I’ve gone over rules about living with other inmates and some rules that the institution imposes. There are even more rules for when you work with other inmates. Quite frankly, working with inmates stinks. It reminds me of the television show Survivor. I remember from watching Survivor that generally, in the first few episodes, anyone who tried to be a leader, or to organize the group was usually sent off quickly. Some comments would be, “who did he think he was telling me to do this or that”, or “she thinks she’s better than everyone”, etc. The players didn’t want leaders who were efficient and who would delegate tasks, mainly they didn’t want other people to tell them what to do, when to do it, or how to do it. The players wanted to do their own thing. This is what happens in prison with inmates and work. Very few inmates will actually listen to another inmate, much less do what he suggests when it comes to doing work. It’s an inmate rule. Never tell another inmate how to do his job. This makes working with inmates difficult. I currently work on an “out crew.” I go out to a church in the community and work at the church doing various odd tasks like gardening, cleaning, and set up and tear down for special events. We don’t have any guards with us when we work. Rather, we are supervised by someone from the church. On occasion our supervisor will not be prepared with work details, and instead just says find something to do. Well, there is always something that needs work, so it shouldn’t be a difficult task. However, an inmate cannot tell another inmate what to do, so the directive essentially becomes, sit around and do nothing until I catch you. I made the mistake once of telling an inmate what a good project would be, because I thought we were a team. The supervisor had told us some jobs that needed to be done, and I suggested that one inmate do one part, and I do the other. My suggestion bothered the other inmate. I later discovered that all the other guys on my crew didn’t want to be in a position to tell the other guys what to do. They all felt like that was the supervisor’s job. So much for the team. I’ll help the team out only if that’s what I’m told to do.
In order to adapt to this work environment, I have a couple of personal rules that I follow. First, I do my job, and I try to do it well. I can’t complain about how other people do their job (or don’t do it) if I don’t do my own job. Some inmates don’t do their jobs. I’m not saying that they just do poor work or don’t work hard, but really, some inmates don’t even show up for work. It’s and important rule for me not only to show up, but to do my job as best I can.
Another rule that I follow is “figure out who you work for.” This is different from figuring out why you work. Knowing who you work for is important. In one of my jobs at prison I was asked by an inmate, “do you work for us or for the guards?” Of course I said, “For us.” But, I had to think about that. I didn’t really know what he meant. I got paid by the prison and a guard supervised the department, but did that mean I worked for them? The inmates are the customers here, and my job was to issue recreational equipment to other inmates. To do this, had to collect their card and hold it until the inmate returned the equipment. I later learned that inmates are not supposed to give their cards to other inmates. This posed a problem. By following one directive, I would be disobeying another. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was working for the customers. I had to find a way to not take their cards, but to track who took what equipment. That’s easy enough. I just made a list of people who used the equipment on my shift. This way I was doing my job and working for the people who needed the service.
This rule is a little different on my out crew. I still get paid by the prison, but I work for the church. Who is the customer? Since the church receives my services, then I work for the church. We have a supervisor at work, but she answers to the pastor. So, I ultimately work for the pastor. My supervisor is more like a part of the team. I work hard so that she and the rest of my team look good to the pastor.
Another rule I try to follow is to take pride in my work regardless of who is watching. I’m able to do this because I want to be faithful in the smallest things. I know that God is watching me and that I am pleasing him and obeying him when I work hard and do my best just because of who I am. I didn’t always view work this way. When I was an employee, I didn’t particularly care about the company for whom I worked, and I cut corners all the time. I wasn’t so concerned about the work I was producing. I was doing enough to get by. Some people will work hard to get noticed and when they don’t then they do just enough. That was me. I’ve learned in prison what you have to do your best work regardless of who notices. Nobody notices work in prison. You will never hear a guard say, “that’s excellent work.” In fact, most guys don’t do excellent work, or efficient work because they don’t want to be given harder or more work later. They view that as working too hard for nothing.
The guards, staff, and inmates don’t care about your work. There is no corporate ladder, or reward, or incentive. You either work hard and do a good job because you have integrity and you care about those around you or you don’t. If you are lucky you may find that someone does care. It’s rare, but a few people will notice and you will have earned their respect. The respect comes from the integrity and not the expectation of reward. As I said, if you work here expecting a reward, you won’t receive one, and will get frustrated. You don’t get rewarded in prison. You have to decide, do you work hard because you want to or do you work enough to just get by.