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Real Prison Culture And The Shawshank Redemption Sociology Essay

A large majority of the population will not have any knowledge of what prisons are a really like, if it was not for the movie studios and the television stations. The population acquire the knowledge about prisons through movies, documentaries, drama and action series involving actual prisons around the world as made available through these two medias. The National Geographic television channel has a program titled ‘Lockdown’ where crews go inside actual prisons and film the everyday aspects of prison life. This program shows their viewers how difficult, stressful and how dangerous prisons are (National Geographic Television Production, 2010). Compared that with ‘Hollywood movies’ where a director tells a story to his or her moviegoer customer. The director must ensure that he or she has included some of the real life aspects of the prison environment but he or she can exclude some of these aspects if it does not fit into the storyline. The movie Shawshank Redemption is a perfect example of this. The director, Frank Darabont did not to play the race card and allowed Andy Dufresne and Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding to become friends. Pending on which real life prison you look at, this might not occur. For example the program ‘Lockdown’ did an episode titled ‘Gang War’. One of their film crews entered Salinas Valley State Prison in California and showed their viewers that the prison is a powder keg ready to erupt at any time because the prison is divided by racial lines (National Geographic Television Production, 2006). If a prisoner crosses these racial lines, violence will occur amongst the prisoner race and the race group he offends (National Geographic Television Production, 2010). This paper will explore the various aspects of prison life, using the movie Shawshank Redemption to show the various aspects of prison life. The following aspects of prison life will be explored: prison as a machine and its use as a form of punishment, prison adjustment on inmates and the prison culture.

Prison Culture:

A prisoner in a federal corrections institute in the United States of America by the name of Michael Santos has a website titled ‘Prison News Blog Prison News and Commentary’. Santos writes on what he has experienced while he has been incarcerated since he was 23 years old. Santos writes describing prisons and the prison subcultures as the following: “Prisons are like mini communities, totally separated from the wider society. Those who live inside find cultures that differ in remarkable ways from the America that most citizens know and love” (Santos, 2008). In this section of the paper the topic of prison subculture will be explored explaining culture in general, inmate subculture, the deprivation, importation models, pains of imprisonment, the different roles of inmates and the types of correction officers. Is there a difference between subculture and inmate subculture, the textbook describes the term subculture as “the distinctive values, beliefs, norms, symbols, language, and ideologies embraced by a particular group or community set apart from the larger society” (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001, p. 131). The term inmate subculture is defined “as the norms, beliefs, values, language, and ideologies by inmates within correctional institutions” (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001, p. 131). An example of culture is the people who believe in the Roman Catholic religion. In comparison inmate subculture are people who are incarcerated at one of the federal, provincial or local correctional institutions and the social structure these inmates create and how these inmates interact with each other. Inmate subculture can be further explained by two approaches from Sykes in 1958 and then re-examined by Messinger in 1970. The first approach is the deprivation model, this model describes that “prisoners experience considerable suffering and frustration attendant with the deprivation of [the daily] basic needs [a free citizen has]” (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001, p. 132). The needs are the following: freedom, time alone when you need it, you can purchase what you want and obtain the services you want, sexual relationships, independence and the feeling of being safe (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001). The above list of items can also be called the pains of imprisonment. The pains of imprisonment can be defined as “the kinds of deprivations inmates experience by virtue of being in prison” (Stojkovic & Lovell, 1998, p. 244). This creates the inmate subculture and the social interactions between the inmates (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001). A single prisoner can function as an individual, me against the world attitude or allow themselves to integrate with the other inmates to alleviate the pains of imprisonment. (Stojkovic & Lovell, 1998 and Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001). A prime of example from the movie The Shawshank Redemption is the character Andy Dufresne, Andy remains by himself until he starts to speak to Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding. Andy then allows himself to integrate into the inmate subculture and becomes friends with the warden, prison guards and other inmates.

The second approach of the inmate subculture is the importation model

“which attributes the development of the prison subculture to the values, roles, beliefs, and inclinations that prisoners bring with them into the prison. [In short,] a prison is a microcosm of the outside society, reflection of the world outside the prison walls and not due to the pains of imprisonment” (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001, p. 132).

The importation model includes the prisoner-staff dynamic how they interact between each other. The three different types of inmates which are the following: awaiting trail, post conviction awaiting sentence and serving his or her prison sentence (Stojkovic & Lovell, 1998 and Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001). The various racial groups within the prison population such as (African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Caucasians). The type of offence the inmate is in prison for and if the inmate is in prison for reoffending. The inmate subculture will be also be effected by the following: the personality differences of each of the inmates before being sentenced to prison. The hierarchy of the inmates in which the powerful ones will be on top and the weak ones will be on the bottom. The inmate sexual preference will also play a role e.g. sexual urges. Both models are very similar but the deprivation model looks at the pains of imprisonment, while the importation model looks at prison subculture and prisons are like cities in the free world. (Stojkovic & Lovell, 1998 and Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001). Many examples from the movie come to light; they include the warden allowing the prisoners to work outside of the prison repairing the roof of the prison and other jobs as a work gang. The prison gang ‘The Sisters and the leader Bogs Diamond’ trying to get Andy to perform oral sex on him. The last example from the movie is the economic system in prison, Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding gets Andy a rock hammer and two posters during Andy’s stay in prison. Red has to smuggle these items into the prison through the laundry area and the help of other inmates. Both the deprivation and importation models are valid theories but what an inmate does before he or she was incarcerated will have an impact on his or her behaviour while they are incarcerated in the prison system (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001). So if the inmate is an outsider before he or she were incarcerated they will be an outsider during their prison time. On the other hand, if the inmate does not respect authority and runs wild, he or she will be the same way in the prison system.

In the prison system, inmates have established certain names for the various roles each inmate has. The term coined for this set of terms is prison argot rules (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001). The following are the roles that were seen in The Shawshank Redemption movie. The first role seen is ‘fish’. A fish “implies [to] the vulnerability of the new inmate who must learn to adjust to the prison environment, in other words to sink or swim” (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001, p.134). The movie depicts this role when Andy and the other new inmates are being unloaded from the bus and the older inmates are calling Andy and other new inmates names and making gestures about a reeling a fish in. The movie also shows the current inmates betting on which new inmate would be the first to cry the first night after lights out. Once the lights go out the current inmates start trying to make a new inmate cry. A ‘Centre-Men’ are inmates that are unpopular with other inmates and these inmates attempt to ingratiate with the prison warden and guards (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001).The two characters in the movie are Andy and Brooks. Andy helps Warden Samuel Norton and the guards with their tax forms and investments and Brooks maintains the prison library and deliverers books to the other inmates. Both men are popular with the other inmates so they are not true centre-men because the other inmates are friendly to them.

The next term is the Merchant/Peddler “is an inmate who sells when he or she is in the position to give and the inmate population regards the merchant as someone who exploits his companions” (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001, p.134). An example of a merchant/peddler in the movie is Red. He can get what you want if you are willing to pay his price for it. The last two argot terms depict in the movie is the wolf.

“A wolf is an inmate who take[s] on the male role in the sexual encounter [and] these individuals are very aggressive and a punk is inmate who is forced into the female sexual role. [The ‘punk’ inmate] are forced into submission by wolves” (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001, p.134). The movie portrays the character Bogs Diamond the leader of the prison gang ‘The Sisters’. Bogs and The Sisters assault Andy numerous times and one scene Bogs tries to get Andy to perform oral sex on him but does not prevail. The most important argot term in the prison world is the ‘rat’. A rat is an inmate who gives information about another inmate to prison officials in exchange for their own personal benefits, preferential treatment and the use of contraband goods (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001). ‘Rats’ are the lowest of the low in the prison on the same level as rapist or child murderers. In short, if other inmates discover that someone is a rat then he or she will become an outsider in the prison. All these definitions are some of the argot rules that are part of the adjustment an inmate will have to face during their prison adjustment phase.

As with inmate argot roles, correction officials (prison guards) have their own roles in terms of the different types of correction officials. The different types of officials are the following: the rule enforcer, hard liner, people worker, the synthetic officer and the loner guard (Cesaroni, 2010a). The first example is the Rule enforcer who is an officer that tends to be very rule based, inflexible officer who believes that he or she is in the prison to teach discipline. This officer is only interested in custody and control and does not want to negotiate with the inmates. Lastly this type of officer does not believe in being friendly to the inmates (Cesaroni, 2010a).

The Hard liner officer is someone who is power hungry, enforces the rules very strictly, likes to punish and show their authority, this type of officer tends to be abusive and aggressive to the inmates and have a negative attitude with the inmates. He or she also identifies strongly with his or her follow officers and this type of officer has a negative attitude with the inmates and resent on having to provide any services to the inmates (Cesaroni, 2010a). The People worker officer tends to an older and experienced correctional officer. He or she relays on their verbal skills and common sense, interpersonal skills to resolve problems through mediation and not by conflicts. He or she is flexible with rules has a comfortable style with the inmates (Cesaroni, 2010a). This type of officer enjoys the challenge of dealing with the inmates and does not like being authoritarian with them (Cesaroni, 2010a). The Synthetic officer is a cross between the rule enforcer and the people worker in which he or she follows the rules closely but takes each and every situation into consideration before reacting to it. This type of officer is firm but fair for each situation and they do not let themselves be taken advantage of by other correctional officers or inmates (Cesaroni, 2010a). Lastly the Loner officer, he or she strictly enforces the rules because this type of officer is afraid of being criticized. We see this type of officer with females or minorities. This officer does not want to negotiate with inmates and does not want to make mistakes while on duty. The officer enjoys working in the correctional administration part of the prisons and not rather on one-one-one relations with the inmates (Cesaroni, 2010a).

Examples from the movie are the following: Warden Norton is depicted as a people worker officer at the start off of the movie when he informs the new inmates that he believes in two things, discipline and the bible but as the movie progresses the movie watcher sees Warden Norton true colours and the type of officer he really is. Norton shows that he is a hardliner officer by allowing inmate Tommy Williams to be murdered and Andy set free because of the new information that Williams has on who really murdered Andy’s wife and her mistress. Other examples of Norton being a hardliner officer is that he uses the inmates as inexpensive labourers and he takes bribes from other agencies who are competing on the same contracts. The last example is Captain Byron Hadley, the head officer. Hadley can be seen has a rule enforcer officer. In the movie Hadley is seen yelling, screaming, to re-establish order in the prison after the older inmate made a new inmate start to cry after lights out on Andy’s first night at Shawshank. Hadley was the officer that uses his woodened asp baton on this inmate to confirm his authority with the older inmates and show it to the new inmates.

Prison as a Form of Punishment and Prison as a Machine:

As describe in lecture punishment is a necessary evil and when a punishment is invoked when someone is believed to have done wrong (Cesaroni, 2010b). In 1954, Andrew Flew outlined the rules of punishment. The rules of punishment are the following: there must be human suffering, as a result of a criminal offence; the offender who committed the offence is the only one being punished fourth “[b]e the intentional creation of the suffering other humans in response to that offence and lastly [b]e inflicted by [an authorized governing body that created the rules and laws for the society as a whole that the offender has committed the offence in" (Cesaroni, 2010b).

In 1991, David Garland outlined the Sociological Perspectives on Punishment. The first perspective is the moral process. This perspective stated that punishment of the offender functions to preserve the shared values and norms of the society wishes. Punishment symbolizes and enacts moral judgements and punishment sustains solidarity and collective conscience (Cesaroni, 2010b). An example from the movie is when Andy is sentenced to two consecutive life terms. The second perspective is “economic and political where a part of a wilder strategy of controlling the poor and lower classes (Cesaroni, 2010b)”. It is a known fact the offenders that come from poorer areas are treated harsher then people from wealthier areas. The prison system uses their inmates as a cheap labour force as seen the movie when the inmates are tarring the roof and other times seen working outside. The third perspective is power; knowledge and discipline (Garland, 1991). Power comes from the judges and the court to convict offenders (Cesaroni, 2010b). The prison system is setup to educate inmates and to reform these inmates. Prison Officers are the discipline in which they use in daily practice to keep order in prisons. In the movie one scene shows Warden Norton allows an officer to search Andy’s for illegal items but none are found but is pleased when the warden sees Andy reading the bible. Lastly “cultural transformations are changes in attitude, conduct, social organization and modes of interactions” (Cesaroni, 2010b). In the past 500 years there have been changes in how society handles the following sensitive issues: sex, violence, bodily functions, illness, suffering and death. Each of these sensitive issues has been moved from a public domain to a private domain (Cesaroni, 2010b). The above perspectives can explain the complicated items of prison as a form of punishment in society (Cesaroni, 2010b).

The prison system has been developed to run like a well oiled machine. The prison machine system will not function correctly unless the inmates behave as the parts of the machine. Mason writes the following on the prison as a machine as a

“the system with its impenetrable sets of rules and regulations which grind on relentlessly. The effect of such mechanistic depiction of punishment is to highlight both the individual fight for survival and inherent process of dehumanization that comes with incarceration in the system. The monotony and regulation of prison life is most often depicted by the highly structured movement of prisoners” (Mason, 2003, p. 289.)

In the movie there are many examples of the above occurring. The first example is when Captain Hadley yells at an inmate “you eat when you’re told to eat, you shit when we say you shit, you piss when we say you piss” are the set of rules and regulations which grind on relentlessly. The individual fight for survival and inherent process of dehumanization examples are the stay in the hole for Andy when he fights Bogs Diamond and the daily checks every morning by the officers before inmates go for their breakfast and the prison staff discovers Andy has escaped sometime during the night. Lastly the highly structured movement of prisoners is seen when they are being allowed out of their cells, going for meals, eating together and spending time in the yard.

Prison Adjustment:

When a new inmate enters a correctional institution (prison) the inmate will experience three stages of prison adjustments. The three stages are: initiation, prisonization/ institutionalization and rehabilitation. Based on Wheeler theory that prison life and culture is in a U-shaped curve (Cesaroni, 2010c). The top of the U is the entry period of the correctional institution for the inmate. This is a high stress period for an inmate regardless if they are a first timer or a repeat offender. The middle part of the U is where the prison inmate subculture is established and the inmate and is the farthest away of what they were like in the free world Cesaroni, 2010c). The last stage of the U is when the inmate is nearing the end of his or her sentence and starts to reconnect with their love ones and the outside world. This period is another stressful period for the inmate because the inmate does not know what to expect in the free world but is eagerly looking forward to it (Cesaroni, 2010c).

The initiation process according to Goffman is “a radical shift in the social self. This adjustment to prison involves a psychological process” (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001, p.130). Goffman refers this as the mortifications of self the “process of adjusting to the institution requires the loss of a civilian identity and the incorporation of a new institutional identity” (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001, p.131). This is depicted in the movie when Andy and the other new inmates are paraded in front of the older inmates and these inmates are calling them ‘fish’. The new inmates are then paraded into a dark room where Warden Norton and Captain Hadley continue this process by informing the inmates of the rule one no blasphemy and we tell you when you can do things. The inmates are told to strip down, are then hosed down with water and then are covered with a white powder. The inmates are given their prison clothes and a bible and a forced to walk through the prison naked to their cells. The text states that Clemmer argues that the “inmates’ loss of autonomy encourages the inmate to identify with the prison hierarchal system that is very similar to that of the outside world” (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001, p.131). Most of the new the inmates adjust to the prison subculture in order for these inmates to feel safe in prison environment and allowing them to learn and obey the rules of the prison (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001).

Goffman describes the term total institution as “a place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life” (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001, p. 130). Prisons are controlling structures and social organization in which prisons functions. Clemmer coined the phrases prisonization or institutionalization. “This refers to the process of socialization of an inmate into the subculture of the prison. This process includes [the] learning about the prisons subculture such as values, beliefs and behaviours that challenge the prison staff” (Ishwaran & Neugebauer, 2001, p. 131). An example of this is when Brooks is being released from Shawshank; Brooks did not want to leave Shawshank and was forced to do so. Brooks discovered he could not survive in the outside world after being in prison for fifty years. He killed himself by hanging himself in the halfway house after craving his name in the rafters.

“Offenders commit crimes mainly because they are lazy. They need to learn to work hard and be taught a new attitude toward work.” (Cesaroni, 2010d). Thus last phase in the prison adjustment is the rehabilitation phase. In this phase the prison system attempts to re-educate inmates so one day they can return to the general public one day. Throughout history, a strong work ethic was directly related to a positive social behaviour. Currently, the prison systems are teaching the inmates that if you work hard, you will develop work skills that can be used in the free world (Cesaroni, 2010d). An example of this from the movie is the character Brooks, he was paroled after fifty years in Shawshank prison. The parole board got him employment with a grocery store and living in a half-way house. In the end Brooks could have been rehabilitated more to handle the stress after being in the prison system for five decades and the numerous social changes that occurred since Brooks has been in prison such as how common the automobile has become, electricity, how people dress.

In conclusion, the Shawshank Redemption movie is the closest motion picture that depicts what prison is really like. It is a terrible place to live disconnected from the outside world. The movie also proves that all that correction officers are not the same. Some tend to be power hungry while others prefer to be loners working in the prison office. Inmate subculture is also dealt with by the movie showing the different the various types of roles prisoners have in prison. The three different stages of prison adjustment an inmate goes through while in the prison system. The stages are the initiation phase, the prisonization or institutionalization phase and the rehabilitation phase. Lastly the movie shows the prison system acting as machine and as form of punishment. The Shawshank Redemption is movie that should be watched by any student studying criminology.

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