Caged Human Equals Caged Animal
ATH-1110x6216 Intro to Cultural Anthropology 15EW6
Prison and jail life creates psychological strain that brings out primal animalistic behaviors that are meant to be survival instincts. In this paper I will be evaluating the film Gangs in Prison National Geographic Documentary. I hope to convey the internal infrastructure and subculture that exists within our own society and show what we allow to transpire within the walls of a jail or prison. This study will show the behaviors of inmates versus the guards as well as the practices of everyday life inside the walls of the Santa Rita Jail. This documentary covers the daily activities of the guards and inmates at Santa Rita Jail in California. It shows how the guards have to study the inmates constantly in order to figure out who is in what gang, and what gang is more likely to be problematic. Cameras take us through the facility and show us guard posts, cells, daily lives and activities, as well as the illegal activities of the prisoners and the retaliation of the guards. Within the walls of a jail we see behaviors and practices that bring up questions like:
1) What type of hierarchy exists within a jail/prison?
2) What is artwork or other fabrications have been developed in the prison the culture like behind the walls of a jail?
3) What kinds of religious practices are embraced within the walls of a jail?
Santa Rita Jail near Oakland, California is the fifth largest jail in America. Inside the walls of a jail or prison there is a semi controlled environment. The difference between the county jail and actual prison in brief is the length of the stay. The county jails are primarily for short term incarcerations or for transitions to prison. The transition period is more of a time frame for the prisoner to be evaluated for the best facility to be placed according to his or her background or affiliations. The semi controlled environment is simply a way of stating that the jail has rules; the guards are there to enforce the rules; and it is up to the prisoners to follow them or suffer the consequences This way of managing the prisoners creates less conflict between prisoner and guard, however it does allow for prisoner on prisoner violence more easily which as captured in the video has been able to escalate drastically before the guards even respond.
The hierarchy of the subculture consists of the warden, the guards, and then the inmates who have their own additional hierarchy. This hierarchy would be considered political due to its foundation of law enforcement employees under government policies. The warden is in charge of the facility and how it is run its operations. Daily life needs such as what foods are on the menu as well as recreational activities or transitional tools are made available to the inmates under the authority of the warden. The guards are the strong arm of the warden and monitor the inmates to ensure they follow the rules of the jail or prison. They enforce the authority of the warden, and much like our law enforcement in society, they can detain a prisoner for questioning or punishment for any illegal activities. The inmates have their own hierarchy that resides in the shadows of the prison’s actual authority figures. Prisoners are extensively questioned so that they can be placed in the right cell block based on race and gang affiliation. This is done to limit the violent activities. In those groups they are placed in they develop their own roles from a leader, to someone who watches guards or other inmates, to the enforcer types.
This subculture within the prison or jail is to provide structure for inmates to help rehabilitate them and prepare them to transition back into society. They can also or better aid them during their long term stay in a prison. Within this subculture the very groups created to limit violence in the jails or prisons often entice violence against other groups or individuals. Those who follow the rules do well with the authorities of the prison, but not always so well with the authorities within the prison. Inside a prison, the inmates make their own alcohol called “pruno” as well as their own weapons and they manage to smuggle in drugs. The inmates even have their own linguistics. Inmates use “coded artwork” as a way to tell a story or communicate. The drawings tell of rivalries, affiliations, stories and other information regarding the artist. Some artwork transitions form paper to “prison tattoos,” due to the level or importance or meaning it holds.
As the video points out if you do not “join” a group, then they have what are referred to as “sharks” watching your every move (Gangs in Prison National Geographic Documentary, 2014 Film, year). Having people watch your every move every day of your incarceration can be a form of psychological warfare in the sense that those watching you might become your enemies and try to bring harm to you. The psychological effects of jail and prison can cause a form of PTSD similar to what a war veteran who has seen action in my professional opinion. That in turn can make even the most cooperative prisoner a mental mess and cause reactions that are not normal for that prisoner to transpire.
Guards have to establish control from the moment of intake. The climate effects the attitudes of the inmates and guards as described by two guards, “on a hot day, in the middle of July, you open the door and it’s literally like a sauna hits you in the face.” (Gangs in Prison National Geographic Documentary, 2014 Film, year) The higher the population and the later the hour of the day the more likely it is that an act of violence will occur. As within our own populous we see higher crime rates when the population rises. This is subject to many things such as too many people clustered too close together and causing mental strain; the lack of authority or police in the neighborhoods; the neighborhood culture or wealth also effects this negative behavior. Within prison walls the confines of being locked up is a foundation of mental strain. You have nowhere to run or hide. You know that you are not actually safe even with prison guards watching you on camera monitors. It is much closer to a wild animal setting than the general public, though the mental strain is what seems to cause this as well as the backgrounds of the convicts in question.
Precautions are taken to help prevent this violence. Low threat inmates are given blue suits; yellow suits are given to the inmates with heavy charges; red suits are given to those inmates in protective custody or administered segregation. This practiced discrimination inspires racism and segregation within the walls and can create a zoo-like environment. An example of this zoo-like behavior would be in the video there was a reference right away about a guard having been hurt in during a fight earlier in the day. The guards planned what they call a “shake down” in retaliation to the inmates acts. “Shake Downs” are scheduled regularly to help ensure contraband such as weapons, drugs, or alcohol are removed from the hands of the inmates.
The Santa Rita County Jail utilizes a Gang Classification Unit to help identify threats and learn more about the inmates, gangs, and other important facts that aid them is preventing more violence. The Gang Classification Unit evaluates all prisoners upon intake and makes sure they are placed with fellow gang members to prevent any confrontations with opposing gangs. They also study the gang art of all the gangs they come across to find what similarities or hidden messages might be within the art. Messages within the art sometimes aids the guards in predicting a gang attack.
If placed in an environment we are not accustomed to we are mentally stressed just like an animal. Our survival instincts kick in and even if we do not realize it our behaviors change. We adopt aspects and behaviors from our surrounding culture and who we are changes. It is an evolution of a singular life based on climate change, culture change, and the possibility of predators. Much like a soldier who sees violent combat and is forced into activities inspired by his or her own survival instincts mental scars form. PTSD manifests and anxiety embeds itself on the individuals psyche. Prison and jail life creates psychological strain that brings out primal animalistic behaviors that are meant to be survival instincts.
Inside a prison, the inmates make their own alcohol called “pruno” as well as their own weapons and they manage to smuggle in drugs.
The inmates even have their own linguistics. Inmates use “coded artwork” as a way to tell a story or communicate. The drawings tell of rivalries, affiliations, stories and other information regarding the artist. Some artwork transitions form paper to “prison tattoos,” due to the level or importance or meaning it holds.
Gangs in Prison National Geographic Documentary 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved August 4, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm33KFH4m8E