|Predator, Chameleon and Model Inmate: The Same?
|By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)
We have all heard of the term “model inmate”. A counselor in the facility may say that a well behaved inmate is a “model inmate”. After nearly three decades having worked inside a jail, I am still looking for the perfect example of a “model inmate”, and so are many correctional officers in the field.
One of the classes that I present is a “Maintaining Boundaries” session, where I put a new spin on the traditional “Con Games Inmates Play” class. Officers who attend the class are veterans and know how cunning inmates are. Much of the material is not surprising to them.
Recently, one of my clients gave me an idea……and I want to share it with you. We were discussing how to more effectively get the attention of the attendees. He asked if I had ever thought how predators are like chameleons-changing their demeanor, mood and behavior to get their prey. In other words inmates change appearances. I answered sure….that is a given subject when discussing inmate manipulation.
He suggested an exercise: ask the class to describe a predator and write the answers on the board. Descriptions include: sly, sneaky, deceitful, cunning, waits for a weakness, etc. Then ask them to discuss chameleons, the lizards that can change their appearances to suit their needs, such as hiding from dangerous animals.
Finally, put this question out: are inmate predators like chameleons? [The answer will be yes]. Then ask why inmate predators are similar to chameleons-and discuss how that behavior can also be found in the proverbial “model inmate”.
One of the best descriptions of the model inmate is from Inside the Criminal Mind, by Stanton E. Samenhow, PhD (Times Books, Alexandria, VA 1984). He wrote:
An inmate may conclude that direct confrontations with staff or fellow prisoners is futile, that there is wisdom in restraint. The model inmate is the consummate actor. Contemptuous of everyone from the warden to the guards, he still plays up to them.
This is a profound statement. In training, this should be posted for the class to see and discuss. The resulting discussion should follow the components of the statement.
Direct confrontation with staff or fellow prisoners is futile: Why? Simply more is accomplished by deception. Confrontation, while resulting in short term bravado and improving one’s reputation among inmates, is a lose–win situation. The inmate loses, the staff wins. Disciplinary segregation or loss of privileges may result.
The model inmate is the consummate actor: The inmate uses manipulative schemes and ploys, using deception-being a “good” inmate, being helpful, obeying the rules, etc. Staff-both sworn and non sworn may start to believe that the inmate “isn’t so bad”.
Contemptuous of everyone from the warden to the guards, he [or she] plays up to them: All staff should keep in mind at all times that the number one priority of the inmate is-the inmate. He or she wants access to the items and comforts from the outside through fooling staff. They want to do time on their terms, not per the rules and regulations of the agency and facility.
When discussing inmate behavior in training, I go around the class asking for “war stories” about manipulative inmates. Even staff members who are new to corrections can relate incidents where they were fooled by inmates. I discuss factual accounts that I have researched about offenders who have faked being intellectually challenged, pretended to be mentally ill, pretended to have cancer, stole identities and professional credentials, and seduced staff of the opposite gender. Discussion point-what is to stop such manipulative behavior on the street from flourishing in the institution resulting in contraband smuggling, sexual misconduct and escape, just to name a few?
There are two aspects of training that must be mentioned. First, as we all know, war stories can make a class interesting. The trainer should be careful and use war stories only to support and illustrate key points and objectives of the class. A class that is in effective is one of “who tells the best war story”. Secondly, in training non sworn staff, war stories can illustrate how inmates operate, and can also give a jolt to some civilians’ naivete. As I told the civilians I train: “Ten inmates that you think are ‘all right’ could be lined up in front of you, and unless you are psychic, you do not know which of them have good intentions and which ones do not. That is the reason for policy, procedures and being careful.”
All staff-sworn and non sworn should be made aware of the facade of the “model inmate”. To be fair, there are inmates who take advantage of every opportunity afforded to them in order to change their lives. Many get off of drugs, many get sober, some get their GEDs, some learn a job skill and some repair strained family relations. And yes-some never come back. There are success stories.
But-for each inmate who does the right thing, there are many who act-the “model inmate”. Just think-should there be an Oscar for inmate acting?
Just some of my thoughts. What are yours?
Reference: Inside the Criminal Mind, by Stanton E. Samenhow, PhD (Times Books, Alexandria, VA 1984), p. 144.
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