savvy inmates

Inmate Gamesmanship – Part 2: Savvy Inmates Are Keen Observers, Especially of New Staff

This article is Part 2 in our series on inmate gamesmanship; it explains how savvy inmates use chatter between staff, as well as physical cues, to learn details about new staff members which they can later use to their own advantage.

Passing conversation between coworkers is a commonplace activity in any workplace, and jails and prisons are no exception. Like every other workplace, a secured institution can and does become mundane to the day-in, day-out work of the officers employed there. Unfortunately, certain staff members and other individuals with access to the facility who exhibit compassion and kindness are all too often seen as weak and capable of being manipulated. This is the beginning of a dangerous interaction.

The rules, policies, and procedures in place at a secure institution were written for a purpose: to protect and enhance facility safety and security. Even a momentary lapse in vigilance can allow an alert inmate the opportunity of a lifetime. The game begins the moment a new employee enters the facility.

Savvy Inmates Pay Special Attention to New Staff

Inmates take a good deal of time in evaluating each new staff member. The staff member’s age, size, ethnicity, gender, presentation, speech, appearance, mannerisms, and overall demeanor all are weighed and measured by the inmates in custody. This is a very precise and calculated assessment performed by the inmate observer, who carefully watches the telltale signs that will signal the employee’s background information.

Everything from the way an officer carries themselves to the condition of their uniform is telling.  If the uniform is disheveled, wrinkled, and unkempt, inmates make judgements that the officer lacks self-esteem, is not motivated enough to promote, and generally lacks professionalism.

The same is true in the inmate population: even though they are in custody, there are some inmates who always endeavor to have a clean, pressed jumpsuit which they acquire either through paying commissary funds to the laundry inmates or by keeping a spare jumpsuit smoothly placed under their mattress so that the weight of their mattress irons out the wrinkles. An inmate who takes at least some pride in wearing a clean, pressed inmate jumpsuit relays his own personal message to others in the institution: even though they are incarcerated, they still take pride in their personal appearance. 

Savvy Inmates Are Keen Observers

Verbal and active observation of staff by savvy inmates yields dividends. Most people are aware that “mirroring” – making the same types of movements and gestures as the person being spoken to – produces positive feedback. Once the inmate discovers the staff member’s likes and dislikes, he then can posture that he agrees with the employee’s attitudes, even if this means researching or studying up on certain topics within the employee’s area of interest.

When the next employee/inmate contact occurs, the conversation will begin where it left off, with the inmate attempting to form a relationship with the staff member based on the employee’s stated preferences. The observation may have been assisted by numerous inmates, each one of them garnering their own bits and pieces of information from overheard conversations and idle chatter. The cat and mouse game is now in play. From these games, inmates begin to relax the staff member’s awareness to potential security lapses.

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