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I’m a lover, not a fighter. So, when I was sentenced to prison, one of the first things I thought aboutㅡand one of my biggest fearsㅡwas how I was going to handle myself if I ever found myself in a fight when I was incarcerated.
Do fights happen often? Is prison extremely violent like you see on TV and in the movies? Do I need to know how to make a shank? I had so many questions!
When I was in the county jail waiting to be transported to prison, I had a former inmate give me some great adviceㅡwhen you go to prison, don’t get yourself a girlfriend and don’t play Spades. I didn’t really understand the advice when it was given, but I quickly understood it once I got to the yard.
So, today, let’s talk about what causes the most fights in prison.
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
I should start off by saying that I am going to speak from my experience in a women’s prison. I’m sure the guys fight about some of the same things as the women, but I know that gang fights are a lot more common in men’s facilities. This was something I didn’t experience when I was locked up because there was no obvious gang activity in rural Missouri.
I’m also going to focus on inmate-inmate violence, however, there are times when an inmate will go after a guard or prison worker. Again, this is something that I never witnessed. If that does happen, it’s simply because the guard or prison staff member said the wrong thing, or maybe the prison worker had a long history of targeting a specific inmate and the inmate just couldn’t take it anymore.
Some of the most common fights I witnessed in prison were over the TV in the dayroom and during card games, hence the advice, “never play Spades.” At the prison I was locked up in, inmates were allowed to buy personal TVs for their bunks, but there was also one TV in the dayroom that people could watch if they couldn’t afford their own.
There was a hierarchy to who could control the dayroom TV. OGs and longtimers usually had the power over the remote, and there were certain shows that absolutely couldn’t be missed. The most important shows in the dayroom during my incarceration were Empire and Love & Hip Hop.
Heaven help the newbie who thought they were going to watch something other than those shows.
The phone line could also cause serious fights because there were two to three phones on the wing for 100 inmates. You were limited to 15-minute phone calls, but if you didn’t watch the person in front of you, they could use their ninja skills to end one call and start another. If there is a long line and people have been waiting for hours, that could cause a serious fight.
Inmates also took Spades very seriously, and if you didn’t play the right card or weren’t paying attention to the game, it could cause absolute chaos. I never witnessed anyone get shanked during my four years behind bars, but I did see some serious screaming matches that ended with inmates going to blows.
When something like that would happen, it was always in the dayroom in front of cameras, so the officers would be on the wing quickly to break it up.
This is a big one. It’s hard for me to explain this to people in the free world, but there are women inside a female prison that look just like boys. Seriously, you would never know they were female if they weren’t incarcerated in a women’s prison. They look just like guys, and these women are extremely popular when it comes to prison hookups.
The term we had for this was “bulldagging,” and these girls seemingly identified as male, but I don’t want to speak for them. That was just the impression that I got. These girls took the male role in a relationship, and they always had at least one girlfriend.
If anyone tried to mess with their girlfriends, it would always result in a fight. Inmates would end up in the hole, and then their girlfriend would purposely get a violation that would send them to the hole as well.
When you are in prison, you go in with absolutely nothing. So, the things that you purchase from commissary are a big deal, and you are not to touch anyone else’s stuff. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 20-cent ramen noodle or a $200 TV, going near anyone’s commissary is cause for a complete smackdown. If you are caught stealing, God help you.
Inmates can also go after you if they know you have money, and they will threaten you and make you buy them something if you don’t fight back and say no. If you give in, you open up a door that you can never close. So, it’s best to just say no and fight, or else people will constantly use you and take your things.
Fights will also happen over unpaid debts. If someone borrows a stamp or a soup from someone and then doesn’t pay it back like they promised (always two for one) then a fight is going to happen.
I will say that weapons are rarely used. The fights are just fists, and they end up in maybe a cut or a bruise. The weapons come out in serious fights, but those are usually left to the guys. At least that was my experience.
Another reason inmates fight is because someone lied or disrespected them. The words that come out of your mouth in prison are a big deal, so you have to be careful what you say. With no way to blow off steamㅡno drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sexㅡpeople are on edge.
To make matters worse, prisons are overcrowded, and there are more people in a small space than there should be. Everyone is on top of each other, so it’s just a matter of time before someone snaps.
What do you think you would fight about in prison? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: This Is What It’s Like To Get In A Prison Fight https://theweek.com/articles/600419/what-like-prison-fight
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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