The fight for survival within the United States prison system has created a subculture the breeds racism, hate, and violence. About two and a half years ago, a young man named William King was sentenced to death by lethal injection for his participation in the murder of James Byrd Jr. James, a middle aged black man from Jasper County, Texas, was bound at the ankles and dragged behind a truck for three miles. His body was ripped to shreds as a gruesome display of the effects of prison subculture. What caused William King and his partners Shawn Berry and Lawrence Brewer to commit such a horrific crime? Was their behavior a result of innate nature or was it learned? Many agree that it was the time spent in prison that caused William King to brutally murder James Byrd Jr.
Friends and family claim that William was a pleasant and quiet boy before he left for prison to serve a couple years for burglary. When he was released, his personality seemed irrational and violent and he was covered in racist tattoos. Friends say he frequently spoke about white supremacy and was anxious to develop his own splinter white supremacist gang. Kings defense attorney explained that it was the high rate of violence in Texass Beto 1 Unit that caused William to turn toward gang activity as a means of protection and security. Racist attitudes develop from poor treatment from other inmates and a need to strengthen a common bond among gang members. William, the defense attorney argued, was merely a victim of the depleting prison system in this country ().
The reality of prison gangs cannot be ignored. Victor Hassine wrote a book entitles Life Without Parole, in which he describes the horrific reality of life behind bars. He writes, Once inside, I was walked through a quantlet of desperate men. Their hot smell in the muggy corridor was as foul as their appearance. None of them seemed to have a full set of front teeth. Many bore prominently displayed tattoos of skulls or demons. One could argue whether it was the look of these men that led them to prison or whether it was the prison that gave them their look. Just looking at them made me fear my life (Hassine, 7). While the actions of William King cannot be excused or rationalized, his story sheds insight on the problems that face our correctional facilities. Prison gangs are everywhere, and effect every inmate. When a new convict is admitted he is viewed as fresh meat among the prison gang members and victimiz...