Photo by Dan Burton on Unsplash

I’m sitting on my bunk and trying to ignore the sounds of two people fighting across the hall. I know the two girls, but I do not know why they are fighting. 

Prison has taught me about fades (fights) and backfades (fights to have one’s back), so all I can do is sit here. 

The sight of two people trying to inflict as much damage onto each other as possible is not something I can take pleasure in, so I won’t be joining the spectators at the window. 

The screaming between the fighters signals a resting period from the punching but it won’t last.

I try to tune all the noise out and keep my television volume as loud as possible, but nothing drowns out the sounds. 

The spectators are louder than the fighters, reacting as if it’s a live championship boxing match on TV. The commotion makes my heart beat fast like I drank a double shot of espresso. I’ve bitten down my nails to the nubs. 

The correctional officers won’t come, so the fight will continue for several hours. Until it is over, my nerves will continue to be on edge.

I am a friend to one of the fighters and an acquaintance to the other. I desperately want to check that my friend is okay, but based on the spectators’ reaction, she is struggling, so I won’t look. 

I want to help, but I cannot interfere in any way. Any support I show my friend would be considered taking her side, and I would risk being pulled into a physical confrontation  myself. 

I also cannot offer my friend any sympathy because it will make her seem weak and make the predators smell blood in the water. 

I can’t try to talk sense into the pair to stop them from fighting because I am not in such a position of power in the prison hierarchy. I’m still just trying to get the hang of the prison norms and politics.

Though I don’t know everything about prison politics, I do know that sets, gangs, neighbors, girlfriends, friends and cliques stick together. This is the premise for backfades, which is not a “gang thing” nor a “prison thing,” I am told. 

To most girls here, it is just a life thing. 

If a girl fights your close friend, then you must go fight the girl’s partner or help your friend fight the girl if there is no stud involved. 

If your set, gang, neighbors, friends or clique call for backup, you should be ready to jump in and fight. 

If you are not “in the mix” and not called to act, you must stay out of it. 

You are expected to just watch helplessly as a friend risks getting caught, losing their privileges, losing their visits, losing their phone calls, losing their bed assignment, losing their rehabilitation progress and risk losing their date to go home to their family.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Dorothy Maraglino

Dorothy Maraglino is a writer incarcerated in California. Writing is how she processes the world around her and devotes most of her time to short works that share the realities of prison.