while other patrons choose to just keep walking.  Weeks later, the grocery falls victim to a robbery where the two checkout clerks are held at gunpoint for the money contained in the cash registers.  Both clerks are too shaken to be able to give the police an accurate description of the suspect, but patrons quickly reference the homeless man who often frequented the storefront begging for change.  Later in the day, the local police find the homeless man at a soup kitchen eating lunch.  They question the homeless man of his whereabouts earlier in the day.  He explains that he was at the soup kitchen.  The officers speak to the owners of the soup kitchen who confirm that the homeless man was there the entire morning.  The officers now have no real leads to finding the suspect unless one of the clerks recollects a visual memory of the suspect.  The grocery patrons who had offered information in regards to the homeless man automatically assumed that because the man was homeless and begging for change, that he must have been the one who robbed the store.  The conflict theory shows how society is too quick to assume and expect the worst of someone because of an economical or other deficit which lowers their position on the social ladder.
The rational theory is built around the understanding that each person is responsible for their actions based on thought.  This thought is surmised by making choice decisions in reference to means versus ends, costs, and benefits (Byrne, Taxman,  Hummer, 2008).  Unless an individual is learning disabled or suffered from a biological or psychological condition that makes it virtually impossible to decipher right from wrong, each person is responsible for his or her own actions.  The entire rational theory is based on human nature.
Once an individual has been sentenced to prison, an entirely new chapter of living opens for the soon-to-be inmate.  Inmates who have been incarcerated or paroled have stipulated the only way to survive on the inside is to forget the outside.  It is impossible to co-exist between the two worlds.  The rules of living inside of a prison are pretty self-explanatory.  Talk to no one.  Do not believe anyone.  Trust no one.  Do your own time and not someone elses time.  These rules may sound simple enough, but many lives have been threatened, assaulted, and murdered over these four simple rules (DeRosia, 1998).  Once an inmate is released, by parole or for completion of a sentence, the reunification process begins.  No matter how much time has elapsed from the commencement of an inmates sentence and release is irrelevant.  Re-entering society can prove to be difficult and impossible to many offenders which create a prison on the outside.  Some parolees suffer from nightmares, panic attacks, depression, and even become suicidal when the pressure of succeeding on the outside is compared to life on the inside of a prison.  Prison life is dictated to the point that inmates have little if any choices, where as a recently released offender has the freedom once again to make his or her own choices (DeRosia, V, 1998).  A lack of self-confidence, rehabilitation, employment, and education are reasons for the offenders likelihood to re-offend.
Society has sealed itself in an outside prison.  By making and passing laws to lock up the evil doers, society has created a faade of being safe.  There has long been the myth of safety if the bad were physically separated from the good.  Beyond the myth exists the fact that society has not made it easy to survive.  Conditions of unemployment due to lay-offs, family dynamics, and relationship difficulties all combine to cause one to blow a fuse.  The reaction is often of a violent nature, which ultimately ends with an individual being introduced or re-introduced to the legal system.  Society is not as compassionate as it would like to think.
There are many implications and ramifications in the correctional system.  Certain crimes can cause an individual to be placed into protective custody, or solitary, for a good portion of their sentence as a means of protecting their life.  Sex offenders or someone who has harmed or murdered a child are subsequently amongst the protected groups.  Society would rather see severe torture and mistreatment of such individuals, and inmates feel the same way.  With this belief in mind, one could easily assume that society allows the prison inmates to do their dirty work.  Violence towards these groups is many times lethal.  Despite the efforts of the prison system to prevent any harm from coming to these groups, the inmates do sometimes outsmart the correctional system.  This should not be misconstrued and believed that only specific groups incite violence inside a prison.  Violence within the prison system comes from many different triggers.  The transparent examples include a bad letter from home, a cheating spouse, a bad visit or a cancelled visit, time added to a sentence, and not receiving a job assignment (Bell, 2002).  These are some of the reasons for prison violence.  Other reasons partially include groupings, but not in the aforementioned aspect.  Gang violence inside of prisons is rampant.  Once an inmate joins a gang, either before or after entering a prison, the only way a member can leave the gang is often via death.
Prison sentences seem to satisfy the personal whims of a frightened society.  Satisfaction for society is only temporary.  When prisons release inmates back into society, the former inmate is met with numerous hurdles.  If life before was difficult, then the former-inmate should be prepared for more difficulties.  Society places an unwritten scarlet letter on ex-convicts.  This stigma creates a bias and in some cases, actual discrimination against the former-inmate.  The former inmate is met not only with a permanent criminal record, but he or she is faced with the moral dilemma of survival (Bell, 2002).  
The cultures inside and outside of prisons are mixing, but this is not news to anyone in the legal spectrum.  Individuals come out of prison often knowing more criminally than before entering the system at all.  Those going into prison do not fear it as much as in years past.  Inmates are afforded the luxuries of cable television, air conditioning, conjugical visits, family visits, mail, newspapers, three meals, snacks, and even employment.  There are homeless people living every day just wishing for one meal.  The irony of the situation is deplorable.  The effects of the prison system have shown to be working.  In 2008, Canadas total number of crimes, based on severity and volume, decreased by 5 (Wallace, 2009).  Another astonishing fact is that the rate of homicides in Canada also decreased in 2008.  The total number of homicide victims in Canada was 611, down by 17, and indicated a decrease of 2 from the year before (Wallace, 2009).
Culturally, inmates present with more obstacles than in the past.  Prison officials act within their job positions as if they are fearful of an inmate pursuing legal action for their treatment while under the systems care.  Inmates should not be afforded the right to pursue anything, as they are being punished.  However, society has now deemed it appropriate and inmates are to be rehabilitated and not punished.  Inmates have developed the mental concept of us versus them, where the us is the inmates and the them is the correctional system (Bell, 2002).
Those entering the system are found to be lacking in many areas.  Inmates often have a long and torrid criminal history.  They often come from single parent or broken homes.  There is little if any evidence of having received a proper education, and the inmates social skills are often lacking.  Inmates seem to be driven by panic, fear, anger, and suicidal tendencies (DeRosia, 1998).  Little remorse is ever shown for the actions that brought on such a devastating consequence.  Prisoners express their emotions frequently through violence, which unfortunately, is typical.

The Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) tested the psychological dynamics of both one is the authoritative position and the powerless position (Zimbardo, 2009).  The experiment was set up to last a total of 12 days, but ended after six short days.  During the experiment, students acted in the position of inmates and corrections officers.  One student quit the experiment after what was later termed to be a nervous-breakdown in behavior.  Another student was taken out of the experiment because the experiment became too life-like, whereby the student forgot his own identity.  The students who were portraying the correctional guards became too into their characters and forgot that these were their colligate peers.  The experiment was ended at the suggestion of an outsider.  If only six days was too much for the students, then what is the probable outcome of inmates serving decades in prison    
An individual entering the prison system has a better chance of surviving without being affected by the environment if he or she has developed good coping skills throughout their life.  The sex, age, and gender also play a part in the inmates survival within the system.  An inmate should be able to adapt to any given situation.  Finally, a good level of self-esteem and self-image is also essential to ones survival.  These few traits allow the inmate to take their sentence on a day by day basis.  They do not focus on the length of time between now and the release date.  An offender learns to keep to him or herself without becoming entangled in someone elses drama.  People on the street circumvent these same feelings daily as they go off to work, come home from work, and interact with others.  These behaviors and feelings are actually shared by both inmates and citizens in the free world.  The behaviors are the same, but the environments are different.

Not every member of society is in agreement with the conflict theory or the rational theory.  Some members of society feel that the problems within society and the criminals that commit them cannot be fixed.  Some feel that states are wasting money on societal waste by attempting to rehabilitate their malevolent behaviors and thoughts.  There are some members of society who are even demanding that tougher prison sentences be implemented as a means of keeping the streets and neighborhoods free of criminals.  It would seem that society is acting out of fear and panic, and that what would be violence is being acted upon in a passive-aggressive way.  These are the same characteristics of someone who is entering prison, and it is indicative of the fact that the two cultures are mixing.
The arguments over theories, personalities, responsibility, and future actions will likely never end.  Each individual views the correctional system in a different way, especially when it comes to society being made to re-welcome individuals who are being released from prison.  Some who are released from prison cannot adapt to life outside of the institutional confounds of prison, and they ultimately end up re-offending as a way to go back.  Society does a good job of setting up boundaries and obstacles that make it easier to identify the good members from the bad members of society.  It is odd how the most basic of human rights goes unrecognized when it involves an ex-offender.  Suddenly the rules change.  The only way the change will be seen is when the tables get turned.  Then society will be held subject to its own theories of conflict and rationalization.  Societys own actions and decisions will be the downfall of their self-proclaimed power and the weapon that ensures its defeat.


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