Prison Etiquette

I recently had a bit of a debate with a friend on the wing about one aspect of prison etiquette which is an issue at every single prison in Britain. Noise. And more specifically, music.

His argument is that, regardless of circumstance or time of day, you should never play music at a volume where prisoners in other cells can hear it because some prisoners can get quite stressed out by this.

My counter argument was that some prisoners (myself included) use loud music as an immersion technique to clear their mind of stress. He suggested that such people should therefore use headphones but I countered that headphones create a feeling of constriction rather than a feeling of immersion, which has exactly the opposite effect. He accepted this but then said that one person’s need to de-stress does not give them the right to stress others out.

My answer to this was simple. I agree that the situation is far from perfect, but that’s why there should be a compromise. There are only three choices. Either the prisoner can always play loud music, keeping his own stress levels low but stressing others out. Or he could never play loud music, allowing others to de-stress but preventing him from doing the same. Or he could play loud music occasionally and only at a reasonable hour, meaning that everyone gets a time to de-stress. I said that, through compromise, no-one gets exactly what they want but everyone gets at least some of what they need. But my friend wasn’t happy about that. He took the view that if he ever has to hear another prisoner’s music then his rights have been broken and that is all that matters.

Finally, I gave him an example. I said that if he lived in a block of flats on the outside, he might expect that his neighbours would sometimes have a party and that he might be able to hear their music. It’s generally the done thing to warn your neighbours beforehand, in case they have young children, but you wouldn’t expect to be told by a neighbour that they should not be able to hear your music at all. So long as the volume isn’t ridiculously loud, and it isn’t ridiculously late or ridiculously too often, you should be able to expect a little leeway. And that respect should be reciprocated. I found his answer very frustrating. He just repeated himself and said he didn’t want to hear someone else’s music.

Now I do get his point of view, but his stance did not seem unreasonable to me because of his view, it seemed unreasonable to me because he could not even consider the possibility of a compromise. He was completely immovable. And that made me wonder if that particular problem lies with just him, or if it carries through to society in general too. So few people seem prepared to compromise these days that I am starting to think everyone is only concerned with themselves. And is that wrong? I personally feel it is, but what if I am the one who is wrong?

So I’d like to open this one up to comments. What would you do? Would you fight to have things as you want them? Or would you compromise? Or perhaps you think that compromise is about you getting your way this time and someone else getting their way next time? And what about the specifics? Should a prisoner be able to play loud music? And if so, how often? I’d be very interested to find out the opinions of those who haven’t had their view coloured by their experience of prison life.

7 thoughts on “Prison Etiquette

    • Wow. Strong reactions. The funny thing is, I actually agree with much of what you all seem to be saying, but my beliefs about what I should do about what that means I should do are slightly different to what I think many of you are leaning towards.

      As I said, headphones aren’t an option for me. Not because I don’t favour them but because they actually make me feel constricted and increase my stress levels rather than decreasing them as I hope music will. This is why I think loud music should absolutely be a rare occasion rather than a regular occurrence, and that it should never be at an unsociable hour. For me, that’s a compromise. When I see a prisoner moaning about the volume of someone’s music even during association (when people are unlocked and able to move about on the wing) at about six in the evening, I do have to roll my eyes.

  1. As an ex-prisoner myself, I’ve had very similar discussions with fellow inmates. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never had to share a cell with a con who played his music very loudly, although I have endured noise from neighbours, including one lad who delighted in playing Eminem at full blast throughout the day.

    Living at close quarters with so many men – some of who aren’t good at the fine art of compromise – isn’t easy as any prisoner knows and occasionally the stresses get too much and trouble kicks off. While I was inside I learned an awful lot about compromise, although having previously been in the armed services and lived in barracks and shared dorms, I think I was better prepared than many first-timers in the prison system.

  2. I don’t think loud music is acceptable as a norm. The example you give of a party would be a rare occasion which would be fine, but any regular occurrence is invasive on others. Think of it as you might if you wanted to smoke cigarettes in a restaurant. Would you expect those in the restaurant who found this unacceptable to wear a gas mask? I really understand your need to de-stress, but it shouldn’t be at a cost to others. What if the guy in the next cell also needed loud music, but a different genre? This could end up as a battle with each person turning up the volume. I think headphones is the best option for you. I know you don’t favour them but the larger ones that sit on the outside of your ears are much better than the ones you put in your ears. Hope this helps.

  3. Maybe I should have added that I’ve never been in prison except in the course of my job a few times. I have talked to people who have experienced prison though and this was also their opinion.

  4. Pingback: Rock ‘N’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution. | micsirwin

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