#130 Prison talking: define GOOD

April 7, 2010 at 4:12 pm Leave a comment

Prison Talking: Define “GOOD”

Hi folks, hope you are doing better than me today…allergies….


Today’s goals for me is to blog, answer my emails, and hopefully create some new prison encouragement certificates or some prison cards. If I can get those things done today, I would have done pretty good… and considering it’s almost 11am, I am kinda on track.

Today’s blog is kinda based on some searches I read on my blog. On the WordPress blogs, I can see what people are searching for if it involves my blog. A couple of them dealt with how inmates can get out sooner than their original sentence. One asked if getting a GED can take time off the sentence, the answer is yes because in most prisons they give the inmate merit time off the maximum end of the sentence. Here in NC I think they give 30 days merit time to those who complete…I say again, COMPLETE, their GED. You’d have to check with the prison in your state to see what the actual details are.

But another question regarding time is how much, if any, time is taken off for “good behavior”.

This is actually a trick question…or at least one with more than one answer.

The technical term here of “good” as far as prison is concerned, is when inmates perform in a positive and constructive way while doing their time. Many people think that just being “good” and staying out of trouble reduces your time…uh…not really.

Inmates must build a resume of “good works” like getting a GED, going to AA classes or DART classes, or work at a prison job and not get any write-ups. If a person can do things like that, and maybe find time to take classes like HRD, Computer, and other things, then it can reduce the time off the maximum sentence. But I have blogged on this before…

My blog today is about the general term “good”, as it involves inmates, or even ex felons.

The perception here is that you think that if your son, or husband or boyfriend can just “stay out of trouble”, and “do what they tell you” that all will be good. Surely the prison will see that you are a good guy, just made a mistake and after a period of time, will decide to knock off some days, or weeks off your sentence simply because you are being “good”.

That’s not how it works folks…prison is far more complicated than that.

That is not to insult anybody, that is not the intent at all. But we must clarify what we are trying to discuss, so that you can have a better understanding of what “good” really is in prison.

And when you think about it, this is a strange thing to ask…asking criminals to be good? Seems like this does not make sense, but there is a lot of truth to it.

“Good” is defined in a number of ways, which makes this question difficult to answer, but here are a couple of definitions, as from my Oxford American Dictionary:

“Having the right or desirable properties; satisfactory”

“right, proper, expedient”

“morally correct, virtuous, kindly”

“well behaved”

You can see that for such a simple word, there are many ways to think on it. But when it comes to prison, and you wondering about your loved one, even then we can have problems truly understanding what “good behavior” means.

Prisons have their definition, based on actions and delegations. As mentioned before, it’s not enough to just “be” good, you have to make accomplishments. You can be a nice guy in prison and never get in a fight or never get a writeup, but it most cases it won’t take one day extra off your sentence. If you got 20-24 months, and was just “good”, you’d get out in 24 months, unless you got early parole, which is another blog.

This is based on the prison’s definition of “good” which includes, being well behaved, being morally correct and doing the proper things. But this is not enough, you still have to demonstrate that through actions, such as completing your GED, going to classes, getting prison jobs and not getting in any trouble. That’s why inmates have case manages, to continually monitor the progress of the inmate to see if they are doing what they should be doing.

But let’s get deeper in this subject, if you don’t mind…what does GOOD really mean to an inmate?

I get so many emails from parents, or I read lots of posts where people say that they told their loved ones to be good, and just do what they tell you, and everything will be fine. In theory that sounds right…and if I never spent a day in prison, I would agree, but having done time, I cannot say that this is so true.

“What do you mean? Are you saying my loved one should get in trouble?”

No, that’s not what I meant.

Prison is about incarceration…but it is also about rehabilitation. The goal of prisons is several fold, and one of those is to help a person change from a negative mentality to a positive one. Prisons fail at this because society thinks foolishly that if we just keep people in jail, or prison, then everything will be fine because when they come out, they would have “learned their lesson”.

This is the same mentality of a lot of parents with spoiled kids, that won’t help that kid when he gets in trouble, but is the first in line to complain when the school puts the kid out for starting fights.

Every person in prison retains their humanity, regardless of how much is left. Because of that, each inmate still has the capacity for carnal, emotional and spiritual decisions, each an important part of making the man. If prisons can focus on helping inmates make better decisions, and treating others with respect, then you GAIN a person back in society.

“So what’s this got to do with being good?”


Being “good” in prison does indeed include being well-behaved, having virtues and doing the right things…but in a day to day situation, in prison, there will be times that an inmate may have to make a choice that may not be what the prison wants him to do.

It is easy for you to say from the outside to not get in fights…and trust me, most inmates don’t want to get in a fight. But what if a fight comes to you? Easy to say “walk away”, but what if you can’t? After all, you’re in prison…its not like you can walk home.

In my time in prison, I was only in one fight…got my lip busted pretty good and it seemed like it bled for a few days. Was it one I could have avoided…probably not, I’d have to blog that out for you one day, because it is interesting. But many times you just can’t walk away. This does not mean you start a fight at the drop of a hat, it means that fighting is a last resort. Nobody wants to fight if it is going to add another charge and more time to your incarceration.

Being “good” by prison terms would mean going by all the rules…ALL of them. If you read some of you earlier blogs, I talked once about the idea of having a hustle. Now, by rule, no inmate should be doing a hustle…which is making money off a service or a product. If you do hair in the prison dorm for money…that is a hustle. If you loan money for a higher percentage…that is a hustle. If you play cards for money…that is a hustle. If you buy canteen and sell at a higher price…that is a hustle.

But all rights, it is wrong.

So you ask, did I ever do anything like that?

Well, at first I didn’t. In fact, in my first book, “Grades of Honor”, I talked about how I felt about hustling…it is wrong, if it is against the rules. As a first time felon, my idea was to do exactly what they told me to do, and maybe I’ll live through this incarceration. That meant not breaking the rules. That was the right thing to do.

But that went out the window when my self-esteem and sanity came into question.

While I was at Craven Correctional, a big guy came to me and asked if I could write a letter for him to his girlfriend…he asked me because well…almost everybody who looked at me said that I “looked like a college student”. In truth, I was, in fact a college grad. And I sounded like one too, so I kinda stood out.

He said he would give me a pack of cookies if I wrote the letter. This is the time most of you would have said to not give in to the hustle. Just do your time, and go home. But life in prison is never that easy. It didn’t help that I had no money at the time, and my self esteem was in the trash can. There were times I regretted not committing suicide when I had the chance.

At that time, I felt like nothing. And on top of that, I was in a new environment, one I had never experienced before. Sure, I spent 17 months in county jail before coming to prison, but with the exception of 10 days, I spent it all in a single cell. Now here I am, in a dorm with about 60 other guys, in prison. And because there were communal showers, I was ashamed to take a shower with other guys. I had to skip dinner so I could take a shower while everybody was gone…it took a toll on my stomach.

So now I was depressed, stressed and hungry.

When that guy offered to give me a pack of cookies for simply writing a letter…I jumped at the chance. Rules be damned, I wanted those cookies!

And I kid you not, that was one of the most DELICIOUS packs of cookies I ever had. It came at a time where I needed something to lift me up. I didn’t have anybody to talk to that could encourage me, I was on my own.

I had to make a decision…be “good” or do what I can to make it through one more day. I choose to do what I needed to do. I wrote that letter, got those cookies, and felt better, even if by just a sliver, for doing it.

It turned into a proposition, where the guy liked what I wrote, so every now and then he would ask me to write a letter, and after I finished, he would reward me with a snack…yeah I know, it sounds very much like servitude…but I needed the lift. Just having something to eat late at night can be a real boost to your esteem. It wasn’t like I was starving, because I wasn’t., but sometimes when you feel down, eating a little something can really be of a great help.

But you see in my example that being “good” can mean many different things.

Sometimes being good can be in direct contrast to the prison itself. Sometimes to do what is morally right can put you in trouble with the prison. Lets not fool ourselves to think that every rule by the prison is designed to keep inmates morally correct. Often times it is in place to maintain authority…there IS a difference you know.

When I was at Lumberton Correctional, well into my incarceration, my mentality was firmly set about what I felt about prison. Don’t get me wrong, I was not the inmate that was always getting into trouble for breaking rules. I was the inmate that had no problem writing letter if there was something wrong with the prison. It cost me to be kicked out of several prisons, including Lumberton.

I worked in the prison kitchen on first shift at Lumberton, which meant we had to get up at about 4 or 5am. We’d get up, fix the meals for the inmate population, serve the population, clean up and by 10 or 11am we were done.

The problem however, was that after first shift was done, the first thing we wanted to do was get some rest. But the prison had a rule that NOBODY is allowed in the dorms until a certain time, so you’ve got a bunch of very tired guys waiting for the dorms to be back on limits for every one. But when they were back open, the dorms weren’t always so quiet, since everybody was allowed back in.

All we wanted was just a little time to get some rest before the rest of the population were allowed in. I was so upset about this that I wanted to write a grievance. Lots of guys wanted to write one as well but didn’t really know what to say. I told them, “if I write the grievance, all you need to do is sign it”. By NC DOC rule, an inmate is allowed to write a grievance for another inmate if that inmate is willing to sign for it.

So we had about 10-12 guys buy in, and I hand wrote every grievance. All they had to do was sign it. When they turned in all those grievances at one time, it caused a problem. One of the guys that worked in the kitchen was in the infirmary, and he said he overheard about the grievances that were turned in, and that the prison didn’t know what to do. To have a show of force was unheard of, when a whole shift of guys wants change.

But when they found out that I wrote those grievances, I was “removed” from the prison kitchen. In fact the day I was moved, the Kitchen Supervisor called me in and asked me about the move. He said that if I wanted to change jobs , I could have asked him. But I said to him, “I never made a request to change jobs”.

It took a few moments but I think he then realized what was going on. He knew I wrote the grievances for the guys in the kitchen, and understood what was going on. He knew this was a retaliation by the prison because of what I did. We talked for a couple of minutes about it, and how he said he never had any problems with me in the kitchen, but he saw that this was how the prison wanted to deal with “problems”.

About a week or so later, I was “transferred” to another prison.

So by the prison’s definition, what I did wasn’t “good”. Yet it, in the realms of prison, was morally correct. Guys working very early morning shift ought to be allowed a little rest after their work is done, that seems right. The prison never allowed it, so by rule, we have a right to write a grievance. We did, and the prison got concerned about a number of inmates voicing an opinion, or need for change.

The easy thing for me to have done was simply not get involved, even if I was working with the kitchen…but ask yourself, is that good?

I had a lot of tough times while in prison, but one thing I tried my best to do, when I could, was honor the rules while also honoring the guys I was incarcerated with. No, this does not make me special, its just the right thing to do. Regardless of what I was in for, or anybody was in for, we were there together, and if you show respect for an inmate, or inmates, that respect often times comes back to you. Its funny, of all the people I met and knew or dealt with while in prison, my biggest enemies, in each prison, were almost ALWAYS the staff of the prison.

I know that sounds foolish, but I didn’t say every staff member gave me problems. Many officers, case managers and such are very nice people, but prison seems to run on the idea that inmates should have no self-esteem, and must obey every rule to the letter. That’s not how you rehabilitate a man, that’s how you make him a drone.

Doing good in prison meant standing up for yourself, or others, when you truly feel it is the right thing to do. Now I know that a guy that gets in fights thinks he has a point, or a guy that steals from another inmate has his own reasons, but there has to be a fine line between selfishness and selflessness. Its hard to define, especially if you have never been in prison, and harder to understand unless you have done time.

I made a lot of friends with inmates because I chose to help them, rather than just not get involved. From someone to talk to, to writing grievances, letters or things like that, I spent a good bit of time during my incarceration doing what I felt was right. But on the outside, these aren’t considered “good” things. You don’t get days off for helping a guy write a grievance on the infirmary for not giving him any medication for a toothache. You don’t get off earlier for helping a guy who is worried that the prison won’t give him his 30 days after he got his GED. No case manager has in the inmate jacket about when you read letters to an inmate from his girlfriend, because he can’t read or write.

To prison, and society, this has no value. But these are very strong foundations of a man trying to do the right thing, trying to do “good”. Yet to prisons, this does not qualify. I have tons of things I did while in prison to help others, and if I had the chance to do it again, I would. Several things ended up with me getting kicked out of one prison to another. Prisons hate it when inmates write grievances that tend to stick. It’s not good when an inmate complains about the prison…and has a strong point.

I said before and I say again, if I was not so close to my release while at Dan Prison Work Farm, I am quite sure I would have been shipped off to another prison. We were at odds about several issues, one being the grievance procedure itself. By NC DOC rule, the grievance procedure was supposed to be posted in every inmate dorm. Yet when brought to their attention, the sergeant told me, “I have been working here for years, and I have never seen that rule before”.

He was either lying, or extremely lazy. In either case, I went back to my dorm, got the handbook, went back to the office and showed him, WORD FOR WORD, the same rule.

I made a lot of enemies with many in DOC because I wrote so much, but to me, this was what needed to be done. If maintaining my self esteem (and sanity) meant standing up for myself, then so be it. To me, that was the good thing to do, rather than just roll up over everything the prison says.

This does not mean we ignore prison rules, far from it, it means you respect it, and in doing so, the prison has an obligation to respect YOU as an inmate…its not an option folks, and that’s were we often miss it. We act like prisons have an option to treat those guys like people…when it is their responsibility.

I personally think prison fail because there is so little invested in changing a person that involves good things. We throw them in a stone fortress and think that will change them, but do very little, if nothing to help change their behavior, give them some faith, show them that we must all respect each other, and identify ways for them to get back into society and make a good living.

Its called rehabilitation, and most prison fail miserable at that. If you don’t install hope in those guys, they finish their sentence with no hope, just wishful thinking when they are put back out on the streets…and we know how that usually ends up.

So define good if you can, whether socially, spiritually or any other way you know. But remember that just as there are different definitions, so it also is in different environments. Prison is a whole different environment than college, I oughta know.

Anyways, I gotta write some emails, and try to make some more cards and certificates. Email me to ask more about that, I am hoping to make these available in May, so hopefully I’ll have those ready for purchase. Until then…


Entry filed under: girlfriends with boyfriends in prison, God and prison, inmates, jail, LostVault, mothers with sons in prison, prison, prison abuse, prison blogs, prison books, prison cards, prison food, prison jobs, prison mail, prison pen pals, prison support sites, Prison Talk Online, Prisonbid, rehabilitation, son in prison.

#129 Grades of Honor, book 2 (retro) #131 Yah! Found them!

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