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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Inmate-to-Inmate: Socialization, Relationships, and Community Among Incarcerated Men


Prison's walls keep prisoners in, but in many ways, they simultaneously keep the public out. Although researchers have studied and investigated different aspects of prisons, an area with particularly little notice has been the interactions between and amongst incarcerated men. With all of the concerted efforts and discussions attempting to create more stable inmate communities, the importance of understanding the social relationships is critical and significant for policy makers and the general public. I focus on California's male prison institutions where, due to sentencing procedures and isolated geographical locations of prisons, men are often sent to prisons far from hometowns, making it particularly difficult for friends and family to visit. Given the difficulty accessing home community relationships, inmate-to-inmate relations often form the basis of social interaction during an individual's sentence, and the inmate community forms a significant aspect of the prison experience.

In attempting to understand the social environment of inmates, the previous discourse has highlighted and emphasized negative occurrences to explain the community and the interactions of its members in its entirety. The mystery of this community by lack of research, combined with hyped news and misconstrued popular media portrayals, has led to suppositions and theories about the relational dynamics amongst incarcerated men that remain simplistic and shallow. In particular, accounts of gang organization and rapes in prison have received exceptional attention. While striking and noteworthy, these types of incidences have overpowered the literature on inmate-to-inmate relationships.

In this thesis, social relations between incarcerated men are given context by recognizing effects of both the institutional structural setting and informal social organization, including oft left-out positive inmate interactions of non-violent, non-criminal relations. By examining inmate-to-inmate relationships from the incarcerated men's perspectives, utilizing documented verification, and placing violent actions into the institutional framework, understandings of inmate-to-inmate relationships are further developed for a truer comprehension of the community, and ultimately of the incarcerated individuals.

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