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Prison Experience & Honor…

Rufus was the first to get up and change the TV channel.  “Hey, Ruf!  That’s Tim Allen.  I wanta watch that show,” complained one of the prisoners.    

BOP Prisoner #04276-040

     “Yeah? Well, he’s Dick to me!  I ain’t watchin’ no snitch on TV.  There’s plenty enough of ‘em around here already,” Rufus replied, glaring at the speaker.

     “What’re you talkin’ about, he’s a actor…”    

     “I’m from Detroit.  He’s from Detroit.  Back in ’78 he got caught with a kilo of coke.  He was facing life.  He bragged about how lucky he was…he knew some drug dealers he could turn in to save his own ass.  That’s a snitch.  Period.  End of fucking argument.”  

In an earlier article on this site (PLN, June 26th), the American Tribune addressed the need for the discussion and development of a clear prisoner Code of Honor.  Over the years, a number of prisoner writers have addressed the issue.  Basically, three problems come up.

One, the authorities—law enforcement, investigators, prosecutors, courts, prisons, etc.—have come more and more to rely on informants to do their jobs.  Not a whole lot we can do about that.

Walking a beat, schmoozing the neighbors, human and forensic detection work, charging real crimes, and properly sentencing people with a view toward their eventual wholeness, is a lot tougher than throwing a net over a perceived—even created—problem, and compelling one half to rat out the other half.

Two, we have to recognize and acknowledge the difference between “players” and victims, particularly in institutional settings.  Generally, when one is involved in some enterprise and you snitch out another player (usually because you were the one caught), then you’re a rat.  Rats always look for a payoff.

Jorge Rinaud

If you’re not a player, if you’re a victim or, say, a witness to a predatory crime, then it’s your natural civil and human duty to thwart it or report it.

The third problem is one of predatory criminals themselves.  Social predators are the only ones who benefit from the current unwritten code of silence.

As Jorge Antonio Renaud writes from the Texas prison system, it’s the very “code’s inflexibility that does not account for dishonorable men….on those who abuse the code.”

Clearly, there is a need among prisoners for solidarity in the face of a common enemy…those who humiliate, brutalize, deny justice, and even murder them.  But when the unwritten code of silence is abused by those with no honor—only for their own selfish interests and the predatory lust for personal power and profit—then their use of the code and its tacit recognition by others is an act of cowardice.

Renaud writes, “the code…needs a corollary—ride your own heat.”

Another prison writer, Bo Lozoff, states that the current unwritten code “has become a cowardly rule of silence and violence that hurts decent convicts the most.”  Bo writes, “Wherever we find ourselves, we have to be an honorable human being first, and a convict or soldier or biker or businessman…second.  That’s the basic human code…”

Bo appropriately quotes Edmund Burke (1729-1797): “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

For himself, perhaps Tim has pondered the words of Lois MacMaster Bujold:  “Reputation is what other people know about you.  Honor is what you know about yourself.”

               Dr. Publico

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