In my last blog post, I discussed how Christianity helps many inmates manage their experience of incarceration. Here, I will consider a coping mechanism of a decidedly different character. In a 1999 episode of This American Life, the radio show broadcasted an excerpt from Stephen Donaldson’s Hooking Up: Protective Pairing for Punks (listen here:[1] A survival handbook written by a former inmate for men entering prison, Hooking Up instructs men how to find a “daddy” in order to enter a “protective pairing” as a “punk.”[2] In exchange for providing sexual services for this “daddy,” doing laundry, cleaning, delivering coffee, and giving back rubs, the “daddy” will protect the “punk” from gang rape and violence at the hands of other prisoners.[3] Hooking Up raises many complex issues about prison, including hierarchies among inmates, sexual violence, and the performance and construction of femininity and masculinity. However, for the purposes of this blog post I will analyze Hooking Up in conjunction with The Handbook of the stoic philosopher Epictetus in order to compare the survival strategies and pragmatic solutions these texts propose to individuals living in chaotic situations.


The advice Donaldson provides in Hooking Up is largely pragmatic and prescriptive; he instructs prospective “punks” to interview any previous men a “daddy” may have been involved with, to draw up written contracts, and to ask potential “daddies” how they treat their women, which according to Donaldson is a good indication of how they will treat their “punks.”[4] By contrast, Epictetus’s advice is less concerned with specific actions and more focused on the cultivation of an attitude of indifference as a way to cope with life in a chaotic world. Yet Donaldson also considers indifference to be a powerful survival tool. He recognizes that becoming the submissive partner and taking the passive role in sexual encounters is the hardest part of becoming a “punk” for many men, damaging their masculine self-images.[5] However, Donaldson argues, “No matter what you have to do, remember that it is all an act, and that you can go back to your normal behavior as soon as you get out.”[6] Similarly, Epictetus instructs, “Remember that you are an actor in a play… What is yours is to play the assigned part well. But to choose it belongs to someone else.”[7] Donaldson and Epictetus agree that accepting one’s assigned role as externally imposed rather than a reflection of one’s inner character is an effective coping mechanism. Furthermore, both men extol the benefits of learning to find enjoyment in their assigned roles. Donaldson writes of men who are able to “focus on the other [non-sexual] aspects of the relationship and find some value there” or to “treasure the security it brings.”[8] Likewise, Epictetus advises, “Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well.”[9] Finally, Epictetus and Donaldson reflect on the value of wisdom. While Epictetus advocates indifference, he also values intelligence. He writes, “It shows lack of natural talent to spend time on what concerns the body… turn your whole attention toward the faculty of judgment.”[10] Likewise, Donaldson comforts future “punks” with the knowledge that although they may have to perform undesired sexual acts, being the submissive partner in a relationship with a “daddy” will give them “a much better understanding of men and women”[11] once they leave prison.


Although written almost two thousand years apart, Stephen Donaldson’s Hooking Up and Epictetus’s The Handbook bear some striking resemblances. Both handbooks are concerned with providing pragmatic advice for those living in chaotic situations and under circumstances largely beyond their control. Indeed, prison is a powerful example of such an environment, and thus a stoic state of mind may prove an effective coping mechanism for inmates.



Epictetus. Translated by Nicholas P. White. The Handbook. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983.


“Who’s Your Daddy?” from Lockup. This American Life. January 8, 1999. Accessed December 5, 2015.


[1] “Who’s Your Daddy?” from Lockup, This American Life, January 9, 1999, accessed December 5, 2015,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Epictetus, translated by Nicholas P. White, The Handbook (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983), 13.

[8] “Who’s Your Daddy?”

[9] Epictetus, The Handbook, 13.

[10] Ibid., 25.

[11] “Who’s Your Daddy?”