The convict code

Feeney, Matthew D.



Matthew Feeney [address] 1165 Words The Convict Code by Matthew Feeney Prison is its own unique society with its own set of very distinct rules and values. I am 173012, formerly known as Matthew Feeney. The number one prison value that I struggle the most with is commonly referred to as “The Convict Code.” The Convict Code is a strongly held set of beliefs that usually include some permutation of the following precepts: 1) Don’t Snitch. 2) Don’t talk to the Police (aka DOC Staff/Guards). 3) Stick to your own kind (race). 4) Don’t tolerate or associate with Sex Offenders. There may be additional or regional variations, but the Convict Code is universally known and practiced within our penal systems. The reason “the Convict Code” exists as a cultural value in prison is to help bad guys to further perpetuate their bad actions on others. I’m going to focus on the genesis of the top two Convict Code beliefs. “Don’t Snitch” is pretty clear — because prisoners are (for the most part) people who for various reasons have demonstrated an inability to follow rules, this belief protects them when they continue to break rules. Prisoners live in an artificial society consisting of egoist felons all sharing this singular view point which they violently enforce. Unfortunately, unlike in “outside” society, inmates who don’t share similar beliefs or place value in such philosophies are limited in their options. They cannot simply move on or choose to not associate with people believing those values. We are forced to live with whoever is put in our unit or cell with us and have to sit next to whoever is next in the chow line. Obviously, if the majority of prisoners are doing whatever it takes to improve their own personal situation, it is in their best interests to create and enforce rules like “don’t snitch” and “don’t talk to the Police” which helps keep themselves out of trouble without having to change or alter their behavior. If you never talk to the police about anything, you can’t ever be accused of snitching. The Convict Code was created by convicts to protect themselves and help their continued perpetuation of illegal or rule-breaking behavior. This value of upholding the Convict Code is itself problematic. Inmates are inmates because we got caught (or at least tried and convicted) of breaking one or more of our societal laws. Most every inmate dreams of freedom and transitioning back into mainstream society. We simply call it “gettin’ out.” But because mainstream society doesn’t ascribe to the strict Convict Code, the problem isn’t as much “gettin’ out” (which is fairly automatic) as it is “stayin’ out.” In order to remain a productive member of society, upon release inmates must follow society's rules, including additional strict limitations and restrictions put on parolees. Failure to do so, or even being accused of not following the simplest conditions of release, can result in a return trip to your local Correctional Facility where the Convict Code is once again in force and enforced. There is great irony that the punishment for not following a rule is being placed into a culture (prison) that reinforces not following rules, and then to expect upon release the inmate will magically all of a sudden be able to follow rules. My biggest concern with the Convict Code is it discourages true moral change and in fact reinforces the old criminal adage “just don’t get caught.” That’s why so many inmates come out of prison not as better people but rather as better criminals. This is due to a flawed choice they make in their logical decision making process: 1. I got caught breaking a law 2. I got punished for breaking a law 3. I don’t like the punishment So most people in society would arrive at the logical conclusion: 4a. THEREFORE, don’t break any more laws and I'll avoid punishment. But inmates upholding the Convict Code instead arrive at a much different conclusion: 4b. THEREFORE, just don’t get caught and I'll avoid punishment PLUS I get to reap the added fruits gained by whatever laws I didn’t follow. Unfortunately, those inmates who wish to do the right thing and make positive moral choices during their tenure in prison can be ostracized, beaten or even killed for choosing not to follow the Convict Code. “Snitches get Stiches” is more than a cute rhyme. To naively think that “real world” logic carries much weight in prison is to disrespect the prison culture that created the Criminal Code in the first place. “When in Rome...” means to be aware and respect the fact you’re not in your native land, but it doesn’t mean you have to change your values or reset your moral compass. Just because prisoners live in cages doesn’t mean prisoners have to act like animals. Perhaps the animal-like behavior (beating up snitches etc.) is less a reflection of who prisoners are than how they are treated. By standing true to oneself, you can attempt to affect a change one person at a time. If violence begets violence, then logically it would follow that random acts of kindness would beget other random acts of kindness. You may take a few blows to the head (as I recently did) but by standing up for what is right you can do the right thing even when no one around you seems to care. And by being the change we want to see, there is a hope for a paradigm shift for a cultural reduction in inmate’s reliance of the Convict Code and a shift in overall prison values to those that are better suited for success outside the bars. Of course, the ones most able to choose to challenge the Convict Code are already least likely to return to prison, thus allowing the perpetuation of the Convict Code by removing the positive role models for those remaining incarcerated. One hopes for the eventual realization that true freedom comes from peace of mind due to not breaking rules, rather than trying to learn how to be a smarter criminal in order to avoid being caught. One must also look at the significance of a cultural value that helps people survive within that culture. But by realizing it is not a value present outside that specific culture, the minor usefulness it may have would be limited to only helping within that culture. So unless you can switch your values on and off like a light switch, the logic of that would be as follows: 1. The Convict Code only works in prison. 2. Following the Convict Code will reduce my chances of success in society. 3. I want to have a successful life outside of prison. THEREFORE I need to learn how to survive in prison without the Convict Code in order to successfully live outside of prison. The Convict Code is best intended for those who wish to remain perpetual convicts. For everyone else, remember it is possible to visit Rome without becoming a Roman Citizen.

Author: Feeney, Matthew D.

Author Location: Minnesota

Date: 2022

Genre: Essay

Extent: 4 pages

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