You are a 5ft 4" (163cm) man and you weigh 7st (45kg). You can barely push over a wet floor sign and have been thrown into one of the toughest prisons in the world. As you can imagine you are surrounded by big, brutish guys, gang culture and anything else you'd expect to find in a tough prison for a bad crime the other inmates will find less than reputable. For the sake of argument you are 23-years-old with a degree in philosophy and classics. You are not rich and have no connections in the criminal world.

What is your method of surviving whilst achieving the following:

  • Never having to endure a sexual assault
  • Keeping your sanity over a long period of time
  • Staying healthy
  • Encounter diminishing numbers of physical assaults over time
  • Keeping your sentence as short as possible

Imagining that a lot of answers may involve using your intelligence to become respected/useful, how would you prove this asset quick enough that you survive any sort of initiation?


closed as off-topic by DaaaahWhoosh, bowlturner, Frostfyre, Green, IchabodE Sep 16 '15 at 18:02

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – DaaaahWhoosh, bowlturner, Frostfyre, Green, IchabodE
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ You specify a few physical characteristics which are not going to do much to help you survive prison, so you are going to be rather dependent on your wits. How much wits are we allowed to assume this individual has? Can they be a Bodhisattva, with the secrets to enlightenment just under their skin, or are they a Joe Plumber who got in the wrong place at the wrong time? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Sep 16 '15 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ A fair point. Let's say they are in the top 1% of the population in terms of intellect and have graduated from a good university with a degree in philosophy. $\endgroup$ – Varrick Sep 16 '15 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Varrick If you count Brazil on that, a degree in philosophy would make me think he was not that smart... $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Mar 7 '16 at 20:49

You have a clear physical disadvantage, and a strict set of requirements to attain. You're going to be remarkably dependent on your mental faculties. I am going to categorize these into two categories:

  • Observe more information than anyone else, so that you constantly have more information than others to work with.
  • Process that information more completely than anyone else, so that you can act on that information without revealing a clear path back to your information (if they ever figure that information out, you no longer have information others don't have).

You are going to have to walk a fine line between identifying clues in your environment which will let you dodge that which you will not endure, while simultaneously not letting on that you're smart enough to do that. If you don't identify enough, you may get pinned in a trap (come to think of it, didn't you mess up bad enough to get trapped in a prison in the first place? Oh bother). If you do too much with that information, people realize just how smart you are, and you become a resource which may be intimidated for valuable intel.

Your entrance to the prison will be the hardest part. If you think about prison as a closed system designed to grind the "bad" out of people, the influx of new prisoners is fresh energy for the bad people to prey upon. Bad things will happen, and it is probably not in your power to stop them unless you're the Bodhisattva from the South Sea with her Treasure Vase and Willow Wand. All you can do is focus on them not happening to you. You will have to rely upon your fellow inmates to take one for the team. You will need to maneuver yourself, both physically and socially, into a position where you are invisible behind someone else who is a better target. You will have to do so in a very balanced manner: the predators will need to see the cannon fodder you let step in front of you, but the poor individual who is preyed upon must feel it was sheer coincidence that they happened to be in front, and you happened to be behind. The only way to do this is to observe enough to see it happening before it happens, and find sly ways to maneuver under their radar.

Moving further into the life in prison, you're going to need some layers of ablative meat padding, also known as "friends." Prison is a dynamic environment, with danger around every corner. Your job is not to make prison safe, its to make your 4 square feet of prison safe, and you take those 4 feet with you wherever you go. You will need to find prisoners who are willing to act to make that safe for you. Obviously you will need to have something to give them in return. A semblance of order might be such a thing (the mafia has this effect on its members). If you can find just a few people who are looking for some peace in this madhouse, and you can make it appear that you can help them achieve this, they may be willing to make your life more palatable.

The details of how to do this, of course, are an entire book. Or perhaps a life time. Wasn't there a book where the Earth was a penal colony for humans managed by extraterrestrials? How do you achieve your inner peace in this mad world of ours?

  • $\begingroup$ Great answer, appreciate you took them time to write it :) $\endgroup$ – Varrick Sep 16 '15 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ You might be thinking of Prison Earth. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Sep 16 '15 at 15:50

1- Martial arts. You better start recalling all those karate lessons and start practicing feverishly!

2- Be insignificant. Don't attract anyone's attention. Don't ever try to get into anyone's good books (you'd be automatically getting in the bad books of others if you do that). Don't answer a question even when you know the answer and nobody else does. Eat in the remotest corner. Don't participate in the sports.

3- Always keep a weapon hidden with you. A weapon means anything from sharpened spoon handle (good for poking the eyes) to a 2 ft steel rod, razor blade and pointed wooden objects you may find in your surroundings.

4- Learn if/how you can pull out live electric wires out of sockets at any given point if need be.

5- Learn if/how you can immediately initiate a ferocious gangwar in the facility by publicly leaking a piece of information which someone would rather want to keep hidden.

  • $\begingroup$ I admire your optimism :) Point 5 actually gave me the idea that you could protect yourself by pretending to know stuff that you could release if someone harmed you. This would have to be in conjunction with Cort's point of staying very aware of your surroundings to know enough stuff to pull an effective bluff. $\endgroup$ – Varrick Sep 16 '15 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ There is a difference between knowing the truth the revelation of which, in public would initiate an instant gangwar or saying whatever it takes to initiate a gangwar. $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Sep 16 '15 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ In a world ruled by hearsay and and street-cred, the difference between truth and a bluff is a fascinating line to draw, especially when it starts to smear like watercolor. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Sep 16 '15 at 17:57

You haven't specified where this story happens. I'm assuming that we are talking about something like the present-day US situation ... a prison in Syria or Switzerland would be a completely different ballgame.

I'm also assuming that the character is not concerned about more criminal activity unless he is going to get caught. And like most criminals he doesn't think he will get caught. Trying to stay legal would cramp his style.

  • Make contacts with the outside representatives of a prison gang even before the sentence is passed. Find out if they can be bribed to protect you.
  • Have helpers outside organize a smuggling pipeline to provide him with contraband. That can be used for bribes.

Find someone to protect you. Become useful to someone, useful enough that protecting you is worth it.

In some nations the guards will protect you by default, but I assume we're talking about one of the other nations here. The easiest way to achieve your goal is to join a gang, but it depends on many factors that are not known to us. For example in Shawshank Redemption the main character was useful to the Warden, because he was an accountant, which results in him getting "protection" from the highest level. That example also shows that there will be drawbacks depending on the protector.

  • $\begingroup$ The question is more about how to survive. Finding someone to protect you by becoming useful to them is fairly obvious. I am interested in actual logistics. $\endgroup$ – Varrick Sep 16 '15 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Varrick Then we'd need a lot more background info. How to be useful depends entirely on knowledge, skills, connections, and wealth - all of which are unknown at this point. $\endgroup$ – Peter Sep 16 '15 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ Updated the question a little, however may just accept Cort Ammon's answer as it looks like people think the idea is verging on idea generation, which I guess it is! $\endgroup$ – Varrick Sep 16 '15 at 16:52

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