One thing I wish I had known before getting locked up: convicts can smell insecurity. Insecurity is weakness. The weak are prey.

You can be kind to a certain extent. Smile at someone kind. But never show fear to a stranger.

You will try to buy something from someone and it will be broken. You are afraid to damage the “friendship” so you don’t mention it. Guess what will happen the next time you buy something from them or their friends? It will be broken again.

I had a lot of issues coming into prison. I am gender-fluid and flamboyant. Just like gay guys are not accepted in a group of macho men, the same goes for manly females in a group of women. We get beat, we get teased, and we get mocked. Femme fatale and agressive butch alike will challenge you. You have to know how to respond.

The worst thing you can do is follow the lessons they teach you in your support groups. Do not flinch, break eye contact, or walk away. You will continue to be harassed until you break. And a known lack of respect cannot be fixed: that kind of reputation will do irreversible, persistent harm.

Never walk away from a fight. Never back down. Lock eyes, stand firm, and don’t bow to anyone but God or a badge.

You may win, you may lose, you may even have to draw, but in the end you will not be stolen from, lied to or bullied. You will be known and revered. You will not be a number in the ever-increasing California inmate suicide rates.

Look a person in the eye and don’t blink until they do. Chances are they will assume you are so crazy they won’t even want to test the waters. And even if they do, when it’s over no one else will want to repeat the same mistake. It’s too much of an inconvenience. If you are ever going to make it in prison you must never show your fears. Don’t let the enemy see you cry unless they are tears of justified rage. It is the image of confidence in one’s self and one’s ability that gets you through.

At the same time, don’t be too aggressive. It isn’t about how you actually throw your blows when winning the fight. It’s about having the resilience to throw them in the first place and shake the opposing fist in a peace treaty after. Never throw the first punch unless you absolutely have to, and do not get loud: you might get caught. The cops will understand someone who stands up for herself, but no one likes a bully.

I currently wear a heart monitor- a permanent EKG. But when I snap my leads off I am about 200lbs of heavy muscle. Wearing my monitor people may say snide remarks, but when I snap it off in their face and put my shoulders back they no longer speak a word. Suddenly: cat got your tongue?

Heather D’Aoust is serving 16 years to Life in California for killing her mother at the age of 14.  She has written a book — a collection of three stories, a murder mystery, a classic campfire story and a thoughtful story about justice.

Heather D’Aoust  WA4003

California Institute for Women

16756 Chino-Corona Road

Corona, CA 92880