I’ve never been in prison, but like everybody else these days, I’ve seen plenty about it on TV. Ever since Orange is the New Black became a Netflix sensation, prison-related shows and books have been all the rage – and of course there are the old standby prison documentaries on MSNBC. As fascinating as it is to learn about the bizarre and terrifying world of prison, there are actually some very useful business lessons that can be gleaned from the world behind bars.
Know who you’re talking to.
In Orange is the New Black the main character, Piper, comments on how bad the prison food is – in front of the cook. As a result, the inmates who work in the kitchen conspire to starve her for a week. We’ve probably all, at one time or another, accidentally said something embarrassing or put our foot in our mouth because we didn’t know who we were talking to. Although the immediate consequences of that can be more dramatic in prison, in the business world, the consequences of such a faux-pas can be just as real.
Roll with the punches.
The inmates who are capable of being the least miserable in prison – Alex, Nicky, even Piper at times – are all flexible and able to adjust to a rapidly changing environment. However, Pennsatucky – who is pretty much the epitome of inflexible – is always unhappy, always scheming, and nearly gets killed at one point.
Piper suspects that Alex is the one who testified against her and thus landed her in prison. Nonetheless, Alex tries again and again to get Piper to speak to her – and eventually the persistence pays off. Partway through the first season, Piper and Alex begin speaking again – and eventually they end up sleeping together again. Although obviously you shouldn’t be trying to sleep with anyone at work, persistence still pays when it comes to promotions and new assignments.
Don’t let you anger get the better of you.
Piper completely flips out at one of the guards while she’s in solitary – and later comes to regret it when she realizes that he’s the one who will determine how long she stays there. Another time she goes ballistic on Pennsatucky, beating her senseless. We don’t know what the consequences of that are by the end of the first season, but it’s a pretty good bet that that’s an action that will come back to haunt her. When one of Piper’s cellmates is having a bad day, she tries to strangle a guard. As a result, she gets sent “up the hill” to the maximum security part of the facility, where she’ll have to do the remainder of her sentence. Point is, there are always consequences for giving in to your anger.