Standing By is no Longer an Option

Mark Olmsted
5 min readJan 30, 2023
By author with help of Midjourney AI

I realized there was a story that didn’t make it into Ink from the Pen: A Prison Memoir, probably because I didn’t want to alarm my mother or sisters. (The book is made up of letters I wrote home during my incarceration.) In Delano, there was a “beat-down” of a black prisoner that had violated some internal rules, (in what way, I don’t know.) He was in the middle of a tight circle of other black guys on the second floor, and for some set of seconds I don’t remember, (36?) all the guys took at least one punch at him. It was chilling to just hear. I imagine they wrapped their fists in a towel, because if you bloodied your own knuckles, a later inspection could get you sent to the hole. The victim was in bed for a few days, but didn’t go to the infirmary, and certainly not to the guards. The beat-down was not designed to cause lethal injury, but to impose the will of the leadership, to warn others not to step out of line. (This sort of thing was not exclusive to the blacks, it happened occasionally among every racial group in prison. But this episode remains so stark in my mind because it was my first time behind bars, and it shook me up.) It manifested the culture of the wolf-pack, which protects its own but can be unforgiving and cruel to its own as well. (Any offspring of the non-alpha female, for example, are routinely killed when born.)

In much of the police, but certainly in the Scorpion-type units, your primarily loyalty is to the men you work with, “your brothers”, often centering on an alpha commander of the unit (like Derek Chauvin) to whom the other members look up and are eager to please. I saw this in prison all the time, a military-kind of obeisance to the shotcaller and his lieutenants within each race. I had a cellie once who could barely stop at a red light on the outside, that’s how anti-rules he was, but had 120 days added to his sentence for hiding a shank because the head of the Aryans asked him to.

Everyone remembers a group of mean girls on one side and jocks on the other in high school who could make life miserable for any girl or boy they decided to ostracize or bully. I wager that most of us who did not directly participate in such bullying have shameful memories of not intervening in these situations. It is almost certain that one member of the Memphis group had misgivings about what they were doing as they were…

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Mark Olmsted

Author, "Ink from the Pen: A Prison Memoir" about my time behind bars. See GQ dot com “Curious Cons of the Man Who Wouldn’t Die” for story of how I got there.