The 4 inmate personality types
From the simple thief to the cunning sociopath, it is critical that officers identify what makes inmates tick
This article comes directly from a confrontation I had recently with some civilians. It led me to ponder the different types of people we deal with, both on and off the job, and how we classify them based on their behavior.
During a night on the town with my wife, an otherwise normal seeming couple became extremely belligerent toward us about a small issue that had little to no consequence. I immediately recognized that they were trying to find someone to bully to get some satisfaction. Sadly for them, they picked the wrong victims, and at the end of the day they were revealed as a set of troublemakers who were just trying to pick a fight.
The incident struck me because I recognized a certain familiar set of character traits from my work, and I was able to use my experience as a corrections officer to resolve the issue.
In corrections, we find four basic personality types — the entitled, the bully, the self-righteous, and the sheep. How you deal with each type is a matter of personal preference. Here is a breakdown of the different types and the strategies I have found useful in handling them.
1. The Entitled Personality
The entitled personality believes they are entitled to superior treatment, regardless of their own contribution to society, situations, or circumstance. They tend to be narcissistic, believing that they are owed something, either real or perceived, no matter what they do in life.
This is the second most common personality found I’ve found among criminals, both on and off the street. This is the type of person who leaves their shopping cart one foot from your car, unsecured, in high winds. The world revolves around them, and everyone else is of little consequence, as long as they are happy.
Entitled criminals will always try to justify their crimes. Most will admit to committing the crime, while arguing that they did so out of necessity for their own happiness or well being. The obvious solution to their problems — like finding a job instead of stealing — is not an option. The entitled person feels that society should take care of them, and they are allowed to commit crime simply to make their lives better.
I’ve found the best way to deal with this type of person is to highlight their selfishness. I usually explain why their actions are their fault, not somebody else’s. This often leads to a verbal argument, but rarely violence, as entitled inmates feel they are right anyway and do not see a need to physically express their self perceived “exceptionalism.”
2. The Bully Personality
The bully believes that anything in life can be achieved through physical or verbal abuse. They often have low self esteem and see themselves as street smart and physically superior to most people.
This is the personality type I see most often in prison. Bullies will resort to any means necessary — including yelling and physical violence — to get what they need. The couple I mentioned at the beginning of this article falls into this category. They, and many like them, feel they are entitled to anything they want if they scream loud enough. We all know this personality type from middle school. Young bullies may grow out of this behavior, but some cling to it for life. Those who do will often end up in prison or jail for crimes like assault, battery, robbery or car jacking. These folks will kill you for making eye contact. On the outside, bullies make a scene over a one-cent price difference between the paid amount and the advertised amount. They cannot simply ask it to be corrected; they will become loud, belligerent, and even physical, no matter how trivial the matter.
There are two schools of thought about dealing with bullies. The first calls for confrontation. This may instigate a physical attack, which will earn the bully’s “respect” after you’ve stood up to them.
Another school of thought calls for ignoring the bullying behavior — essentially allowing them the self satisfaction of having “won,” which has no negative effect on your own life. Ignoring their behavior, while allowing them to expose their own weakness, exposes bullies for who they are — this is often more effective than physical confrontation. I prefer this because I have no want for the respect of a person who I don’t respect.
3. The Self-Righteous Personality
This is one of my favorites. The self righteous believe that everything they do is for the betterment of society. They often live in their own little bubble, with little contact among those who don’t think the way they do. This type has convinced himself that he is always right, even when the facts say otherwise.
This is my favorite personality type because these folks rarely become criminals, but are definitely amusing to watch. These are the drivers who cut you off in traffic, cross four lanes at 20 mph over the speed limit, hit a small dog, and then blame it on someone else. These folks can do no wrong in their own mind.
Again, although watching this type of person meander through life in the fog of his/her own superiority can be entertaining, it can also be destructive. Self righteous people can be very difficult to persuade, and even harder to reason with. When dealing with this type at work, I make my statement or request, repeat it, and demand compliance. Often, this type will submit despite believing they are right; they have simply done so to prevent being harmed socially or physically.
4. The Sheep Personality
We all know this type. Sheep will do anything to be part of a group. This is probably one of the most dangerous personalities we see in corrections. Sheep believe that if they adopt their friends’ goals and desires, and help to realize them — no matter what the consequence — they will be loved.
The Sheep feel unwanted and unloved. Not to get too wishy-washy here, but these folks need guidance and a reality check. These are the kids who throw rocks at cars because their friends say it would be fun. This person will face a lifetime of criminal conduct if they do not get corrected early in life. I know far too many inmates who are in prison for murder because they felt it was what the gang wanted them to do. This person will follow the leader straight down a cliff. Even if caught or exposed, they will feel a sense of closeness to the people they follow, even if those people deserted them.
The sheep can be a handful. For them, the only way out is self realization. This often doesn’t happen until very late, when these people realize that their entire life was spent pleasing people without personal or professional reward. Once they realize their folly, sheep may either lash out violently or own up, finally, to their life of wrongdoing and become a champion of reform. Unfortunately, their lives are often destroyed before they can be turned around.
Using the Types
Some people incorporate the negatives of each personality type to create a truly heartless criminal. Those who use the best of all of these personality types for good are often corrections officers. If you are aware of these basic personalities, you can incorporate your knowledge to accomplish your goals of safety and security. It takes many years for new officers to develop the skills necessary to redirect these personality types, but it can, and has, been done many times.
From the simple thief to the cunning sociopath, it is critical that officers identify what makes inmates tick. What is the goal of the inmate when he becomes confrontational? Is he scared, angry or just carrying out orders? In most cases you will have mere seconds, if you are lucky, to figure this out. It is imperative to rely on past experiences, and the advice of senior officers, to make your decisions. They may save your life.
While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, I hope that it will at least get a conversation going. What are some other personality types you've encountered on the job? How can we be better prepared when we encounter them?