Successfully Adjusting To Prison

“Successful People Do Things Successfully”
Exerpt from the book “You Can Bounce Back”

Adjusting to prison life is not easy. It is one of the hardest things one will ever have to do in one’s lifetime. Once behind those locked doors and you realize that your freedom is absolutely taken away. There are guards with guns that are constantly watching you. You are told what to do, where to do it and when to do it everyday that you are there. You begin to feel and understand the demoralizing effect of incarceration. The prison system is designed to control prisoners by dehumanizing them. The guards and the wardens are trained to tear down one’s self-esteem and reduce prisoners to something less than human. This process begins with the first encounter with the arresting officers. With this type of pressure and treatment heaped upon a person, how do you adjust to Prison? The prison system as well as the entire criminal justice system is a form of institutional racism practiced in America. When speaking of institutional racism you speak of institutional oppression which discriminates against race, gender and religion. Racists are defined as persons or a group of persons that have the power to carry out a particular prejudice attitude or adverse actions against another person or group of persons based on perceived differences. Also, having the power to oppress and discriminate against a group based on ethnicity, color, religion or national origin.

I was not shocked to read about how many African-Americans were going to prison. The articles stated that; The penal system visits these dire consequences on a staggeringly high percentage of the African-American population. More than 22 percent of all black men in their early 30s and especially young men who dropped out of high school have spent time behind bars. These percentages are far higher than they were during the worst era of American apartheid. Title: Criminal Injustice and Race. By: Taylor Jr., Stuart, National Journal, 03604217, 10/6/2007, Vol. 39, Issue 38. I asked myself are African-American young men more apt to commit more crime than other youth in American? Do African-American young men understand that if a crime is committed someone is going to prison? Or is the American criminal justice system guilty of applying the law more strenuously for non-whites than for whites? The prison time given to first-time offenders is longer for non-whites than for whites. The overwhelming number of proven innocent prisoners that have been released in the state of Texas have been non-white. Some of these prisoners although innocent were incarcerated for as long as 30 years. This is just another way to oppress and discriminate against a segment of American society by using covertly the criminal justice system as an Institutionally Racist agent to enslave a people, again tearing them away from their families and justifying the actions taken by invoking the criminal justice system as legal authority. As a prisoner I am now a slave in the legal system. Adjusting to prison life means conforming to the prison system. Conformity is defined as “being within a group which entails members changing their attitudes and beliefs in order to match those of others within the group.” Those that conform tend to be obedient and compliant. In order to conform, the group member must attribute someone as having the legitimacy and credibility to lead or influence the “group” behavior. Without this “leader” conformity toward the group’s goals will be less prevalent. If a member of the group fails to conform to the group’s needs he would lose credibility with the group.”(www.unitsmuohioedu).

The definition of obedience “is the act of following orders without question because they come from a legitimate authority. There are many legitimate authorities in a person’s life from their parents to teachers at school and even spiritual leaders. Most of these authority figures that have been named are given their authority by society. In prison the authority figures are the guards, warden and other prison officials. We as prisoners are told to follow what they tell us. In other words we must be obedient to these people. Every person at some time in their life has followed a superior without questioning why they are doing what they are doing. For example we never question why we take tests in school. We just take them because we are told to do so. We never question a lot of the rules that people say are in our best interest because they are usually told to us by someone that is in a position higher than us.” (www.unitsmuohioedu/psybersite).

In prison we also accept without question what we are told to do, conformity and obedience is the only way to adjust to incarceration. The similarity to conformity and obedience is a person who follows orders from a legitimate and creditable authoritative individual. The difference in a person’s conformity is that they are not just obeying someone with authority, the person has changed his attitudes and beliefs so they can look like the other members in the group. In my case I tried to look like the other inmates without truly accepting their way of thinking. When thinking about an example of a person who obeys but may not have conformed, I reflect back to a time when I was teaching school. When I told students that I wanted them to sit down in the classroom they would only do so because I was in the room a person of authority. As soon as I left the room some of the students would get out of their seat and would start to make noise until I returned. When it came to a person conforming I think about my track team. As a track coach I found many athletes who came to run track for my college had to conform to my school’s mindset. They had to learn a new system from me and forget what they had learned from their former high school coach. Once entering into my program they changed their old attitudes and beliefs to go along with what I believed would make them and my program successful. In 1996 my track program at my college (SwCC) was voted one of the best programs in the national junior college division. In the following years when athletes came to SwCC they were more than willing to conform to my established training program. Conformity, compliance and obedience was not a problem for them because of the track program’s reputation. To comply and obey someone with whom one has personality issues can pose a serious dilemma. Complying and obeying in prison highlights this story. I knew what I needed to do but it was difficult. Because of my prison situation, I truly understood the power the prison system had over my life. When I was faced with trying to survive and dealing with the fear of prison that came with it, sometimes doing the right thing was very difficult, but I was determined that I would Bounce out of prison and never go back. I SURVIVED. Thank GOD.


Dr. Douglas McDuffie is a minister who lectures and presents workshops across the country. Dr. McDuffie spent six and half years in federal prison. Where he quickly learned the rules of prison protocol and became a recognized leader among his fellow inmates. This was a time of atonement and reconciliation with himself and his family. He has begun to Bounce Back by helping others that have no one to help them avoid the pitfalls and the numerous dangerous obstacles of prison life. He was able to Bounce Back and is willing to help others to do the same. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hiram College, a Master of Arts degree in Counseling from Amberton University, Dallas, Texas; a Masters and a Doctorate in Ministry from Slidell Theological Seminary and is a Certified Family Development Specialist from the University of Iowa.

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