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Inmates have their own justice system; I learned this on the inside. Every prison yard has its own code of conduct, and the code is controlled entirely by inmates. Of course, prison administrators operate under state or federal codes designed to contain an overflow of omnipresent hostility. Under such circumstances, forceful confinement creates a precarious environment.

Danger lies even more prevalently in the inmates’ judicial system. While rules and laws created by the legislatures and administrations are spelled out, tribal rules made by inmates are unwritten—they’re not to be found. Ironically, these unwritten rules are founded in an expectation of honesty and respectful conduct. Really—convicted people value honesty and respect? They do.

Without honesty and respect, prisons would be dark dens of roaming anarchists. When the code is broken, a rapid resolution is made; the enactment of punishment by the inmates’ system distinguishes it from the slow processes of administrative systems. Harsh and even deadly reprisals can follow.

Blue and White

We live at a time when the assimilation of people is being dissimilated. The flame of America’s melting pot is flickering. People herd with their own kind. We live in blue and white states; states that waffle in their political sway are labeled purple. Prisons are up front about the ethnicity/color divides of their inmates. In California, there are four recognized races in prison: Black, Mexican, White, and Other, with some subdivisions.

The rules of the race game keep an unnatural divide functional but constantly tense, much like with blue- and red-state residents today where an enhanced, palpable distrust has been going on since January of this year. The polemic effect of politics runs deep and furious. Politics describes interaction between inmates; for example, the politics of racial segregation in bathrooms and the politics of which races can play board games together come with clear rules that divide people, much the same as a divisive election does. In chapter 6 of my book Derailed, I explore the rules of the political race game in detail.

Federalist No. 10

The founders of this country had brilliant insights into the naturally pernicious human need to divide into groups that put people at odds with each other. Clustering in tribal groups known as factions was perceived as a dangerous vice that had to be broken and controlled. In Federalist No. 10, published in 1787, James Madison supports the ratification of the US Constitution while exhibiting an understanding that human beings are bent on acting as “factions” that can cause “instability, injustice, and confusion” in public life. Madison defines a political faction like this:

a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Madison’s theory is based on his awareness of our world history of political factions. He correctly realized and advocated that a union of states acts as a safeguard against domestic factions and insurrection, a safeguard that is essential for states to function under a federal constitution.


The phenomenon of gaslighting exists in the public and prison realms. I argue that there is a direct link between faction functions and gaslighting in the psychology of both. In an article in Psychology Today, Stephanie Sarkis says this about gaslighting:

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind.

According the Sarkis, people who gaslight typically use eleven techniques to manipulate. I am focusing on three of the techniques people use to help answer the question of who wouldn’t survive in prison. I recommend reading all eleven.

  • They tell blatant lies. You know it’s an outright lie. Yet they are telling you this lie with a straight face. Why are they so blatant? Because they’re setting up a precedent. Once they tell you a huge lie, you’re not sure if anything they say is true. Keeping you unsteady and off-kilter is the goal.
  • Application to prisoners’ codes and politics: An inmate who blatantly lies is at risk. Some used deceit to manipulate their victims and pull off their crimes. Scams and identity theft typically involve some form of deceit, subterfuge, or the abuse of a position of trust, which distinguishes these crimes from common theft or robbery. This category of inmate is a risk; if these inmates lie to other inmates, they can be expected to lie to the administration—possibly becoming a rat. They risk being whacked: hurt or killed.
  • Application to politics: Blatant lies by politicians are handled through government investigations and special prosecutors. These procedures are slow and methodical and are vigorously challenged by the accused or the accused’s political supporters. Richard Nixon’s impeachment is a study in the process of extra-prison institutional handling of a lying politician where the definition of being whacked means not maiming or death but loss of office and being subject to a pardon.
  • They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof. You know they said they would do something; you know you heard it. But they out and out deny it. It makes you start questioning your reality—maybe they never said that thing. And the more they do this, the more you question your reality and start accepting theirs.
  • Application to prisoners’ codes and politics: Inmates won’t necessarily look for patterns of behavior. On the inside, your word is your bond—there are no second chances because too much is at risk. Even between the four races, an umbrella of respect for the truth covers otherwise fractured racial politics. Inmates are reminded of their realities every waking moment of their terms. In this way, they are more grounded than most free people who are constantly bombarded by social and mass media’s lie of the day. Inmates are not inclined to question reality—they are more likely to allow visceral responses to take charge of their actions.
  • Application to politics: Visceral responses are subdued by process. A politician who is a pathological liar has legal and constitutional protections and privileges that insulate against a rapid enactment of punishment for patterned and provable lies. Supporters of this category of politician are beyond tone deaf to reality. They blindly follow the demented moral compass of their leader no matter where or against whom patterned lies are directed. Something within these people is fulfilled by cheering and supporting the lying politician.
  • Their actions do not match their words. When dealing with a person . . . that gaslights, look at what they are doing rather than what they are saying. What they are saying means nothing; it is just talk. What they are doing is the issue.
  • Application to prisoners’ codes and politics: Inmates are not subject to gaslighting because their realities are reinforced by their race and the general population’s code of truth. Mass gaslighting, however, has a grip on free people.
  • Application to politics: Because we live in a time of blue and red states and because political factions have developed, despite James Madison’s warning of the danger they represent, the application to the politics of the day are shrouded and unclear. We are living in the eye of storm. The storm’s aftermath is yet to be assessed.

If pathologically lying politicians were to be judged by the prisoners’ codes of conduct, their fate would not be prolonged by the slow, methodical administrative and legal processes. Whack!

On July 21, 2017, the New York Times published a list of lies by the commander in chief. This list, compiled by David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson, is striking. It has not been updated.

Your opinions and comments are always welcome.

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