Just as inmates have their little, seemingly insignificant rules, but actually very important rules, so the institution here at Taft has it’s own little rules that a man ignores at his own peril. If breached, one finds out quickly that there are consequences for the slightest infraction.
I had probably been at the camp for about a month when I discovered the severe consequence of not following a little institution rule. The rule, which I knew about from one of my first days here, is that an inmate must have his shirt tucked into his pants from 8 am to 4 pm (the prison’s operating or business hours). I had been working in the Rec. yard and was getting hot (Taft is pretty warm, and this was in May). I went back to the dorm to change. I was in a hurry and forgot to tuck in my shirt on my way back out. I probably took 15 steps out of the door before I remembered that I hadn’t tucked in my shirt. A guard was coming toward me and noticed my un-tucked shirt and accosted me about the infraction. The guard asked me for my card. I told him my card was in my locker. I was quite fortunate that I had left my ID card in my locker because he let me go without incident. Ironically, another rule, which I have a difficult time remembering, is to keep your ID card with you at all times. So, somehow I got away with violating one rule by violating another. That’s the way prison is sometimes: nonsensical.
Usually the punishment for not tucking in your shirt is extra work duty. The idea of extra duty is humorous because if every inmate did his job you would have nothing extra to do. The prison would be immaculate. I think about 1/3 of the inmates do no work whatsoever. So, rather than punish the guys who don’t work, they guys who forget to tuck in their shirts do the jobs of those guys who don’t work. It’s similar to the outside world. Still, it makes little sense to me.
Another rule that we need to follow here is that we are required to wear pants around the compound between 8 am and 4 pm. Failing to wear pants during this time can result in various disciplinary actions from a “shot” (a basic derogatory statement on your record), to not being allowed to eat. The punishment depends on where you are, what you are doing, and which guard catches you. If you go to work in shorts, you could get extra duty or a disciplinary “shot” depending on the guard. If you go to the chow hall in shorts, you probably will be send back to the dorm to change.
One of my favorite nonsensical rules is the prohibition from walking on the grass. I don’t know what the consequences would be if the rule were breached. The grass isn’t particularly nice, and I have seen inmates walk on it from time to time. I haven’t seen anyone punished for the infraction yet. Actually, very few inmates walk on the grass. So, the penalty must not be worth the infraction.
Another seemingly insignificant rule that has mild to severe consequences is that one must stand during the standing count. I’m not sure why we have to stand. Some guys think it is to make sure we are still alive. I think this is the way it’s always done, so it has become habit. We stand because as far as the guards know, we have always stood. The reason is no longer relevant. I personally think it is just another way to dehumanize the prisoners. My dad allegedly violated this rule in his first few weeks in and had to do extra work duty. He and his bunkies claim he was standing the whole time. My dad got a mild punishment. You can get thrown into the “SHU,” the segregated housing unit, for not standing. It mostly depends on the guard, and the mood they are in. If you argue with the guard when you weren’t in your cube or asleep, you could get sent to segregated housing. This is usually the punishment for the guys who have been around. The newer guys, like my dad, get extra duty.
I’m sure most of these rules seem petty. They are, for the most part. However, learning and following the rules are part of the learning process every inmate experiences, and since we are here for not following society’s rules, it’s probably a good thing. If I had followed the rules at my job, I wouldn’t be here. These rules are easy to follow. Tucking in one’s shirt is not complicated, but it does make a guy be part of a system and requires humility. You feel like a child being told to tuck in your shirt, or to stay off the grass. But, for the guys here who couldn’t be trusted with bigger rules, it’s a good place to start (even if the guards sometimes abuse their authority).
The little, insignificant, petty, arbitrary, and sometimes meaningless rules are still important. They are the easiest to ignore, bend, and break. Sometimes we break them so frequently that we forget a rule even exists. I’m continually reminded that my character and integrity start with the little rules in life. It might be a rule at work, such as “don’t leave the computer on when you leave.” Maybe it’s a rule at home, “never leave the toilet paper role empty.” These rules are there to show who has integrity and the respect for others. Those that do will follow the rules, even if doing some requires humility.
In prison, it’s easy to spot the selfish people. I have pointed this out before, but all one has to do is look at the rule breakers. Who cuts in line? Who walks on the grass? The inmate that doesn’t respect the institution with simple rules won’t respect the other inmates either. If you can’t trust someone to follow a simple rule, why would you trust them as a co-worker, partner, supervisor, or spouse? You can’t.