If you descend thru the prison system to the lowest level of security- a camp- then you arrive here knowing all about the “snitch culture” and it’s complexities. If, on the other hand, your first and only experience with prison is a camp, you probably won’t.
There are two caveats to that last statement. One, if this is your first “bit” and your felony is drug-related, and you’ve been extremely fortunate to be sent straight to a camp, then this is your first direct experience with a ‘prison’ snitch culture. However, since snitching is such an integral part of the business of growing, making, transporting, financing or selling drugs, then you must have arrived well aware of snitchery protocol.
The other caveat is that if you come here as a first-time offender of a “white-collar” crime, but have previously been an avid consumer of TV crime/prison shows, then you have a head start on the ins and outs of snitchery. In other words, you have an idea what to do and what not to do to minimize the prospect of being thought, rumored or accused of being a “snitch”. (Or maybe not, I really haven’t watched these, though they’re on most of the time in here.)
My expertise on this subject is fairly minimal, but growing by the day. It recently got personal, when it was whispered to me (whispering is an important feature of this subject) a couple months ago, that it was “overheard” that I’m a known snitch. My reply was, “No truth to that, so I’m not going to worry about it.” I figured it quite possible that this individual had plenty of reasons to be worried about snitches and was scamming me. A couple weeks later, though, a close friend told me the rumor again, but this time added that someone got into my email and found “evidence” of my snitchery.
Let’s look at that. There are a number of keyboards/monitors in the the “computer room” that access an email system, operated and closely monitored by the BOP. All inmates are registered to it and access their personal account using their pin and thumbprint. It’s an old and cumbersome system but one that lets us email contacts on our “approved contacts list”. (We have no internet access of any kind) You pay as you go for this. I spend around $100/mth for my emails (phone calls & stamps for letters are additional), which is probably only slightly above average. You only get 30 minutes per session.
Once in awhile you get distracted or absent-minded when exiting the computer, and if you don’t close out completely, and if the next person to use that computer is the wrong person, bad things can happen. In my case, the next guy was a prick and rummaged thru my ‘sent’ emails. He found two emails I’d sent to the warden, which is not a highly unusual thing to do (usually complaints), and neither of those had anything to do with any inmates, nor anything remotely close to snitching. No matter- the rumor began, and inmate.com “retweeted” it (inmate.com doesn’t exist on the internet, its just our slang for the “rumor mill”).
I had sort of forgotten it until an inmate I was training for my job, a nice guy that’s a grizzled veteran of several higher security prisons told me he had heard I was the biggest snitch on the compound. I tried to explain how I think the rumor got started. He listened and chuckled, but I doubt he really believed me.
He told me that he never talks to COs, and if forced to would only go if accompanied by another inmate. (For instance, if he was in a higher security [even a “low”] prison, and called to a COs office.) That is so to have a witness if anyone ever accused you of snitching, and also in case the CO would spread a falsehood about you, but mostly so that no inmate could credibly spread the rumor that you were seen alone with a CO, a “sure” sign you’re a snitch.
In such a prison (not a camp), bad things happen to snitches. I don’t worry about that here, since those that might be inclined to act out against you only got here by working very hard, over a number of years, to earn the privilege of being in a camp. It doesn’t seem likely that they would do anything intentionally to get thrown out of here. (For that matter, I’ve only seen two serious confrontations between inmates since coming here, and no punches were thrown. All thunder and no lightning. Probably also due to the average age being about 50 in here.) But then again, old habits die hard.
Snitchery is the hated thing that it is, because its also greatly embraced and utilized by law enforcement in general, and the DOJ and the BOP in particular. All that’s needed to get dragged into a drug ring is hearsay. And of course, gov’t witnesses (or snitches) don’t snitch for nothing. Prosecutors will fabricate a “ring” pretty easily, if they’re so inclined. And since they’re under pressure to create “deterrence”, the bigger the ring they bring down, the smarter they appear to be, and the more likely suspects are to take the plea deal. When the common wisdom is that you can’t beat them, regardless of whether you’re guilty or not, or guilty but overcharged, your only hope of reducing the charges against you is to “cooperate”, legalese for snitching. (The federal criminal code rewards this.)
In prison, during crackdowns or shakedowns, the COs not only use their snitches (however many they might have), but they use lies and propaganda and ploys to sow distrust among the inmates, and create the impression that there are more snitches than is probably really so. If all this were just smart law enforcement, and a means to a good end, then the only complaints would be from the bad actors. But like all warfare, there’s collateral damage- distrust, finger-pointing, false accusations, hostility, revenge, etc. Most of this proliferates as justice but gives way to injustice.
It remains to be seen how this plays out for me here. I don’t have much longer so its not much of a concern to me.
I’ve been on very friendly terms with quite a few guys, but few seem motivated to step up to my side. I think I’ll just accept the leper card, choosing the empty table in the chow hall, and see what happens. What does happen in terms of social relationships will be a measure of how strong the snitch culture is in the camp, as well as the strength of character of those who do or don’t choose to identify with me. Also is the element of rationality- whether facts people choose are based on rumor or evidence.
So, all you sociologists out there- consider committing a small federal felony if you want to test your theories.
It’s pretty funny actually that I would find myself in this position, being the harsh critic of the justice system I’ve become, and having experienced the falsehoods that the prosecutors are so quick to adopt. Funny, to be thought to side with the overlords.
But its also a great opportunity to act in faith, trusting God to get me thru this twist in the road, as He has every other hairy moment. It seems to me that as long as we’re acting sufficiently prudently, nothing can befall us, unless God wills it. (I’m a Calvinist on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.)
If the lesson turns out to be otherwise, I’ll let you know.