So when I came to prison, I found out very fast that there was a word that was the worst of all words by our standards. That word was “Punk” and if it was said, you could fully expect a fight to breakout immediately thereafter. You lost any respect you might have had if someone called you this word and you had better expect to fight if you were to call someone else this word. The staff even understood that this was not something to be taken lightly and mostly paid the respect due to it by not themselves using such an extreme word. (Extreme by our standards) You have to understand that this is a word you don’t just say…you spit this word from you mouth as it is truly distasteful.
Now…that was a number of years ago and while this word still holds some weight in prison, the incoming youth have had a huge impact on how much of an effect it has when spoken. I often hear the younger men incarcerated here, in their late teens and early 20’s using the word “punk” to each other, with one another and even in reference to others without any action being taken. You still don’t hear that come out of the older generation unless they mean business and for those of us that are still relatively young, (I’m 30-years old) but have been inside for a decade plus, (I started serving time on a Life sentence at the age of 14) it isn’t something that we are prepared to say unless we are pushed to the limits.
On the one hand, I understand placing value on words and how “real” the effects of hearing and saying a word can and does have. On the other hand I have grown to question some of the value we place on words as they can be seen as just that…merely words! To jeopardize so much over something someone says can seem really ill thought out. I think that it’s important to realize that WE empower words by our reactions.
During my first year of incarceration, (mind you I was 14-years-old at this time) there was a man who would come in every week or two and talk to those of us who were interested in listening. He would tell us stories, ask us questions that made us think and really just spend time with us. He told a story one time that has stuck with me throughout these last 16+ years of incarceration. It was a story about a man who was in a war and was captured by the enemy side. This man was tortured and stripped of everything that he had. Lastly his captors removed from his finger his wedding band, the last remaining article on his person. They scoffed at him and yelled: “Ye have nothing left, we have taken everything from you!” The man looked at his captures and quietly said that they were wrong, that there was one thing that they could never take from him. His ability to react as he chooses, the power of choice, something that we all too often forget we have.
Everyday we make a million different choices, to do the right thing, to do the wrong thing, choices that lead to failures and choices that lead to successes. We have the power to choose! No matter our circumstances, whether in prison, living with our parents, foster care providers, at school, with our friends, no matter what we have that choice, if nothing else, of how we react to our environment and what others choose to do to us.
I am not for one moment suggesting that you should lay down and take whatever life has to offer. I’m suggesting that you think before you react and choose to act in a way that is positive and ultimately leads to success rather than choosing to act in a way that you know is going to lead to failure.