Being Institutionalized

There are inmates here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp who have been incarcerated or "down" for a long time. They started at a Medium or Low Security Prison and worked their way here either by good behavior or by not getting caught in bad behavior. While the definition is regrettable, almost all these men are institutionalized.

They have developed coping skills that helped them survive violence and a gang related culture that permeate those medium and low security facilities. I learned early on not to stand behind them, as they think I might have a weapon. When I laughed at the possibility, I received a response somewhere between puzzlement and anger.

This will be difficult to explain to someone who hasn't been around people who have been incarcerated for a long time, and I wonder if I fully understand it myself, but when an inmate feels no respect for a long period of time, he often develops an insatiable but twisted need for respect--he overcompensates. For example, he feels disrespected when someone sits in "his" chair in the TV room. So a mistake or an inconvenience can escalate quickly because an inmate's self-respect has somehow affixed itself to a $3 plastic chair. This mistaken respect is sadly inherent in these insecure institutionalized inmates.

Unfortunately, these life skills will not serve them well upon their release, and they will receive no training or educations at this camp to help them become un-institutionalized before they get out.

About a month ago, I got a new bunk mate or "bunkie" who has been down for 8 years for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamines. He "watches my back" now, a position for which I neither posted an application nor even knew I needed. He gave me his seat in the TV room to watch Saturday Night Live last week. How he got a seat in the TV room after being here 3 days, I have no clue. He has in many ways made my life around my bunk much more engaging and fun. I'm very grateful for his friendship and have learned many valuable lessons like, "the game is to be sold, not told." Hopefully I have helped him too, and together we will both leave here un-institutionalized.

Here is a typical conversation.

Him: Hey bunkie, what would you have said a year ago had I knocked on the door to your house?

Me: I would have said, "What are you doing here today? You're not supposed to mow until Friday".

Him: But we're homies now, dog. (Fist bump)