Masculinity in TDCJ’s Prison System
I live in a community consisting of almost entirely of men, each of whom is trying desperately to appear manlier and tougher than the next. The only females we are around daily are guards and nurses, and they are in positions of authority over us all. What does masculinity mean and look like to us in this place? It is very complicated, conflicting, and confusing because inmates must be strong amongst each other, or at least appear to be. Some do this by working out to develop a huge upper body, while others are loud and antagonistic. Violence is always just one word away and often, the only way to avoid it is by appearing eager for it. This results in grown men cursing and yelling, trying to convince the other they are seconds away from a beating, when in actuality, neither relishes violence. Sometimes, if both were loud and dramatic enough, an officer will notice and stop it. We regress to apes, waving arms and causing a ruckus to appear dominant. If you are involved in a fight, no matter the reason, you are given a major disciplinary case with major consequences. You lose privileges such as visits, commissary, recreation, and phone usage. Worst of all, it negatively effects your already slim chance of parole. Selfdefense is no excuse. A fight is a fight and both are disciplined, victim as much as aggressor. When violence seems inevitable, you can either back down (which looks weak and unmanly in here and might lead to others being aggressive towards you) or you can fight (which may keep you incarcerated longer and unable to be a man for your loved ones out there). An altercation can occur with no warning and a split-second decision can have far-reaching consequences.
So how does a man in prison deal with life once all that is masculine is taken from him? I try to fight becoming institutionalized and complacent with being a dependent vs a provider. I make lists and plans for the future so that I can hit the Free running, instead of with my hand out for a hand-out. I try to maintain my relationships with my friends so that I remember who I am instead of who prison tries to make me be. I avoid situations that trap you and force you to assert your supposed manhood here, so that I can focus on getting out as soon as possible and be a man out there. I served my country, raised my kids through a large part of their childhood, and provided for my loved ones up to the day I got here, and I will again. Proving my manhood to another man whose whole existence physically and mentally is behind these fences is just not that important to me. My existence is out there. My family, friends, and future are out there. That’s what masculinity is to me.