What Is It Like to Be a Geek in Prison?

The best answer to any question.
Nov. 18 2013 4:04 PM

What Is It Like to Be a Geek in Prison?

708768
Geek inmates, identifiable by their books.

Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Mark Conway, former inmate, data scientist at RS Analytics:

Advertisement

What is it like to be a geek in prison? Well, as my first cellmate used to say about me: "He kind of strange, but he cool." He got life for shooting a snitch in the head, and he was the one to greet me when I took that long walk across the floor, and yes there was laughter and snickering.

The first assumption that other inmates make is that an older white guy is a pedophile, so the first order of business is showing them your paperwork. Even then, they didn't believe me until I got sent to the camp a few weeks later. Then a doctor decided that camp was "vacation" for me, and I was recalled back inside the fence. So, when I returned from camp, there was my old cellie waiting for me.

The so-called geeks hung out at the prison library, and real cons were loathe to step foot in the place, even though their behavior was ignorant. This attitude stems from their school days when any signs of intelligence were perceived as being part of the "system."

But geeks have real value in prison because if you can read, write, type, or research (especially legal work), then you can possibly help them. So it was a good idea to be cool with me because I helped a lot of people with their motions and communications with the courts. And as long as you showed respect for their life on the streets, then you usually got the same respect in return.

Generally, the way prison works is that when you first get there, you sit back and observe. For example, don't sit in the wrong chair, and move when someone politely asks you to give up the seat. Any signs of hostility will be countered with hostility. Keep it moving, and keep it friendly. Be wary of people who approach you, and let it happen naturally.

As Michael Douglas said in the sequel to Wall Street, "Prison is the best thing that ever happened to me." Given my crime, I always thought about Robert DeNiro's character in Cape Fear when he got out of prison and approached Nick Nolte in his car: "You gonna learn about loss." Exactly right. Loss of freedom, loss of friends, etc.

More questions on Prisons & Prison Life:

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Photos of the Crowds That Took Over NYC for the People’s Climate March

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 22 2014 9:39 AM Adrian Peterson Has a Terrible Contract, and Cutting Him Would Save the Vikings a Lot of Money
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 22 2014 9:12 AM What Is This Singaporean Road Sign Trying to Tell Us?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.