Social Norms at WCCW, a Pragmatic Take


Previously, I have written about what WCCW is like from a storytelling perspective of what my experience has been, and from an anthropological perspective close reading the things I see around me. I’m realizing, this may be interesting to a few people, but probably isn’t going to help someone settle in here. So now I will try to put together a straight forward list of do’s and don’ts for navigating the social landscape here.

First is the big three. This is the advice that I’ve gotten from a bunch of different people in response to the question: “What are the primary mistakes new people make here?”

1) Don’t get into a romantic relationship, especially not at first. It’s a trap. Anyone who will be willing to hook up with you super quick like that is probably not anyone you want to be intimate with. Two broken people cannot make a whole healthy relationship.

2) Don’t get dragged into the drama, gossip and BS. It’s borrowing trouble.

3) Don’t piss off, annoy, or otherwise aggravate the cops for no good reason. And being angry because a cop told you “no” is not a good reason! All it does is put you on the radar and get you in trouble. Because yes, they will find excuses to give you BS infractions.

The following are some of my observations:

+ Don’t worry if people don’t approach you at first. That’s alright. There will be plenty of time to get to know people later. There is no reason to impose on people in trying to get to know them.

+ Don’t try and be everyone’s friend. Keep you’re social circle small. A few people you can trust is necessary to fitting in, but trying to be a social butterfly will end in having a bunch of people messing with you and making your life miserable. It will also, most likely, cause you to fall in with the trouble maker crowd.

+ If people are gossiping about you, and they haven’t said anything to your face, it’s best to just pretend they didn’t say anything at all. Then if someone asks you how you feel about being gossiped about, point out that “if someone is too chicken-shit to say it to my face, why should I care?” The gossip will die down in a week or so. And yes, new people always get gossiped about.

+ Listening to stories even when you don’t quite understand where they are going is important. The point is the interaction, not necessarily the content of the story.

+ Don’t pee in the shower. Just don’t. It’s gross. If you do, own it, apologize, and spray the shower with pink disinfectant spray.

+ Do take your hair out of the shower drain when you’re done. The showers here are really nice, let’s keep them that way.

+ Do a single 20 minute phone call at a time. Calling twice in a row is called “double dialing” and is considered rude. You can try calling a number 2-3 times, but once you get through have your one phone call, get off the phone, and go to the back of the line.

+ Make sure you keep track of where you are in the phone line and make sure other people know where you are in the phone line. It can get pretty hectic, especially in the evening. In the morning there’s much less competition for the phone. Keep in mind that over half the women in WCCW have kids, and you do not want to be seen as getting in the way of a mother talking to her child.

+ Don’t try and wear your clothes super tight or cake on your makeup. It will make you look thirsty, despo and kinda sad.

+ If a pair of people are obviously a couple, don’t try and hang out with them unless specifically invited right then. You’ll be seen as a creepy-weird third wheel, nobody wants that. And being invited once does not mean you are welcome in the future.

+ If a couple is making out (or more) just pretend you didn’t see nothing. Leave them to their pleasure and don’t get dragged in to the drama.

+ If a couple gets in an argument, don’t do anything that could be construed as picking sides or trying to “steal” one of them. It’s okay to check with each of them and make sure they’re okay, but you don’t want to be dragged into their drama.

+ Don’t hit on people. Don’t advertise interest in sex. If you are looking for a relationship, just be friends with people first. If they are interested in more than friendship they will bring it up. Casual hook ups seem to be very rare here. And after a while of being here, the way this is done will make sense. The most important part is not imposing on people. I’m not sure how to describe it beyond that.

+ Don’t look into people’s cells. Even if you are a unit porter and are cleaning cell door handles or windows. People have very little privacy in prison so try and give others what privacy you can.

+ Knock and slowly count to five before opening any bathroom or shower door.

+ If you borrow something, pay it back. If you say you’ll do something, follow through. The hit your social standing will take if you don’t will make navigating things here difficult.

+ When you make deals with people, don’t give them something and expect to be paid later (or vice versa). Exchange goods at the same time whenever possible. It will make your life simpler.

+ When you have multiple issues that you need to raise with one staff member, prioritize your issues then present them one or two at a time. If you ask for a bunch of stuff at once you will end up getting nothing.

+ If you have conflict with another person (whether inmate or staff) and the day-room gets shut down, people will blame you for getting day-room canceled and your reputation will suffer. So when you have conflict, make sure it doesn’t get out of hand and it doesn’t get too loud.

The next few are specific to trans people.

+ Words like dude, man, and bro are gender neutral. This is how cis women talk to each other so don’t get bent out of shape about it. You’ll just look like an oversensitive idiot.

+ Moving like a girl is more important than looking like a girl for being accepted. Patterns of movement like walking, sitting, standing, social spacing, the way one puts on or takes off a sweater or jacket, the way one eats, non-verbal cues/gestures, all matter more than appearance.

+ When someone misgenders you, it is best to give a gentle correction. Most of the people here mean well, and the ones who don’t aren’t worth hanging out with in the first place. I recommend saying the word “ouch” followed by a reminder of what your preferred pronouns are. By not making a big deal out of it, but still articulating it, other people will (eventually) start doing the correcting for you.

+ If you have passing privilege and/or pretty privilege, then you’ll be accepted far more quickly than otherwise. If you don’t have them then you will have to work on having a “great personality.” Yes it is messed up and no I don’t like it. But them’s the breaks. Hopefully we can get that to be different in the future

+ Deal with your toxic masculinity. And yes, anyone who was socialized male has some. Particularly in regards to communication style and negotiation of space.
– Don’t sexualize people or things.
– Don’t stare at people.
– Don’t impose on people.
– Don’t man-splaine stuff.
– Don’t assume you are entitled to anything. Trust me, you’re not.
– Don’t draw attention to your crotch/genitals by way of comment, gesture or posture.
– Don’t use your “man voice” in ways (to scare) or places (bathroom/shower) which can make people uncomfortable.
– Don’t be a “close talker” or loom.
– Don’t act like you’re in charge. You’re not.
– Don’t turn things into a pissing match for no damn reason. There’s better ways to handle conflict.
– And most importantly, respect a “no.” Doesn’t matter if it’s a soft no, couched in politeness, or a sudden subject change. It’s still a no.


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