Prison is a weird place. There are aspects of prison that are terrifying, depressing, and astounding — but there are also a lot of things that are just plain weird. For instance, there are certain behaviors and patterns that people develop in prison that can seem strange to an outsider or to a first-time inmate. In thinking about this, we — two women who have experience in the New York State prison system — decided to lay out some of the inmate personality types one is apt to encounter in a women’s prison. There are way more than 10 types of inmates, and some people fit more than one category, but this list offers an intro to some of the women you may run into if you are ever so unlucky as to end up in New York State’s prison system.
The Bubblettes. In New York State prisons, the officer’s desk is referred to as “the bubble,” even though it’s not surrounded with any sort of bubble or enclosure. The Bubblettes are the girls who hang out at the bubble. All. The. Time. Usually, it’s because they are either sleeping with an officer or hoping to sleep with an officer. Being a Bubblette is generally not seen as a good thing. That being said, it’s something that a lot of inmates want on some level — not the ability to sleep with the officer, but simply the ability to be seen as more than a number. Bubblettes are likely only seen as sex objects … but for some that’s still better than just being seen as a number.
The Men. These are the women who, for all intents and purposes, prefer to be men — temporarily. That’s the bizarre part: it’s not permanent. It’s almost as if prison is just so disorienting that sometimes elicits a sort of transient re-gendering. There are inmates who are gay or trans on the outside, and then there are those who only identify as gay or trans when they’re locked up. For a first-timer in the prison system, it’s kind of a strange phenomenon. However, it’s a common phenomenon — so common that there’s even a phrase for it: “Gay for the stay, straight at the gate.”
The “Know It All.” This one is self-explanatory, but allow us to clarify because there are definitely some incredibly intelligent, tenacious women behind bars. This type isn’t that. This type is the person who just got to prison yesterday and swears she knows the ins and outs of every facility in the D.O.C. and the judicial system as a whole. Not only does she swear she has all the information, but she also broadcasts it loudly, at length, and usually at the most inappropriate times. The thing is, although she can be really annoying at times and although not everything is 100 percent accurate, this girl actually does have some really valuable information. Even if she’s new, she’s probably done her homework, so don’t dismiss her completely (even when you want to smack her and ask for a second of silence).
The Material Girl. In New York, as in many other states, there are certain, limited things that you are allowed to order or have sent in to prison. Sometimes, though, the things that are allowed don’t match up with the things that look the cutest. The Material Girl is undaunted by this. While there are price limits on most of the items you can get sent into prison, the Material Girl goes out of her way to get her family to fake receipts so she can be the flyest convict on the block. Just stop it. This is prison. But btw … cute shoes!
The Conspiracy Theorist. Not every judge is a bigot, not every C.O. is not a misogynist, and chances are that you were not set up by a crooked cop. (However, the Illuminati involvement still cannot be confirmed or denied.) To be fair, there are indeed people in prison who fall victim to all these circumstances — from crooked cops to crooked judges — but once you’re in prison, it quickly becomes apparent that the ones who complain about it most frequently are more conspiracy theorist than legitimately wronged.
The Type A Personality. These are the over-achievers. You might not even think such a thing exists in prison, but it does. They’re perfectly put together without even trying. They sign up for everything and insist on being the top performer. They win elected positions and quickly rise to leadership. They might have a controlling nature that grates on your nerves, but they still stand out as an example of what people can achieve behind bars.
The Cook. Some people make food just so that they can eat; some people make an art and lifestyle out of jailhouse cooking. The Cook is the person who devotes as much of her day as possible to cooking. Something that might take an hour to make on the outside can take three or four times that on the inside when you’re reappropriating ingredients, ordering smuggled goods, and using can tops in place of actual knives. Most jailhouse recipes sound disgusting but are actually incredibly tasty — like jailhouse burritos made from Ramen noodles and chips or cakes made using frying pans and pancake mix in the absence of an oven and cake mix. (Admittedly, tastiness is somewhat relative as culinary expectations are a bit lower in prison.)
Miss Can-I-Borrow. This person is incredibly annoying. Miss Can-I-Borrow will ask you for literally anything, whether or not she needs it and whether or not it is reasonable to ask for. A lot of people just ask for cigarettes or a drag of one — and that’s totally understandable. But Can-I-Borrows ask for everything from toilet paper to medication to snack cakes to state-issued clothes. “Can I have your underwear?” No! That’s creepy! Go away!
The Granny. Given the long sentences engendered by the War on Drugs, the U.S. has a lot of aging prisoners. In women’s prisons, a certain number of them decide to become grandmother figures. They go by grandma, gma, granny, They ask if you washed behind your ears, if you remembered to get your laundry done, and if you made your bed properly. Sometimes, that sort of meddling is annoying — but sometimes it’s wonderful just to feel like someone cares.
The Tattletale. There is no honor among thieves. Well, maybe there’s some honor — not every inmate is a tattletale. But, until you learn how the tattletales are, you have to assume that there is no honor among thieves. The funny thing is, because no one trusts them, the tattletales usually don’t know about the worst things going on in the unit. So instead of getting people in trouble for major infractions, they usually tattle about trivial things. For instance, they’ll run to the C.O. when someone is smoking in the bathroom, but when someone is getting the shit beat out of them in the bathroom, the tattletales usually have no idea. Not surprisingly, tattletales don’t have a lot of friends.
This piece, cowritten by Katelyn Morton and Keri Blakinger, was originally published on Gorilla Convict.