San Francisco State University, The Architecture of Imprisonment, Class 4

September 21, 2013

Michael G. Santos

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Ronnie Massaro: Leader of Convicts in High-Security United States Penitentiary

After providing lengthy lectures for three Architecture of Incarceration classes, I was happy to invite a guest speaker to visit with our students at San Francisco State University. Soon after I walked in, I told the students that a man who had served multiple decades in prison would join us at 5:00 pm. Since I would have about one hour with the students before our guest speaker would arrive, I opened our class for a discussion. The students could ask me anything about what they had read in the first 11 chapters of Inside: Life Behind Bars in America, about videos that I showed in previous classes, or about anything I said during early lectures.

The first question concerned cellphones. A student wanted to know why prison authorities made such a big deal about cellphones.

Communications from Prison to Society

The student’s question prompted an opportunity for a lengthy discussion. To make the discussion more interactive, I took the time to help the future criminal justice professionals understand more about life in prison.  I asked their thoughts on mechanisms people in prison had to communicate with loved ones outside. In time, we arrived at the correct answers. Prisoners could connect with people in society through three mechanisms:

  • Visits
  • Mail
  • Telephone / quasi email systems

Administrators controlled visits, mail, and telephone with strict rules that governed the amount of time that prisoners could access visits, mail, and telephone privileges. In federal prisons, for example, prisoners could only use the telephone for a maximum of 300 minutes per month. Further, when authorities found that prisoners violated rules inside of the institution, they imposed sanctions that routinely resulted in the loss of access to visits, telephone, quasi-email systems, and in some cases, mail.

Ironically, social scientists routinely found that offenders who maintained close family and community ties were the least likely offenders to recidivate. See the Second Chance Act of 2008, for example. That legislation states verbatim the importance of family and community ties. Nevertheless, the system of corrections routinely severed opportunities for prisoners to maintain those ties by sanctioning prisoners with loss of access to telephone and visits. A prisoner who participated in a three-way phone call between with his child and mother, for example, could lose his access to telephone privileges for one year. If the prisoner made a second three-way phone call after his privileges had been reinstated, administrators could take his access to telephone and visiting for five years.

The many rules, regulations, policies, and procedures gave rise to an enormous underground economy in every prison. Readings in both Inside: Life Behind Bars in America and Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45-Year Prison Term showed how that underground economy functioned. Basically, the enormous amounts of administrative control had the unintended consequence of created a robust market for contraband within the institution. Since most prisoners valued their opportunity to connect with the outside world, for both good and bad reasons, cellphones became a hot commodity.

When authorities found that prisoners had violated disciplinary infractions, and they sanctioned those prisoners with loss of access to telephone, they simultaneously created a demand for cellphones. Further, authorities influenced the demand for cellphones by charging extortionate rates for authorized telephone calls. In the federal prison system, prisoners had to pay .23 for every minute of telephone access. Since most prison families were poor, that cost became prohibitively expensive.

Introduction of Contraband

That led to the next question of how prisoners managed to smuggle cellphones (and other forms of contraband) into the secure boundaries of a prison. Authorities defined contraband as anything that was not issued through appropriate, sanctioned channels by the institution. Authorities considered cellphone possession as being a greatest-severity offense because cellphones threatened security of the institution. Nevertheless, because of the high demand, prisoners conspired to bring in more cellphones routinely.

Prisoners introduced contraband into an institution through a few different mechanisms:

  • Contraband could enter institutions by being secreted into the mail.
  • Visitors could pass contraband to prisoners during visits, and the prisoners could smuggle contraband inside.
  • Corrupt staff members could mule contraband into the institution.
  • In minimum-security prisons, where prisoners routinely mixed with people in society through sanctioned work details, prisoners could mule contraband into institutions.

I asked for a class volunteer to dramatize efforts staff members made in blocking contraband from entering an institution. One of those efforts included frequent use of searches. Depending on security level, prisoners who entered or exited the visiting room would have to go through various levels of body-search procedures.

  • Prisoners and visitors would have to walk through electronic devices that were designed to detect contraband upon command.
  • Prisoners and visitors would have to submit to a series of pat-down searches upon command.
  • Prisoners (and sometimes visitors) would have to submit to strip searches before entering.

Despite those precautions that staff members took to block contraband from entering or exiting the visiting room, prisoners still succeeded in overcoming those hurdles. Having been conditioned to pursue immediate gratification, some prisoners thought the potential reward was worth the potential risk.

From my perspective, I explained, authorities could very easily cut down on the use of cellphones by opening access to telephones for prisoners in prison. If authorities authorized prisoners to access phones at a cost that did not gauge them financially, and if they didn’t penalize prisoners by taking away telephone access for 12 months because of trivial rule violations like three-way phone calls with family, the demand for cellphones would drop considerably. Such changes, however, would have other implications. Prisoners would be able to maintain closer ties to society, and those who made rules that governed prison wanted to sever such ties during the period of confinement. They focused on “preserving security of the institution,” not building safer communities. The surest way to preserve security of an institution, from their perspective, was to isolate, which became a focus of our commitment to mass incarceration over the past several decades.

Prisoners who could reach beyond prison boundaries without detection were always a threat. Some prisoners maintained ties to criminal organizations that operated beyond prison walls. Authorities had a responsibility to block prisoners from perpetuating cycles of crime. Prisoners who could influence criminals to act on their behalf outside of prison walls could threaten staff members who worked inside of prison boundaries. Another volunteer in the class helped to illustrate that danger as well.

Ronnie Massaro

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Ronnie Massaro Teaching About Convict Strategy

Our guest speaker, Ronnie Massaro, showed up at 5:00 pm. It was as if he stepped directly out of the pages of Inside: Life Behind Bars in America. I met Ronnie through my probation officer, Ms. Christine Butera-Ortiz. She had supervised him during the time that Ronnie served on Supervised Release, after his release from a cumulative total of more than 30 years in prison.

Ronnie served all of his time in high-security penitentiaries. He was the real deal, the personification of a solid convict. With his shaved head, his tattoos, his use of language and body gestures, there wasn’t any faking it with Ronnie. I was grateful to him for helping the students of The Architecture of Incarceration truly understand what it meant to live in prison. Ronnie wove stories masterfully to help the students truly appreciate the culture of confinement, bringing the words and stories of Inside to life.

Ronnie dressed in pressed khakis and he buttoned his shirt to the top button, explaining that old habits died hard. By making such a statement, he was helping students understand that many convicts took pride in their appearance while inside. They may not have been able to control the types of clothes they wore, but prisoners could wash their clothes and iron them to sharp creases. He made a point of saying that “prisons breed behavior,” conveying that the rules and culture of an institution trained a prisoner to do whatever was necessary to survive.

Ronnie narrated his experiences, telling the class in his colorful way that he began going into institutions when he was 15. A series of terms in confinement did not “correct” his way of thinking, he said. Rather, each journey through prison reinforced his beliefs about what he had to do to survive.

Whether in state or federal prison, Ronnie described the racism and tribalism that existed inside the institutions. The state prisons were more pronounced with racism, he said, but in either type of facility, prisoners of different races refrained from mixing together. To help the students understand political complications of prisons, Ronnie described ongoing battles between prisoners who lived in different geographical regions. For example, he said that Mexican prisoners had to identify with being from either Northern or Southern California, and they had on-site orders to attack one another. By “on-site,” Ronnie meant that if a prisoner identified with the Northern Mexican faction, when he saw a prisoner who identified with the Southern Mexican faction, he would have an obligation to attack that prisoner as soon as he saw him, regardless of consequences. If one prisoner didn’t attack the other, lethal consequences would follow. Those problems led authorities to classify which prisoners could serve time on which prison yards.

Ronnie told the group about gang pressures, or racial group pressures. If the leader of his gang told him to stab another prisoner, Ronnie said that he would not hesitate. Those were the rules of the prison. No one, he said, could walk alone. Prisoners had to abide by the underlying rules that the gang dictated or the prisoner would have to face the consequences, which could be fatal. A gang leader may have ordered Ronnie to stab a close friend. Ronnie would be given the assignment because he could “rock his friend to sleep.” Ronnie said that while he lived inside of those walls, he would not hesitate to plunge a steel shank into the flesh of another man if his gang leader ordered. Disregarding the order would mean that Ronnie would become a target. Stabbing someone became a routine way of life in prison. Building a reputation for that type of lethal violence was not only necessary for survival, Ronnie said that it was the only way to rise in the prison hierarchy.

Ronnie told the group about the ingenious ways that he created weapons, about the ways that prisoners smuggled contraband into an institution, about ways that prisoners spoke to each other and spoke to staff. He could not have done better at illustrating the subculture of life in a high-security prison.

He described how his reputation for violence led to his becoming a “shot caller” in the penitentiary. Rather than guards controlling the prison, Ronnie said that convicts controlled the prison. All that guards did, he said, was unlock cell doors and tell prisoners to mop up the blood.

Michael-Santos-SFSU-008-9-20-13

High-Security Penitentiary Shot Caller

As a shot caller for the “white car,” Ronnie said that he set the tone for his cellblock. The “white car” he said, included prisoners who identified themselves as being of the white race. If a white prisoner came into the cellblock, the guard would ask Ronnie, as the shot caller, where he should send the white prisoner. The white prisoner would then go through the motions of authenticating himself. He would show his “paperwork,” to describe his crime and criminal pedigree. He would submit to interviews with the “big homies” on the yard to show that he was a prisoner of good standing. They would identify mutual “homeboys.” If everything checked out, Ronnie said that a prisoner was “golden.” The others in his “car” would offer coffee and commissary and drugs to make the new prisoner feel at home. Ronnie routinely emphasized the importance of race during his entertaining and informative presentation. Shot callers from other racial or geographical groups would have that same authority for members of that group.

Ronnie said that while living in prison he never thought about preparing for success upon release. It was much more important to focus on making it through one day to the next. He did that by building his prison reputation, by plotting to triumph over prison rules and regulations. That level of focus, he said, resulted in his feeling much more comfortable in a prison setting than he felt outside of prison. Whenever he left the prison, Ronnie said that he “felt out of pocket.” The prison vernacular meant that Ronnie felt as if he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He did not know how to adjust.

When Ronnie faced conflict in the world, he described how he had to check himself from responding in the types of ways that prison had conditioned him to respond. It influenced his ability to find employment or to integrate with society. He did not know how to use the technology of society or to follow the rules of society because he had been so conditioned to living inside of a prison society. He relied upon his wife to keep him grounded, to make progress and stay straight.

Ronnie has been free from the prison experience for four years, which was the longest he had been outside of prison setting since 1977. He was working full time as the leader of a warehouse, grateful for every day of work. Still, he said that everyday felt like a challenge and that even though four years had passed, he would feel more at home inside the walls of a high-security penitentiary than he felt in society.

I’m grateful to Ronnie for helping me illustrate the ways of the penitentiary. He brought the prison culture to life for the students in ways that only a real convict could.  I’m also grateful to each of the students who gave Ronnie the attention he deserved. Ronnie is now more than a man who has been released from prison. He is a contributing member of society and he contributed to the education of future criminal justice leaders.

Students may earn credit by commenting on Ronnie’s presentation. I encourage them to do so. Some suggestions for discussion topics follow:

  • Compare and contrast Ronnie’s description of life in prison with descriptions from the required class readings or earlier lectures.
  • Describe differences in Ronnie’s prison adjustment with other prison adjustments described in class.
  • How did Ronnie describe the path to becoming a shot caller in the penitentiary?
83 comments
Kayla Harris
Kayla Harris

Ronnie was a very engaging speaker. I think he kind of personified what the outsider expects of a prisoner; he was kind of rough, lots of tattoos, engaged in violent activities inside and he was very blunt about it all. It all kind of reinforced the stereotypes of who a prisoner is, but Ronnie was also very open and it was very clear that he is working toward a better life. I think if anything Ronnie shows us how people can change and evolve if given the opportunity. Despite his involvement as a "shot caller" in prison and his unease upon being released back into society, Ronnie has not taken the easy way out and reverted to his old routine. He is working hard at being an integrated member of society even though it has not been easy. Just imagine if he had been given more opportunity to prepared for life outside prior to his release. 


Also, one of the things that stuck with me most was when he was describing his job search after getting out. He talked about receiving a job offer and showing up to training only to be told that his lack of credit history made him unemployable and essentially as if he did not exist. It is interesting/kind of horrifying to think of all the things that hold someone back from trying to get on the right path after being in prison. Also, kind of sad to see how much society has become dependent upon credit.

Michael parra
Michael parra

Ronnie was definitely a treat to have as a guest speaker he had my undivided attention as soon as he stepped into the class room. His tattoos from head to toe and the way he carried himself defiantly proved that his time in prison was not a short term,  he defiantly is a product of incarceration. He described the things that he had to do in prison as just every day things to stay alive and to keep your rep up. I really liked the stories he told about his "shot caller" status and the special ways he went about to get everyday luxuries in prison like people on the outside. Ronnie is defiantly a type of person i expect to be getting released from prison prior to taking this class, he was rehabilitated but getting out he isn't as set or more educated like Michael santos was. regardless i really enjoyed the things Ronnie had to share defiantly an eye opener. 

HashChahal
HashChahal

This was by far my favorite class and my favorite guest speaker. Ronnie answered many questions many students had about prison life from communication and respect amongst inmates, to physical altercations in prison, to having trouble molding back into society after being released. He mentioned something very important that stuck out to me....He went on to share how inmates are sometimes involuntarily requested to stab or "stick" other inmates as it is all prison politics after all. Sometimes inmates must stan their old cell mate or the guy they used to run dope with out on the streets before incarceration because they are a different color or belong to a different gang. Inmates do this because it is either the other guy, or themselves who will end up getting stabbed. 

Tracy Garcia
Tracy Garcia

This was by far  one of my favorite classes because Ronnie was just so blunt and honest. He fully gave us an understanding of the prison live of someone who decided to follow how most decided to live in an effort to become a "shot caller."  Everything he said was somewhat familiar to me because its something we constantly in most of our classes but it was an eye-opener to here someone who has gone through it talk about it so openly and in person. I know people close to me who have gone through the prison system and they are very reserved about their experiences and prefer it to be an untouched subject. Ronnie made everything more real from how he got to get a razor blade to becoming a "shot caller." one of my favorite things he mentioned was that people usually end up in prison for not following the rules but once in prison they become rule followers. I had never thought about it in that way.  

Judy Alfane
Judy Alfane

Having Ronnie come to class and talk to us about his time within the prison system was an experience I could only get from this class. His appearance made him seem like one of your characters had just stepped out from the pages of your book.  From the tattoos that covered his arms to the way he held himself in front of the class, clearly he was a man that was hardened within the walls of a penitentiary. However the discussion he gave the class was very informative, yet entertaining. His talk about how prisoners would be punished by taking away their privileges such as  phone calls to family or visits intrigued me because even though this may prove a point in a sense that the officials are letting the prisoner know that they did something wrong. However, without this link to the outside world and their supporters, prison inmates may actually become more hostile and not learn from this experience. If there was a constantly open link to families and friends, then this may ease some tension from within the prison population. Of course there would still be some sort of supervision as to how often and who these prisoners could call, though. Another interesting point Ronnie talked about was the gang pressures he encountered during his time. This has been dramatized constantly through television series about prisons, yet hearing it from a first-person point-of-view was something completely different. To think that your life is on the line if you do not carry  out an order to selflessly kill another person is mind-blowing. Ronnie's account reinforces the dangerous conditions inmates have to live through on a day-to-day basis.

MikeRLyon
MikeRLyon

Ronnie was a trip to listen to. He was definitely what I would call institutionalized and I think he knew it. He even commented about how he bought prison type clothes (khakis) outside of prison without even knowing he did because of habit. I liked his fast talking ways and some of the terms he used definitely showed his age and knowledge of the prison world. What interested me the most is when he talked about being a shot caller and how he explained that the guards only think they run the prisons but really ask him or the current shot caller where to house new inmates and such. Just glad he found his way out and getting his life back in order.

Kit Chang
Kit Chang

Ronnie and Michael, they both have different story inside the prison. And both story seems totally opposite, for example, Ronnie was afraid to live in community, and from my perspective Michael seems looking forward to live back in the society. And this make me curious, would there be easier  if the prisoner have a relative or a person waiting them outside the prison? Gain respect from prisoner in the prison would not help prisoner when they are out, but like Michael earn a degree or education would make a huge difference. 

Stina LindWinters
Stina LindWinters

This is passage offers a mixture of sadness and interest to me. I find it terribly sad hearing and understanding Ronnie's way of life in prison, for a great part of his life it was really the only life he knew, it was  a way to survive. But understanding what it takes to secure one's safety and stability in prison, with hopes of becoming a "shot caller" in his life, is having the ability to remove your emotions and basically kill on command. What does that prove? It seems as if he killed/stabbed people based on orders in order to save his own skin...but it makes sense to take the life of someone else? It is also frustrating for me to hear because I grew up in a very different world, but a sheltered world. I grew up in a town where everybody knew everybody, but in school it was a very different setting than having dinner with your parents friends and family. I was on the anti-bully  campaign in high school and I did not hesitate to change bad and hurtful behavior when I saw it, and I still do it to this day whether it is people I know or strangers. I feel like prisons need a program or people to have hope and faith in them and to guide them to want a better life, rather than basically throw them to the dogs. It is sad to hear that Ronnie felt more comfortable inside prison walls than out in the real, FREE, world. He has no one to answer to but himself, and perhaps that scares him, perhaps it is easier for him to fight for his life and respect from others than it is to build a life with no fear for survival of life at all. I can go on and on about this for a while, but overall, It is interesting to note that prison instills a sense of way of thinking where it is every man for himself....instead of the bigger picture, how can i live a law abiding life, in which in turn would provide happiness and security instead of a  fear for life and respect among predatory people. 

KevinGee
KevinGee

It was really interesting listening to Ronnie.  From what I remember his description of being released was quite startling. It was kind of sad to hear that he was afraid of the outside and more comfortable on the inside. I think this just illustrates how prisons conditions people and how humans adapt to their environment. So if someone is accustomed to prison and has been in there for 25 years or for the most part of their life it will feel like home despite how abusive the system is. Additionally it was nice to hear that he has turned his life around.   

George N
George N

In order to advance his standing in the prison hierarchy, Ronnie had to prove he was down with the crew. Ronnie was given a few tasks -similar to a Mafia/Mob boss putting a "hit" on someone that needs to be whacked, and giving the job to one of his cohorts. Well, Ronnie was that cohort who put in work and earned his stripes. With each altercation, whether a stabbing or a simple fight, Ronnie was gaining respect and becoming increasingly feared among the prison population. He began to get "tatted" and soon his entire body was covered with tattoos, many devoted to his gang or crew. With the ink to show his loyalty, Ronnie was deep in the game and now recognizable to most guards as a prisoner associated with gang activity. Due to his status as a feared gang member, Ronnie would often be targeted for disciplinary infractions and sent to places such as "the shoe". Being sent to the shoe or to a higher security prison than the current level one is serving their time in, is a bragging right - another badge of honor in the penitentiary mentality. Defiance to the authority of the guards, particularly "setting them straight", is a revered act in the pen. Eventually Ronnie became the top shotcaller and ran a section of the prison - gaining his own cell and controlling the living arrangements of everybody around him. 

George N
George N

For the most part, Ronnie's experience and the experience of the speakers who were incarcerated under the juvenile justice system sounded very similar to me. In both cases, one clear similarity was the fact that they were all being caged like animals and dehumanized through this criminal justice machine. It was not very clear to me whether Ronnie started serving his time in the juvenile system before becoming incarcerated by the adult system - nonetheless, the most basic problems were clear in both. In both systems there is no incentive for good behavior. In both systems the prisoner's first and most natural instinct is to become a product of his environment; often resulting in violent behavior and a mentality that glorifies killing and earning "respect".

GarridK
GarridK

I thought Ronnie's message showed the true nature of prison. He could not find a way to educationally better himself, and chose to do work for his gang. This is more likely the average story of a prisoner, than Michael's story. It goes to show how desperate and truly dangerous the prison environment can be. As in Inside, many men enter prison knowing the dangers of it and some must prove themselves early on or be forever taken advantage of. Ronnie would not accept that and it showed that he was willing to do anything to survive. Outside of prison, Ronnie struggles and the concept of lawful living is tough. If he had taken a different approach to his time inside, he might have found it easier adjusting to life outside.

It was great to hear from him and his experiences. We got to see someone that didn't take the path Michael took and it proved that Michael's story is actually quite amazing given the situations these men are placed into.

Omar A
Omar A

In class we had a guest speaker name Ronnie Massaro, who explained his prison experience in state and federal penitentiary. His experience brought insight to the conditions of prison living and lifestyle. The prison environment created an atmosphere that contributed to Ronnie's lifestyle to eventually reach the status of "shot caller" He described how while in the SHU he had a lot of problems with the officers, and their behavior was controlled 23hrs a day with only 1hr of recreation. This type of environment were we treat prisoners like animals only creates hostility between inmates and guards, and inmates on inmates. One thing Ronnie explained that shows credibility among other inmates is one's papers, which is your record in prison. This paper has your history in and out of prison, and he explained the different factors that can help or affect your stay. One was "snitching", "talking to the feds(giving info)", "rape charges", and potentially these can hurt your credibility with other inmates. Ronnie's has an incredible story because he was able to turn his life around despite of being in that environment, and has worked hard to continue a positive life outside of prison. The transition from prison to society is like another hurdle Ronnie and many inmates coming out of prison have to overcome, because sometimes this can be a difficult process due to the fact that they have been used to prison lifestyle. 

Yolanda B
Yolanda B

Today we learned about the State prison behind the scenes. Ronnie brought the real life story of all races and gangs. We touch on the a variety of subject from the corruptive police to the shot callers of prisons. Ronnie story was very different from Professor Santos who spent time in several Federal Institutions. Ronnie life in prison was different the whole aspect. Learning to adapt from his prison life has been hard and still is. He struggles with language, clothes, crowds and etc. We learned the State vs. Federal Institutions or very different in the movement and how one is housed. Although things by the inmates are ran the same however the institutions are ran different. It was a shame to learn that the guards are there to do just an Easy 8 and hit the gates. I learned inmates have more power than they should over the guards as far a running things in the State prison system and this is what we pay our money for. Smdh

Nick Horn
Nick Horn

Ronnie had my attention from start to finish during this class session. Ronnie fit Professor Santos' description of the "prison Mind Set" perfectly. As soon as entering prison, you were expected to run with your race, do whatever needed to earn respect and climb the hierarchy and completely avoid the idea of rehabilitating yourself because that will get you nowhere but killed in prison. You are seen as the lowest of the low if your goal in prison is to better yourself and get out. It is easy to be victimized with such a strong mind set...Ronnie saw that he could get where he wanted to be in the prison hierarchy by participating in violent acts and satisfying the shot-caller of his gang (the white car). Making it from one day to the next is the main priority for prisoners like Ronnie and thinking about succeeding on the outside is too far-fetched.

Edgar Carbajal
Edgar Carbajal

I think this week's session was the most informative so far.  For one, it delved deeper into the the ways in which prisoners are unfairly treated and "punished".  It is preposterous that a seemingly unimportant infraction can have the effect of suspending a prisoner's phone privileges for up to five years, and it is understandable that illegal contraband of cellphones would rise dramatically because of it.  If, in fact, those who have constant contact with their families are less likely to recidivate, then phone privileges should be something to give prisoners more of.  Moreover, though I can see how frequent searches can be helpful in prison, I think that the way in which they are conducted are somewhat dehumanizing.  I find this topic to be quite interesting.  I also enjoyed having Ronnie in the class.  He was a fun guy to listen to and what he said was really informative.  He clearly demonstrated and spoke about how hard it was for someone who had spent a large part of their lives in prison to come back into society.  I hope that future weeks continue to be this interesting and informative and I hope to have many more speakers come into class to provide us with different perspectives.

Richard Magpantay
Richard Magpantay

I really enjoyed this class. Ronnie gave us the raw truth about the prison system. Unlike Professor Santos story, Ronnie had a different prosprective in prison, "get them before they get you". Ronnie shared his experience with the class. Being in and out of jail and just being comfortable with that lifestyle. Ronnie explain that he was more comfortable living in prison then the halfway house. Ronnie explain because he is somebody inside jail. He knew that no one would mest with him becuase he would put something inside them if they did. Being outside, Ronnie felt like he didn't belong. The prison system is based on the idea that when someone comes in, they go out knowing how to live in society and become a better person. This isn't true at all. Prisoners that been in jail for 10-50 years won't know how to funtion outside of the prison walls. From basic things like how to use a phone or things like how to get a job. One way the Prison system is broken is they don't prepare prisoners to live on the outside. This will cause a high turn around rate and would cause more ex-prisoners to go back into prison.

Jenny Yen
Jenny Yen

This wee having Ronnie to share his experiences of the prison system was really informative. I never thought that incoming prisoners are being decided by another prisoners. Ronnie explains he still has the same habits that he button up his shirt and walks in certain ways. The prison system does not works with everybody. Ronnie indicated that the prisoner has it own society, because people that's in their has different skills. What's really interesting is that, I learned that racisms are extremely sensitive in the state prison, but it is a lot better in federal prison. I think it is great to have Ronnie as guest speaker to share his life experience of the prison system, it gives us a different perspective of the prison system. 

Steven Birrueta
Steven Birrueta

Last week's class meeting was one of the best experiences I have had during my years here at SF State. I am very thankful to have met a person like Ronnie who at one point in his life was a shot caller of a penitentiary and now he has been out of prison for three years and has become a contributing member to society and has no intention to go back into the life of incarceration.  One very important point that Ronnie made was the fact that during his time in prison he came to his senses when he realized that all those who are incarcerated are taking orders from prisoners that have higher authority and they follow these rules without getting anything in return.  The point he tried to make was that if all these prisoners are following these rules in prison then why don't they do the same thing outside in society by following the rules that society has in place and in return they will gain more than what they get in prison.  I am very much looking forward to the weeks to come and the different guest speakers we will be having. 

Tracy Garcia
Tracy Garcia

Having Ronnie come into our class and talk about his experience was great because we do not get these opportunities often. My cousin has been in and out of prison but he is really reserved with his experience. I try to talk to him but sometimes don’t know what is okay and what is not okay to ask. So having Ronnie and Michael talk so openly about their experiences greatly appreciated. What I really liked about Ronnie’s talk was when he said that people end up in prison for not following rules but they have to follow rules inside. I never though about it in that way but it is so true and mind blowing. It opened my eyes to new perspectives and makes me wonder if prisoners realize this fact. It is something I will have to ask my cousin next time I talk to him. I’m really grateful to Ronnie who time out of his day to come speak to our class.      

Jesus Ochoa
Jesus Ochoa

Having Ronnie come in and speak was one of the best inside descriptions of prison I have ever heard. Ronnie gave great knowledge of the way prison gangs work and how they are run inside prison. He made it clear that even though there are prison rules you have to fallow. There are also gang rules that are more important since you never know if that day will be your last day. The information Ronnie gave about phones, mail, and visits was also very helpful to know since it’s a big way inmates stay in touch with people on the outside. Ronnie was really informative and obviously knew a lot of what he was talking about after doing thirty plus years in state prisons. Thank you Ronnie for visiting and the great knowledge and thank you Prof. Michael for having Ronnie come to our class.

Lauren McCaffrey
Lauren McCaffrey

First off, I am so greatful that Ronnie came in and spoke about his experience explicitly to the class. When Ronnie talked about having to stab people and that whether he stabbed this individual or not, he was going to get stabbed regardless. It really came down to his own survival. That really had an impact on me because I thought about all the behavior that prison was breeding into individuals. We talked about it in class a lot, and I think Ronnie reinforced the fact that people don't come out of prison better than before. Prison creates monsters rather than rehabilitating the man and women who need it. 

I was really entertained by how Ronnie described the hypcorisy of prison gangs in comparison to real life. Prison and gangs are filled with rules that inmantes have to follow and abide by. Its hard to believe that people have trouble following simple rules outside of prison. When Ronnie talked about how prison is filled with thieves but it is considered the ultimate sin to steal from someone in prison, it really didn't make any sense. 

I love having Ronnie come and I am looking forward to future guest speakers.

Molly Diedrich
Molly Diedrich

Having Ronnie come in and speak was eye-opening.  It allowed for another perspective about the criminal justice system.  I really enjoyed every moment of his guest lecture.  One of the most interesting things he touched on was when he moved into the halfway house and almost immediately knew he had a better life in prison than he did outside.  In the halfway house, he shared a room with a number of different people, where as in prison, because he was the "shot caller" he had his own cell.  He was the one everyone knew and gained a lot of respect inside.  That respect did not transfer outside, however.  He felt safer inside.  We talked a little bit about how in prison, you learn to live and sometimes it is easier, when that is all you've known, to live in prison.  

I also really enjoyed his explanation of realizing that when he did in fact get out, that he wanted (and could) stay out and be a law abiding citizen.  He made so many interesting points on how there are rules in prison, rules set out by the guards as well as the prisoners.  You followed those rules to stay alive.  While the rules to stay alive inside are different from the rules  outside, there are still rules.  Once of the main differences is that the rules on the outside are called laws.  He realized that it was a somewhat twisted way of thinking and that's when it clicked.  Once again, I really enjoyed having the opportunity to listen to Ronnie speak, and I am very excited to hear the other guests come and speak as well!

Vincent Tsui
Vincent Tsui

Having Ronnie come in and talk to the class gave me a another perspective to think about regarding the prison system. In a way, Ronnie's story is like what we see and hear from TV shows; tough guys going at it every once in a while, listening to their own authorities. But also having Mr. Santos' story doesn't make the prison system unbelievable, it just makes it diverse.

Though Ronnie feels more comfortable in prison, he is becoming a law-abiding citizen and trying to stay away from the prison system. He is adapting to another life (which society sees as better) but still holds onto who he is. It was nice to hear how Ronnie made the connection of following rules in prison vs following rules in society. I think everyone can relate to this and it makes a lot of sense that we as humans, favor certain rules and not.

It was nice having a guest speaker give us their story because it's fun and interesting.

Lyneeka B
Lyneeka B

Reading Inside, gave me an in-depth look into the prison system. I could only imagine the scenarios that happened but having Ronnie Massaro come in and give us his first hand experience brought it to life. His point of view was so much different than Mr. Santos because he was a high ranking member of one of the gangs. He like so many other prisoners had to survive in this hostile environment. With him still being able to be with us today, shows that at all cost he did what he had to do to survive. With him being in and out of prison his entire life, proves that our system is not achieving its stated goal of rehabilitation. He stated through his entire stay in prison their was no "correcting" going on. With people like Mr. Santos and Mr. Massaro, and the thousands of other ex-inmates, sharing their stories about prison life why are there not more things being done to fix this failing system? He was a pleasure to have and I really appreciate his story.

Stephanie Durr
Stephanie Durr

Having first hand experiences and stories from prison life really make this class real. Having Ronnie Massaro come in and talk about his experiences give a different point of view from Mr. Santos'. Mr. Massaro took a different path from a scholarly one in his prison time, and I believe it helps reflect a great population of prisoners. Hearing Mr. Massaro say that he feels more at home in prison is a disheartening statement. I believe this is probably the case for most prisoners today and that is part of the reason they go back to prison. They know how to live in prison and what is expected of them. Maybe if there more programs outside of prison to help people adapt they could have an easier time staying out of prison.

Vivian Nguyen
Vivian Nguyen

Ronnie was a great guest speaker and everything he said was very informative because it's coming from a different perspective. You are often told that when inmates come out of prison they have to learn and adopt to a lot of new things but actually seeing Ronnie express it and explain from his experience, it really gives you a wake up call. He said that when he got out of prison he had to teach himself how to smile and how to act "normal" just because he felt so out of place when he got out. His complacency was where prison was and when he got out, it was like he didn't know how to act."I was trippin more than he was,"when explaining his encounter with one of the gas station employees. I very much enjoyed Ronnie, he was a fun and lively speaker and his attitude was in all the right places. Thanks for having him!

AMurillo
AMurillo

Ronnie's experience on the prison system was very informative. Just like the book, Inside, Ronnie was very descriptive on everyday life behind prison walls. It really felt Ronnie took us inside those walls with the language he used and the things he said. One thing that I did not fully understand before was how much of an impact the culture in prison has on inmates. When Ronnie explains the process of new inmates coming into prison walls as soon as they get off the bus, it actually felt like I had been there before. In addition, when correctional officers asked Ronnie where he wanted certain inmates it was really the inmates running those prisons. Another thing I've got from the book Inside and that Ronnie confirmed was the amount of disrespect C.O.s give to inmates. When Ronnie cracked the officer, I thought it was well deserved. The things Ronnie did in the SHU and the skill some inmates had was unbelievable. I think it would be great if Ronnie made a website and wrote his experiences from the pen to create awareness. No doubt, one of the best guest speakers I have seen at SF State. Good luck to him!

Susan G
Susan G

I must say that I have enjoyed this class since day one, and it seems to keep getting better and better each week. I truly enjoyed Ronnie's presentation. I must admit that before taking this class and especially after Ronnie's recount of both his life inside prison and his life after prison; I had a completely different view in the matter. I have been skeptical about the adjustments convicted felons would have to make after getting out of prison. I believed that after someone had been incarcerated for so long, it would be extremely hard to come out of prison with positive intentions or positive attitude. This just goes to show you, that things are not always what they seem and that sometimes people can really surprise you and can change their life around for the better. I was really impressed with Ronnie's courage to come and talk to the class about his personal life and experiences both inside and outside of prison. "There is nothing like the real thing". The stories in the book "Inside", plus the presentations so far, have been both interesting and educational. I'm looking forward to our class tomorrow, that's for sure.

Lorena Cortez
Lorena Cortez

I found it very interesting how Ronnie mentioned that no "corrections" were done while he was at a juvenile detention center. This fact is very disturbing simply because if the time was taken to really rehabilitate offenders, especially while they're still young, Ronnie and other offenders may have not continued the life of crime and would have lived better lives outside of prison. As Ronnie continued telling us his story, he reminded me a lot of the characters from "Inside" because he seemed to accept the fact that he was going to be in prison for a very long time and instead if preparing himself for life outside of the bars, he lived day by day, doing whatever it took to survive. There are different sets of rules behind bars, and because prisons are not run properly, the prisons set up the rules and basically run the entire prison, putting every prisoner at risk of getting hurt.

Judy Chen
Judy Chen

Thanks for having Ronnie! He was amazing and hilarious. Being able to hear other stories and experience from others really draws the picture for me of how the prisons run inside. After reading Inside and hearing Ronnie's story I still wonder why is it that the shot callers in prison get to say which inmate goes in each cell? what is the purpose of that, shouldn't the guards be the ones to make that decisions?

MiriamS
MiriamS

The descriptions that Ronnie gave of living in the prison is similar than what I am reading in Inside because Ronnie could relate back to the other men mentioned in Inside and how both served long prison terms. Ronnie also mentioned how he did not think about being released out of prison, rather he tried to think of ways of surviving in the prison and making it one day at a time. He compares to the prisoners interviewed in the book because of all the men I have read about so far, most of them are concerned with making it in the pen and not think about what they will do in society once they are out. One thing that differed from Ronnie was that I do not remember reading of "shot callers" in Inside. Maybe it comes out later in the book, but to my knowledge I have little understanding on how one gets that position and how shot callers are able to control the prison instead of the guards controlling the prison.

ekaelee
ekaelee

I really enjoyed the guest speaker, Ronnie. I am studying rehabilitation and recidivism in two of my classes so it was very interesting to hear from someone who has been to jail and prison numerous times.  His perspective was very interesting. I found it interesting that up until his last few years in prison he always just saw prison as the life he was bound to live. He never questioned the fact that he was constantly returning to prison.  HIs description of finally realizing he could get out and not return was really intriguing. He discussed all of a sudden realizing that he was following all the rules in prison that other inmates established and compared that to following rules outside of prison. I had never thought about it that way and how this very interesting. In addition, the discussion about adapting to life outside of prison being harder that adapting to life in prison really proved how little society and the justice system does to prepare people to live a normal life as a contributing citizen. Not all prisoners are able to figure out how life outside of prison works, as you did and as Ronnie eventually did, and this is a major flaw in the prison system.  I was very surprised by how much control Ronnie said the prisoners had in the penitentiary. His discussion of being the shot caller and dealing with other shot callers caught my attention because I would assume that the guards had control over where new inmates were placed and such.  The fact that the shot caller has so much authority is really interesting to me.

Sara Carrico
Sara Carrico

Listening to Ronnie speak to the class was very eye opening and interesting. It was awesome that we could hear his actual story about his experience in prison and how he is coping with society now after 3 years of being free. It was crazy to think that the guards in prison went to him to call the shots about the incoming inmates. I found it interesting that while he was in the shoe he would do anything for some entertainment like getting the sprinklers to go off and then fight with the guards who came in. It's as if the shoe is setting these prisoners up for failure because it becomes almost impossible to get out of that horrible place. Hearing Ronnie's story makes me proud of how far he has come and i hope he continues to keep pushing forward and learns more and more of how to cope with society.

Another thing that blew my mind is how the guards control the prisoners 300 minutes of phone time. Like you said, if you have a family and multiple children from different women it going to be hard to maintain a relationship with them. There are so many things that people in society are unaware of that goes on in the prisons that we should know. I look forward to each week learning more about how our prison system works.

Danella Hughes
Danella Hughes

Thank you so much for getting Ronnie to come share his story to the class. It was nice to have a real life example to hear from in addition to the lectures and reading the chapters of Inside. In hearing Ronnie speak, it was interesting to hear that at times he seemed more at home in the penitentiary then on the outside. When he was released to a halfway house, I would have thought he would be excited and ready to have a new start but it seemed quite the opposite. After being in high security penitentiaries for an extended amount of time, I can imagine the world outside is somewhat scary and it was nice to hear about the good and bad that came with his adjustment back into society. With Ronnie’s experience with the outside when released to the halfway house, it made me think of the importance of the reintegration of prisoners back to society after being locked up for so long. As years go by, society and technology advance so getting prisoners ready for that switch would be beneficial for their success.  Another point I took from Ronnie’s story was how the prisoners control the prison environment. The guards have control, but as a shot caller Ronnie had control as well. I liked hearing more about the prison dynamics and how the guards came to Ronnie to ask if the new guy was ok to be on his block. I look forward to tomorrow’s guest speaker. The lectures and guest speakers are awesome to hear from and further expanding my knowledge of prisons. Thank you!

Ashley Y.
Ashley Y.

        Having Ronnie speak to the class was a great experience.I felt there was so much he had to offer based on his years spent in prison the discussion could have gone hours longer.I really enjoyed hearing his perspective.

He stressed the understanding of “prisons breeding behavior.”The way he so casually spoke about the horrific violence that occurs on a daily basis made it sound like normal behavior.This coming just after I began to see how restricting phone use really isolates the prisoner from positive outside influences (family and friends), it’s no wonder a prisoner would concentrate more on daily survival.The inmates, violence, and prison culture is all they begin to know.I would think it’d be extremely difficult to focus on life after prison, especially when serving such a lengthy sentence.I believe the cell phone use needs to be re examined.I do understand the cause for concern when it comes to the safety of the institution but perhaps this would be a good incentive at encouraging good behavior in a merit type structure.

What really surprised me was Ronnie stating the greatest barrier to pursuing education in prison is access to materials.If an inmate would rather spend his time pursuing an education rather then feeding into the prison lifestyle you would think it’d be more encouraged.Obviously access in terms of cost is a whole other topic, but defiantly one I think needs to be revisited as well.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@Lauren McCaffrey Thank you, Lauren. In our next class, I will want to discuss Ronnie's presentation in more detail. I'm glad that you found value in listening to all that he had to share. Please continuing your contributions, both in class and through this forum. Thank you.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@Molly Diedrich I'm grateful to have your astute contributions, Molly. Ronnie provided us with a dramatic glimpse of the penitentiary subculture. In later classes we will learn from others who experienced America's prison system, and we'll also learn from those who have a role in running America's prison system. Thanks.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@Vincent Tsui We'll have opportunities to learn from more guest speakers in the weeks to come. Thank you for your contributions. I hope the different perspectives continue to broaden your understanding of America's complex prison system. I appreciate your contributions.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@Lyneeka B Thank you, Lyneeka. I look forward to your contributions in the class we'll have later this afternoon.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@Stephanie Durr I appreciate your contributions, Stephanie. Ronnie certainly made an outstanding presentation, bringing our class into the culture of the penitentiary. His adjustment had an influence on his, without a doubt. Let's discuss it today. Thanks.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@Vivian Nguyen And thank you for your contributions to the class, Vivian. I hope you find the same value in our discussion with the guest speakers this evening.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@AMurillo Thank you for your observations. Let's explore them further during our class discussion this evening. It's important that you and your fellow students understand that Ronnie's descriptions were of the experiences inside a high-security penitentiary. I want to make sure everyone understands that distinction. Thank you for your contribution.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@Susan G Thank you so much, Susan. My goal in presenting this information is to help you and your fellow students really grasp the subculture that festers inside America's prison system. This evening I'm expecting two guest speakers, and I'm hopeful that you'll find value in what they have to share about the juvenile justice system. I appreciate your contributions.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@Lorena Cortez I'll look forward to our classroom discussion about all we learned from Ronnie's presentation. I'm hopeful that the presentation he made will help you and your fellow students as you pursue careers in the criminal justice professions. Thank you for your contributions.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@Judy Chen I look forward to responding to your question in a class discussion this evening, Judy. Thank you for your contributions.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@MiriamS I will be more than happy to help you understand the role of the "shot caller" in a high security penitentiary. Let's discuss in class. With regard to their reference in the book, I wrote about several shot callers. I refer you to characters I called "Crip Tank" and "Lion" as examples. I look forward to your contributions in class this afternoon. Thank you.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@ekaelee I really appreciate your continuing contributions to the class. With regard to the authority of shot callers, it's important that I emphasize the nature of that authority. It's entirely informal. Prison administrators want to keep the balance inside. But high-security prisons differ in remarkable ways from lower-security prison cultures. We'll discuss those differences in class today before the guest speakers arrive. Again, I appreciate your contributions. Thank you.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@Sara Carrico Let's talk about the phone time today in class. The blog on my website discussed an interaction I had with a Bureau of Prisons warden about this very issue. I look forward to your contributions. Thanks.

MichaelGSantos
MichaelGSantos moderator

@Ashley Young Thank you for your contributions to the discussion and for your contributions in class. Our next class will include guest speakers who served many years in juvenile prisons. I'll look forward to your observations.