Other essays on this theme

Essay: "Personal Boundaries"

by Tim Harris
Out of Bounds

Prison is a strange world where personal boundaries are constantly being tested in search of weakness. Prisoners are always aware that every word they speak is being examined by all who hear us and there are often many "ear hustlers" listening. The rewards that come from building friendships on an honest foundation must be weighed against the dangers. If you share personal experiences you may find yourself open to psychological attack later. It is easier than you think to have your armor breached and find someone out of bounds. Even as I write I am balancing what I am willing to reveal against the dangers: therein lies the problem.

There are few prisoners I feel close enough to that I would open totally and Prisoner Express is widely distributed. If I reveal too much it might fall into the hands of some ignorant 'cell warrior' that will use it to attack me. So, I set my boundaries and they censor my actions, even my writing. It's not what I say but how another might misconstrue, whether by accident or purpose, my words or actions to forge weapons to use against me. Too often, I've seen men regret a moment's lapse in which they revealed too much.

If a prisoner speaks about some sexual perversion, he'll never hear the end of it. I have a friend here who once, while drunk, gang raped a Billy goat with two friends at a party. Why did he admit that here? I am sure he has regretted it. Oh, not raping the Billy goat; just that he ever told anyone. So, prisoners are limited to discussions to heterosexual relations unless they wish to be labeled and if you best not admit any trips to gay bars. Today, I am willing to admit both gay friends and going to gay bars. It doesn't seem so bad in comparison to raping a Billy goat. I'll probably regret the admission.

Prisoners are bored and that makes them nosy. I get medicine twice each day and you can tell they wonder why. I've heard men accused of having HIV because they took medication on a regular basis. That's a stigma best avoided. But, is it anyone's business what medication a prisoner takes and why? I'd say not. Then again, I know that I'll hear a full account of my medical history at some point. What they don't know they'll make up. In the end, prison is too intense to not have some of your boundaries breached. All you can do is limit the damage and protect your psyche as best as you can. You must know yourself and be happy with the person you are. If not, all the boundaries in the world won't keep you safe. When prisoners cross the line and go out of bounds only being comfortable with whom you are can protect you, and how many people even know they are, much less like that person? Not many, but luckily I'm safe. Are you?

-Daniel Harris