April 22, 2015

Stress of Federal Prison

Two incidents occurred last week which reminded me of the high stress/high anxiety environment that exists in prison. The first incident occurred last Monday evening, right before 10:00 p.m. count. I was standing in my cube entrance and observed a prisoner to inject himself into a conversation where his presence was clearly not desired. Clearly, he was upset because they had blown him off. I told him, in a polite fashion, that He should be careful about engaging in personally intrusive behavior in the unit. He exploded. He swore at me and told me I did not know what I was talking about. I was speechless. I was trying too help and he just lost it. In the real world, I would have responded with a with a colorful retort, but I simply shut my mouth and walked away. The second incident occurred several days later. I was playing the card game “spades” with my normal card partners; the drug dealer from Florida, the drug dealer from Tennessee, and the bank fraud guy from Texas. I would consider these guys the closest thing I have to friends in prison. The card game was proceeding quite well as we engaged in mindless banter and shared a few laughs. Out of the blue, my friend from Tennessee stood up, tipped over the cardboard box table, threw his cards in the air and stormed out of the room. It was quite disturbing. Needless to say, the card game was over!

Incidents like these are common in prison. People are suffering from the harsh conditions, separation from their family and friends and their inability to control anything in their lives. This causes them to overreact to situations as they become easily agitated. Usually, things calm down and go back to “normal” fairly quickly. In both of the incidents described above, I received apologies from the offending parties the following day. The apologies share a common theme which goes something like this; “I do not know what was bothering me. I simply lost it!”

Prisoners usually cut their fellow prisoners some slack in these situations. They know and have experienced the same stressors that their fellow prisoners have experienced. As a result, they have empathy for them when they “lose it”. Quite simply, the stress of incarceration weighs heavily on everyone.


Ken Flaska

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