|Perhaps you have heard the colloquialism, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when at first we practice to deceive.” It may be a pithy saying, but it has teeth in prison. Some prison relationships are built on deception, and it is these deceptive and harmful relationships that cause many prisoners to fear running into someone later in their prison “bit.” You should not be surprised to hear that, often, many prisoners have long histories of manipulation, deception, and weaving webs of lies. For many prisoners, lying was a way of life before prison, so why should it be any different upon coming to prison?
Some prisoners continue to weave webs of lies by misrepresenting who they were before prison. I have heard many men claim to have been drug kingpins, or drug lords, moving massive quantities of drugs. Others claim to have money stacked high outside of prison, but they have to borrow a noodle or bum a shot of coffee from someone else. When I first came to prison, I had someone tell me that he went to school with my former father-in-law, that he grew up in the same neighborhood and visited his house often. His lies fell apart when he claimed to have gone bowling in my father-in-law’s basement–which was impossible. Later, I heard him claim he had a gold-plated helicopter and had bought his niece an eighty thousand dollar “Benz” while he was in prison. These webs of lies served no purpose, other than to make himself out to be someone he was not. They were his attempts to be someone, to stand out.
Some prisoners weave webs of lies about their crimes; some because they want to be seen as important, and others because they fear others finding out why they are in prison. While it is normally taboo to ask another prisoner why he is in prison, some prisoners have their family look up other prisoners, and the rumor mill spreads the information. It’s hard to keep these webs of lies intact. It’s far better to be authentic, even when it’s ugly, and to show remorse for one’s bad behavior. Prisoners that choose to lie about their crimes often find it catches up to them.
Other prisoners weave webs of lies by borrowing commissary items or running up gambling debts and promising to pay the debt back with interest when they know they cannot. Then, when the payment is due, the prisoner locks up, telling the officers he feels threatened. He leaves debts and angry debtors behind, hoping against hope that he’ll never run into them again. The problem is, even in Michigan with some thirty prisons and nearly 40,000 prisoners, it’s surprisingly easy to run into people you’ve known from other prisons. These lock-up artists, as they are called, can’t hide forever, so they end up in a cycle of locking up to avoid repercussions for their lies.
Running into someone you’ve known at other prisons doesn’t have to be a matter of fear though. I have been housed in four different prisons, and at each of the last three I’ve run into men I knew at another prison (at the first I ran into men I met in jail). Sometimes it is tentative; “Weren’t you at such and such a prison?” Other times, it is a person whom I have a friendship with, and it’s a happy reunion. Such was the case this week when the newest cohort of the Calvin Prison Initiative arrived at Handlon Correctional Facility. Of the twenty new students, I knew three from previous prisons and was happy to see them. The same week, someone whom I didn’t remember recognized me from seven years before at a previous prison. (He only knew me in passing.) I have nothing to fear in these reunions, for they are webs of friendship and positive relationships, not connections obscured by webs of lies.
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Author: Bryan Noonan
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