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We Are Connected to Our Environments and the Situations that Occur
By Anthony Gangi
Published: 07/27/2015

Prison e Situations are extremely powerful. While some people choose to focus on internal motivations, you must never overlook the power of external constraints, or pressures.

Now, situations can sometimes be invisible. Which means that those from the outside may not understand the true pressures, or constraints that those, on the inside, face?

Let's explore this a little bit, shall we. Frontline employees know their jobs, but, often times, they have to deal with changes that are driven by those who only have an outside perspective. More concern is directed at incentive and/or budget, as opposed to the subtle environmental changes that can drastically affect those who are immediate to that situation of change.

These detrimental changes can only be brought to mind by those who have experience on the front line. There are those who are subordinate to the system and faithfully follow these new policies and procedure that will end up being the scapegoat when it becomes discovered, through error, or misuse, that safety and security was sacrificed.

Recently, news had centered on an area known as the "Honor Block." It is an area within a maximum security prison that allows for certain inmates, in contrary to their status, to live in an environment with minimal restrictions. These inmates have to meet a certain criteria based on good behavior and institutional adjustment.

Just as a reminder, some of the inmates, who were approved for the "Honor Block," still have major sentences to complete.

This "Honor Block" was brought to life in the hope that inmates will see a positive side to good behavior and, therefore, it becomes an incentive. Those that would argue that the "Honor Block" provides incentive should realize that true incentive can only come from within. External motivation should not be the only incentive that we look towards to promote good behavior. We need to encourage change that begins from within.

Now, I want to investigate this a little further. First, let’s define honor. Honor is defined by Merriam Webster as respect that is given to someone who is admired, good reputation, good quality or character as judged by other people. It is within this definition we have a conflict. By choosing the name "Honor Block," are we instilling all the above mentioned qualities and values that define the word honor into the inmates that reside within that block. In essence, by using that term to define that cell block, are we saying, “these inmates can be trusted."

Now, for the most part, inmates that have a lot of time have a different perspective than those who are on their way out. The latter is looking to better themselves and prepare for the outside world, while the former are looking for ways to circumvent the system and maintain their sense of self-control. When we begin to invest in programs that are brought to light from those on the outside, we need to look at the possible consequences, both good and bad.

In this case, the “Honor Block” instills a sense of trust that can easily define the environment and create a situation that can easily lead to undue familiarity. By no way am I excusing the behavior of those who are directly involved in aiding and abetting an escape, but, in order to learn, we must look at all the elements involved. Corrections is a job that is defined by routine. The work is rather monotonous and can easily lead to complacency. As the days progress, complacency can easily become the norm. Inmates that look to control the system, that still have major time to do, will look to exploit this vulnerability. They will do whatever is necessary so they can gain a sense of control. When the environment itself shows a sense of trust, then we have created a monster.

If we want to look at how manipulation can occur, we need to look at the target and the situation that was presented. If the target becomes vulnerable, they may find themselves looking to the environment for help. If the environment is defined by trust then this person is in trouble. I say this because it is human nature to look to the environment to define the situation we are in. When we are filled with ambiguity, we look to others. It is at this point that we are most vulnerable. If the inmates reside within an environment that seems to be built on trust, are we not creating the perfect situation for a manipulative inmate to exploit? This type of environment brings about situations that will lead to inconsistency and unfairness. That is why, when programs are created, we need to look first at security issues. This is when it becomes necessary to talk to the frontline because they know best.

Corrections is an environment that is unique. It centers on a culture that few will ever be able to understand. Working with individuals for years, we have to remember they are felons first. That is the thought that must remain paramount through our career. But, on another note, the manipulative inmate wants to make you forget that they are felons. They try to connect with you on a personal level that will help them to achieve their end game. Remember, if we get emotionally involved, we become compromised. When an inmate begins their game, it is subtle and slow moving. It is not something that is immediately recognized and the changes that occur to the targeted staff member are slow. When the targeted staff member begins to feel that something is not right, they may begin to look to their environment for a sense of confirmation, as to whom they are and the role they must play. If that environment fails to remind them of their prescribed role, the inmate can easily move forward.

Again, ideas that come from the outside need to take into account the human element. This would relate to the automatic processes that can easily be exploited by a manipulative inmate. In this case, we need to look outside of the targeted individuals. We need to ask ourselves about the environment and the situation that was created based on an incentive program. All in all, if certain words are used every day, like “honor and trustee”, what are we telling the staff member? Let’s face it, games will be played and some will fall and others will rise, but the last thing we ever want to do, is create the situation in which a manipulative inmate can thrive. Therefore, go to the frontline and ask them, “what are the pros and cons of implementing such a program.” You figured, if they are going to get blamed, may as well give them a fighting chance.

For over twelve years, Anthony Gangi has worked in the correctional setting dealing with both male and female offenders. He served on the custody level and has moved through the ranks from line officer to supervisor and has also spent time as an instructor. His background in psychology has helped him to become a leading expert in inmate manipulation.

Anthony is also the host of "Tier Talk", a radio program that looks at corrections from an international level. You can catch "Tier Talk" on Saturday nights at 6 pm Eastern Standard Time on Spreaker.com. For more information regarding the show or other publications by Anthony, you can contact him at gangianthony@yahoo.com


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