When I was growing up, my parents taught me the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I was also given little nuggets of wisdom like “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
I consider myself to be a pretty nice person. In fact, I can recall times in my life where I was too nice, and I really shouldn’t have been. I have to admit, for the majority of my life I have struggled with the idea of people not liking me, so I would be friendly in situations where I didn’t need to be.
However, as I get older, I realize that what other people think doesn’t really matter, so I just live my life and do my best. That is my outlook on life in the free world. Does it change in prison?
This leads us to today’s topic: What happens to you in prison if you’re nice to everyone and friendly?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- Prison life is not about being nice, it’s about being strong
- If you are too friendly in prison, you will be taken advantage of
- Prison can change you in ways you don’t expect
Prison life is not about being nice, it’s about being strong
Prison is definitely the kind of place that has the capacity to chew you up and spit you out. If you aren’t strong in who you are and what you believe, you will fall victim to the wants and desires of those around you.
In essence, the saying “you’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything” is really important when you are in prison.
Inmate Mistie Vance has been in prison for ten years, and she says that learning to navigate prison is a lot like learning to navigate life: it’s all about balance. She says that she has seen so many people allow the prison environment to make them “hard.”
In prison – just like in the real world – everyone has the capacity to be compassionate and kind. But, the never-ending battle of pride over humility causes most inmates to become a more calloused version of themselves. Ultimately, the goal is self preservation.
If you are too friendly in prison, you will be taken advantage of
Honestly, people who are too friendly in prison are generally taken advantage of by other inmates with stronger personalities. The world is full of people whose main agenda is to get the most and best of everything and they will do whatever it takes to make that happen. Prison is no different. Living in a maximum-security institution means being exposed to the best and brightest in the school of master manipulators. And every good criminal knows a victim when they see one.
The problem with being nice in prison, is that so often kindness is taken for weakness. A person who is nice to everyone because they have a deep need for acceptance makes a perfect victim because they will do or give whatever others ask of them in order to feel accepted.
Unfortunately, the “friends” they make move on to the next victim when they have nothing left to give. Other people who are especially susceptible to victimization are those who have very submissive personalities due to being dominated by abusive partners or parents. When “strong armed” or bullied by inmates with dominant personalities, they bend to the aggressor’s will in order to protect themselves.
Every inmate has a story, whether it’s the one they tell with words or just their actions. Most have lived lives where abuse has been commonplace, and tragedy upon tragedy has bent and broken them in a thousand little ways.
In an attempt to protect themselves from further heartache, some inmates choose to close themselves off to others, and some choose to become cold and uncaring. Others become even more compassionate after experiencing profound pain. Each of these personalities is expressed in the institutional setting.
Prison can change you in ways you don’t expect
Mistie’s ten-year experience in prison has been a journey that has led to the kind of strength it takes to be both kind and strong. Due entirely to her relationship with God, she has learned the art of humility, which in time, leads to its own level of respect.
Just because she thinks that she is right, it doesn’t mean everyone else has to agree. She says that it is enough to know it within herself. This cuts down drastically on verbal altercations and making enemies. She can know everyone’s secrets and not feel the need to gossip because it only hurts people in the end.
Even after ten years in prison, Mistie says that she can give without wanting something in return, love without expectation, and stand on what she believes in – even if she looks a little weird or crazy.
Both Mistie and I discovered during our time behind bars that the secret of being able to be nice in prison lies in learning to love yourself. If you can love yourself you can give only what you are comfortable with and know that it’s enough. You can value your own opinion enough to not bend to someone else’s, and you can develop a quiet strength that others will respect and want to emulate–even in prison.
Do you think you could be nice and friendly in prison? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Interview with WERDCC inmate Mistie Vance