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Insider Prison Handbook

Penn Pete

Here’s ‘The Prisoner’s Handbook,’ written by a group of ‘old-heads’ (longtime prisoners) in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections:

“A prison psychology specialist (whatever that means), suggested that I write a little ‘handbook’ or guide for prisoners who are new to jail. After some thought, I got together with a few other “old-heads.” Between us we’ve got over 100 years in Pennsylvania hell-holes. We know our sh*t! We came up with this little list of suggestions for the tens of thousands of young ment who are being railroaded into prison, Pennsylvania’s fastest growning business. If you have a husband, son or friend who’s been thrown into prison in the past year or so, I suggest that you printo out this handbook and send it to him.


Rule 1: Never double-cell with a friend. If the Man (the guards, the administration) makes you live in a cell with another man, cell with a person with whom you can get along. It should be a man you able to adjust to.

Rule 2: It’s very, very difficult to live in a bathroom with another person. It would be difficult even if the other person was your wife. When you share long hours in the cell with another man, nerves are sure to get frayed. Be tolerant and talk with your cell-partner.

Rule 3: Give your cell-partner at least an hour a day of solitary cell-time. Men need time alone. You need it. Your cell-partner needs it. Each day, make sure that your cell-partner has an hour alone in the cell. Demand the same for yourself. For God’s sake, use some of the time to play with yourself and some to unwind.

Rule 4: Respect your cell-partner’s property. Don’t read his papers or his mail. Don’t eat his food. Don’t disturb the little bit he has. Of course, insist that he give you the same respect.

Rule 5: Don’t talk about your cell-partner to anyone else. You have to live with your cell-partner. You’ve got faults, he’s got faults. Keep your problems in the cell. Work out your problems between yourselves. Don’t bad-mouth your cell-partner to other prisoners.

Rule 6: Don’t comment on your cell-partner’s personal habits. Farts, snoring, toilet practices and so forth are personal traits which you must learn to tolerate, or you must change cell-partners. Criticizing personal habits is, generally speaking, counter productive. Remember that you have personal habits which irritate your cell-partner. Talking about them just adds to the irritation.

Rule 7: The exception to the above is disease and cleanliness. You must insist that your cell-partner keeps his diseases to himself. That’s true whether it’s the flue or the genital herpes (that my one-time Egyptian cell-partner tried to share.)

Rule 8: Don’t play your radio or television loud enough for men in other cells to hear it. Nothing is quite as annoying as having some kid play his “music” so loud that the other guy has to listen to it. You aren’t important enough to decide for your neighbours what they should hear.

Rule 9: Mind your own business. Don’t look into other men’s cells unless you intend to steal something, and then you deserve whatever happens to you. What’s in your neighbour’s cell is none of your business and what he’s doing there is none of your business. Peekers get punched out.

Rule 10: Cell-thieves are universally detested. You don’t steal from other prisoners. Steal from the Man. Steal from the kitchen. Steal from the state. Steal the keyes, the guard’s hat, the counselor’s watch, but you don’t steal from another prisoner.

Rule 11: Don’t talk about other prisoners’ families. Especially, don’t talk about another man’s wife or girlfriend. Never write such a person and never phone her. Families are all that most men have. Don’t invade that security.

Rule 12: Don’t talk about or brag about what you have. Don’t flaunt your property. Don’t tempt other men to covet and so to steal from you. What you have is your business. Keep it to yourself. There are a lot of criminals in prison. You shouldn’t be surprised if they behave badly.

Rule 13: Help those prisoners that you find you are able to help. Share your criminal skins with them. After all, that’s what prison is all about: education in crime. But, where you’re able, go beyond grooming the other guy to be a more skilled crook. If you can help him read or write, or work on the law, try to do those things. Conversely, never belittle or make fun of the thousands of prisoners who can’t read, can’t write and can’t perform simple intellectual chores. In most cases, if the guys could read and write, they wouldn’t be in prison in the first place. Then where would Pennsylvania’s rednecks be?

Rule 14: Avoid the faggots. Don’t rape other prisoners, and don’t expose yourself. Nobody cares about your prick or your butt and there’s always somebody who’s bigger. Faggots aren’t women. They aren’t good as substitutes for women. What they are is dangerous. Of course, they are disease carriers, but worse, otherwise sane men forget that a faggot is just another man. Men get so serious about faggots that “lovers” often kill one another. Dumb! Don’t rape. If you need to feel like a big-ship, fight someone. If you’re horny (and aren’t we all?) beat-off. If you absolutely must have a companion to share your sexual pleasures, find a consenting partner who shares your needs. Keep your sexuality private.

Rule 15: Fight the Man. Don’t fight other prisoners. The guy with the keys is the enemy. He’s the one who takes your freedom and your dignity. The Man stays in control by keeping prisoners divided. As long as prisoners are fighting among themselves, the Man is free to screw us all. If you have a beef, take it to the Man. Of course, physical combat is always foolish. The Man has the National Guard, for God’s sake. Fight him with paper and with words. Don’t cooperate in your own destruction. Nothing about prison is for your good. Conversely, the Man is NOT your friend. Befriend the devil before you befriend the bull. The guard, the prison administrator, the “treatment staff” are leeches who make their living from your suffering. The Man’s not your pal. Screw him before he screws you.

Rule 16: Do your own time. Don’t involve yourself in gangs, cliques, groups, crowds. If the gang goes down you go down. Be your own man, keep your own counsel and limit the numbers of kinds of people you associate with. “Walkies” and “Roadies” and “Homies” must be kept to a minimum.

Rule 17: Don’t snitch. Don’t rat out a fellow prisoner to the Man. But, also, remember that given the chance the other guy will snitch on you. Don’t let anyone know anything you don’t want the Man to know. If you know a snitch, feed him false information. It will confuse the Man and it will discredit the snitch.

Rule 18: Trust in yourself. Take care of yourself. Don’t trust the Man to keep you safe or healthy or clothed. The Man lives off you, not for you. Your well-being means nothing to him. When you get sick, INSIST on treatment. If the prison is unsafe (and if you’re in a Pennsylvania prison, it’s unsafe) don’t trust the good-heart of the Man to improve things. In all ways and at all times the Man must be forced. He’s “guard,” after all and you are less important to him than Rover the police dog.

Rule 19: The important thing in prison is getting out. Never lose sight of that goal. Do everything you can to get out, any program, any behaviour, any reform, whatever. Your objects must be to (1) survive, and to (2) get free. It is your duty to yourself as a living human being.

Rule 20: Do one day at a time. It’s an old cliche, but it’s true. Live for today. Chances are that tomorrow will come.