Fights are an everyday occurrence here. Men fight over everything and nothing, and they’re quick to do so. I’d say most of the time there’s no harm done save for busted lips and bruised egos. I’ve seen it all, too. Men fighting stark naked on the second tier range having been assaulted while in the shower. Men fighting over another man’s boyfriend, over a female staffer, fighting over a spot in line, or because of someone’s case and on and on. The list is long, and I think you get the picture. When a fight breaks out I immediately leave the area lest I get swept up in the aftermath. What about female prisoners? Do they fight over the same stuff as men do? Do they even fight? You bet they do.
Some things are constant in prison.
Fist Fights By Tara Snyder
I can count on one hand how many times in my life I’ve been in a fight. An actual, fist swinging, seeing red, lost my mind, no cares given fight, where I actually stood up for myself and didn’t just take a beating.
My first was in seventh grade with a girl who was at least two feet taller than me. She was laughing and making jokes about a car accident that had recently taken the life of someone in my family. The result of that fight was me no longer allowed to be on the volleyball team and one day in Sunday school.
The second was a domestic violence dispute with someone I was in a relationship with. He was drunk, and I had cheated on him. I ended up with a visit to the hospital, and he got a busted nose and 3 days in jail.
The two other times, I can’t even tell you what caused them. One, I was pregnant and at the local bar after the races ended, but I was pulled off swinging both times. I’d like to think of myself as a passive, levelheaded, low-temper, not full of rage person generally, but there are these few incidents that escalate and spiraled out of control.
In prison, fights are routine… Everyday someone, somewhere, over nothing of importance. Behind bars, if you are in the vicinity when a fight breaks out, you end up in the hole under investigation as well. If you try to break up a fight, you are just as guilty, and will be locked in the hole with whoever was fighting. If you don’t even instigate a fight but end up being confronted or hit, guess what? You are getting cuffed and going to the hole. Just last week a girl was talking on the phone to her children, and another woman randomly walked up and head butted her. They both went to the hole.
I can’t begin to explain the way it makes you feel when you sit on your bunk as a woman who’s here for killing her child is curled on the floor in the fetal position being attacked, beaten, and kicked repeatedly because of her crime. It makes you feel like a P.O.S., but you have to follow the rules and mind your own business or suffer the consequences. If an individual would go tell an officer, they would likely be the next individual attacked, simply for breaking “the code” of inmates.
In the showers there are frequent fights. There are no cameras, and an abundance of cheating girlfriends caught red-handed with another woman. I already wear shower shoes and stand like a flamingo when I wash my feet. I cautiously avoid touching the walls in fear of what’s on them. Never would you find me pulling another woman to the ground by her hair, stark naked, as we roll around fighting over a shower stall or another woman.
Being in an enclosed space when a fight breaks out trumps them all. When officers get the call over the radio, it doesn’t matter who it is, what it’s about, or where the fight is at, pepper spray is in hand and deployed upon arrival. I have had the misfortune of being an innocent bystander too many times in a panic, looking for the quickest escape route to avoid being caught in the cloud of hell that leaves your throat raw and your eyes on fire for hours.
When this happens at CFS (the chow hall) it’s the worst. One exit, hundreds of women, poor ventilation, inevitably resulting in mass hysteria followed by gagging induced vomiting.
I’m sure this sounds peculiar, but when I was little my dad used to hold me down on the floor picking on me, tickling me, or trying to lick my face. He knew these things would send me into a rage and push me to fight back. I believe that’s what he was going for, trying to get me to defend myself and fight back. I’m sure there are alternatives to this, but I wonder now if he already saw signs of me being a push over, and this was his way of raising his girl to stick up for herself.
I’d like to say that his tactics were effective and produced an assertive woman who would stick up for herself, but not-so-much. I’m a timid, avoid confrontations, and “don’t know what to do with my hands” when someone comes at me kind of person. In prison, people can sense this a mile away. I’m uncertain if subconsciously this is why I’ve made friends with some of the crazier, say what’s on their mind, don’t care what anyone thinks kind of people to give myself some sense of security, but I have. Quick witted and don’t hold your tongue types that find excitement and thrill whenever situations arise, but it leaves me feeling uneasy and frequently walking on eggshells. I’m always living in fear of what the day will bring and how it will all unfold.
One day, walking out of CFS in a sea of women all wearing blue, I was mistaken by another woman I didn’t know. She was screaming at me for telling her girlfriend things about her. As she carried on, pointing in my face, calling me every A, B, and C name in the book, I was dumbfounded. Caught between, today is my first day in the hole, and this woman had lost her mind. I was just trying to get away. My friend Shelly, who delights in these situations, started instigating back. Mortified, I walked away. Shelly and I were able to laugh about it later. Two months following the confrontation, I saw the accusing woman in the infirmary waiting to be squaded out, because her eye socket was crushed by a “lock in a sock” (The go-to weapon in prison. A combination lock in a tube sock — easy to swing and delivering brutal results. Sometimes bars of soap in a sock are used. Especially when someone is sleeping and caught off guard. This doesn’t leave marks as badly.)
I’ve never been in an environment such as this. It’s taught me to be assertive, more so than my dad used to try to teach me, and on days when I actually stand up for myself, I feel good for finally being able to. I’ve heard some of the funniest lines being said during conflicts and fist fights in here. Some of them still make me laugh, not at the person, just the creative insults. “You should-a-fought your case harder than you try to fight in here,” or “How about you try to fight an appeal,” and “You afraid to swing because you don’t have a gun in here?” I’ve never been one to resort to violence in any form, harsh words, retaliation, fighting or putting others down. I don’t wake up in the morning loving the sweet smell of vindication. I can only hope the longer I am in here, I don’t adapt any of these traits and change my ways of reaction. Violence, cruelty, and fighting is never the solution to any problem.
“You will be built on goodness. You will be safe from cruelty and fear. So you will have nothing to fear. Nothing will come to hurt you. I will never send anyone to attack you. And, if any army tries to attack you, you will defeat them.” (Isaiah 54: 14-15)
Tara Snyder (ORW) (OH)
Next week read the third installment of this series Sugar & Spice (Pt. 3): Revenge, by Felicia (ORW) (OH)
Read more of Tara’s essays along with every post from March 2019 through April 2021, in the book titled ”Behind The Wall: A Prisoner’s Journal, By Christopher Monihan.
(Tara’s is the author of the blog: Judgement Over Justice.wordpress.com.)