Incarcerated Interactions

A Theory-Driven Analysis of Applied Prison Communication

by Erik D. Fritsvold (Volume editor) Jonathan M. Bowman (Volume editor)
©2016 Monographs IX, 222 Pages


Incarcerated Interactions: A Theory-Driven Analysis of Applied Prison Communication is an innovative, applied edited book that uses core interdisciplinary social science theories to analyze and describe the social psychology and sociology of communicative interactions amongst incarcerated individuals. Beginning with the fundamentals of human interactions, this edited volume allows scholars across a variety of disciplines (such as criminology, sociology, communication studies, social psychology, anthropology, and economics) to become familiar with and apply the core principles and the requisite terminology of human communication within a criminological context. Each of the four sections of the text not only build upon the knowledge structures of previous chapters, but also function as stand-alone analyses and/or applications of extant scholarship within essential contexts. From a general discussion of core social science theory to the specific application of that theory in a range of scholarly contexts, this book addresses relevant issues such as mental illness and wellness, the gendered experience of inmates, recidivism rates, violence, the criminogenic effect of incarceration and the large-scale implications of prison gangs and their associated cultural influence, to name a few.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Part I: Criminology & Communication Foundations
  • 1. Incarcerated Interactions : Erik D. Fritsvold & Jonathan M. Bowman
  • 2. Criminological Foundations: Erik D. Fritsvold
  • 3. Social Science Theory & Research: Jonathan M. Bowman
  • Part II: Assimilation & Connection
  • 4. The Mean World Syndrome & Newcomer Strategies : Alli Chlapaty
  • 5. Pseudo-Families: Group Formation in Women’s Prisons : Taylor Glogiewicz
  • 6. Prison Wives: The Social Order of Transgendered Inmates : Courtney Cronin
  • 7. The Power of Secrecy: Cryptography in Prison Gangs : Monica Ramakrishnan
  • 8. Social Identity & Structuration: A Case Study of the Aryan Brotherhood: Ronnie Pratte
  • Part III: Power, Proscriptions, & Violence
  • 9. Us Versus Them: The Battle of Corrections : James Bennett
  • 10. The Instrument of Ink: Tattoos, Power, & Identity Displays : Melissa Andruzzi
  • 11. Prison Gang Proliferation: Types of Power in Group Formation : Eylee Garcia
  • 12. Politeness, Power, & Prison Gangs: Katie Olsen
  • 13. Sika Deer: Overcrowding, Violent Responses, & Proxemics : Morgan Re
  • 14. Culture & Connection: A Case Study of Prison Gangs & Mexican Drug Cartels : Andrew Mize
  • Part IV: Individual Differences & Wellness
  • 15. In a Man’s World: Female Correctional Officers & Expectancy Violations : Danielle Mccourt
  • 16. A Cry for Help: The Plight of the Mentally Ill in Prison : Kelly Stone
  • 17. Sexual Assault & Territoriality: The Prison Rape Elimination Act : Jordan Vaughn
  • 18. America’s Identity Crisis: Transgendered Inmates : Kelly Yu
  • 19. Force Feeding Inmates: A Case Study of Hunger Strikes: Taylor Kress
  • Part V: Moving Forward with Policy Reform
  • 20. An Appetite for Punitiveness: Politics & Media in California’s Three-Strikes Law : Kevin Brady
  • 21. Pseudo-Families: The Impact of Gender Identification on Recidivism : Sara Ha
  • 22. Injustice for Inmates: Face Negotiation & Mental Health Reform : Katherine Pfost
  • 23. Solitary: Rethinking Secure Housing Units : Jensen Bryant
  • 24. Cross-cultural Recidivism: A Case Study of Norwegian & Californian Prisons : Ryan Sueme
  • Afterword: The Case for Interdisciplinarity: Jonathan M. Bowman & Erik D. Fritsvold
  • Series index

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Part I

Criminology & Communication Foundations

Part One focuses on the foundations for the text, highlighting the seminal social science theories and key concepts that guide the book. With an understanding of the history of incarceration and policy, readers can begin to see the application of theory to both policy and practice.

| 3 →

1. Incarcerated Interactions


The cop—excuse me the deputy sheriff—a bored and beefy young man, had apparently been asked this before. He answered by shoving me into the cell before saying, “Suicide Watch 3, a**hole, and don’t even think of offing yourself during my shift”.

Offing myself? That sounded not only preposterous but so, well, late sixtyish. Nevertheless, I was scared s***less.

“There must be some mistake, I’m not suicidal.” I suspect the cop had also heard this before.

“Oh, that’s right, excuse us—you’re f***ing homicidal! There’s no mistake, d***wad. You were arrested on a Murder One with a deadly weapon. That’s a capital crime in this state, so you get to say in suicide watch with the other killers and J-Cats until you’re transferred to the joint. Then you can f***ing kill yourself”.

“J-Cats?” Curiouser and curiouser—I felt like Alice fallen into the rabbit hole.

“Category J—the f***ing crazies. I just love chatting with you, convict, but now get on your f***ing knees and face the wall. When I uncuff your left wrist, immediately, place your hand on top of your head … good … now your right hand on top of your head, eyes front and don’t get up, don’t move until you hear the cell door slam behind you. You think you can remember all that, college boy?” …

… Behind me the steel door hissed and rolled shut—thwunk—a tomb being sealed. I climbed up on the steel bed, which was bolted to the concrete cell wall. Grateful to be unshackled for the first time since my arrest, I stretched out on the steel slab, waiting, wondering, if the cop would come back with some kind of mattress or sheets or even a blanket.

Closed my eyes.

And wept like a lost child.

Jimmy Lerner (2003, 7–8) vividly reflects on his own experiences as first-time prison inmate in Nevada in You Got Nothing Coming: Notes From a Prison Fish. ← 3 | 4 → His autobiographical account richly reaffirms the central importance of culture and interaction—as tools of socialization and normative expectations—within an incarcerated environment. This excerpt foreshadows many of the distinct norms, values and mores that Jimmy Lerner—and 2.2 million others (Glaze and Kaeble, 2014)—encounter as they navigate their own set of incarcerated interactions within the complex world of the United States correctional system.

Interdisciplinarity & Utility

Many of the previously-rigid substantive boundaries between academic disciplines have crumbled or even at times disintegrated completely. The study of crime in the contemporary era has been guided by a truly diverse interdisciplinary set of scholars representing perspectives from fields including psychology, communication, anthropology, biology, economics, sociology, criminology, criminal justice, socio-legal studies, and many others.

Similar to a scholarly understanding of contemporary medicine, the new millennium ushered in an era in which “science itself was evolving from an exclusively analytic, reductionistic, and specialized endeavor to become more contextual and cross-disciplinary” (Borrell-Carrio, 2004:576). The sophistication of the social problems facing the world mandate the sophistication of an interdisplinary response. The purpose of this book is not only about being interdisciplinary, Rather, it is about the pragmatism and utility inherent in interdisicplinarity. The size and scope of the contemporary criminal justice system, the enduring problem of recidivism, the disproportionate impact of the system on the poor and people of color, and the cumulative impact of corrections on communities across America is prima facie evidence of its importance. We argue that examining the correctional system from a communication focus and a broader social science perspective can help inform public policy in meaningful and useful way. Reciprocally, we are poised to learn much about the efficacy and functionality of using communication theory via an application to this rich, dynamic and diverse population. Disciplinary boundaries are proven quite trivial and even outdated when the stakes are so high and so many lives are at stake.

While theory-driven, the chapters that follow are not engaged in abstract debates; rather, they are case study centric. Each author applies theory to extant data on a host of issues and subissues related to crime, corrections and punishment. Moreover, they employ a diverse set of perspectives and theoretical tools to better understand some of the most daunting and enduring challenges facing modern American society. ← 4 | 5 →

The Pains of Imprisonment

The American correctional system is mutually constitutive with American communities. After a forty-year investment in mass incarceration, with sustained high recidivism rates, one may argue that divisions between the street, jail, and/or prisons are as blurry now as they have been during any time in the modern era. Thus, the pains of imprisonment described by Gresham Sykes (1958) are as, if not more important today that at the time he wrote this seminal piece. His work The Society of Captives is an examination of prison culture and the social-psychological ramifications of incarceration. Sykes argued that inmates experience five types of deprivation: the deprivation of liberty, the deprivation of goods and services, the deprivation of heterosexual relationships, and the deprivation of autonomy. In combination, these deprivations have very real consequences for inmates both individually and collectively. Sykes argued that the pains of imprisonment lead inmates to adapt and attempt to carve out some degree of autonomy within an often spectacularly rigid prison environment. Accordingly, the underground economy and convict code are byproducts of the lived experience of rigidity and depravation.

Arguably, a more holistic understanding of the pains of imprisonment mandates an interdisciplinary approach. The incarcerated interactions that are central to such deprivation are not only sociological, not only communication-based, not only psychological but rather an indiscriminate hybrid of social science.

Book Overview

Incarcerated Interactions relies on seminal social science theories from communication, sociology, political science, socio-legal studies, criminology and criminal justice to better understand the lived experience of incarceration and it ramifications for public policy. This anthology contains a range of theoretically grounded, yet substantively diverse case studies within the broad mission of the book. These diverse case studies are organized into five sections.

Part I: Criminology & Communication Foundations

Part One of this text systematically lays out the foundational theories and concepts that guide the book as whole. More specifically Chapter Two examines the forty-year history of mass incarceration in America and the cumulative consequences for communities. The analytical crux of this chapter explores a recent series of changes in both the discourse and policy approaches to criminal justice that may or may not represent a paradigm shift in modern criminology. ← 5 | 6 → Chapter Three lays out the interaction, identity, power, and group-based theoretical frameworks that underpin much of the work throughout the book. These cornerstone theories help dissect, explain and richly describe the interactional elements within the incarceration experience. Thereafter, these correctional and criminal justice policies and this interdisciplinary set of theories will be applied to a tremendous diverse set of cases, situations and dynamics within the vast American correctional system.

Part II: Assimilation & Connection

Part Two is dedicated to issues of assimilation and connection, guided primarily by theories of power and group formation. Case studies in this section focus on groups and range from prison gang identity and clandestine communication, to pseudo-families, transgendered inmates and the strategies implemented by newcomers to the correctional environment to assimilate and navigate the existing groups, groups norms and firmly entrenched hierarchies. For example, in The Mean World Syndrome and Newcomer Strategies: Chlapaty discusses how the uber-punitive first iteration of the California Three Strikes Law reconfigures newcomer strategies employed by less experienced inmates and thus reshapes prison culture in the state. While the combination of communications theories and case studies in this section are relatively unique, these substantive issues have received attention across disciplines in the social sciences.

Case studies in this section emphasize interdisciplinary perspectives on informal social control via the lived-experience of prison inmates. Dating back at least to Sykes (1958) Society of Captives, this section builds on the tradition of examining issues of perception, socialization and culture, through the eyes of the inmate. For example, in the first decades of the mass incarceration movement, Zamble and Porporino (1984) argued that an adequate understanding of coping mechanisms employed by prison inmates must combine the macro and the micro; employing the lenses of both sociology and psychology.

Subsequent scholarship has continued to explore the lived experience of inmates in prison. Wooldredge (1999) explored the impact of visits, participation in ← 6 | 7 → prison programs and victimization on the mental health of prison inmates. The Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice dedicated an entire issue to the inmate experience with an emphasis on cross-national comparisons (Mackenzi and Mitchell, 2005), demonstrating the importance of cultural perspectives on incarceration in contemporary social science.

Issues of gender, group formation, identity and subcultures within an incarcerated environment have also been prominent in this literature, in some cases for nearly a century. For example, Selling (1931) explored group dynamics via pseudo families within correctional facilities housing juvenile girls. In the contemporary literature, Collica (2010) explicitly builds from Sykes (1958) examining role formation and coping mechanisms employed by female offenders as they attempt to manage the often-excruciating challenge of separation from family and children.


IX, 222
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. IX, 222 pp., 4 graphs

Biographical notes

Erik D. Fritsvold (Volume editor) Jonathan M. Bowman (Volume editor)

Erik D. Fritsvold (Ph.D., University of California at Irvine) is Associate Professor and Department Chair of Sociology: Law, Crime and Justice at the University of San Diego. He also serves as the Academic Coordinator for MS Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership Program. He has been recognized as one of America’s “Best 300 Professors” by the Princeton Review. Fritsvold’s research interests focus on crime and deviance perpetrated by affluent and non-traditional groups including affluent drug dealers in Dorm Room Dealers, radical environmental activists in Under the Law, and non-traditional street gangs. Jonathan M. Bowman (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is Professor of Communication Studies at the University of San Diego. He has been the recipient of the National Communication Association Ecroyd Award for Outstanding Teaching in Higher Education, the discipline’s highest teaching honor. He also received the WSCA Distinguished Teaching Award, a Keck Faculty Fellowship for his focus on undergraduate research, and the Innovations in Experiential Education Award for his commitment to high-impact practices. Bowman’s research investigates interpersonal and small group communication processes, and he has two forthcoming books: InterConnections: Interpersonal Communication Foundations and Contexts and Masculinity and Student Success in Higher Education.


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