“The Unwritten Rules of Prison–Part 2”, by Michael Arce, Jr.

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In society, we all learn to avoid the situations which usually bring us harm.  Inmate “society” has its own version of this set that we call the “5 G’s.”  These are people and actions that you need to avoid.  Doing so will most likely make your time much smoother and endurable.  You will avoid many problems and discomforts.  They are pretty much universal as far as unwritten prison rules go.  Stay away from ALL OF THEM and you should be OK.

  • GAYS:  You don’t want to be disrespectful or demeaning towards individuals who choose to live that lifestyle, not to mention that gays often are violent and will use violence to defend and protect themselves.   They are men at the end of the day.  You really want to stay away from them…especially if you don’t want it to be implied that you are gay when you are not.  The simple implication can bring dire consequences to the individual; both referring to someone as gay and/or the individual being referred to as gay.  Not only is it prudent to stay away from gays, but also to stay away from implying someone else is gay unless there is proof beyond reasonable doubt.  And even then, know that you might have to be ready to throw down (fight).  Once that label has been placed on you or someone else, true or not, it’s something that sticks, and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.  No pun intended.
  • GUARDS:  You want to and should stay away from guards.  When we say guards, that includes anyone in the administration of the institution.  Whether it be guards, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, majors, superintendents, deputies, unit managers, counselors, nurses, teachers, etc.  Anyone that is not a prisoner is not someone you should be interacting with unless it has something to do with you legitimately needing something from them.  You do not EVER want to be seen giving up information that can jeopardize another prisoner’s freedom within the jail.  They call it cooperating, we call it snitching.  There’s an unspoken mutual mindset from both parties; us (prisoners) versus them (the administration), and vice-versa.  As a prisoner, you want to avoid being labeled as one of them (the administration).  You will be out-casted and the penalty is severe violence.  To avoid these problems, stay away from guards.  If the need arises where you may need something from them, and you need to approach and interact with one of them, it’s best to have another prisoner there with you who can vouch for you that you weren’t cooperating with them.
  • GAMBLING:  It is something that can and will bring many unnecessary problems.  Whether it be you owing someone, or someone owing you, not being able to pay them can lead to violence.  It can be perceived as disrespect due to you accumulating debt that you weren’t able to pay.  It is the same if the shoe was on the other foot, and you are the one owed.  Gambling is therefore discouraged to avoid issues.
  • GOSSIP:  Although it is pretty much inevitable due to people just wanting to be part of a conversation, gossip is also something you want to refrain from.  Getting caught up in gossip, especially if it has to do with someone’s name and character being slandered, regardless if true or false, can lead to big trouble.  In other words, you or someone else, can be severely hurt physically.  Therefore, you want to avoid initiating gossip or getting involved someone else’s gossip.  Understand that, even if you didn’t initiate the gossip, the person or people being gossiped about will assume that you are a part of it.  It’s called guilt by association.  You may as well have started the gossip yourself, because you will get the same treatment.  To avoid a scenario like that, it is best to stay away from any and all gossip.
  • GANGS:  If possible, it is best if you do not get involved in gangs or gang activity.  Once you join a gang, it is a life-long commitment to whatever organization you join, and it is a life of crime.  There is a hierarchy and chain of command that must be strictly followed and obeyed.  If an order comes through for you to do something, you must do it.  Failure to do so brings forth disciplinary actions towards you.  Either way, whether it’s you that is ordered to commit crimes or acts of violence, or the crimes and acts of violence occur against you, it’s a lose-lose situation all around.  It is in your best interest to stay away from gangs and to also mind your own business if and when gang activity is seen.

In conclusion, the 5 G’s are just some examples of unwritten rules that we should follow while incarcerated.  Doing so will help alleviate and avoid major problems.  I’m certain there are many more that aren’t written – hence the name “unwritten rules.”  But, unlike the outside world, the penalties involved in prison “society” for infractions of these standards of conduct are usually severe.  You must understand our situation and circumstances.  You have hundreds (if not thousands) of men full of anger, rage, resentment, stress, depression, and testosterone, all thinking that they are or want to be the alpha male.  It’s a recipe for disaster.  Being able to follow these unwritten rules saves us from adding more problems and negative feelings to those that we already have and feel in our daily lives.  Not doing so means we cross the very fragile line of disrespect.  Once that line is crossed, it is the point of no return.  Something must and will be done.  There will be bloodshed.


By Michael Arce, Jr.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  My wife and I, and ministry partner, Dave Godshall, visit with Mike and write letters back and forth.  He is an intelligent and articulate young man, on a journey of growth and discovering his positive side.  He likes to write and would greatly welcome your letter or card.  You can write him by addressing a plain white envelope with the following:  Michael Arce Jr. KR 9642, State Correctional Institute Coal Twp., 1 Kelly Drive, Coal Township, PA 17866.



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