Opinions From an Inmate

Date01 May 2022
Published date01 May 2022
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 38(2) 255 –258
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862221096739
Opinions From an Inmate
Matthew R. Hettinger
Stop for a moment and ask yourself what qualifies as “violence.” There are some obvi-
ous answers: murder, kidnapping, physical assault. But what about threats and inten-
tional intimidation? And what about taunting, verbal abuse, and emotional abuse? Can
these nonphysical aggressions be considered violence? If so, what about derisive
snorts, eye-rolling, and other rude forms of nonverbal passive aggressiveness? What
qualifies as violence? And if you include these lower forms, who all now qualifies as
perpetrators of violence? Are we limited to just inmates now, or are we including
hyper-aggressive staff members too? An argument can be made that violence exists on
a much broader spectrum and plays a large role in all our lives. And avoiding it has just
as much to do with the people around us as it does with our internal thought
The level of violence in American prisons varies dramatically, depending on which
prison you’re in. There are prisons that have stab lines and beatings constantly, and
there are prisons that experience almost no fighting at all. I know because I’ve lived in
both kinds. I’ve been incarcerated for over 13 years, and I’ve split my time roughly in
half... About half that time in vicious prisons full of violence, and the other half in a
relatively peaceful, calm, nonviolent prison.
The differences in living in these two very different kinds of prisons cannot be
overstated. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll call them good and bad. In a good prison you’re
not confined to your cell all day. You have some freedom of movement. If you need to
go to laundry or clothing-issue, you can just sign out and go there. If you need to go to
the education department, or the gym, or the library, or anywhere else you can just sign
out and go. And if you need to talk to a psychologist, your counselor, the treatment
director or even the assistant warden, all you have to do is sign out and go. Absolutely
none of these options exist in a bad prison. In a bad prison you’re locked in your cell
20-22 hours a day, and even when you’re out of your cell, you can’t just go anywhere
you need to. That type of confinement restricts you from accessing the people, ser-
vices, and resources you need, especially for inmates interested in rehabilitation. These
restrictions and the inability to access anything in a timely manner, leads to frustration,
anger, and often violence. Much more violence than in a good prison.
There is definitely a correlation between the level of confinement in a prison, and
the levels of violence that exist there. But I think the more important factor, is the
people. First the types of inmates, but more importantly the types of people working
1096739CCJXXX10.1177/10439862221096739Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeHettinger

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