The biggest mistake I see that sex offenders make in prison is trying to be something they`re not: a non-sex offender. If there`s one thing that`ll lead to immediate threats of harm, it`s trying to fit in with a group in prison you don`t belong to by hiding your charges.
The problem is that the truth comes out eventually. It always does. Let me give you a real life example of a sex offender who put himself in danger in prison trying to be a non-sex offender. We`ll call him Gary, to protect the (not so) innocent.
Gary came to me back in 2015 to help him get a sentence reduction because the law had changed and made his current sentence illegal. He was a well-known “hater,” one of the white guys who openly hated anyone who wasn`t white and a non-sex offender. In fact, he was the group`s leader or “shot-caller,” as those leaders are known. And he looked to part: tattoos all over, bald head, and big like a biker-dude.
I met privately with Gary after dinner one night and the first thing he told me was that he was secretly a sex offender. I wasn`t shocked. I`ve seen countless sex offenders try to be something they`re not. He had a state conviction many years ago for the sexual abuse of a child, but all anyone knew about was his current federal conviction for an illegal firearm. Gary trusted me because word on the compound was that I could be trusted. I treasured my reputation and always kept my secrets.
I warned Gary that his new court filings would likely show up on the BOP`s Electronic Law Library (ELL) computers, but he was willing to take the risk. He was confident that his sentence would be reduced and he`d be out of prison by then.
But that`s not how it happened. Gary won his case and it was announced in a newsletter the BOP posted to its electronic bulletin board for all to see. He was outed by the BOP before he even knew he`d won his case. He found out just like everyone else. Gary then had to admit that he was a sex offender and gave up his throne over the haters.
I talked to some of the so-called haters after that, and they said it wasn`t so much that Gary was a “chomo,” prison slang for “child molester,” but that he had lied to them about it. They felt duped and that was the part they hated most.
For a sex offender in prison, it`s better to be honest about your charges — if asked. Usually, non-sex offenders will simply avoid sex offenders. Sometimes they will make sex offenders “check in” to protective custody, but rarely is there violence when a sex offender is honest about why he`s in prison. Now, this doesn`t mean a sex offender should make an announcement, but be honest if asked. It shows respect, and that goes a long way in prison.
In my upcoming book, Doing Time as a Sex Offender: An Insider’s Guide, I go into much more detail about how prison life works for sex offenders, with stories based on real life events. It`s the uncensored truth about doing time as a sex offender.
Dale Chappell is the author of hundreds of published articles on the federal criminal justice system, and the Insider`s Guide series of federal post-conviction books. He is a consultant in federal post-conviction procedure and an authority on federal sex offense issues.