Prison is a lonely place. The system is designed to isolate convicts so they reflect upon the crimes they've committed. But for some inmates the idea of jail is so horrifying that they'll "buzz out" of the mainstream and sign into a protection unit. The protection unit generally houses inmates who fear their safety in the mainstream prison population. People such as informants, rapists, paedophiles, and child killers.
The mainstream inmates survive according to rules that are romanticised in street culture but only really function in the prison yard. The crux of prison law is that you never cooperate with authorities. This generates a suspicious atmosphere that's amped by boredom and forces everyone to keep each other in check by looking for signs of dissidence.
Over time, this suspicion has divided the mainstream into tribal factions, segmenting the yard according to race, religion, and ethnicity. This fragmentation varies in severity and violence depending on the country, culture, or political situation.
In Australia, prisons in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland are dominated by Aboriginal inmates. In New South Wales and Victoria, the segregation is largely multicultural and religious, due to the larger migrant populations.
In Victoria, the prisons were originally divided into five distinct groups; the whites, the Kooris, the Asians, the Islanders, and the Muslims. Over the past decade, however, relationships have also depended on inmate's allegiances with bikie gangs and crime syndicates on the outside.
What's not so often discussed is how joining gangs benefits prisoners. Gangs walk new inmates through rules that aren't taught in induction, and protect newcomers from standover men and sexual predators. Additionally they provide a sense of belonging that's so often missing in prison.
VICE spoke to three inmates about the gangs they joined, and what initiation process it took to get in.
Chris / 27 / Armed Burglary / Aussies
When I first got lobbed I was lucky enough to meet a Bandido from Geelong on the bus. My old man used to ride with them and knew a few of the older guys. He’d done his time in the nick so they knew I was good. He introduced me to a few boys inside. And when things on the yard started turning south with another lot [a rival bikie gang] I was the first to put my hand up and work. That’s what my old man taught me. Some cunts get passed the footy and shit themselves. They handball it off. Others run with it and do something.
The boys tooled me up with a shiv. There’s an area of the gym that hasn’t got any CCTV. I ran up to the dog and stabbed him up while he was doing burpees. I pulled the shiv down his back twice and left a big cross on his back that pissed blood everywhere. He wouldn’t shut up so I kept telling him to “pipe down ya fucking girl.” He wanted the screws in there, the dog. Blokes were finding blood on the equipment for weeks afterwards.
So, I wouldn’t say it was a test or nothing. I was already hanging around but I’m not like that looking for a free hand out and the right cunts notice that shit so they don't look at you like the rest of the cunts that just waltz around the yard with the boys. Most of those weak cunts just get a pass from some of the lifers because they blow them during lock down. I earned my place as a man, not a cat [jail reference to homosexuals] and whenever moves got played, I was chopped in.
Latif / 38 / Attempted Murder / Muslims
If they’re Muslim we look out for them brother. We look after our own like that. When they come in we give them shampoo and toothpaste. We all pray together. We all eat together. And if anyone wants to fuck around, we all go to war together. That’s the test mate, if you’re a real Muslim you will go for your brothers all the way. Even when your outnumbered and outgunned. We die for each other and protect the name.
We went to war with a few islanders last year. Blokes were getting smashed in every unit. Half our boys were in the pokie [segregated slot] and we still rocked them in the yard with 19-year-olds punching on with 150-kilo islanders. We got heart, when they see our heart they buckle. I saw one of the new inmates being a bit suss [suspicious]. A few other boys were dirty on him because he was selling tobacco to the Muslims, so I tooled him up and told him to take out a coconut in the yard. He buckled and buzzed himself into protection. We know what betrayal looks like.
When I started kicking it with the brothers. I stabbed up an Assyrian bloke in the gym because he staunched into one of our elders. I grabbed some rocks and stuffed them into my sock, ran into his cousin's cell and battered him as well. In case they got any time to think about doing something about it. We don’t give a fuck brother. It’s one way for us, touch one and we will rush you, wherever, whenever. But we don’t look for trouble. If they want it, we tell em, “come, yallah!”
Palu / 27 / Aggravated Assault / Islanders
The pakeha (white men) suck each other off, and in Barwon some of them get played with before they’re allowed to roll with them. They fuck each other to prove that they’re boys. Brother, they’re junkies and fucked in the head.
Everyone’s got something to prove in here so you're always fighting. Especially if you’re bigger because these idiots want to impress their boys by saying they punched on with the biggest guys in the unit. You want to be down with us, you got to be able to throw down. A lot of our boys get jumped in. It’s an old prison thing from NZ and on the streets fucking around in gangs and that. One of our older fellas is real heavy from NZ and just got deported because he tried to start Black Power in the jails here.
First time I told them I wanted in, I copped a mean hiding. It went for about six rounds. We went into the brother's cell. Locked up and got down. I was all g for the first two round but then one of the bros hit me with an uppercut out of nowhere. I seen the blood and went harder. I got headbutted and was smashed into the wall. But when it was over you learn that you need to be in the scrap with your brothers if you want to earn their loyalty. I broke my nose but it toughened up my spirit. Because when it goes down, everyone knows what the worst looks like. We are the worst, standing on each other, stomping on each other. So when some other gronk does it. You’ve already been through it and so has the guy next to you, we have no fear.
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This article originally appeared on VICE AU.