Every new prisoner has to learn the technical rules of the prison in which he is lodged. Gradually, he adapts himself to the conditions of prison life. He is expected to be friendly and loyal to his fellow prisoners. He is to be cooperative with the prison officials and one who does not follow these traits is ridiculed by his fellow inmates.
It is interesting to note that prisoners classify themselves informally into different groups according to their reaction to prison life and participation in prison activities. A few of them assume the role of ‘leaders’ and pose to look after the interests of other inmates. They often win the confidence of wardens and guards of the prison and enjoy certain privileges unofficially.
It is usually said that in matters of food, articles of mess and toilet, these so called ‘leaders’ manipulate things and even act as racketeers in collusion with the prison staff and earn huge profits. In return, they secure certain unofficial privileges for their fellow prisoners. Thus an understanding is reached between the prison community and the prison officials through these leaders which helps in maintaining harmony inside the institution.
The prisoners who are sentenced for political reasons often assume this role by virtue of their superior status and knowledge. As Sutherland puts it, “the administrator assigns powers unofficially to certain inmates who control other inmates and thus he enlists some inmates to aid and control other inmates.