Being Sociable

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  1. #1

    Being Sociable

    I don’t tell too many stories about my time working in the jail. Jail is not the kind of setting where a writer can develop fun, relateable characters and happy stories. Christ, most of the tales wouldn’t even been interesting. Folks in custody just spend each day trying to get by. They run scams, trying to get over on the staff and each other.

    But you do learn about people when you’re locked-up together (we jail staff joked we do our time on the installment plan, 8 hour shifts). All the ills of society are in the jail. The setting is different, but the games are the same. Corrections can be a social scientist’s microcosm of overall behavior and tendencies. It’s a giant masonry petri dish, with large, hairy, stinky organisms. Boy, I was lucky enough to be part of that.

    Everybody’s experience is different, but common themes repeat themselves. Some inmates mainly keep to themselves, but people are mostly social creatures. The dynamic in custody is the basic Us vs Them, where the inmates generally help each other, while trying to make the jail staff’s job a living hell. It’s just a game, and keeps everyone busy.

    I say inmates “generally” help each other, but doing time is Darwinism in action. If an inmate can profit by exploiting his fellow inmate, well, sucks to be the new guy.

    A common scam to fleece new inmates was known as “The Spread”. The new guys were told that on Sunday mornings, everyone in the unit contributes to a community feast. A clean plastic trashbag is placed on the stainless steel table, and everyone dumps food on it. It’s mixed up, and everyone digs in. It’s a bonding thing. The new guy wants to feel like part of the community.

    The Spread consisted mainly of ramen, cheese and beef stick. The items were bought from the jail commissary earlier in the week, and held until Spread Day.

    (Where do they get their commissary money? Their “Old Ladies” that they cheated on and abused On The Outside cheerfully part with their hard earned money for their men. Their kids’ shoes can wait. Dysfunction Junction.)

    The new guys are told to buy the sausage and cheese, the pricier stuff. But remember, they’ll all be sharing, so it’s okay. The jail veterans just buy the ramen.

    On Spread Day, the noodles are cooked, and the cheese and meat mixed in. Everyone gathers around.
    Here’s where it gets interesting.
    The senior inmates form a tight circle around the food. Some yells “Chow time!”.
    In seconds, the meat and most of the cheese is gone. About thirty seconds later, the new guy gets access to the table. The only thing left if 2 to 3 forkfuls of lightly cheesed noodles.

    Welcome to Socialism.

    The youngest and most gullible in our society keep falling for this. They think that the folks that have been around longer, and are more knowledgeable, are leaders. They are not. The real leaders see this ahead of time and refuse to participate. From one Ponzi scheme to the next, people think that if they wait long enough, they can be the guy to get the beef stick. Screw the new, young guy. Or, find a way to “stick it to the man”.

    I hate to be the spoiler, but the “stick it to the man” never, ever worked. That leaves the sticking it to your fellow inmate. There will always be the young kid in the unit, who looks well spoken and quiet. One or two inmates will comment that the new guy is a “little rich boy” who can afford some extra for The Spread. No, it’s not fair.
    Life isn’t fair. Bullies are everywhere. From Correctional Unit B to Washington DC.

    Today, we have a chorus of wannabe Tank Bosses, telling everyone that we’re gonna have a big spread on Sunday. Just chip in your share, and we’ll get the rich kid to pony-up. It’ll be different this time, they promise.

    In your heart, you know how this ends. It’s all elbows and gulping. And just be happy you’re getting your couple of forkfuls of soggy noodles.

    But next week, your Old Lady will put money on your books again. You’ll chip in.
    You wanna be sociable. Because putting your foot down and calling bullshit takes courage.

    See you next Sunday.

    "Now let's all agree, never to be creative again."




  2. #2
    This is a good analogy for the brutal rat race that life is. I also like the part where you point out that life in jail is like Darwinism in practice. I don't get the correlation with socialism though. Socialism in things like medical care, social security works, I know this because I have experienced in Canada, and while it does have its problems, you are never going to go bankrupt if your family member gets cancer etc. I think neither capitalism nor socialism are effective as standalone tenets of governance, but a healthy mix of both tips the scale towards a better livelihood for citizens. Just my two cents.

  3. #3
    Venezuela



    And just to be fair, Freidrich Engles gets The Oscar for Best Supporting Mass Murder.

    "Now let's all agree, never to be creative again."




  4. #4
    Global Moderator velo's Avatar
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    response [profanity warning]

    I really don't see that the comparisons between a small group of people living in very restricted circumstances and a socio-economic system are anything but red herrings. This is truly a case of apples vs oranges. As a former NYS Corrections Officer, I've seen the inside of some of the country's oldest and roughest prisons and I understand that environment all too well. If anything the 'inmate economy' is more akin to unregulated capitalism; caveat emptor and watch your back motherfucker! Even that is a spurious comparison because all of the necessary market forces do not exist in the inmate economy. It's a microcosm of human behaviour, to be sure, but it is far from a complete data set.

    I have to say that as an essay intended to convince, this piece does not do it for me. The logic doesn't stand up the tiniest bit of scrutiny or analytical rigour.

    Also, the video posted falls into the same category. Jamestown was quasi-socialist but abandoned the system 2 years prior to the famine that killed most of the inhabitants; equating the loss of life to socialism is another red herring. China and the USSR were communist, not socialist. Those two systems are not the same in any regard. Venezuela under Chavez attempted some socialist-like reforms (an inadequate and poorly-fitting description) but in the larger context of political corruption and eventual decay of democracy as a whole no system would have prevented the current socio-political crisis there.

    It's very very easy to point a finger and say something is this way or that way but the reality is that every political and economic system is an incredibly complex machine with uncountable variables. I can assure you that socialism works in some circumstances and times just as regulated capitalism does. That's not a statement about those systems, it's just mathematical probability.

    Arguing for/against a political system is fine if you have the basic underpinnings of your stance on firm logical and factual grounding. Unfortunately this piece does not and falls victim to what reads like a fair bit of bias and unrelated examples.

    note- I am arguing neither for or against any system but am merely calling out what I perceive as logical issues with the argument as presented.
    My blog- Hidden Content thoughts on trauma and healing through psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy

    "When a child is abused, he or she will often internalise that abuse as deserved. It is a cruel reality that a child needs the parent so much, is evolutionarily programmed to trust them so implicitly, that when a parent is abusive the child will take the blame rather than completely upend their world and blame the person they depend on for survival." -velo

  5. #5
    I found the talk of jail life interesting and well written but I don't understand how it gets bundled up and called socialism. Bullyism or Darwinism, yes, I can see that.

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