The End of the Convict

Changes in prison financing via the prison-industrial complex are affecting the way convicts, prisoners, inmates and snitches are defined. This articles offers a view of the dilemma from inside the belly of the beast.

By Seth Ferranti - Gorilla Convict Publications
First published in Out of the Gutter 3

When I first entered the netherworld of prison in 1993 the last vestiges of the convict were dying out. The convict is the ultimate prison ideal that has existed in prisons throughout the ages and has been portrayed and glorified in countless Hollywood movies. It is possible that convicts still exist in the state systems and the higher maximum-level-type federal prisons, but I am here to tell you that in the medium and lower security levels of the Bureau of Prisons, convicts are a dying breed. If not already dead and stinking.

Convicts lived by a set of codes, had certain tenets inherit to their incarceration, and carried an us-against-them mentality no matter the odds. Convicts brought about Attica. They stood for something—honor, respect and loyalty. But those ideals, whether wrong or right, are dead in the federal system. They exist in rhetoric and legend but not in word and deed. Very few in the federal system live by these codes. Convicts are definitely and clearly the minority in prisons today, whereas only 10 years ago they were the majority.

Today the feds are dominated by prisoners and inmates. I would break it down like this: 10 percent convicts, 30 percent prisoners, and 60 percent inmates. Prisoners are the logical descendents of convicts and still hold much of their values. But prisoners usually aren't willing to take the stand that a convict would. Convicts, not prisoners, stood at Attica. I doubt that a prisoner would make a stand even if he wanted to. But at least a prisoner has the potential to be a convict. Inmates have no potential at all.

Inmates are scared-ass motherfuckers. Straight Joe Citizens running to the man and shit. They don't ask any questions, challenge any rules, and they follow orders to the timid side of the letter. They don't want to make waves. They don't stand for anything. They have no ideals except those that the institution forces upon them. They just want to do their time and cooperate with the police. Anything to make their time go by easier. They see nothing wrong with dry-snitching, helping the man out in anyway, or even snitching outright. Inmates are why the federal system is so fucked up today.

The emergence of inmates and the snitch culture they perpetrate can be explained by two factors. The first is the feds’ directive of locking up so many illegal immigrants. Nearly 30 percent of the federal prison population is made up of INS detainees. And for the most part these people aren't even criminals. They are just illegal, deportable aliens who have no papers. They aren't thieves, rapists, drug dealers, murderers, stick-up kids, or white collar criminals. They are just hardworking foreigners trying to make a buck. The US dollar, you know.

But our government locks them up, gives them a sentence, and thrusts them into federal prison, creating a new subculture of inmates and overpopulating the system at the same time. Convicts would never put up with triple-bunking but inmates will. Like I said, these INS detainees for the most part aren't even criminals and probably never broke the law. But their papers weren't in order so they got locked up, and they make up the fastest-growing segment of the federal prison population.

The second reason for the emergence of the inmates and the snitch culture they thrive on is that the BOP has taken away the power of the convict. The convict's greatest weapon was the threat of violence. The threat of violence allowed the convicts to intimidate and control the prisons and their populations. But the BOP and the feds started casing dudes up in the '90s for any violent infraction committed in prison.

It used to be a convict could kill a fellow prisoner and only receive a shot and hole time. Some prison killing might make it to court but most didn't. Back then there were hardly any witnesses willing to testify, but today it's a different story. The BOP even has an incident-report category for killing another inmate and appropriate sanctions. It is a 100 series shot-one of the most severe. It used to be all this stuff was handled in-house.

But as the federal prison population expanded, the US Attorneys started trolling the prisons for cases. Convicts started catching street charges for infractions which happened in prison, and additional time was added to their sentences. This effort systematically stripped the convicts of their greatest weapon—the threat of violence.

It used to be that known snitches were not allowed to stay on the yard. There might have been some instances where a known snitch was a bad-ass dude or straight killer and walked the yard freely, but it was very rare. Convicts took it as an insult if a snitch from their own gang walked the pound freely. And in the convict world an insult could lead to death. But now the snitches thrive. The BOP is a straight snitch culture. They used to have to hide in protective custody, but now they walk around in the open. And it's not like they are killers or hard men, either. They are just conniving and calculating little cowards.

They openly work for SIS, the prison investigative services, and get convict types locked up in a minute and placed under lengthy investigations. Because in prison the convicts are still feared but the administration has enabled, and even encouraged, the activity of snitches, so that they can operate within the prison walls with impunity. So the prisons have seen a role reversal. It used to be the snitches were locked up for their own protection because convicts were the majority. Now convicts are locked up in the hole because snitches are in the majority. It is all part of the vicious cycle of the snitch culture which dominates the feds today.

Also the rapid rise of the federal prison population has played a part in the proliferation of the inmate class. When I first entered prison in 1993, the BOP population was about 50,000. Now the population is fourfold, standing at almost 200,000. So, in approximately 10 years the demographics and character of the prison landscape has been dramatically altered.

I came in as a young kid, a fish really, with no prior prison experience and no inkling on how to act or behave. I had seen the movies so I just thought I had to act tough. But an oldhead convict took me under his wing. He checked my paperwork to make sure I wasn't a snitch, vouched for me, and showed me how to act. At this time, there were probably five oldhead convicts for every new fish coming in. So if the fish thought he was a bad man or tough or anything, he had five convicts to show him the error of his way.

But now it is different. For every oldhead prisoner that was schooled in the convict ways, there are 20 young kids coming in who want to act tough and show that they are hard. Five-to-one odds are good in the convict's favor, but one-to-twenty—you get the picture. A lot of oldhead prisoners don't even bother with all the young ones coming in, so they don't get schooled in convict etiquette and nobody shows them how to act.

This circumstance combined with the illegal alien aspect has created a whole new prison sub-class, which now dominates the prison hierarchy and perpetrates the current snitch culture. Convicts talk about getting your respect but nowadays that's a losing proposition.

If a prisoner tried to live by convict ideals in the current snitch culture, he would be drawing a line in the sand all day and spend all his time in confrontations. This has led to the prisoner minority mindset where the convict ideals are recognized and valued but not necessarily put into practice at all times. At least the prisoner acknowledges the convict code. The inmate doesn't even recognize it.

By casing dudes up for prison violations that used to merit only hole time, the feds have stripped the convicts of their power. Back in 1994, I saw a dude get busted with three grams of heroin, do six months in the hole, and then come back out on the pound. Today that same dude might be looking at 18 months in the hole and an outside case that could give him an additional sentence of three years. The feds have seriously upped the ante. Any assault might bring three to five more years of incarceration and a murder could get somebody life without parole.

By stripping convicts of the threat of violence, the feds have drastically altered the prison hierarchy. An old junkie told me in the early '90s that prison was the perfect place to enjoy his habit. Even if he got busted he wasn't losing anything, he said. Because being in the hole was still being in prison. The time is still ticking by on the street, he told me. Going to jail is a big loss of liberty. I wonder what that old convict would say today knowing that dirty urine or possession of heroin would get him 18 more months of prison time.

I don't claim to be a convict, but never would I be an inmate. I am a prisoner, nothing more, nothing less. The War on Drugs has killed the convict and the current snitch culture may be a safer environment, but it is definitely much more treacherous. Respect, unity, and loyalty used to be cherished prison maxims upheld by men of honor—convicts to the outside world. Hollywood has immortalized them and glamorized them. But just as the dinosaurs disappeared, so too have the convicts, replaced by snitches who will stab you in the back figuratively but not literally, because they don’t have the heart to face you like a man.


Seth Ferranti is the Gorilla Convict Writer. In 1993, after spending two years as a top-15 fugitive on the US Marshal’s most wanted list, he was captured and sentenced to 304 months under the federal sentencing guidelines for an LSD kingpin conviction and committed to the custody of the Attorney General. A first-time, non-violent offender, Seth has served 18 years of his 25 year mandatory minimum sentence. His case was widely covered byThe Washington Post and Washington Times, and his story was profiled in the pages of Rolling Stone and Don Diva magazines. His current release date is November 2015.

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