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  1. 1. THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CRIMINOLOGY & CRIMINAL JUSTICE Editor-in-Chief Jay S. Albanese Encyclopedia Entry Title: Inmate Subcultures Elizabeth Higgs Assistant Professor, Anthropology Georgia Gwinnett College ehiggs@ggc.eduAbstractInmate subcultures feature their own unifying systems of values, codes of behavior (the “inmatecode”), social hierarchies, family structures, political systems, means of enculturation throughinitiation rituals, unique languages and worldviews (“prison argot”), and underground economies.The issues explored in criminal justice literature concern the how, what, where, and why of theircreation. Similarities in inmate subcultures have been explained primarily using three theoreticalmodels—the deprivation model (which describes the “prisonization” process in the “totalinstitution”), the importation model, and the situational model. Criminal justice research hastended to concentrate on similarities between inmate subcultures rather than on differencesbetween them. There are significant gender differences in the inmate codes created in women’sprisons compared to men’s prisons. Future research could explore these gender differences andalso could expand the use of gender theory and the study of masculinities to study different typesof inmate subcultures.“Jails, like other places, have their ancient traditions, known only to the inhabitants, and handeddown from one set of melancholy lodgers to the next who occupy their cells,” wrote Sir WalterScott, in 1818, in The Heart of Mid-Lothian. Prison cultures have become known in criminaljustice research as inmate subcultures. Inmate subcultures include all of the components 1
  2. 2. anthropologists look for in a culture. Culture is typically defined as “the socially learned ways ofliving found in human societies” and “it embraces all aspects of social life, including both thoughtand behavior.” (Harris, 1999:19) Culture has the following components: a superstructure (the keyvalues and beliefs); a social structure (rules for behavior, institutions for education, families,politics); and an infrastructure (basic technology to provide material resources). (Harris, 1999)Inmate subcultures feature their own unifying systems of values, codes of behavior (the “inmatecode”), social structures, means of enculturation, unique languages (“prison argot”), andunderground economies.The issues explored by scholars concern the how, what, where, and why of their creation.Studies have focused on the deprivations imposed by prison life that give rise to inmatesubcultures, the nature of social organization, prison socialization, and external factors that affectinmates’ adaptations. The origin of the concept of inmate subcultures may be traced toClemmer’s classic work, The Prison Community (1940), in which he demonstrated how inmatesare socialized into a prison culture, the process of “prisonization.” In a second phase of thestudy of prisons, Sykes (1958) went on to explain why the prison subculture was there in the firstplace. Sykes’ study of New Jersey State Prison in 1958, The Society of Captives, continues to bea cornerstone of prison sociology. Sykes (1958) proposed that inmates block internalization ofsocial rejection by “rejecting the rejecter.” Sykes and Messinger (1960) define the prisonercommunity or “inmate social system” as a set of social relationships, and related values androles, with underlying norms, attitudes, and beliefs. Using, the deprivation model, Sykes andMessinger (1960) analyzed inmate subcultures as reactions to the prison’s system of power, asocial environment created by the custodians.Inmate subcultures are surprisingly similar whether they are in Ohio (Foster, 1982),Massachusetts (Benequisto and Freed, 1996), Pennsylvania (Hassine, 2009), New Jersey (Sykesand Messinger, 1960), California (Trammell, 2009), Nigeria (Onojeharho and Bloom, 1986), Israel(Einat and Einat, 2000; Shoham, 2010), India (Bandyopadhya, 2006), or Poland (Kaminski,2003). These similarities have been explained primarily using three theoretical models—thedeprivation model, the importation model and the situational model. The first model suggestedthat inmate subcultures arise from the deprivations that result from “prisonization,” from life in a“total institution.”(Clemmer 1940; Hayner and Ash 1940; Sykes and Messinger, 1960; Goffman,1961)Goffman (1961) contributed to the early theoretical discussions of the origins of inmatesubcultures by describing “prisonization” as a reaction to the “total institution.” Prisons areisolated institutions and a set of unique norms and rules have developed in response to the 2
  3. 3. extreme control and deprivations associated with this “total institution.” (Clemmer 1940; Haynerand Ash 1940) A total institution is defined as “a place of residence and work where a largenumber of like-situated individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period oftime, together lead an enforced, formally administered round of life.” (Haralambos and Holborn,1995: 305) The prison system curtails freedom of movement through the use of a strict system ofpasses, using military formations to move prisoners around within the prison, and confininginmates to their cells until they were given permission. In response to this loss of autonomy,inmate subcultures stress norms and values that reflect opposition to institutional rules and prisonauthorities (Garofalo and Clark, 1985).Inmate subcultures provide members with the means to gain status, to mitigate social rejection,and to compensate for their loss of autonomy (Einat and Einat, 2000: 309). Acceptance of thisnew lifestyle and values in inmate subcultures is to be “prisonized.” Reacting to feelings ofpowerlessness that result from prisonization, inmates form their own social hierarchies. Bronson(2006) defines the “inmate code” as one which “represents an organization of criminal values inclear defiance of the values of conventional society, and to prison officials as representatives ofthat society.” As “total institutions,” prisons are designed to achieve the subordination of inmates,imposing strict rules and restrictions (Goffman, 1961). In “prison argot,” terms referring to policestaff express inmates’ antagonism toward them. The inmates’ nicknames for officers are ashumiliating as possible. For example, in Israeli prisons, police officers are called a term which inArabic literally means “contaminated” or they are referred to by a Arabic slang term forprostitutes. (Einat and Einat 2000: 323) Prisoners who observe the code are not only loyal toother inmates, but they also stay “cool,” never show weakness, and help others. It is veryimportant to show indifference or opposition to prison staff. (Einat and Einat, 2000)The importation model suggests that elements of street life associated with gangs and criminaldrug activity are brought into prisons (Delisi, Berg, and Hochstettler, 2004: Hassine, 2009).According to importation theories, the values placed on domination and group loyalty withincriminal subcultures associated with gangs or drug distribution are imported into the prisonsystem. The situational model is an extension of the deprivation model and argues that theinmate code and its norms are adjusted to the environment and social conditions of each prison(Camp, Gaes, Langan, and Saylor, 2003).Some criminal justice research combines the two models that have been proposed to explain theorigins of prison culture (Irwin and Cressey, 1962; Akers, Hayner, and Gruninger, 1977; Pollock1997; Einat and Einat, 2000; Winfree, Newbold, and Tubb, 2002; Trammell 2009). Thesescholars claim that some components of the behavior and language patterns in inmate 3
  4. 4. subcultures are constructed in response to the deprivations of prison life and other componentsare criminal codes imported into prison life from the street. Especially with regard to drug useand distribution, there are direct links between street culture and prison culture (Schrag 1954;Irwin and Cressey, 1962; Irwin 1970).The core of the value system underlying the inmate code is the sense of loyalty to inmates, an “usagainst them” mentality. (Cloward 1960; Irwin and Cressey 1962; Jacobs 1977; Ohlin 1956;Sykes and Messinger 1960; Terry 1997) As one gang member in a California prison explained,“You don’t snitch, you don’t owe anyone money and you act like a man.” “You want structure andyou want someone to organize the businesses so the gangs have their rules. You don’t run up adrug debt, you don’t start a fight in the yard . . .” “ we keep to ourselves and mind our ownbusiness.” (Trammell 2009: 754). In summary, the rules in the inmate code include the following:do not inform on your fellow inmates; do not trust staff; help other residents; show your loyalty toother inmates; share what you have; don’t exploit other inmates (keep your word, don’t steal,don’t sell favors, pay your debts); don’t weaken (no whining, don’t retreat from a fight); stay tough;don’t be a sucker by “kowtowing” to guards; don’t trust the staff.Bandyopadhyay (2006: 186) calls attention to the fact that the prison is an “overwhelmingly malespace”--one in which male inmates feel “less than men” because they are no longer “independentagents of their own destinies,” “protectors of the family,” breadwinners, or strong and influentialmen in their communities. Inmates struggle to reclaim a sense of autonomy and self-respect,creating a “pecking order” with aggressive, violent men at the top and soft “feminized” men at thebottom. (Bandyopadhyay, 2006: 189).Inmate subcultures define a dominance hierarchy which is sometimes revealed in daily rules for acode of behavior that establishes who goes first in line for meals, who gets the TV first, who usesthe shower first, and who sits with whom. Prison roles for men especially promote dominance.Terry (1997) discussed the inmate code as a social system in male prisons that revolves aroundthe need to project invulnerability. In Israeli prison society, the prison population is divided intotwo groups. Those who dominate have such titles as “king of the castle,” “real man,” and“cowboy.” Those who are submissive are labeled “shoes,” rabbits” or “invalids.” (Einat and Einat2000: 316)In gang hierarchies “imported” into inmate subcultures, the top leaders are called “shot-callers,” aname originally used by members of the Mexican Mafia prison gangs in juvenile detentionfacilities in California in the 1950s. Currently these leaders are sometimes called “key holders.”They control illegal businesses such as the drug trade. Shot-callers are those who have risenthrough the ranks and proven loyalty; men call this “putting in your time.” (Trammell 2009) Next 4
  5. 5. in line in the hierarchy, the second –in-command is called a “lieutenant.” A “lieutenant” workswith “soldiers” who work for the gang smuggling drugs. “Associates” are not members of thegangs, but they show support by fighting with them in a race riot. Someone who does low levelgrunt work to become a member of the gang is called a “prospect.” (Trammell 2009: 759)In the system of stratification created in inmate subcultures, status is established with referenceto the nature of the crime committed, access to money or “political connections,” and the length ofthe prison sentence. In the prison in India studied by Bandyopadhyay (2006), there are “lifers,”“visitors” awaiting trails or with small sentences, and “hang” prisoners. At the top of the hierarchywere those convicts most feared who had committed murder or armed robbery. Thieves werecategorized according to the weapon used; there were “wagon breakers” who had used knives;and there were thieves who had used handmade bombs. There was respect for those who hadcommitted crimes in an intelligent way. Petty thieves were not respected. Also there was a class-based division between political and non-political prisoners (the latter not being consideredcriminals). Rapists were hated because their crimes were considered immoral. Short-termconvicts had to do menial work such as cleaning for the convicts. (Bandyopadhyah, 2006)In contrast to the dominance hierarchies which male inmates establish, female inmates developfictive families. (Foster, 1982; Watterson, 1996; Jones and Schmid, 2003) Some estimatessuggest that from 1/3 to ½ of adult female prisoners create these kinship structures. (Ksofsky andEllis 1958; Heffernan 1964; Giallombardo 1966; Jones and Schmid, 2003: 168) Women inmatesenact roles such as father, mother, sister, and cousin to provide affection, security, belonging,advice, and friendship. Women’s fictive families include an experienced inmate (a “mom”) and agroup of other inmates (“kids”). The “mom” role is like that of a counselor or adviser. Usuallyeach housing unit in a women’s prison has two mothers. While male inmates’ social organizationincludes gangs divided according to ethnicity, women’s prison families cross ethnic lines. In onefictive family described by Watterson (1996: 295), for example, an Italian American woman inprison had a mother who was black, a grandmother who was also black. One of her children waswhite, and one was Chicana. These inmate-created families provide women with bases ofinformal power and unity. The kinship labels also function to create incest taboos.Certain terms in women’s “prison argot” testify to fluidity in the gender roles that female inmatesenact. Phrases such as “drop her belt” or “curled up her hair” are used to describe a woman whochanges relationships, going from playing a masculine role to a feminine role. (Watterson, 1996)Some women enact an exaggerated masculine role in which they have multiple “wives,” behavein a “macho” domineering way, and demand that other women clean for them, do their laundry,and wait on them. (Watterson 1996: 292) 5
  6. 6. Although male inmates do not typically create fictive families, they do develop mentoringrelationships. For men, to learn the social organization of the prison, the ethnic divisions,distinctions between experienced “convicts” and central ideas within the “inmate code,” it isimportant for them to participate in a prison “partnership.” (Jones and Schmid, 2003: 167). Thispartnership is typically a friendship between two first-time inmates which functions to help bothinmates “make sense” out of prison life. These partners share information, food and canteenitems, and exchange news from home and personal thoughts.Besides fictive families, women inmates described two other types of relationships--the “couple,”and the “rap partner.” Although popular stereotypes emphasize homosexuality in women’sprisons, the percentage of women engaging in homosexual relationships in prison seems to beroughly similar to the percentage in the general population. Although it is difficult to obtainaccurate data on the number of physical and romantic “couple” relationships in prison, Jones andSchmid (2003) report that prison insiders estimate that 5 to 15 percent of women are involved inthese relationships. Women inmates who are “rap partners” do not describe themselves as inromantic couple relationships, but as good friends. Both of these kinds of relationships addressthe same needs for companionship. “Rap partners” appear to have the same kind of relationshipas partnerships as men do. (Jones and Schmid, 2003)Nigerian inmates have described their prison world as a republic with a constitution, official roles,and a structured social system with laws and a legal code. (Onojeharho and Bloom 1986: 424).In the living dormitory, the inmates created a constitution with regulations in four categories: rulesabout relationships between inmates; rules regarding relationships with staff; rules about theinmate power hierarchy; and day to day rules of living (Onojeharho and Bloom 1986: 425). Rolesand titles for officers among the prisoners are defined by the constitution and there are “shadowcourts” to impose penalties. Inmate positions defined by the constitution include a head officercalled the “provost,” a “commissioner of police” and senior police officers. (Onojeharho andBloom 1986: 425)A defining trait for any culture is that its customs or rules for behavior are learned, shared, andpassed down from one generation to the next. As one inmate described the inmate code, “youhave to teach the new guys how to be a con and follow the rules.” (Trammell 2009: 755) Inmateinitiation rituals are part of the enculturation process in prisons. Inmates in Poland have a stageof initiation into prison culture which they call “prison university.” (Kaminski, 2003) Between 50and 100 hours of lectures and exams are administered covering secret argot, behavior codes,and language games. 6
  7. 7. Kaminski (2003) describes how inmates are enculturated through “little games” used to collectinformation about the toughness and cleverness of “rookies.” Prison games such as “baptism”determine the inmate’s status in the prison hierarchy. These initiation rituals involve deceptionmore than actual pain. Deception is needed to decrease violent interactions in a cell and to avoidthe risk of possible punishment by prison personnel (Kaminski, 2003: 212). In Poland, prisonrookies, called “Americans” (Kaminski, 2003:196) are tested in large cells or “stables.” Inbaptisms at night, rookies undergoing this test are surrounded by groups of inmates who threatento severely beat them with wet towels. These are actually empty threats and the only blows thatwill come are light. If the initiate is an experienced prisoner, he knows this and passes this test.Or if the rookie is actually tough, he passes this test. If he fails this test or game, he will belabeled a “sucker.” (Kaminski, 2003: 199).Games such as “Prisoner Fiat” are used to test the inmate’s wits. In “Prisoner Fiat,” the rookie isthrown under the bed and two prisoners press him to the wall with stools as the leader calls out,“Get him in first gear . . . second . . . and pressure increases. The inmate must react by shouting“put it in neutral” to end the punishment. In this game, the rookie must decipher a magicalformula that can be discovered from the context. (Kaminski, 2003: 204) In pop culture, in suchmovies as “The Shawshank Redemption,” this cleverness motif is depicted.The deprivations experienced in prison life are not only material; they also include involuntarycelibacy. With such a vital component of their male status called into question, male inmates’subcultural response is a “hypermasculinity” sometimes expressed in sexual domination ofyounger, weaker males. (Sykes and Messinger 1960: 289) Those who yield to other inmateswithout a fight are called “transvestites.” (Einat and Einat 2000: 316) Many terms used to expresscontempt for inmates are sexual. In Israeli prisons, inmates who cooperate with prison authoritiesin investigations are called “whores.” Seymour (2003: 42) describes an ethos of masculinitywithin prisons which is “overwhelmingly heterosexual, misogynistic and violent,” yet not a form ofmasculinity that is unique to inmates. Legitimated by the wider culture of masculinity, maleviolence is a way to demonstrate contempt for femininity and to assert a dominant, sharedmasculinity. The term “hypermasculinity” describes both the stance of officers and prisoners inan environment which emphasizes discipline, control and hierarchy. (Seymour, 2003: 45)In his ethnography, Fishman (1934) identified a sexual hierarchy in which male inmates knownas “top men,” “daddies,” or “wolves” preyed upon effeminate homosexuals by sexually assaultingthem. The men who were the sexual aggressors emphasized their hypermasculinity, thusavoiding being victims. At the bottom of this hierarchy were “punks” who were not homosexual, 7
  8. 8. but were dominated by “wolves” because they were weak. For 40 years, research stressed thisemphasis on male inmates’ sexual behavior (Sykes, 1958; Kirkham, 1971; Sagarin, 1976;Donaldson, 1993). More recent research has looked at this behavior as an expression ofdominance and masculine identity (Seymour, 2003; Bandyopadhyay, 2006). These aggressivesexual interactions have more to do with status and power than sex (Einat and Einat, 2000: 312).Aggressive “wolves” do not identify themselves as homosexual (Hensley, Wright, Tewksbury, andCastle, 2003: 296). According to Sykes (1958), most events within men’s prisons revolve arounda continuous struggle for power. Since inmates have been victims of the power of anauthoritarian judicial system, they regard the possession of power as supreme. Their possessionof power gives them prestige among other inmates and regenerates feelings of self worth.Sometimes cultures are defined as ways of thinking. “Prison argot,” or language, defines theframework through which a prison inmate lives, thinks and functions. The term “argot” comesfrom French, initially referring to a beggars’ guild, and originally defined as the slang or jargon ofthieves (McArthur 1992). The word “con” came into use around 1888 (Wittenberg, 1996). Just asworkers who were members of early European guilds had their own argot, the codedcommunication of prison argot allows inmates to define their status and rights. Inmates use theargot to keep their “business off the streets.” (Cardozo-Freeman, 1984)Mastery of prison argot indicates the criminal’s status in prison and his commitment to the“convict” identity. In U.S. prisons, those inmates who follow the code and never betray otherinmates are called “right guys” or “good guys.” (Irwin, 1970) Key words depict one’s identity asconvicts, outlaws, or outcasts from society. In prison argot, “convicts” are those who follow theprisoner code. Those who do not are labeled “inmates.” (Trammell 2009) “Inmates” is a termused by prison officials, but one which is disliked by prisoners because it denotes to them peoplewho are institutionalized in insane asylums. Gang members referred to their fellow members inCalifornia “prison argot” as “cars.” (Trammell 2009: 754).In one of the most extensive linguistic studies of prison argot, Einat and Einat (2000) identifiedthese main categories of argot terms: those concerned with prisoner status (informers, inmaterank); those describing drugs; terms used to describe sexual relations in prison; terms describingtypes of violence; and nicknames for prison staff. One major theme reflected the importance ofloyalty to inmates. Note the following terms (Einat and Einat, 2000: 321): Verbatim Translation Meaning  Intelligence airplane Informer  Antenna Stool pigeon  Musician Not to be relied on  Invalid Collaborator 8
  9. 9.  Stolen Fool  Dogs Inmates who obey the boss  King of the castle Prison leader  Soldiers Inmates who obey the boss  Shoes Submissive inmate  Sausage An inmate who does not act by the inmate code  Rabbit Coward  Bell NoisemakerThe many prison argot terms for drugs testifies to their importance in the underground economy.Prisoners even suggested that they are valued more than the loyalty code. Drugs are importantcommodities in prison not only due to the material benefits that distributors achieve, but alsothere are valued as a means of psychological escape (Einat and Einat, 2000: 315). Thefollowing list includes some of the terms identified by Einat and Einat, 2000: 322): Verbatim Translation Meaning  Blocks Ground grains of heroin  The “White sport”/  Name of an Israeli tennis player Heroin  Cherry Opium  To knock To inject drug  Wheels Ball-shaped portions of hashish  Horny Wants to use drugs  Telephone A tool to smoke hashish  Suitcase An inmate who delivers drugs in his rectum  Persian pencils Persian cocaine  Shell (artillery) Cigar filled with tobacco and hashish  Roosters Drug portions wrapped for insertion in rectum  Chocolate Hashish  The hungry ones Dogs trained to discover hashish  Paths Drug arranged in rows  Tractor A tool to smoke hashish  Narcissus Drug addict  Pistol InjectorThe symbolic language of tattoos has been treated as another dimension of prison argot.Prison intake procedures literally strip the inmate of signs of individuality expressed throughjewelry and clothing and replace these with a standard uniform. Prison tattoos allow inmates todefy this imposed anonymity. Outside of prison, gangs have long used tattoos to signifymembership. Tattoos publicly declare a set of values, attitudes, a lifestyle, and identity. Symbolsthat defy social norms—death, skulls, Satan—are preferred (Hall and Jefferson, 1976; Miller,1995). Tattoos can be “signs of honor” or “signs of shame” and are used to construct a status 9
  10. 10. hierarchy. Imported from outside the prison (street gangs and drug rings), inmates use tattoos toproclaim unique identities in the inmate social hierarchy (Demello, 2000).Shoham (2010) studied the meanings of tattoos among Russian inmates in Israeli prisons. As inAmerican prisons, Israeli inmates divide themselves into gangs or cliques according to ethnicorigin (Miller, 1995; Shoham, 2010). Following interpretations by Foucault (1980), Shoham (2010:986) treats tattoos as language and “culture inscribed in flesh.” Tattoos declare the nature of theoffense, the prisoners “worldview,” and his position. They have become a secret language inimages and pictures whose meanings are known only to the Russian “world of thieves.” (Gurov,1990)The main themes reflected in Russian prisoner tattoos are those of a subculture with a classhierarchy, machismo, the positive value placed on domination, defiance of law, rebellion, andantagonism toward the Establishment. It is important that tattoos are painful and “macho.”Tattoos not only declare class rank, but also protect the prisoner against violence. The prisonerwithout tattoos is seen as weak and unmanly (Applebaum, 2006). Tattoos advertise power andstatus and serve as symbols of solidarity (Shoham 2010: 988).Russian prisoners’ tattoos were of great size and beauty, revealing the great thought and laborthat went into their creation. One type covers the entire body and incorporates rich religious andpolitical motifs such as domes, crucifixes, swastikas, and political figures. These tattoossymbolize rank, mark the type of crime committed, and declare the criminals’ business character.(Shoham, 2010: 993) Leaders among Russian prisoners show their rank by displaying a tattoowith a skull impaled on a winged knife with a crowned snake climbing the knife. A skull inside astar is the “Papa” who runs the cellblock or the entire prison. A knife with a crowned snakestands for a gang leader. (Shoham, 2010) Tattoos emphasize inmate respect for certain kinds ofviolent criminals. Two batting lions with the sun behind them or an elephant with a bell on itstrunk indicate that the prisoner has injured a security officer. A tattoo on the back of the inmates’hand showing a rose pierced by a sword indicates he has injured a judge. To show that he haskilled a policeman, a prisoner may wear a tattoo of a bull’s eye on the chest near the heart or apoliceman’s hat on the neck. (Shoham, 2010)Tattoos depict the length of sentences served. One such tattoo has rings depicting ankle chains,each ring representing one year in prison. Another serial tattoo shows a Russian style buildingwith another dome added for each year served. A Madonna with a child in her arms tattooed onthe inmates’ chest suggests that his criminal life began almost from infancy (Shoham 2010: 998). 10
  11. 11. Symbols of disobedience to the law, tattooed on the upper thigh or the forearm, include thefollowing: an image of card shuffling symbolizes anarchy, creating a “game with new rules;”stars on the knees showing that a man does not bow to the rule of law; and dots on the back ofthe neck showing defiance against laws and authority. Criminals tattoo themselves with imagesof a man’s face with a knife in his mouth and initials spell out a sentence “I will executecollaborators with a knife.” (Shoham 2010: 995)Russian tattoos also include “signs of dishonor” forced on homosexual prisoners. One suchtattoo is a bee inscribed on the genitals to indicate that the individual plays the active/dominantrole. On the buttocks of the passive homosexual was a tattoo of a beehive. The implication isone stings and the other absorbs the sting. Such tattoos assert the value ascribed to dominatingmasculine identities. Russian tattoos also feature another hypermasculine theme--the negationof the feminine. One such example would be tattoos of vultures dangling women in their talons tosignify habitual sexual offenders. (Shoham 2010: 994).In inmate subcultures, prisoners create underground economies to produce and distributecontraband. Gangs in prison control the distribution of drugs, prostitution, pornography and thecigarette trade. Prisoners fabricate weapons to sell for profit and make tools for potentialescapes. Examples observed by Foster (1982: 121) in the U.S. Midwest even included themaking of driver’s licenses, social security cards, and birth certificates.Ohio inmates describe the process of producing contraband items from the materials available inprisons as “mushfaking.” (Foster, 1982) A “mushfake” is a prison made copy of something that isavailable on the streets, but which is forbidden in prison. An example are “prison dice” made ofsugar cubes marked with a felt-tipped pen. “Stingers” are heating elements made to warm waterfor coffee or tea, made of two spoons separated by an insulating material and taped to an electriccord. This term in prison argot may coincide with the expression “making swag” in institutions inthe Eastern U.S. (Foster 1982: 117) In Ohio, the original phrase could have been “mash-faking”referring to the production of alcoholic beverages. Irwin (1970) uses the term “improvisation” todescribe the brewing of “pruno” or “raisin Jack.” Some prisoners referred to prison homosexualityas “mushfaked sex” and to effeminate inmates as “mushfaked women.” (Foster, 1982: 120)“Mushfaking” furnishes demanded, but forbidden, goods, services, and interpersonal relationshipsand can also serve a transcendent function, permitting inmates to escape the boredom of prisonlife.Some contraband created by female inmates differs from that created by male inmates--hangersfor their clothes out of rolled up newspaper, dressers for their clothes out of boxes. Women 11
  12. 12. decorate paper bags and use them for wastepaper baskets, and make their own tampons out ofstrips of Kotex, and they alter prison uniforms to fit. (Watterson, 1996: 287)Einat and Einat (2000: 315) suggest that participation in the underground economy serves notonly a material function in providing desired commodities but also serves an importantpsychological function. It creates a sense of control and gives the satisfaction that one isoutwitting the prison supervisors.There are two trends in research which could be pursued in future research. One would be toadd to the still sparse research on women’s prisons. Limited aspects of women’s prisons havebeen explored in journal articles. To be fair, this preference is rooted in the prevalence of men inprison populations. Men make up over 90 percent of most prison populations (Earle, 2011: 129).There are significant gender differences in the inmate codes and social hierarchies created inwomen’s prisons compared to men’s prisons. In the study by Trammell (2009:752) in Californiamen’s and women’s prisons, women rarely joined gangs and physical violence was rare. Incontrast, almost half of the men interviewed by Trammell (2009) in California prisons reportedthat they belonged to a prison gang. In prison, women seek to avoid “the mix” (prison argot forinvolvement in trouble, conflicts, and drugs (Owen 1998: 167) because most of them havechildren waiting for them on the outside. The impact of such differences in women’s prisonsubcultures have not been fully explored.Secondly, future research could expand the use of gender theory and the study of masculinitiesto study inmate subcultures. The loss of autonomy that is central in “prisonization” threatensmasculine identity among male inmates--their master status. In contrast, women’s more acutefeelings of loss in prison are centered on the loss of their family networks of support. As notedabove, men’s social hierarchies emphasize dominance (through the threat of sexual aggression)while women’s social hierarchies in inmate subcultures emphasize family relationships. Withinthe growing field of masculinity studies, men’s prisons are rarely studied. Considerations ofgender are usually absent in prison studies, unless the subjects are women. The impact ofgender on prison life has been explored by Seymour (2003). The predominance of males (staffand inmates), and the paramilitary orientation of prisons produces a more extreme expression ofmasculinity. Relations of dominance are expressed through confrontational communication,physicality, and victimization of men by men. Compared to women’s prisons, power is displayedmore overtly in men’s prisons. Men who have less wealth and institutional power resort to“hypermasculine” displays of aggression and violence to establish a respected male identity(Seymour, 2003: 38) 12
  13. 13. (SEE ALSO: Cross references at end -- see list online)ReferencesAkers, Ronald L., Norman S. Hayner, and Werner Gruninger. 1977. “Prisonization in FiveCountries: Type of Prison and Inmate Characteristics.” Criminology 14 (4): 527-554.Bandyopadhyay, Mahuya. 2006. “Competing Masculinities in a Prison.” Men and Masculinities9 (2): 186-203.Benequisto, Lucia and Peter J. Freed. 1996. “The Myth of Inmate Lawlessness: The PerceivedContradiction between Self and Other Inmates Support for Criminal Justice Sanctioning Norms. “Law and Society Review 30 (3).Bronson, Eric. 2006. “Medium Security Prisons and Inmate Subcultures: The ‘Normal Prison.’”The Southwest Journal of Criminal Justice 3 (2): 61-66.Camp, S.D., G.G. Gaes, N.P. Langan, and W.G. Saylor. 2003. “The Influence of Prisons onInmate Misconduct: A Multilevel Investigation.” Justice Quarterly 20: 501-533.Cardozo-Freeman, I. 1984. The Joint: Language and Culture in a Maximum Security Prison.Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.Clemmer, Donald. 1940. The Prison Community. Boston: Christopher Publishing.Cloward, Richard A. 1960. “Social Control in Prison.” Pp. 20-48 in R.A. Cloward, D.R. Cressey,G.H. Glosser, R. McCleery, L.E. Ohlin, G.M. Sykes, and S. Messinger. New York: Social ScienceResearch Council.Delisi, M., M. T. Berg, and A. Hochstetler. 2004. Gang Members, Career Criminals, and PrisonViolence: Future Specification of the Importation Model of Inmate Behavior.” Criminal JusticeStudies 17: 369-383.Demello, M. 2000. Bodies of Inscription. Durham: Duke University Press.Donaldson, S. 1993. A Million Jockers, Punks, and Queens: Sex among Male Prisoners and ItsImplications for Concepts of Sexual Orientation. Available from, Tomer and Haim Einat. 2000. “Inmate Argot as an Expression of Prison Subculture: TheIsraeli Case.” The Prison Journal 80 (3): 309-325.Earle, Rod. 2011. “Boys’ Zone Stories: Perspectives from a Young Men’s Prison.” Criminologyand Criminal Justice 11 (2): 129-143.Fishman, J. 1934. Sex in Prison: Revealing Sex Conditions in American Prisons. New York:National Library Press.Foster, Thomas W. 1982. “’Mushfaking: ‘ A Compensatory Behavior of Prisoners.” Journal ofSocial Psychology 117 (1): 115-125.Foucault, M. 1980. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. New York: Vintage.Garofalo, James S. and Richard D. Clark. 1985. “The Inmate Subculture in Jails.” CriminalJustice and Behavior 12 (4): 415-434. 13
  14. 14. Giallombardo, R. 1966. A Study of a Women’s Prison. New York: Wiley.Goffman, E. 1961. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and OtherInmates. Garden City, NY: Anchor.Gurov, A.I. 1990. Professional Crime Past and Present. Moscow: Luridicheskaia Literatura.Hall, S. and T. Jefferson. 1976. Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-warBritain. London: Hutchinson. thHassine, Victor. 2009. Life Without Parole: Living in Prison Today. (4 edition) Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.Harris, Marvin. 1999. Theories of Culture in Postmodern Times. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMiraPress.Hayner, Norman S. and Ellis Ash. 1940. “The Prison as a Community.” American SociologicalReview 5 (4): 577-583.Heffernan, E. M. 1964. Inmate Social Systems and Subsystems: The Square, the Cool, and theLife. Ph.D. dissertation, Catholic University, Washington, D.C.Hensley, Christopher, Jeremy Wright, Richard Tewkesbury, and Tammy Castle. 2003, “TheEvolving Nature of Prison Argot and Sexual Hierarchies.” The Prison Journal 83 (3): 289-300.Irwin, John. 1970. The Felon. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Irwin, John and Donald R. Cressey. 1962. “Thieves, Convicts and the Inmate Culture.” SocialProblems 10 (2): 142-155.Jacobs, James B. 1977. Stateville: The Penitentiary in Mass Society. Chicago: The Universityof Chicago Press.Jones, Richard S. and Thomas J. Schmid. 2003. “Parallels in the Prison Experiences of Womenand Men,” Pp. 155-181 in Barbara H. Zaitzow and Jim Thomas (eds.), Women in Prison:Gender and Social Control. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.Kaminski, Marek M. 2003. “Games Prisoners Play: Allocation of Social Roles in a TotalInstitution.” Rationality and Society 15: 188.Mathiesen, Thomas. 1966. “The Sociology of Prisons: Problems for Future Research.” Paperpresented to the Committee on Psychiatric Sociology at the Sixth World Congress of Sociology.McArthur, T. 1992. The Oxford Companion to the English Language. New York: OxfordUniversity Press.Miller, J.A. 1995. “Struggles Over Symbolic: Gang Style and the Meanings of Social Control.”Pp. 213-234 in J. Ferrell and C.R. Sanders (eds.), Cultural Criminology. Boston: NortheasternUniversity Press.Onojeharho, John E. and Leonard Bloom. 1986. “Inmate Subculture in a Nigerian Prison.”Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied 120 (5): 421-432.Ohlin, Lloyd E. 1956. Sociology and the Field of Corrections. New York: Social ScienceResearch Council. 14
  15. 15. Owen, Barbara. 1998. “In the Mix:” Struggle and Survival in a Women’s Prison. Albany: StateUniversity of New York Press.Pollock, Joycelyn M. 1997. Prison: Today and Tomorrow. Gaithersburg: Aspen Press.Sagarin, E. 1976. “Prison Homosexuality and Its Effect on Post-prison Behavior.” Psychiatry 39:245-257.Schrag, Clarence. 1954. “Leadership among Prison Inmates.” American Sociological Review 19(1): 37-42.Seymour, Kate. 2003. “Imprisoning Masculinity.” Sexuality and Culture, Special Issue: Sexualityand the Corrections System 7 (4): 27-55.Shoham, Efrat. 2010. “’Signs of Honor’ Among Russian Inmates in Israel’s Prisons.“International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 54 (6): 984-1003.Sykes, Gresham M. 1958. The Society of Captives: A Study of a Maximum Security Prison.Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Sykes, Gresham M. and Sheldon L. Messinger. 1960. “The Inmate Social System.” Pp. 5-19 inR.A. Cloward, D. R. Cressey, G. H. Glossner, R. McCleery, L.E. Ohlin, G. M.Sykes and S. Messinger (eds.), Theoretical Studies in Social Organization of the Prison. NewYork: Social Science Research Council.Terry, Charles. 1997. “The Function of Humor for Prison Inmates.” Journal of ContemporaryCriminal Justice 13 (1): 23-40.Trammell, Rebecca. 2009. “Values, Rules, and Keeping the Peace: How Men Describe Orderand the Inmate Code in California Prisons.” Deviant Behavior 30: 746-771.Watterson, Kathryn. 1996. Women in Prison: Inside the Concrete Womb. Boston:Northeastern University Press.Winfree, Tom, Greg Newbold, and Huston Tubb. 2002. “Prisoner Perspectives on InmateCulture in New Mexico and New Zealand.” The Prison Journal 82 (2): 213-233.Wittenberg, Peter M. 1996. “Language and Communication in Prison.” Federal Probation00149128. 60 (4).Author Mini BiographyElizabeth Higgs is currently Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Georgia Gwinnett College.She received her Ph.D. from the University of Florida, based on research as a U.S. FulbrightDoctoral Fellow in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Dr. Higgs has presented professional conference papers forthe annual meetings of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences and the AmericanCriminological Society. She has published a variety of articles in peer review journals and has aforthcoming article in the Journal of Family History.Key TermsPrisonizationInmate subculturesInmate codePrison culture 15
  16. 16. Prison argotTotal institution 16