#160 Inmate Hierarchy of Needs pt 3 (retro)

April 25, 2010 at 9:09 pm 1 comment

Inmate Hierarchy of Needs, part 3

This is part three of an ongoing document I am working on, which means if you are new to this topic, I strongly advise you to drop back and catch the first and second one.

I mean it guys, if you have not read this one, go back and read parts one and two so you can understand what I am talking about. It will make more sense if you do.

If you HAVE been keeping up, then hopefully you understand some of what I have been discussing lately. This is the third part, or you can also say the third level, of the subject on inmate needs. I know I title it by “inmate’ needs, but this more or less is for those who are nearing release, or have recently been released.

This is important because what I am talking about isn’t the “bare necessities” for ex cons. What I am trying to discuss reaches much further than that. We are talking about how to get an ex felon back on his feet and give him the tools (or beliefs) to succeed in his life.

You see, this goes further than what society cares to think. For the most part, people who go to prison ought to have at the MOST the most basic elements to survive… no more than that. But if we are going to find a way to help a ex felon (which includes myself) to get his life back and find prosperity, we have to first understand what has to be accomplished before he or she can get there… and how you can help.

Now, to recap, we discussed that there are basically 5 levels of needs that inmates need, or ex felons, as based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which I am adapting to the needs of those who have done time in prison. We are working from the bottom up, and unless each lower level is satisfied, an ex felon cannot move further, and thus not be in a better position to better himself after his sentence.

We discussed the most basic level, that of human needs to survive. Now by Maslow’s rules, this includes air, food, sleep, water, sex and …depending on what source you read…excrement.


Yeah, I know, but when you really get down to it, that is true. However, the basic elements in my discussion are based on a first world condition. Even though a guy does time and is released back in society, here in the US it is still a free world, which does give that person a couple of slight advantages. But it cannot be ignored that if an inmate cannot eat he cannot better himself. His needs MUST be met before he can advance himself.

The second level was based off the need to have an orderly and protected lifestyle, as reasonable as possible. This included having a job, insurance and things like that. In most cases this second level cannot be met unless the primary needs are met. Let’s face it, an inmate released out of prison doesn’t care about insurance if he does not have a place to stay or food to eat.

But if both of these levels are met, we move to the next level. The third level of Inmate Needs is Social Needs, or the desire to be loved or to be in some form of an emotionally-based relationship.

In short, we all want to be loved.

As the theory of needs suggests, we all want some sense of belonging, no different for inmates or ex felons. In a strange way, it is also the same reason that gangs exist, to have some level of belonging. Even if you are not in a gang, many times you live in a dorm, and you get to know the guys in there almost like a family. But you will notice that is MY interpretation, so it is based on what I may have wanted to see, meaning a deeper idea of wanting to be accepted by other inmates.

The fact of the matter is that even inside prison, inmates want to be part of some group. Nobody wants to do time completely alone. Maybe it’s why guys always ask where you come from, trying to find some common bond for friendship in prison. My first cellmate found out I was from the same town and wanted to trade cellmates to become mine. He is mentioned in my first book, and although he wasn’t perfect (and who is) he was a pretty cool guy to have as a cellie. He really helped me understand prison much better.

Outside of prison, this need still applies. You still want to be loved or appreciated or belonged to some group. It seems to be part of human nature that we cannot completely ignore. In relationship to Maslow’s Needs, those same characteristics apply here:



Having a supportive and communicating family.

Again, we know these things can apply to any human being, but I want to focus just on inmates, and how these needs can determine how an ex felon can get his life back together. The great irony here is that society expects ex felons to “stay on their side of the street” as if they lost the right to be loved, or TO love. This is foolish thinking and very unfair to place on any human, let alone one who is trying to get their life back.

Let’s start with friendship. Sounds real simple. Ex felons want friends, so they go get friends and everything is cool. No, it goes much deeper than that. Remember that many of these guys have been “branded” and on their release it makes it very hard for them to be free when they have their charges over their heads like some eternal sin. The easiest ones to identify with this are those with sex charges on them.

It really is a terrible shame how we treat people who have served their debt to society, and yet after they serve that debt, they want to create new levels of damnation for those people just so they can seem righteous to the rest of society. I don’t suppose it is too much of a surprise, men and women fight to defend our country, some giving their lives, but when they come home…so what?

And to note on that subject, I have never been in the military, but my dad served in a war, and my two brothers both served in the military. So I understand the sacrifice those people give, only to be treated less than honorable when they come home. It’s bad enough that people who served their time in prison get neglected, but it is a sure embarrassment to our country when soldiers get neglected….

But I digress…

When an inmate is released, one of the things he will want to find is a friend. In fact, and in a perverted way, it is why many guys end up going BACK to prison. They get around the same guys that got him in trouble, and history repeats itself. But was that person looking for trouble, or looking for a sense of belonging?

Think about that.

When I look back on my life, I never had a ton of friends. Not that I was a jerk, I was kinda quiet and kept to myself. In high school I knew a lot of guys, but could probably count my friends on one hand. In college though, things changed. I knew some of everybody because I was outgoing. I worked in the student radio station and had the Friday night and Saturday night party show. I worked at the campus newspaper and became the editor of sports. I was involved in the student entertainment organization and involved in drama.

By my senior year I was pretty popular, and I think I had a LOT of good friends… many I miss now…

In prison, I did have a few friends, not many but a few.

But when I got out of prison, I had none. Time had passed and people’s lives move on. And I was so stressed about being an ex con that I was just too embarrassed about looking up any of my friends. So I spent a lot of time at home, amusing myself with video games and of course writing.

Sure we have people come to the house, but they are friends of my brothers, not originally my friends. That’s not a knock on them, they are pretty cool, but I miss MY friends. It’s really a soul-searching thought to think if an inmate has friends. And understand that I don’t mean “dudes you know”. I mean FRIENDS. I think the sad thing about me is right now, I don’t have any, and maybe it has forced me to blog and write more, in some attempt to be accepted. Ironically, it has also gotten me banned and kicked out of numerous prison support sites.

Inmates who come out of prison need friends, GOOD friends. Don’t confuse that with perfect people, because there ain’t none around. But a good friend allows that inmate to have someone to talk to, whether about life or just about the big game. But often times, what this also means to ex cons is a similarity. In my case, I don’t have any good friends that were also incarcerated, so I don’t have anyone to open my heart to about how hard it is to make a living selling my books, and how easy it would be to just get a low wage job and quit all this….

And why I keep coming back to write even after I feel that way.

I don’t have a friend to talk to about that…so maybe in a deep sense this is why I blog, to kinda talk to myself…corny maybe, but there could be some truth in it. Yet let me slip this in here too…those of you who have emailed me, or took the time to comment or support my works…that is a form of friendship. It shows that someone accepts me for who I am, and gives me a sense of belonging. So in an odd way, you guys are my friends.

But remember that the term “friend” can be negative too. A bunch of guys who does nothing but stay in trouble can be “friends” to an ex con, and surely lead him back to prison if he is not careful. But to him, that friendship is important to him.

The second part of this level is intimacy. Simply put, having a boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s funny that by Maslow’s needs, “sex” is considered to be a basic human need, yet the intimacy is here on the third. It implies that the need for sex is greater than the need for a girlfriend or boyfriend….


So I won’t touch that.

But what we can agree that an intimate relationship is the step forward from a friendship. It is more valuable because a guy can spend a few hours watching the football game with the “boys” but he’s likely going to spend much more time with his girlfriend.

“He better!”

Uh… you know what I mean.

And if you think about it, this makes sense to an ex felon. A man spending years in prison, with no contact with a female, and the longing desire to be loved by someone of the opposite sex. This could be a piece of the puzzle to a lot of prison relationships, and why he acts the way he does…but again that is another discussion. An ex felon coming out of prison needs that intimacy with someone he can truly love. More than just hanging out with the boys, something with more meaning, more purpose. An ex felon seeks this just as much as anyone else, but remember that this is the third stage, and if he has not satisfied the first two, he is not going to be focused on an intimate relationship…

Which implies that sex is more important to an ex felon than a relationship, since Maslow does in fact describe sex as a basic human need. As we all know, you can have sex with someone you don’t truly love…

The third part of this level is having a supportive and communicating family. You notice that these words are joined, not optional. It has to be supporting AND communicating. Lots of guys spend time in prison away from their mom, dad, siblings and children. It is a real pain to see your family come visit you while you are in prison because often times it is a reminder of your failure. I know it felt that way to me.

But after the person is released from prison, he has a great need to want to build that family, or be around a loving family. This brings in the desire of acceptance into the “fold”, even if the “family” isn’t blood related. There are some people that can go to someone’s house and feel like family, because they believe they are loved and accepted.

It’s weird that sometimes the last people an ex felon wants to be around is his own family. Why? Because lots of times he feels that they are looking down on him because of his sentence. It just isn’t comfortable being around your family when they all know that you are an ex con. The belief of acceptance is no longer there, so he feels unwanted.

Now get this… he can feel that way even if nobody in the family is looking down on him. It can be a false belief deep inside of him, based on shame, that would suggest to him that his family might not care about him as much as they used to. These can cause an ex felon to back away from his own family for fear of being rejected.

But to be sure, he WANTS to be accepted, we all do. It is important that he is given a chance to become a part of the family that he is already a part of. It was told to me while I was in prison that when you get out of prison, you have to do twice as much to prove yourself to your family. There is a lot of truth in that. But if that family is willing to bring him in the fold, and embrace him and help him, then he can accomplish his goal of being accepted once again in his family.

Remember folks these are not perfect solutions, just ideas. Even though I am using Maslow’s Needs, it is still a theory. Few things apply to every human being that has gone to prison.. But as we are seeing, an ex felon who is finding levels of achievement on these needs is actually bettering himself by finding the right path to a better life.

Now understand this too, the need to be accepted is not always beneficial. Sometimes it can be misguided. A person might do silly stuff to be part of a “gang” or in college, many fraternities and sororities “pledge” their candidates by doing a number of very silly (and sometimes dangerous) things to them. Some young girls will starve themselves to death (literally) so that they might be accepted by others. Peer pressure is a very dangerous relationship but unfortunately it seems to fall in the level of acceptance and social groups.

Ok, we touched on that for a bit, and we see that once an ex felon has met his basic needs of life, and has security for them in case something goes wrong, he then can focus on being loved and accepted. If these things are accomplished, then he can move on to the next step:

Esteem needs: The need or desire to be respected and confidence in one’s self.

We’ll chat about that next time.


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.

#159 How can you keep him positive (retro) #163 Thanks but no thanks

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