Book Excerpt: Correctional Manipulation

Below is an excerpt from Anthony Gangi's book, Correctional Manipulation, which to encapsulate the art of inmate manipulation and how officers can overcome and thwart these attempts. Learn more about the book on Amazon.

Scenario 1
Correctional Officer Recruit John Smith is fifteen minutes away from finishing his first shift on the job. It was an uneventful night and, in just a few minutes, it will be time for him to hand over the keys to the next shift. Looking at his watch, he realizes that he has enough time for one more tour. He closes his logbook, secures it in his desk, and begins to walk around. One wing is rather quiet with most inmates on their beds watching TV. As he begins to walk down two wing, he hears, what seems to be, an argument between two inmates.

Correctional Officer Recruit John Smith quickly addresses the issue and manages to get both of the inmates to calm down. He exits the wing, and, just before he heads down three wing, he begins to wonder if both of those inmates should have been separated. He doesn't think the argument was that bad, but there is always the chance, that when he leaves, the argument may progress to something further. At this moment, with five minutes left before his shift ends, Correctional Officer Recruit John Smith picks up the phone and requests for his area supervisor to come to his unit.

The area supervisor enters the unit and quickly motions to the time as he begins to yell at the Correctional Officer Recruit. The supervisor, being more concerned with going home then with the issue at hand, becomes loud and irate.  At this point, all the inmates, who reside in the unit, can hear the supervisor rant and rave. As the next shift officer is seen at the door ready to enter, the supervisor motions for them to wait outside while he continues to belittle the Correctional Officer Recruit. The Correctional Officer Recruit, embarrassed, puts his head down in utter defeat. The supervisor exits the unit and motions for the next shift officer to come in and take control of the unit. At this point, the Correctional Officer Recruit hands over the keys and slowly leaves the unit.

The next day, the Correctional Officer Recruit is placed in the same unit. An inmate approaches him. THE GAME IS ON!

Breakdown of Scenario 1
Through the supervisor's actions, a situation has been created and can easily be exploited by the inmate population. A situation that will build from the inmate's ability to become immediately empathetic, partnered with the staff member's need to save face. The staff member has become vulnerable. This vulnerability stems from a created situation by the supervisor in which the manipulative inmate is now able to exploit. 

Let’s first analyze this scenario by looking at Correctional Officer Recruit John Smith and his situation. Let's try to get an understanding of how he sees his situation (subjective construal). Let's see how he perceives, comprehends, and interprets his world and, most importantly, the behavior and actions of others.

In understanding manipulation and how it presents itself, either covert or overt, an individual must understand the power of the situation. For the staff member, in the above mentioned scenario, their situation has changed and is now being controlled by emotion. As for the inmates, the situation presented to them now shows a staff member who thoughts lie outside of logic and, instead, stem from emotional blindness.

For the Recruit, he may feel a natural reaction to redeem himself by venting to the empathetic ear displayed by the "overly concerned" inmate. At this point, the inmate's advice may be centered in a way to employ the tactic that was mentioned above, "us vs. them”.

In order to move forward with this tactic, the inmate will expose many techniques that highlight concern, friendliness, and similarity. These techniques are used to disguise the inmate's true intention. The true intention, mentioned above, is centered on changing the Recruit’s perception of the aforementioned inmate. Eventually, the change in perception creates a different situation for the Recruit. This Recruit may no longer see an inmate as an inmate. The empathetic ear displayed by the inmate has led this Recruit to believe that the inmate understands their situation and, therefore, is now being led down a manipulative path that was created by the supervisor's unprofessionalism an aided by the inmate population.

The Recruit’s need to feel competent lies on their need to justify their situation. Having demeaned the Recruit in view of the inmate population, the supervisor has created a situation in which this above mentioned Recruit may feel the need to redeem himself. This redemption may come in the hands of an empathetic ear provided by the “overly concerned” inmate.

Moving forward, we must remember, we also have group dynamics at play. So, let’s go back to the beginning again so we can get a full understanding of the group dynamics at play. Now, Correctional Officer Recruit John Smith is fresh out the academy. During his time in the academy, the recruits were put through exercises that promote group solidarity. The instructors do what they can to solidify the trainees, so, when they enter the facility, there is a strong brotherhood/sisterhood that forms. This is meant to remind the trainee of the group they belong to. Once the trainee becomes a Recruit and leaves the academy, the real world begins. Inside the academy, the trainee is isolated from any forces that look to destroy the group. Through isolation, the group becomes very tight and very well knit. But, once they enter the real world, the Correctional Officer Recruit is no longer isolated from the forces that look to break that bond. Therefore, the moment the Correctional Officer Recruit enters the real world, their group solidarity will be tested, as well as their convictions.

As mentioned above, the opportune situation was created by the supervisor for the inmates to exploit. The inmates witnessed, firsthand, the Correctional Officer Recruit get belittled and now it's their chance to build the recruit back up. For the recruit, being belittled made him feel incompetent and separated from those who are supposed to be his brothers/sisters. Now, not only is the Correctional Officer Recruit looking to redeem himself, he is also looking to find someone he can relate to that will see things from his perspective. It is through that perspective, a similarity will be drawn that will be used to connect Correctional Recruit John Smith with the inmate population.

From the inmate’s perspective, he knows that the Correctional Officer Recruit is vulnerable. His objective at this point is to further divide this Correctional Officer Recruit from the rest of staff. When the conversation begins between the manipulative inmate and the Recruit, the inmate will pretend to be sympathetic to the Correctional Officer Recruit’s needs. He will tell the Recruit that the supervisor was wrong in treating him that way. That no one deserves to be treated that way, especially if they were only doing their job. He will also be quick to mention that the other inmates on the wing also feel the supervisor was in the wrong. The Correctional Officer Recruit will quickly agree, because if the inmates are wrong then the Recruit would be admitting that he deserved to be belittled.

Now, once the Recruit agrees, separation begins to occur. In order for this game to work and the “Us vs. Them” tactic to be a success, the inmate needs the Recruit to separate himself from staff and then for the recruit to find his sense of belonging amongst the inmate population. As mentioned above, the inmate does this by building conflict between the other staff members and the Recruit.  Once they build that conflict, they begin to isolate the Recruit from the other staff members. The inmate may do this by simply forming a bond between him and the Recruit that is easily seen by other staff members. Eventually, the other staff members will see this and will slowly move themselves away from the Recruit and begin treating him like an outcast. (Staff become the out-group for the Recruit and the in-group is now moving towards the inmate population.)

Once the Recruit is out casted, the inmate will begin a strong effort to bring the Recruit into his group (the inmate population). They welcome the Recruit in and strengthen his connection by continuing to instill conflict between the Recruit and the rest of staff. The greater the conflict, the more attached the Recruit becomes to the inmate population. Once this connection get solidified, and the Recruit has been turned away from his peers, the inmates become the Recruit’s only connection; his only source for information. In essence, they feign sympathy for the belittled staff member, bring him over to their group, create greater conflict with the Recruit and staff, and, finally, use that conflict to get the Recruit to become more solidified with those that now accept him (inmate population).

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