A Geek in Prison - A Life Series by Charlie Shrem (Part 11 - Making Friends)

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This is Part 11 in a series about my life as a Geek in Prison. Click my name to follow me and check out my blog for the Preamble and Parts 1-10. All names are changed to protect inmates privacy. Everything I write is hypothetical and for educational purposes only.

One of the first things I was told was by someone who claimed to be my friend was that, "No one in prison is your friend.". Interestingly enough, we were friends early on. If you read Part 1, I mentioned Belkin who spoke to be on the bench. Later on I found out he was spreading rumors about me. Once a rumor is spread in prison, if you try to defend yourself you are giving justice to the rumor and people think there is some truth to it. The best thing you can do is ignore them completely.

Over time though, I realized that "friends" are really other inmates who's agenda it is to be aligned to you, or you to them. There are other inmates that I was true friends but these were usually people who had similar background, traits, or relationships as I.

Inmates tends to hang out with other inmates that are the most similar to them. In higher institutions its race, but where I was it was religion, crime, or just people who liked the same things. I'm happy to say that race wasn't a huge factor in my institution and even with religion, most people got along. Usually when there were falling outs or issues, it was internal. For some reason I noticed the Dominican and Puerto Rican community didn't like each other, just an observation I'm not sure why.

I was in prison for a white collar crime as they call it, however I want to make a distinction. "White Collar" tends to mean crimes in the financial nature and usually not involving drugs or violence. Many people think I went to a "White Collar" prison. This is not the case as only 1 in 10 where white collar. Opposite of what you think "White Collar" does not mean race either. There were plenty white drug dealers and plenty black white collar criminals.

It does not matter who you were outside of prison. You can be a billionaire and cleaning toilets, or not have two pennies and run the show. It matters who you are on the inside. Are you someone who does your time or make your time to do? Are you becoming a better person or acting like you were before?

Early on in my stay, it was hard to make friends. I had a few friends from the Jewish community but I wanted to branch out. I didn't want to live in my shell. However there was a certain aura about me that I couldn't shake. Inmates said I acted super confident all the time, like "my shit don't stink". The problem is, I didn't feel that way and I wasn't sure how I was acting that way. What was I doing?

I noticed that I had do the following: - Stop talking about my life outside prison. People don't want to hear war stories or parties. - Offer to help people. People liked when you helped them, wether its explaining a complicated TV show, or cooking something. - Open the door, say good morning and try and act humble. I didn't need to be always the first at everything. - I needed to stop thinking that the world revolved around me. - Hang out with other people, not just your friends.


Once I started following those things my world changed dramatically. Other inmates became friendlier. When the inmate in the cell next to me, Juan, would cook rice and chicken for everyone he would include me and I would eat with them.

Every day when I came back from work at 3pm, I would make some coffee for Juan and myself and we would play cards for 2 hours and discuss our day. At 5pm we would go to dinner. Small routines like that people noticed. They saw Juan and I were becoming friends and they realized that I was open minded and could be friends with anyone. It really made a huge difference.

Over time, I joined sports leagues and that forced friendship as well. I was on the football team and I would eat and hang out with my fellow team mates. There was a bocce tournament every weekend and my partner and I almost one a few times.

Don't be afraid to reach out to people who are not like you. That was one of the most valuable things I learnt in prison!

Do you think you'd be able to make friends easily ?



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