Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Games Prisoners Play

Posts have been a bit skinny lately because I have been reading two books.  One I do not have liberty to talk about.  The other I do.

Games Prisoners Play was written by Marek Kaminski based largely on what he learned during his 5 months in incarceration.

Kaminski presents his findings in the context of Game Theory.  Kaminski's original professional training was in Mathematics.

Primary goals of the games are:
  1. Does the prisoner have the mental toughness to withstand a beating or other degrading acts
  2. Is the prisoner passive/compliant or does the prisoner reject the lines-on-the-paper
  3. Does the prisoner demonstrate that he understands that nobody can be trusted
  4. How quickly does the prisoner adapt to changing rule-sets...moral relativism.

Mental toughness

Prison is an Us-vs-Them environment.  Rats, squealers etc are ruthlessly identified and exterminated.  Prisoners judged to be at-risk for turning into rats are never granted access to dangerous information.

Mental toughness is the primary characteristic of a prisoner who will not spill his guts during interrogation.

Willingness to endure physical pain in defense of one's honor is a testable proxy for mental toughness. A man who will take a beating rather than do something degrading is judged to be likely to take a beating from guards without spilling his guts.


A prisoner who passively accepts a "game" as defined by the gamer is judged to be a risk.  The gamer will always win if they are allowed to establish the rules without challenge.

One example of how this is tested is to develop games which appear to be structured for A-and-B answers.  The correct answer is D.

For example, upon entering a Polish prison cell the other inhabitants of the cell will ask the newcomer, "Are you a  grypsman?"....sort of a journeyman prisoner.  This question is structured as a Yes/No question.  Neither answer is correct.  The correct answer is something along the lines of, "It does not matter what I think I am.  You are going to check me out and decide for yourselves."

(Added after original post was published:  This reply reminds me of Jesus during His passion.  He is given a similar question twice: Once by the Sanhedrin (Matt 26:64)and once by Pilate (Matt 27:11).  Both times he answers with something similar to "It is you who say it."  Either prisoners have not changed or prisoners are apt Bible students.)

The second best answer is, "Not yet but I want to be one."

No Trust

Many games are set up where somebody is blindfolded.  The winning move is to either ensure that you appear to be blindfolded or the other party really is effectively blindfolded.  The outcome of the game is decided before it starts.

Notice that the "correct" answer for "Are you a grypsman?" starts with "no trust" as the initial preposition.

Demonstrating that you trust no one makes you less likely to rat to a seemingly sympathetic outsider.

Changing rule set

Another game is where a veteran prisoner tells the rookie that one fist is Micky and the other is Donald.  The veteran hits the rookie and asks, "Who hit you?"  The veteran keeps beating the rookie until the rookie names the actual prisoner rather than the fist.

Another game is "What do you see outside?"  Typical (wrong) answers include "a car", "a bird", "a pretty girl".  Each wrong answer receives a beating.  The correct answer is "freedom".

The only unchanging rule-set is absolute loyalty to one's caste or prison group.  Everything else is subservient to that goal.

Adaptation to real life

People who thrive in prison are likely to prove too prickly and combative, too oppositional, and too lacking in trust to thrive in traditional employment.  His ability to adjust to changes in "mapping" or the moral relativism may or may not help him adapt to outside life.

Inner city culture is seasoned with a generous infusion of prison culture.  The cult of diversity and multiculturalism want us to believe that all cultures are equal....different but equally valuable.  One would have to be brain-dead to believe that modern business enterprises can thrive if they adopt and celebrate a culture of intransigence, physical aggression, opposition, absolute opacity and extreme Balkanization.

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