You know that saying – prison changes a person. Well, obviously. There are so many films, TV shows or books where life behind bars is shown and it looks actually terrifying. There are quite a lot of people who share their stories after they get out and their process of adjusting back to their regular lives. Obviously, all routines, day-to-day life, people and in general everything changing is not the easiest thing to bear, especially psychologically.
However, many of us have been wondering, how is life behind bars? Are films at least a little bit accurate compared to reality? Well, let’s see. One Reddit user posed a question online asking former inmates to share things from their lives in prison that outside people wouldn’t get. So without further ado, here are 38 stories, secrets and realities that inmates shared.
More info: Reddit
I work with young offenders (UK) and the more prolific offenders who go to custody who typically have more chaotic lives, tend to thrive inside. They get education, mental health support, substance misuse work, more consistent adults in their life, a routine and access to health care. Whilst I never condone children being imprisoned, sometimes it can be the best thing that can happen to them, which summarises their lives on the outside. How incredibly sad that children function better inside a prison than with their families but sometimes it can improve their outcomes when they’re being so drastically failed on the outside.
I spent a year and a day in a Federal Prison Camp in Oregon. I went in completely terrified of what my new life would be like and left with more friends than I had ever had in my entire life. My days were spent playing softball, reading books, playing pickle ball and watching movies, to name a few. I had a solid core group of friends that we ate every meal together and played board games daily. Within a few weeks of being there, all my stress was gone and found my stay there to be oddly enjoyable. I looked forward to waking up every day and spending time with my friends. I think I laughed more frequently the year I spent in prison than I had in at least 10 years prior. I am still friends with a handful of guys I met there and we see each other often and all are now close with each other’s families. Definitely not what I expected going in.
I’m late to this, but I used to work with underserved/at-risk youth and went through the equivalent of a “scared straight” program at a Southern California prison (so I could learn more about it, determine if it could help deter any of my students from going further down a bad path, blah blah).
I saw a lot of f****d up stuff in just one day (stuff unrelated to the program). But oddly, the thing that stuck w me the most was walking by a tiny cell that housed 7 bunks (14 beds). There was an enormous guy in the cell (6’6+) named “Kongo”. He pointed at this steel toilet in the middle of the cell and goes “14 of us share that toilet. And when you s**t, you’re s******g in front of everyone. Rap music glorifies thug life, but I’ve never heard a song talk about s******g on a cold toilet in front of an audience”. For some reason that stuck with me.
Only positive thing I experienced that day was an inmate telling me he never graduated high school. Due to some changes in California graduation requirements, he actually qualified for a degree retroactively. He just needed to write a letter to his former school district. No one told him. He still had a lot of years left on his sentence, but due to our random run-in w each other, he’ll at least have his diploma when he gets out.
Honestly, it’s not always so bad. These days there are so many [substance] addicts in low sec prisons that they sometimes group them together in the same blocks. I was one of them, and everyone was respectful and friendly. When I got there I was in full withdrawal and my cell mates gave me food and comfort to help me get through it. This is not always the case, for sure, but I’ve dealt with worse people on the outside than when I was locked up.
Edit: Thank you, everyone, for the upvotes 🙂
Sometimes you miss it once you’re out.
There are some days where I just feel defeated by the daily stresses of life, and I remember being able to wake up every day and not really have to worry about a lot of things: I don’t have rent or utilities to pay, I don’t have to go grocery shopping, I don’t have to do yard work, I don’t have to keep a schedule of places to be and worry about making sure I have enough time to get from place to place or anything. It was a weird kind of freedom while being extremely un-free.
Being institutionalized in general is something the general public would not understand, I remember when my uncle got out after serving a 10 year sentence we had to explain to the kids they couldn’t just wake him up like normal bc he may wake up violent or scared, we had to tell the kids not to scream or take anything from his room, he was on a strict schedule even after being released (wake up at 5am, work out, sweep, read, eat, etc etc EVERY DAY same schedule. He would set new boundaries which we respected. It was a learning experience for the entire family, even to this day his schedule remains the same, he’s having a hard time getting a job because of certain things. It’s actually interesting.
I’ll take a different angle on this instead of the usual horror stories, as violent and crazy as it was, there were a lot of good parts too. As someone that has had a pretty chaotic life, having a secure day to day life, employment and lots of trusted friends around me for a few years was really nice.
There’s a certain level of comfort that comes with being surrounded by murderers that you’re actually friends with, new inmates come and go but you’re tucked away in the long term unit where there’s a 3 month waiting list to even *apply* to transfer in, it really was a very peaceful experience for me.
I can speak to county jail:
There [are] a lot of [substances]. So sending ppl to jail to detox is weird
If you don’t have commissary or a friend in the kitchen, you may not get enough food
ppl die from lack of medical/dental treatment
calls are expensive as f**k. Some jails only allow video visits (that cost $)
lots of gambling and loansharking (for food 2 for 1s)
A lot of violence happens outside the line of sight of COs.
You spend a lot of time doing nothing, just sitting on your bunk during count etc.
The jail is full of mostly poor people who have various types of disabilities including mental health, dyslexia, etc and mostly POC. Almost every woman I was in jail with was either a DV of SA survivor.
I worked a short time in a jail. Here’s an interesting story. A man in his late 30’s was doing jail time due to not paying child support. This guy had worked in an auto plant for years and was laid off. He didn’t have any other skills and was struggling to find another job. Don’t get me wrong I strongly believe in paying child support, but this guy was in a jam. If I remember right one of the first things they do is take your drivers license for non payment. Of course this makes it even tougher. Anyway it’s this guys first night in jail. He’s never been in any kind of trouble before.
He’s in a cell with 2 other guys. One of the guys accuses the other one of eating his snack, a bear claw. They get into a scuffle but things finally settle down. The guy wakes up in the middle of the night. His cell mate was attacking the bear claw thief eventually stabbing him to death. There was blood everywhere. I can’t imagine the trauma this guy went through having witnessed this his very first night ever in jail. Just the look of fear in his eyes talking to him about what happened is something I won’t forget. Another inmate later admitted to eating the guys bear claw.
How hard it is to come home. Being away from your own house and family for an extended amount of time becomes an uncomfortable element to come back into. To me it felt like it wasn’t my house. Like I was walking on eggshells around my home feeling like I’m a guest in my wife’s house. Even though I’d been in contact with my wife and children though out the entire bid, I almost felt like I was reintroducing my self. Sleeping with a very familiar stranger. And sometimes unwittingly to me I would make my wife feel as if I weren’t present. It all came back around to be totally normal again. But I wasn’t expecting that and I don’t think my wife or children could really understand how that felt
To loved ones: Don’t forget your person is in hell; even if them being there puts you through hell. Outside relationships with loved ones was majorly important to me. It’s ok if you can’t understand our situation or feelings. Not being forgotten or lost is what counted most to me. Besides, we’re still the same person you know. Just thrusted into a different world. Find support for yourself, it’s out there
how boring it is. you spend your entire time just waiting. waiting for court. waiting for a sentence. waiting to get out. it’s a level of boredom i never want to experience again. it made me realize why so many people [take their own lives] in prison.
A lot of people in prison are pretty normal, they just have zero impulse control.
Everyone feels like beating the s**t out of a stranger in public sometimes, some people just don’t have the thing in their brain that tells them not to do it. That’s why it’s idiotic to start s**t with people on the street, you never know who is willing to throw their life away in a moment of passion.
Finally something I have an answer to!
I spent three years in a womens prison in Arizona.
One of the first things I noticed is that as a coping mechanism, some women began to somehow regress mentally and act very child like. When I say child like I mean by baby talking.
I noticed my neighbor doing this when I first arrived and I was like well that’s odd, I definitely thought it was just a weird personality trait she had. Then I went around and met more people and saw that so many of them were doing it! They would baby talk and throw pretend fits and refer to themselves as bad babies? It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.
Also, many of the officers there are consistently inappropriate and having relationships and sex with some of the inmates. I had one in particular ask if he could lick my toes, a girl I knew had sex with one and he snuck her in vodka.
Dental care is horrific. Have a tooth ache? They want to pull it out. Have something seriously wrong with your health and you can’t get out of bed? Too bad, if you don’t go to work you get a “ticket” and if you get one of those you can no longer make phone calls home or order commissary. And if you go to medical they just tell you to drink more water, it’s their one size fits all medical advice.
Lots of sexual relationships between the inmates. Caused a lot of drama but endless entertainment. Many people develop weird nicknames, I can’t tell you how many girls nicknamed “Breezy” or “Flaca” that I met.
As other’s have mentioned. There’s a respect level that’s unparalleled with the outside world. Someone steps on your shoes, or vice versa, people apologize. When you interact, you treat each other with mutual respect.
Theft is also a big one. Both in a cell, and on a tier, I never locked my storage locker. I, not once, had anyone attempt to steal anything, rummage through my s**t, etc. I was surrounded by thieves, all of which who didn’t steal. There’s also weird honor codes with theft in prison. If you take something from someone to their face, it’s okay. If you sneakily steal something behind their back, you’re going to have a rough time.
Shower shoes. It took me years to get used to having my bare feet in a shower.
My father worked in prisons for over 25 years. One thing he told me that stuck with me was inmates saying how they missed the feeling of their body being submerged in water. There are only showers in jail and prisons and some of these men were locked up for decades. Imagine never feeling that weightless feeling again if you were serving a life sentence.
I sat in a Norwegian prison for a month, it’s not a long time at all. It was basically; If you take every bully from every class and put them all inside a camp, that’s what it felt like. Although you walk on eggshells, not to offend anyone, not to give information and if they ask, what will happen if they find out you lie? there’s a lot of thoughts going on. But at the same time i really gained som clarity in there, when i came out nothing affected me as much anymore, which is nice. Every problem seemed small compared to what it used to.
One of my best friends did 6 1/2 years on a white collar crime. However, he was at a medical facility because of his diabetes. Therefore, there were individuals from all the Federal security levels. He said something that I thought was interesting – in prison he met the worst, most despicable human beings he’d ever met…and he met the finest human beings he’d ever met.
If you’ve never been, You wouldn’t understand:
* Everyone’s sexual needs will be satisfied…with, or without privacy.
* Never tell anyone when you are getting a visit or money on your books.
* Never borrow anything.
* Never be friendly with anyone holding a badge.
* Always ask permission to sit on anyone’s bed and NEVER sit where that person would lay their head.
Spend over 12 yrs behind the Walls, a few different facilities but all the same Inside. I missed pay phones, CD players, microwave’s ect all things I had no idea what they were when I got out. I was taken out & forgotten. I didn’t know how to Act people treated me differently & I still have a hard time adjusting, I spend 90% of my life alone I don’t trust nor want to be around people anymore. I only go to food store’s that’s it. I stay by myself. I find I brought a lot of institution life home with me, it’s what ai know, simple safe. Can’t sit with my back to the exits, Ramen Noodles w/ tuna mayo skip jack ect. Put on bread making sandwiches. Still do that too. My wtf happened to me?!?
Coming from the UK I don’t think our prisons can compare with the US and other countries but they can still be quite dangerous even if you’re in a Cat B where there’s a mix of all kinds of offenders.
One thing is that when there is violence it’s actually kind of silly, I remember a guy punching a member of the kitchen crew because he didn’t give him enough slices of bread. Or when a guy was beaten bloody with a table leg because he was in debt with ‘double bubble’, which is a kind of tobacco loansharking. Inmates take stuff like that seriously.
Also not everyone in there is evil and ruthless all the time. I remember there were a couple of lads on my wing who got taxed, bullied and just couldn’t stand up for themselves. One had all his stuff including his blanket taken off him. So a bunch of the hardcases on the wing decided to go after the bullies and gave them the ultimatum, give him his stuff back and leave him alone or we’ll kick the s**t out of you.
I also think people underestimate how intelligent some of inmates actually are. But also I don’t think people realise how f*****g stupid a lot of the inmates are. Like, I had no idea it was possible to be that dull.
Ex-Con here. One thing about Prison I feel like people don’t understand when I tell them my story is that Prison (at least for me) isn’t entirely like what it is in the media. Yeah sure there is Riots, Yard fights, people get shanked, and there scary dudes who look like they want to [end] you but in reality they just look mean and scary as a way to protect themselves. For instance there was this big tough dude who was actually a chill dude and got cigs and stuff for others guys if you treated him right (not sexually). So in reality if you treat other inmates right and don’t bad mouth anyone then you’ll be fine. Just don’t do the what the “skinny idiot” did, and that is act all SUPER tough and get in peoples faces because that is what will get you beaten up.
Honestly it’s that feeling that time is just passing and you’re not able to do anything about it. The feeling of being restrained and put away from society as if you’re a rabid animal. I went in for [substance] charges so I didn’t do anything that harmed anybody in any way, there’s a sense of injustice.
Yes, I knew full well that there could be repercussions when I decided to go down that path. No, morally I do not agree that it is wrong or punishable, but what happened happened and there’s no reason for me to dwell on that.
The food, not being able to choose what to eat, that was a freedom I absolutely took for granted. Sharing a cell with people who you don’t even like, having to see their faces when you wake up in the morning all the way until night. Not being a confrontational person yet getting into confrontations, being treated like a statistic. There are no beds in jails/prisons here so I had to sleep on the floor and my back hurt a lot.
On the brighter side, I caught up on a lot of reading and was exposed to many books I’d never otherwise have read outside. I had a lot of time to really think about what I wanted to do when I got out. Still on probation now, but the last sentence f****d me up and even if it was less than a year inside it lit a fire in me because of that feeling of the world moving on without me. I had to play catch up, so I’m trying my best now to fill my days and be as productive as I can. I spent my entire early 20s either in jail or on probation with the lockdown in between and it’s so tiring just watching the most valuable currency in your life (time) just tick by while you can’t do anything about it. It was s****y for sure, but like I said, just gotta keep moving.
You will be starved of medical attention, wether your withdrawing severely or have chest pain. If you buzz up, most of the time you’ll be told ‘you’re fine’ or a guard will look through the flap 8 hours later. You’ve basically got to die to get any attention.
You can make “Chinese food” out of pork rinds, dehydrated rice, hot sauce, instant tea mix, and some other ingredients im forgetting. For some odd reason my mouth is watering thinking about it because in there it was the most delicious thing ever. Now that I’ve been out for three years I’m positive I would be repulsed if I tried to eat it.
Prison is a mindset and in many ways you can’t leave that mindset after you’ve left. I still have many mental issues or triggering situations just from my inability to leave that mindset and it’s been almost 6 years. Someone told me it’s a form of ptsd but idk
(US)The food was good. I spent a month or so in a local county jail and the food was terrible. Once I got to prison though, it was really good. I spent time in three different facilities in my eight months but each time the food just got better.
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