Inmate Gamesmanship – Part 4: How the Inmate Benefits

In this final article in our series on inmate gamesmanship, we’ll explain the various ways that the inmate benefits from the evolving relationship between themselves and correctional staff.

Unaware of the growing scheme into which an employee is being drawn, the manipulation continues. By no means is this a quick or easy process; however, alert inmates know by reading cues how the relationship is progressing and how they can use it to their advantage. A continual game of cat and mouse is taking place in every secure facility, regardless of location. One-upmanship is the game – and surprisingly, though we know the inmate benefits, both players actually have the potential to benefit.

The Relationship Evolves Over Time

It cannot be over-emphasized that the evolution of the gamesmanship process takes time. Like a seed, it germinates slowly and begins to spread its roots, gradually growing and expanding as opportunity allows.

It would be a mistake to presume that the end game of any staff manipulation would be to secure the ultimate prize: escape from the facility. While that may indeed be the ultimate goal in some instances, more often than not, the goal is simply to milk the relationship for the positive inmate benefits it can provide: Longer visitations, more phone calls, more laundry items, and so on.

Inmate Benefits of “Riding” with the Staff Member

Inmates may refer to this relationship as riding with the staff member. In fact, the inmates have been known to caption this framework by referencing types of cars. Riding with a line officer may be riding in his pickup, or walking beside the officer around the floor or in the hallway. The higher ranking the officer, the more expensive the car. A sergeant could have a Cadillac, a lieutenant a Bentley, a captain a Lamborghini.

This means the inmate has the temerity to approach the staff member face-to-face to speak to them, an interaction which is most assuredly closely observed by all other inmates present. Opportune moments might present themselves during the inmate meal or when other routines are being conducted, such as pulling laundry or during visitation callout.

The interaction may only take a moment or two, but the inmate’s aim is to prolong the conversation so as to encourage familiarity. Just as staff members talk amongst themselves, making remarks about inmates when they walk away from such a conversation, so too do inmates have commentaries with other inmates about daily interactions. Each side of the equation is sizing up the other and this give-and-take continues to build.

Inmate Benefits Can Include a Rise in Status and a Boost to Their Reputation

Even when the staff member does not overtly provide material rewards to the inmate, inmates can still benefit from positive staff interactions. By riding in the pickup, an inmate grows his reputation amongst other inmates.

In the bad old days before the Texas Department of Corrections (TDC) became the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division (TDCJ), there was a Building Tender or BT system in the cell blocks. This eventually became formalized, with the BTs in the cell blocks receiving special identification armband designations, basically granting them a formal in-charge status. They became the permission-granters in their cell blocks. Nothing took place in a cell block without the BT’s knowledge and agreement; to do otherwise was a fool’s game.

Using this status to its fullest advantage cemented the staff-inmate relationship and had the net effect of elevating it to a whole new level. Even though the federal courts eventually forbade the Building Tender system, inmates still manage to carry on an informal system – and a select few will rise to the top of their cell block in personal status to establish their reputation.

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