As anyone who goes through the system will tell you, guards may watch the prison, but inmates run it. The prison system is based on a set of rules called “prison politics” that are endorsed and enforced by the inmates themselves, not the Department of Corrections. You can think of it as a sort of C-suite in the business world.

A shot caller, generally speaking, is the top leader in a prison system. Specifically, the shot caller is an inmate who, as so aptly named, calls the shots. In prison slang, it’s the inmate who “has the keys.” The highest ranking shot caller does so for his entire prison gang and race. Then there are shot callers for each housing unit, yard and so on all the way up.

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