What is being in prison like?
March 30, 2004 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone here been in prison? If so, would you care to share your experiences?

I ask only out of curiosity -- I'd like to know more about the reality of prison. Of course, I'll fully understand if no one wants their experiences made Google-able.
posted by o2b to Society & Culture (24 answers total)
Perhaps people could volunteer anonymously email you stuff, o2b, and you could post by proxy.

Or I'm pretty anonymous here as it is, and would be willing to post one or two items myself.
posted by namespan at 12:35 PM on March 30, 2004

State prison or Federal prison? They are like two different worlds, Federal is a helluva lot better, nicer, and safer.
posted by banished at 12:36 PM on March 30, 2004

I was once taken into protective custody in Jaffrey, NH. I never once saw anybody get raped, shanked, jacked, or whacked. Life in the joint was tough, but certainly not like you see in the movies.

I did my time, all four hours of it, and I'm a better man today as a result.
posted by bondcliff at 12:40 PM on March 30, 2004

a buddy of mine was in military prison....but that was prolly a bit different than what one can expect in a real prison.

wanna hear about that?
posted by taumeson at 12:44 PM on March 30, 2004

Response by poster: I'd be happy to re-post stuff emailed to me, for those who want to remain anonymous.

tim at o2b.net

(Watch for the Knowspam confirmation email.)
posted by o2b at 12:48 PM on March 30, 2004

I don't see this as a productive thread but I will add that I have several locked-up relatives including a cousin at Pelican Bay:

Prisoners in California's highest security prison can be
locked up for 22 1/2 hours a day in windowless cells with bare white walls,
either alone or with one other prisoner.

"In recent litigation the federal district court concluded the conditions
`may press the outer bounds of what most humans can psychologically
tolerate,'" Rodley noted. "A substantial number of prisoners in (the unit)
were said to be suffering from mental illness caused or exacerbated by
their confinement in the unit."

Thats just the beginning. He is there for life and I have seen him go from a rebellious and tough kid who made some bad mistakes but could have been turned around to what he is now - a deeply psychologically disturbed man who has seen such darkness that the system itself has flushed out of him anything that would ever allow him to rejoin society.
posted by vacapinta at 12:49 PM on March 30, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Federal, state, military, it doesn't matter. They'd all be worth hearing about.
posted by o2b at 12:52 PM on March 30, 2004

banished knows what he's talkin' about...

i'm sure some the big FCI's are not all that much fun though.

there are alot of people doing 5 - 10 - 20 + years in the federal system on non-violent drug offenses... tragic.
posted by specialk420 at 12:58 PM on March 30, 2004

well, in military prison most of the violence is kept down. i'm not saying it's like "the castle", i'm just saying that the UCMJ is tough on enlisted and officers who are incarcerated....MPs don't take shit, and there really aren't any groups lobbying on your behalf.

so, my buddy was pretty laid back about it. he had 6 months, sometimes had solitary where they make you stand for 24 hours in a darkened room and if you sit or exercise or do anything other than stand you were beat a little. that was for fighting.

he was lucky in that he was moved into a new wing of the prison two weeks before anybody else showed up, and by the time they started populating it he was like, the old man of the wing, and so people would come to him for help or directions.

military prisons tend to be clean because the inmates police the area, and i think they still had some type of formation or something that analogous to a civilian prison's attendence and lockdown procedures.

oddly enough, i was in training a stones throw away from here. i never figured out why they put a bunch of officer candidates right next to the marine corps prison.... maybe to teach some kind of lesson.
posted by taumeson at 1:15 PM on March 30, 2004 [1 favorite]

I have never been arrested or imprisoned but I was talking to a friend of mine who, out of the blue, mentioned that his last romantic relationship had been while he was in prison.

You were in prison? I asked, a little dumbfounded.

Oh, I never told you? he counters, like this is him telling me about a great new dry cleaner.

Turns out he did nine months about four years ago for drug possession. He is a very feminine gay man (self-described as being almost transexual, but wanting to keep his born-with parts) and said that as such, he was treated very well in prison and really enjoyed the experience (although he conceded that the whole loss of personal freedom thing was a bit of a downer). He had guaranteed meals, a fresh pack of cigarettes a day, and all the protection he could hope for. And apparently, a fulfilling relationship.

Obviously, YMMV, even as another very feminine gay man.
posted by jennyb at 1:40 PM on March 30, 2004 [1 favorite]

I got mayor curley out of the hoosegow here in NH once. Ask him.
posted by yerfatma at 1:40 PM on March 30, 2004

A MeFi thread about blogging from (or about) jail, with links to some sites.
posted by onlyconnect at 3:22 PM on March 30, 2004

The classic text on the subject.
posted by kindall at 5:07 PM on March 30, 2004

Thanks, kindall, I think I just discovered where classic Amazon reviewer Henry Raddick has been hiding (or at least a convincing writealike).
posted by lbergstr at 6:04 PM on March 30, 2004

Well, this is a story about how I got into a Mexican jail many years back, but I don't actually talk about what it was like in there. I was only there for about 3 days. It was moderately terrifying, but makes a good anecdote.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:14 PM on March 30, 2004

I was once taken into protective custody in Jaffrey, NH.

I had no idea jaffrey even had a police force.
posted by justgary at 7:39 PM on March 30, 2004

He is a very feminine gay man . . . and said that as such, he was treated very well in prison

Umm . . . Human Rights Watch has reported that gay men {and even feminine non-gay men} are among the most coerced, intimidated and physically abused inmates in prisons. Prisons have a lot of homosexual sex but they are certainly not pro-gay.
posted by dgaicun at 12:35 AM on March 31, 2004

There's a series of articles that a guy called Erwin James (pen name I assume) has been writing in the Guardian each week, he's been writing them for years.

He's never said what he's in prison for, but it was a long sentence. He's now preparing to be released I think.

I always found his pieces interesting.

Online the only way I could find them on the guardian site is to go here and type Erwin James into the search box.
posted by selton at 1:12 AM on March 31, 2004

i once spent an interesting evening chatting to someone involved in the big escape of political prisoners from jail during pinochet's time (can't find a link and don't remember the details, but i think the number of escapees was a dozen or two, maybe more). it was pretty amazing - they had a pipe made from plastic coca-cola bottles (oh the irony - la leche negra del imperialismo!) to get fresh air into the tunnel. in later years, i believe, things got pretty relaxed, and visiting hours would include the possibility of visiting a private tent... (my "brother-in-law" met his (now ex) wife while he was a prisoner, but they never mentioned the tent...). the other day we were walking by the prison - a delapidated place - and my partner recounted how she'd spent the night outside after a major earthquake because all the relatives were worried the building would collapse if there were more tremors, and they wanted to be there to help.

it's a bit like wars though, in that the tales people tell tend to be of the funny bits, so i'm not sure you get a very accurate impression.

also, obviously, the c.p. helped enormously - belonging to a clearly defined, well organised political group, that's got a strong emphasis on intellectual development is going to make prison very different (amery says the same about auschwitz).

a while back i found this link - http://www.geocities.com/prisonmurder/frank_valdes.html - and related site (considered posting to mefi but didn't) which is interesting (unrelated to chile; plays music and offers to install crap on windows).
posted by andrew cooke at 4:52 AM on March 31, 2004 [1 favorite]

dgaicun: I know. I was a little taken aback by his tale as well, which is why I appended a YMMV at the end. The story I relate is pretty much direct from my friend's mouth, with no editorializing on my part. It probably also speaks volumes about the emotional state of my friend that he not only enjoyed but had his last comfortable relationship in that situation.
posted by jennyb at 6:38 AM on March 31, 2004

In the Belly of the Beast is another classic book on the subject
posted by TedW at 6:56 AM on March 31, 2004

I've only been to prison to do a report on a prison library. The prison library was small [8,000 volumes] but had all sorts of stuff in it, including Playboy Penthouse, that sort of thing. All the centerfolds had "property of the library" rubber stamped across all of their naughty bits. The librarian wore a "panic button" on her at all times in case anyone gave her a hard time, but prisoners were allowed to come and go from the library, look at books etc. I think it was a minimum security prison and my impressions were that while there was not a lot of privacy [i.e. you couldn't go anyplace where someone couldn't see you, including the showers] it was not the barred-doors locked-up-all-the-time scenario I was expecting. Guys mostly milled around and looked bored, the ones that I met anyhow.

My sister interviewed for a victims' services job in a prison, just this week. I relate the following anecdote:

I actually got interviewed *in* the prison this time. And they was a *crazy* amount of security. I got stopped at the end of the driveway, the top of the driveway, the door. I had to lock up my bag. I got to go through two metal detectors, get wanded down, and get patted down. And I was thinking that this all seemed a little excessive, but what do I know, right? Heh. Then I saw the news crews all parked outside filming. It seems that my interview happened to coincide with Bobby Brown getting thrown in jail for failing to pay back child support, and it happened to be that jail.
posted by jessamyn at 11:22 AM on March 31, 2004

Response by poster: From an anonymous contributor:

I've never been in prison, but I did, in my teens, have the unfortunate experience of spending 18 months at the Getesville facility for youth in Texas, a high-security juvenile detention center. Here's a a "press-friendly" description of the unit.

If prison is anything like this ( and I suspect it's probably worse) I would never want to go there. During my short stay, I was beaten regularly, stabbed six times, strangled, and survived hundreds - yes, literally hundreds- of attempted sexual assaults...a few of them by guards and instructors. Drugs were easier to find inside than outside, children were subjected to outrageously cruel treatment on the part of the administrators, and life, quite simply, was hell.

It's amazing to me that I got out with all my wits still intact.


I was arrested at the age of 14 for grand-theft-auto, assaulting a police officer with intent to kill, and resisting arrest. So I was a bad kid, so be it.

Anyway, I was given a sentence to stay in the juvenile facility for 2 years. I was released after a year and a half based upon my conduct within the institution. I was a bit younger than a lot of the kids there, and smaller as well. So, naturally, I was picked out of the crowd. Plus, I was white, slender framed, and had curly hair. Yeah. I had all the odds against me. Sexual desires run just on the surface for teens, as they also do in the adult prison population. Get hundreds of boys together, right after puberty, and take away the possibility ot female interaction, and you get violence and agression. A lot of the older and stronger boys turn to pseudo-homsexuality.

The minute I walked through the doors, I was pretty much marked. The first time it happened was right after a meal, on the first or second day.... while walking down the hallway to our rooms, I was pulled into a corridor by three older guys, and handled pretty rough. They talked a lot, but did not actually initiate any physical activity.

After that, it was pretty much tooth and nail in order to not succumb to their "advances." I never allowed anyone to do anything physical to me, so I was repeatedly beaten and abused because of it. How I managed to get out of it without being raped is beyond me. For some reason, I got lucky every time.

Two or three times, a guard would enter my room in the middle of the night, attempting to start something as well. Lucky for me, I was able to fight them off ( I had been seasoned by the other guys in the block) and he was afraid that the noise would cause him to be discovered..... he never really did anything big. I think he wanted someone who was willing... and I guess he found someone, since he stopped coming after a time.

I was once stabbed over a piece of cake. Yeah. I refused to give up my dessert to someone, and they caught me later on in the day and punched a shank into me. ( it was made out of a ball point pen, which had been shaved down on concrete. ) No big deal, I stitched right up, but it sure scared the crap out of me. It was a walk and run kind of deal.... walk up, stab, walk away. I think he thought he did more damage than he actually did.

The guards there really turned their back when something was started.... just like in "real" prison, they sometimes took favors to look the other direction. You really had to watch your back in that place... It wasn't all bad... we did have access to books, and I started to read. A lot. There wasn't much else to do, really.

Even though I was small, I was able to fight..... and for that, I received a certain amount of respect after a while. The last 6 months I was there, I was pretty much left alone. I did manage to become friends with a few of the guys there.... some of them I still keep in contact with. None of them have done much with their lives... One works at a donut shop, one works in a tattoo parlor as a piercing guy, and one is sitting at home, dying from complications arising from his full-blown AIDS. (acquired in prison later on. ) A few have been killed, died, or have dissapeared.

Me, I rambled around for a few years in my early twenties, got married, divorced, remarried, had a kid, and finally got my GED and went to college... eventually obtaining a Graduate degree. When I got back home, everyone seemed so.... young. All of the people I had been friends with seemed so... I don't know, like kids. I had not been a kid for a long time, and I couldn't really associate with any of them.

It was tough trying to adjust to living outside again. When I turned 18, my juvenile record was sealed, and I never had to report it to an employer or anything...which is a good thing. Also, of note... when I was 22 or 23, I was living in CA. In a bar one night, I came across a familiar face.... one of the guys who had tormented me during my stay was sitting at the bar a few feet down, sipping on a
beer. I recognized him because of a scar he had above his eye, shaped like a question mark. He looked as if he had been around the block a bit, to say the least. I wanted to go up and say something, or punch him, or anything... just to let him know that I still had him in my memory.... but I didn't. I got up and left, and never saw him again. I was still scared to death.
posted by o2b at 11:47 AM on March 31, 2004 [2 favorites]

a fresh pack of cigarettes a day

My brother just did some time in California, first in a state prison, then at an honor farm. There was absolutely no smoking. When we went to visit him, we had to sign in, take a bus to the meeting hall, and check-in at the desk turning over all our possessions except our I.D. We even had to take our sweaters off. They specifically asked about gum and cigarettes. In fact, I was told to spit my gum out. (I wasn't actually chewing gum.)

How he got there is a bit strange. Back in the day he was a druggie and one day broke into someone's house with intentions of stealing the stereo. Apparently he got nothing, but the police had his fingerprints and tracked him down. He pled guilty, and then they let him go. Something screwy with the paperwork.

Two years go by and the police come around looking for him, but by this time he has moved to Hawaii. He comes home to visit from time to time. Two years ago at Christmas some neighbors called the cops because he and some buddies were drinking beer in a car in front of my mother's house. Of course all the other guys got to leave, but when they ran my brother's name...Bingo!

Months go by. My mom gets him out on parole but nobody is sure what to do with him. It has been over 10 years since the original crime. My brother just wants to get back to his job and his life in Hawaii. Finally there is a hearing. And another hearing. And another hearing. After 6 months and about 10 court dates, the judge sentences him to 9 months. He did about 7 and a half at the state prison and when Christmas rolled around again, I visited him at the honor far.

Here's what he said in his allotted 30 minutes:

a) He was bitching that he was on breakfast detail and had to get up at 2:00 a.m.

b) He sang christmas carols for the guard's party, went to several church services a week, played baseball, football, and basketball, took computer classes, in short did everything he could possibly do to stay busy.

ac) One guard "had it out for him" and was making his life a pain.

A few more little details. He was only allowed to receive magazines that were in unopened plastic. He was only allowed 10 pieces of stationary and 10 envelopes at a time, so for my birthday and christmas he drew pictures in pencil on the folded paper in lieu of a card.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:40 PM on March 31, 2004 [1 favorite]

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