The tax

Sales-taxIn the incarcerated environment–and primarily this comes from my experience in the juvenile justice system, there is, no matter what any guard, counselor, authority, overseer, peeper, mutterer, mountebank, swami and necromancer has to say–a pecking order.

I don’t care how much pachouli you want to spray on your body, how many extra-rentals of Blackfish you’ve paid for,  how many times you’ve sat in a drum circle with Al Gore.  All your self-imputed goodness doesn’t make badness just “go away.” There is an alpha system that runs and controls the beta system. You may not like it, but it doesn’t make it any less true.  Just ask ISIS.

In custody, we try to mitigate that by keeping the betas from being victimized.  One of the more subtle developments is the use of food as currency in the lockdown system.  Without the intervention and circumspect nature of staff, something known as “taxing” takes place.

Here’s how it looks. The food cart comes on the POD, and the “residents” (hey, it’s California) each take a tray of food and sit at a circular table.  This configuration always places one right across from someone else.

What I will observe is, a beta will be seated. And as soon as an alpha sits with his tray, the beta IMMEDIATELY places one of his items (usually a milk or a cake item) on the alpha’s tray.

To the uninitiated, this looks like a charitable act, replete with concern for the “starving children in Africa” not letting anything go to waste.  But in reality, this arrangement is malevolent. Malicious. A tacit understanding that if said food is not given, a serious beat-down is coming later.

What makes this particularly pernicious is that the beta will be the one receiving consequences for the rule violation. So if the alpha is deprived his food because I’ve stopped the transfer, his “victim” gets in trouble.

Why is this?  Because the groundwork–the doctrine that “you WILL give ME . . . ” blah blah blah was laid much earlier. The pavement stones were cemented long ago. So the punk in this regard, just sits back and dutifully watches the onus-laden weakling walk the road again,and again,and again,and again . . .

There’s only one thing that ever stops it.  A direct challenge.  I’ve seen the beta finally get sick and tired being expended for the mission of the self-appointed.  Usually, this will involve the beta getting up, and dumping the entirely of his food in the garbage, depriving the vampiristic thug anything, which also says “Beat me up you want. I win, because you get NOTHING ELSE FROM ME.”  The other, lesser-used approach involves splitting the tray over the skull of the alpha’s head.

Granted.  This does send signals that are hard to confuse.

I’ll bet the reader with no understanding of this thinks this is appalling.  You’d never allow something like that to happen at all–“if you were running things.”

That’s right.But guess what? You don’t have time to do it because you’ve signed up for thirteen different irons-in-the-fire that, if you even consider stepping out of ONE of them, you are violating some code. Some doctrine. Some implied understanding that the floor will open up beneath you if you just say “NO” for once in your life. You’re an apostate of the highest order. You’d love to be the one to stop that parasitic bully from taking food, but you’ve just signed up for one more reason to never have time to consider anything of the sort.

One day, you’ll do that stuff you always wanted to do, but first you’ve got other people’s expectations sitting across that table.  Don’t you even dare consider getting up, alpha. You know your place. And if you do, YOU’RE the one that looks bad, because the benevolent expectant across from you laid the groundwork YEARS ago that this is “just how it is.”

At some point, the word “no” has to enter the picture.  At some point in life, one has to figure out whether they’re going sit there,and allow others to tax them within the confines of “the code.”

I know this. The kid that ends it usually does wind up with the fist to his face at some point.

But he still wins, because he simply said “enough is enough.”

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2 Responses to The tax

  1. David Hevner says:

    Ron
    You hit the nail square on the head this time.
    This blog should be included in our training manual under the title “real world”

  2. Ann Ahrens says:

    Wow, Ron. I had no idea. It reminds me of a book I read – quite possibly my favorite book – “Tattoos On The Heart” by Gregory Boyle. You should read that book – you would “get it.” Changed me life – literally. I read it 3 times in a row right after I bought it, and have read it two times since.

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