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COLUMN: Stereotypes in prison are rampant — and often true

By Brian Wood, Standard-Examiner Columnist - | Nov 29, 2017

When I first got to prison, the inmates didn’t look anything like what I thought a prisoner population should.

I didn’t expect to see so many seniors, but when I thought about it, advanced age wasn’t surprising. I expected to see the tattoos and a bit of diversity, but these prisoners looked like a crowd at a Star Trek convention. Most looked harmless, and for the most part, they are harmless in here.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was in a section that predominantly held child molesters. There is definitely a stereotype when it comes to sex-offenders. There’s a socially awkward aura referred to as the “glow,” or the “mo’ glow” (mo’ being short for molester). I could give a bunch of observations — like they are drawn to fantasy and usually don’t like sports — but the word “nerdy” kind of sums things up. I had a completely different picture of these types of offenders before coming to prison.

After a time, I was moved into a drug program which housed only offenders with drug-related charges. Most drug offenders also fit a stereotype.

Most of the prisoners I met in that program grew up around drugs and had every intention of returning to drugs when they got out. I know they say drugs affect all walks of life but in here it’s most often the poor and uneducated. I was in a section of 48 drug offenders. Only 4 tested at a 12th-grade education level or higher.

I live in a privileged section now. Ironically, that means about half the prisoners are convicted murderers. There’s not really a stereotype or norm for murder — each situation tends to be unique. The difference between a person involved in a gang killing and someone who kills a baby is night-and-day and so is the way they are viewed. There is somewhat of a hierarchy when it comes to crimes.

Some crimes, like fraud or drug dealing, are glorified but I wouldn’t say there are any “cool” crimes. But there are definitely “uncool” crimes. Sex offenders are the only prisoners treated differently because of their convictions.

“Getting treated like a sex offender” is a way to say someone is treated badly. I won’t go into all the ways sex offenders are treated poorly in prison, suffice it to say the constant ridicule is just the tip of the iceberg.

The term “sex offender” is sort of a catch-all for any sex-related crime. Many prisoners don’t differentiate, but a “mo” is viewed as worse than a “rape-o,” whose victim is an adult.

I was in a conversation on this very subject with a couple inmates and an officer. I said I try not to judge. The officer gave us his opinion on the matter saying, “I believe anyone can get addicted to drugs and end up in prison, but only a real sick or evil person can molest a child.”

Of course with any stereotype, there are outliers. I’ve been surprised to discover a prisoner was a sex offender and surprised to find out one wasn’t. After learning what a stereotypical sex offender looks and acts like, I’ll always look at individuals with those traits with suspicion.

When it comes to children, I’d rather be safe than sorry.


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