In the prison subculture, informal institutions have spontaneously evolved to mitigate levels of violence and potential confrontations between inmates. First, rookies (new prisoners) are subjected to initiation tests, which try to measure their rigidity (bravery) and cunning (intelligence) and assign to the appropriate subcultural group. Membership in a group of grypsmen signals the rigidity of prisoners and discourages fighting between the grypsmen or the resistance from members of lower groups. Experienced prisoners perfect eristics within the framework of prison argot, which allows them to turn real confl icts into verbal duels, use informal arbitration and learn to pretend aggression towards freshmen. All prisoners are trying to join the defensive coalitions. Inmates also perform spectacular self-injuries in accordance with secret procedures, faking desperation, but in fact minimizing damage to health and trying to get some benefi ts from the prosecutor or prison authorities. The collected empirical
material comes from the prisons in Warsaw (Rakowiecka) and Białołęka, where the author spent fi ve months in 1985 as a political prisoner.