It’s not a secret that plenty of crime goes on inside of prison walls. Some inmates are able to run criminal enterprises from their cell and smuggle drugs and cell phones, while others may have inappropriate relationships with officers, resulting in pregnancy.
As a former inmate in a women’s prison, I can only speak to what I witnessed during my time behind bars. The dynamics between the guards and inmates were quite different in a women’s facility because the guards are mostly of the opposite sex.
However, I have done my research and talked with other inmates to find out about their experiences with officer manipulation. This leads me to today’s blog post: How do inmates manipulate correctional officers?
In this blog post I will cover the following topics:
In my experience, prison isn’t much different from the free world in how humans relate to each other and to life in general – manipulation being no exception.
Being in a women’s correctional facility, the form of manipulation inmate Mistie Vance sees most often is sexual in nature. Whether it be simple flirtation or invitations for sex, women in the civilian world can use their sexuality to manipulate, and the prison environment is no different.
One of the major influences on the dynamics between an officer and an inmate is their respective genders. The way a female inmate communicates with a male guard may be different than with a female guard, and vice versa for male inmates.
“Whether it’s to obtain cigarettes, drugs or immunity from violations (turning a blind eye to illegal activities), flirtation and the lure of possible sexual favors is enough to entice many correctional officers. Whether made up or true, there is never a shortage of officers under investigation for sexual misconduct with offenders,” says Vance.
Another form of manipulation often used in prison is the threat of legal action due to nonexistent descrimination. Many correctional officers are afraid to punish legitimate illegal activities because they are afraid of being accused of racism or sexism, etc.
This is an especially damaging form of manipulation as it serves to make a mockery of true discrimination which is and should be spoken out against. It also allows guilty parties to be free of consequences that are rightly deserved. True justice can never be served when manipulating through false discriminatory claims.
Vance’s prison experience began when she got locked up in the spring of 2010. This is how she recalls that time in her life:
“I was a manipulative mess. An IV drug user addicted to prescription opiates and heroin, there was no limit to the lies I would tell to get money for a fix. I used my children as an excuse by telling people I needed gas or milk money. I traded food stamps for drugs. I pretended to be attracted to dealers so that they would give me drugs.
I used to manipulate everyone and everything in order to get what I wanted, and as much as I hated who I was, my addiction made it impossible to stop. Prison has changed my life by allowing me to address the brokenness in myself that led me to use drugs, and become the person of integrity that I wanted to be.
Even now it’s a daily struggle to maintain that integrity and not be manipulative. I’m currently going through a very painful break up after an intense three year relationship, but instead of allowing my ex to see the extent of my pain I am trying to maintain a strong front because I don’t want her to come back out of a sense of obligation or pity.
I don’t want to manipulate her kindness and the fact that she doesn’t want to hurt me. This is hard, but it’s important not to fall back after I have come so far. The ways in which people manipulate each other are too numerous to count, and are no different in the correctional setting than the real world setting.
If you or someone you love is employed at a correctional facility be aware of the fact that at any time you may be the target of manipulation by an inmate. Remember that most everyone has an agenda, and don’t let someone inflate your ego in an attempt to get something out of it.
Try to treat everyone equally and with respect, but don’t fall for the bullsh*t, and you’ll be just fine. No one is any better or worse or more deserving of love and respect than anyone else. Be kind, but don’t let your kindness become a weakness through others’ manipulation.”
Corrections officers will tell you that inmate manipulation happens in every facility, and sometimes it can have shocking results. In 2013, the news broke that the corruption was so bad in a Baltimore correctional system that the leader of the Black Guerrilla Family had manipulated staff to the point that he was managing a gang behind the walls.
Not only was he selling drugs and smuggling in cell phones, but he also managed to impregnate four female officers. Two of those officers had his name tattooed on themselves!
In the book Games Criminals Play: How You Can Profit by Knowing Them, authors Bud Allen and Diana Bosta refer to an inmate’s con of a correctional officer as “downing a duck.” The “duck” is the easily manipulated officer, and the con begins with grooming.
“They say things like, ‘You’re the only one who has made a difference in my life,’ ‘I can tell you are a better officer than all the others,’ or ‘You should have heard what Officer Smith said about you.’ These kind words make staff feel good about themselves and what they are doing, and provide them with a sense of purpose,” says jail administrator Laura Bedard.
The inmate will then get the staff member to lower their guard, and they will prompt them to share info they shouldn’t. The smallest detail about an officer can lead to extortion if they come across the wrong inmate.
“For example, a staff member shares with an inmate that he or she is having a relationship with another staff member. The inmate takes that ball and runs with it. He blackmails the staff member into first doing something simple: looking the other way when misconduct occurs, mailing a letter, permitting a bunk move or allowing the inmate to get a pass he shouldn’t have,” writes Bedard.
An officer complying with a simple request is, “the hook,” and then the inmate can move on to bigger things. This is where the drug and cell phone smuggling and the sexual relations occur.
“He gets the staff member to over-identify with the inmates and under-identify with his professional peers,” says Bedard. “Sometimes, by virtue of a staff member’s job, they can over-identify with the inmate population. They begin to see the inmates as peers, not people under their care, custody and control. You see this in non-security positions as well. For example, a maintenance staff member who has been working with an inmate welder for months begins to see him more as a co-worker and less as a convict.”
It’s true, inmates do watch every move officers make. They see their strengths and weaknesses, and some do prey on the weak. Inmates also know the officers’ work schedules and personalities – nothing goes unnoticed.
Both inmates and officers have to be careful when they are behind bars. Getting involved with the wrong person can mean punishment for the inmate and the end of a career for an officer.
Do you think you would be easily manipulated by an inmate if you were a corrections officer? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Interview with WERDCC inmate Mistie Vance Downing A Duck: How Inmates Manipulate Correctional Officers https://www.corrections1.com/staff-misconduct/articles/how-inmates-manipulate-correctional-officers-gCmbflIEe3ro0kz2/
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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