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Doing Time in the DepressionEveryday Life in Texas and California Prisons$
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Ethan Blue

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780814709405

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814709405.001.0001

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Shifting Markets of Power

Shifting Markets of Power

Building Tenders, Con Bosses, Queens, and Guards

(p.100) 4 Shifting Markets of Power
Doing Time in the Depression

Ethan Blue

NYU Press

This chapter describes the braided overt and covert economies of cash, favors, contraband, sex, and sexual violence through which Texas and California institutions functioned. Select prisoners played lynchpin roles in each state. In Texas, building tenders (prisoners appointed by guards to keep order in the dormitories where inmates slept) were the key figures, but in California, prisoners called “con bosses” were the most important. As the heads of prison departments and managers of productive processes, con bosses cultivated political and economic relationships to their personal advantage, often to the detriment of other prisoners. Building tenders and con bosses linked the official productive forces of the prisons to their informal economies, where markets of economic, sexual, violent, symbolic, and bureaucratic capital combined in dense networks of authority. Each of these systems undermined the possibilities of inmate solidarity, as prisoners frequently found themselves pitted against one another, rather than against the keepers of their institutions. To this end, the building tender and con boss systems undermined the “con ethic” that midcentury sociologists identified and romanticized, which suggested that prisoners supported each other against their keepers.

Keywords:   prison economy, California prison, Texas prison, informal economies, building tenders, con bosses, inmate solidarity

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