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(en) <alter-ee> How to survive in prison - advice by a prisoner supported by ABC

From "Zaczek" <hydrozag@poczta.onet.pl>
Date Wed, 17 Jan 2001 16:01:03 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

Here's a short manual about how to survive behind
prison walls, written by a prisoner supported by ABC-Poland,
Klaudiusz "Paymon" Gliklich. It describes conditions
in Polish prisons, but the prison subculture is more
universal, and many of it's characteristics might be present
in other places, not only within prison walls.

We're all prisoners until the last one of us is free!



It's difficult to write something that would be an effective manual on how
to behave when one gets into hte prison for the first time.
Everybody has a different personality, and reacts differently in various
Nonetheless, i will try to give some advice to those who will find
themselves on the other side of the wall for the first time. I don't wish
that to anyone, but as we all know,
life likes to play tricks on you.

I will divide this advice in three parts. It has to be noted though that
anything i write here does not apply to those sentenced for rape, police
spies, etc...

1) When the gate closes behind you and you're on this side, the first thing
you have
got to remember is that any employee of the prison is your enemy!
It doesn't matter if it's a simple guard, the person charged of
"reeducation", a doctor,
a nurse or an administrative employee. Don't let them know you hate them
they give you a clear reason) but keep them at a distance. Answer only their
and never discuss with them.
You have got to remember that you cannot shake the hand of any of the
employees of the prison!!! It's very important and you cannot fall into
the illusion that the "reeducator" is sympathetic to you when he wants
to shake your hand. You shouldn't shake his hand under any circumstance!
After the first conversation with the reeducator, you will be taken by the
guard to the cell. It can happen that the guard will drop the keys on the
and will order you to pick them up. You cannot take the key in your hand!!!
I will explain why later.

2) First entrance in the cell. At the beginning you will enter the so-called
transition cell for the duration of 7 days. You will be with someone whose
is very similar to yours,  it's going to be someone who was jailed a very
short time and
is a "rookie" like you, but he already knows the basic things. The
"transition cells"
are made for the arrestee to get used to his new situation and the thought
of being
in prison, and for the other prisoners and the guards to observe his

Before you will use plates and forks, you should boil it in water:
someone has used it before you. A i said, somebody who was in the cell
before you came will probably tell you what you are allowed to do
and what you aren't. For example you are not allowed to use the
toilet container when anyone is eating or drinking. You have to wait
until everybody is finished with their meals.

Just as everywhere else, divisions exist in the jail. The administration
you know about it at the beginning, but not always. The other prisoners
who have spent some time in jail will explain it to you on the first
which is the first promenade.
The basic groups are: the "Grypsera" - they think thy're better than
others, the "dumb-asses" - which is everyone who is not in the first group,
but are not bothered by anyone, then there are the snoops, and the "Cwele"
means homosexuals - groups with the lowest status.
The two last groups stay separately from the first two, although there are
some snoops among the "Grypsera" too.

>From the "transition cells" you will be moved to the general cells
As soon as you come in, you'll hear the question "what are you in here
You should answer everything without trying to chat, because the other
will ask you to show the document on temporary arrest. After that, you will
be explained the rules that you still didn't learn in the transition cell.
You have
to remember and respect those rules, because everyone is subjected to it.
Then you have to learn a special parlance called "bajera". It's a special
prisoners slang, as you are not allowed to use most of the words
you used as a free person inside the walls. Many of the words you have
used commonly at home has an offensive meaning in prison. You are not
allowed to use words which are associated with women. It's
impossible to give a whole list, but i will try to give a few examples:
[translator's note: i have skipped the examples, because
it's impossible to translate - in general it's any names of objects
which would associate with genitals, or any expression
which can be associated with the sexual act.]
You just have to learn it, it makes life in prison a lot easier.

At some point there will be a time when members of the "grypsera" will
ask you if you would like to be one of them. They will try to convince
you that it's full of advantages. It's empty talking. The "grypsera" had
relevance under the communist system, it was a tool of total
conspiracy and resistance to the prison administration through
all means. As communism has gone, the "grypsera" has changed.
It's no longer "all for one and one for all", but "everyone for himself".
The custom subsisted as a mere subcultural game with language.

The "grypsera" believe to be better than others and don't shake hands with
anyone outside their circle. Even two people were best friends outside
the walls, but inside if one of them is in the "grypsera" and the other is
they will not shake hands. Today it doesn't pay to be inside the subculture
anyomore, as it is put aside by money and power. But if someone wants to
join, he has to learn much more rules. Before he is generally accepted, he
has to spend time being "one for himself". During this time, he is not
allowed to use other people's objects, cannot eat at a common table with
others, etc... The others keep him under scrutiny and try to collect as
much information as possible - if he was ok as a free man, and whether he
has ever denounced anyone to the police.

If everything is allright and the individual is positively verified, he
receives general acceptance and is allowed to join the "grypsera". It
though that the information about past wrong behaviours is known afterwards.
In that case the incriminated person can get a warning, or a so-called
It's sort of a time given to prove one's innocence.

If one is not able to prove his innocence, the membership in the group is
canceled, or the person is degraded to a status where anyone is allowed
to insult him. But if the  accusations against that person were false,
the accuser himself receives the humiliating status. Very often
prisoners try to settle the accounts for their old quarrels outside
the walls using this method. The "grypsera" has visibly
degenerated, and you have to think twice if it's worth to join it.
i think that today it has no advantages anymore, whereas it can
also harm you, because it's more difficult to have parole if
you are a part of the subculture. But everyone should decide by themselves.

3) If you don't wish to join the "grypsera" you become a so-called
"dumb-ass". But this
name is no longer used that much. You just have those who are in
"grypsera" and those who aren't. If you don't want to be a member of the
subculture, but you respect yourself and are ok for the others,
you will be respected by both of the two groups. If you don't allow
others to manipulate you or influence you and if you will be able
to say your own opinion, you will get respect in time. But you have to know
that the beginnings are not easy, because thare are people who will try to
you, scare you or break you.
It's psychological pressure. Show that you have a mind of your own
and you're not afraid to say it, and the attitude of others will be more
favourable to you. But if you will continue to change what you say
depending who you're talking to, don't expect to be respected.
Someone like that will never be treated as equal. Remember that those
who are not in the "grypsera" are not considered less worthy,
even if some people will try to convince you of that.

4) Don't ever engage in discussions with the prison employees of
your own initiative. Limit your conversations with them to what's necessary.
You have to remember that you're not allowed to repeat to anyone
(it concerns other prisoners as well as guards) what is going on
in the cells. Never ask the guards for help if you are
having a conflict with other inmates. This includes all situations, except
when medical care is necessary. But even then pretend not to
know anything when asked. There is a saying: "Always know what you are
saying, but don't always say what you know."

If you follow this rule, nobody will be able to reproach you anything.
Remember not to trust anyone. There are no friends inside the prison.
You can have pals, but treat them with distance. You'll have a lot
of friends if you receive a lot of packages from outside, but be warned
against those who will try to use you. If you have nice
clothes but no cigarettes, some people will try to barter, but the
exchange rate will be so low it doesn't make any sense.
Some will offer to borrow you cigarettes, coffee or anything else.
But there's an interest rate to this kind of transaction. They will
soon come and demand two times as much in return.
Don't gamble - unless you're really good at it. Don't boast to know
any martial arts if you do. Use your abilities when you need to,
but try to avoid fighting unless your are in a no-exit situation.

Another thing are tatoos. Don't get excited about that idea,
very few people know how to do them right in prison.
Don't believe people who tell you that if you tatoo
military rank on your shoulders, everybody will respect you!
The times when this worked are long over.

Now i will get back to the reason why you can't take the key into your
hand. It's a humiliating object in prison. If you take a key into your
hand, you become an enemy of all other prisoners. It means
you become "shot across" - degraded to the lowest status.
In general you can't take anything directly from the hand of a prison
guard. If he gives you an aspirin, he has to put it in your open hand.
If he wants you to pick it up from his hand, never take it.
There are many other things you have to learn once you are in prison,
but i have presented the most essential, which will help
those who are the first time in prison.

I wish none of you ever gets in prison and has to learn what i write

Klaudiusz "Paymon" Gliklich

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