Cesspit of deviance

Wilson, Victor K.



Victor Keith Wilson 3201 FM 929 Gatesville, Texas 76597 First North American Serial Rights 2128 Words Cesspit of Deviance by Victor Keith Wilson "Say Dawg, I need you to go down to I-pod and pick something up for me," comes the urgent plea from within the darkened cell. "Ah, sorry! Can't do it. I ain't tryin' to catch no case," mutters the inmate orderly. "What?" jibes the voice, only to sputter on, "don't tell me you're sweatin' some bitch-ass case. Besides, you weren't worried about catchin' no case when you was in the world." "Yeah! Just cause I didn't worry about it then don't mean I wanna catch one now," comes the guarded reply. Squinching his eyebrows against the grate, the desperate "con"-vict chunks one last reproof: "Say, look here, this ain't the place to go gettin' all moral. You gotta remember where you're at homie...This is prison!" Wilson/Cesspit of Deviance 2 Had sociologist Edwin Sutherland been privy to the above late-night exchange, he undoubtedly would have classified it as representative of his Differential Association Theory – when one member of a group encourages another to conform to conventional behavior (Marcionis, 199). Though the episode aligns with theory technically, Mr. Sutherland would have also found this particular "conventional" behavior as rather, well, unconventional. In relation to the prison environment, established convention screams out as oxymoronic. What usually holds as acceptable behavior within American society becomes unusual; and, what customarily seems aberrant becomes standard. Prison can be a real trip! Nevertheless, as a microcosm, though it embodies all the social characteristics of its larger parent, the prison culture possesses one stark distinction: a seething concentration of deviance. All deplorable behaviors sprinkled throughout the greater society coalesce and funnel down into a festering cesspit called prison. No other subculture exudes as much conscious conduct as the "Department of Corrections." Perhaps the mafia comes close, but even they sanctify the institution of marriage. Every imaginable deviant behavior pops up in prison. From lying to stealing. From prostitution to alternate lifestyles. From physical violence to drug abuse. From organized crime to underground economies. Prison houses just about whatever errant behavior society can spawn. And taking an accurate picture of this penitentiary subculture might prove to be a sociologist's worst nightmare. Much of the Wilson/Cesspit of Deviance 3 rampant deviance is obscured from outsiders. What would be more revealing, however, is an inside perspective – getting under the mask, so to speak. This enlightening view would still, of course, have to be filtered through the normal sociological paradigms: the structural-functional, the symbolic-interaction, and the social-conflict. All three of these theoretical models, taken in turn, are needed to adequately illuminate the various facets of such a complex culture. If Emile Durkenheim considered "society as a moral enterprise," how might he view prison life? (Marcionis, 193). As an "amoral" enterprise perhaps? With that in mind, what possible light could structural-functional analysis shine on the cultural organization and operations of conville? On what moral ground do offenders stand? As the dialogue in the opening paragraph implies, in prison, deviant behavior serves as the norm and most of the time gets presupposed. And so, within this context, how does a resident of the prison community go about deviating from the deviant pattern? For the most part, it involves gravitating towards those wholesome values that are favored by the principal society. Mature convict grow increasingly tired of the nonsense and begin to buck the "dark" forces of corruptive customs. Positive movement like this consists of learning to become less violent, less selfish, less infantile, and less mischievous. Sometimes the right sort of deviance can be a good thing. In fact, structural-functional analysis stipulates key benefits of deviance to a society. "Some deviance may be necessary for society to function," quotes the sociology text (Marcionis, 193). Wilson/Cesspit of Deviance 4 In some cases, deviant behavior works as a mechanism for maintaining the status quo. For example, even though prisoners feel that informing on illicit activity is strictly taboo, from a practical standpoint, a little "snitching" also provides an opportunity to clarify inmate policy. Clarification can be quite harsh though; usually coming in the form of ostracism, battery, or both. Furthermore, such tactics tend to assure conformity and build social unity. Deviant behavior fosters social transformation as well – sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better. One instance of positive change within the Texas prison system happened when a federal law suit (Ruiz v. Estelle) abolished the institution-wide practice of "Building Tenders." Never since that historical court ruling have select inmates been allowed to wield control over their fellow inmates. Another important tool in explaining the functions of deviance within a culture comes from Merton's Strain Theory. This theory shows how social tension stirs change. Merton understood how different personality types effect cultural development. Each one of the personality "types" finds various expressions in society – even in a subsociety like prison. To exemplify, a "conformist" in prison may pursue the conventional goals of acquiring extra commissary (wealth) through the condoned means of utilizing the underground prison economy. An "innovationist" may use resourceful means to procure sellable prison supplies, e.g., pressed clothes, clear tape, bleach, carbon paper, specially prepared food from the kitchen, and so on. "Ritualists" are those individuals who stay within the confines of the inmate "code" in order to earn Wilson/Cesspit of Deviance 5 some measure of respect. Opposite to the conformist is the "retreatist." He rejects both the prison culture's goals and means. An example of this personality may be what is known as a "Bible Thumper" or, really, it can be any prisoner who devotes himself to a religious lifestyle. Lastly, separate from the rest, is the rebel – a trend setter who works for, or who leads, cultural change. Peer educators from the "Wall Talk" program and inmate facilitators from the Ethics class at the chapel fall into this category (Marcionis, 193). Thank goodness not every offender embraces the normal prison ideal of success. Sadly enough, though, quite a few do. If sociologist Walter Miller had to point his finger at delinquent subcultures inside prison, he surely would identify gangs first and foremost. Most delinquent subcultures, Miller said, are characterized by: 1) trouble, 2) toughness, 3) smartness, 4) a need for excitement, 5) a belief in fate, and 6) a desire for freedom (Marcionis, 195). Gangs definitely capitalize on the opportunity structures within the prison arena. Such activity predominately revolves around control: controlling importation of contraband, i.e., tobacco, drugs, cell phones, pornography, and various other forbidden luxuries. Smuggling has its elements of danger which affords a thrill and requires a certain degree of brains and brawn. For disenfranchised people, especially offenders, the slightest modicum of control can seem liberating. Differing from how structural-functional analysis tries to examine the sociological structure of a society and their functions, symbolic-interaction analysis recognizes how personal Wilson/Cesspit of Deviance 6 behaviors construct social realities. In regards to deviance, this paradigm focuses on the subjectivity of social interaction – not only as to why people do what they do, but also as to why they respond as they do. "The social construction of reality is a highly variable process of detection, definition, and response" (Marcionis, 196). For instance, conformity promulgates how people in a culture respond to others' actions, i.e., praise, revolt, or ridicule. A good percentage of the prison population, interestingly, tolerates several obnoxious behaviors like someone yelling up at a homeboy on 3-row, slamming dominoes, and submitting someone else to second-hand smoke. For prisoners, social reality dictates that no one should interfere in another's "business." One chief investigation undertaken by symbolic-interaction theory is how labels develop and get applied throughout a community. Labels people create play a crucial role in the formation of cognitive realities. Social "realities" define a person's surroundings, set obligations towards others, and construct identities (Marcionis, 196). And prison possesses its fair share of labels – from pimps to punks, from thugs to skinheads, from chinos to eses, from players to pushovers, and on and on. Prison "tags" can be either praiseworthy or derogatory according to the prevailing atmosphere. A "killer' or male inmate who masturbates in plain view of female officers, for example, often receives snickers of encouragement; whereas, a "punk" or flamboyant homosexual receives shouts of derision. To say the least, labels act as powerful influences for sustaining or Wilson/Cesspit of Deviance 7 morphing cultural actuality. Sociological realities are extremely variable and rather abstract. Take, for instance, the foggy line between primary and secondary deviance. When a deviant behavior becomes too shocking, what was once somewhat acceptable (primary deviance) suddenly gets labeled contemptible (secondary deviance). To use the label of killer again, discreet masturbation is approved, but when this private activity splashes out where others can get "burnt," a new label of "Jack Artist" attaches and is then susceptible to scorn. Overdone deviant behavior, as in the prior example, runs the risk of crossing over into what Erving Goffman terms a "deviant career" (Marcionis, 197). If there was one constant truth, however, it would be that social realities vacillate over time and differ between cultures. In terms of perpetuating social realities, one could argue that labels fulfill a very necessary sociological purpose. But, when labels fester into stigmas, social convention becomes counterproductive. Stigmas are powerful negative labels that damage a person's self-concept and social identity (Marcionis, 197). Some old stigmas of prison have been gradually disappearing, while others have unfortunately remained pervasive. It is still permissively justifiable to stigmatize those inmates who exhibit signs of mental illness. Such individuals usually become outcasts and get shunned by the so-called "normal" offenders. Every now and then, what Harold Garfinkel calls a "degradation ceremony" takes place, which, may send the person over the edge and thereby shift his or her self-concept Wilson/Cesspit of Deviance 8 (Marcionis, 197). Many times, this identity modification is not a pretty sight. Where symbolic-interaction analysis attempts to understand how social realities are experienced, social-conflict analysis delineates how hierarchical divisions exist within a society and explores their inequalities. As the theory states: most mores and folkways manifest to protect the self-interests of powerful members in a society. Therefore, who or what gets labeled as "deviant" depends on which categories of people dominate (Marcionis, 199). Nowhere is this more evident than in the subculture of prison. Quite often, the security staff breaks its own institutional policies and procedures with impunity. Guards lapse for several hours without performing required "in-and-outs" which give inmates access to their cells. On the other hand, if an offender talks on the walkway (especially around ranking officers), he is subject to receiving a disciplinary case. Unequal standards are simply a fact of life between administration and inmate violations. Those in power enjoy its privileges; and, most of the time skirt being labeled a deviant. As it pertains to inmates specifically, influence typically falls on certain majorities. As Alexander Liazos points out, "Those [who are] defined as deviants are normally those who share a trait of powerlessness" (Marcionis, 199). When the guards are not looking (and sometimes when they are), power struggles can operate through age, race, physical stature, or intellect. Younger offenders tend to be more rambunctious and noisy which, in turn, causes "old schools" to act more reserved and reticent. Wilson/Cesspit of Deviance 9 As for the power of persuasion, insidious inmates may fraternize with gullible guards in order to exploit the relationship. In prison, youth and social acuity can be advantageous. How strange it is that maturity and civility can arise as deviant behavior. Ah, detrimental deviance as normalcy – what a sad state of affairs. As bleak as the "Big House" may seem, all hope is not completely lost. Countervailing forces of decency do prevent total digression into Pandemonium. Balancing numbers of inmates do strive for genuine rehabilitation and personal betterment by thrusting themselves into constructive endeavors like work, school, law studies, religious studies, reading, and recreation. Worth mentioning, in all fairness, are the positive contributions that the systemic improvements of prison conditions and policies, which, have been of great benefit. Credit shall be given where credit is due. Any sociological inquiry that seeks to find familiar patterns of social life, identify cultural forces, and access their consequences is no simple task. Taking into account all its shadowy examples of deviant behavior, the prison landscape makes for a perplexing, yet interesting, analysis. And, for those social beings who are immured within those prison facilities, perhaps a counter-revolution is called for. It is not imperative for the incarcerated microcosm to wallow in a quagmire of destitution. Circumstances can improve; the opportunity is there! The penitentiary residents are, collectively and realistically, the true power elite of their environment and bear the burden of cultivating their own social reality for the better. Until Wilson/Cesspit of Deviance 10 healthy progress is made, though, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to seek out the label of "social reject" or one who has turned his back on the prevailing culture of deviance. End

Author: Wilson, Victor K.

Author Location: Texas

Date: May 15, 2020

Genre: Essay

Extent: 10 pages

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