Life can be hard, but life in prison is worse. These 12 ex cons share their worst experiences behind bars.
1. New Year’s Memories
My family came to visit me on Christmas day the first year I was in. I was so ashamed that I had a little breakdown the next day and punched the cinderblock wall inside my cell.
One of the guards invited me to come talk to him. I made the mistake of thinking he was a friend and was talking about the meaning of life and why things happened. He decided he thought I was suicidal, which I wasn’t. The next day I was shipped off to a maximum security prison in the upper peninsula of Michigan, stripped down naked and given a kevlar smock to wear.
They keep the temperature down at 60 degrees which means that you have to stay huddled in a corner to conserve body heat. Because this was observation I wasn’t allowed to have anything. Nothing to read, watch, etc. Naked and cold for an entire week. If you’d like to see what this is like, turn your thermostat down, then take all your clothes off, and sleep on the floor of your bathroom with the light on for 6 days straight.
No showering either. Wasn’t offered a chance to clean myself. That’s how I spent New Years 2007. Observation is not some kind of psychological treatment. It’s punishment and mental torture. Sleeping and singing to yourself is all you can do. Too cold to do anything else. Brutal. Now I try to go out of the country for new years eve every year.
2. Just waiting
I suppose seeing people getting taken advantage of all of the time, and then not caring was the worst… New guys coming in and getting ripped off on trades and stuff. People with social/developmental issues just getting their food taken from them. Also, the psychology of people without goals gets weird.
What was worst was just becoming part of that world. There are so many people there that have their rights taken away from them on a regular basis and don’t care anymore. They choose to place value on being able to make others fear them. They stop thinking about the world beyond the walls and just get all wrapped up in the weird culture of the place.
There was a day I was feeling proud of myself because I was running around organizing contraband trades, setting up poker games, and owning things like hardcover books and the only dice in the place… in that moment of pride I realized I had started to lose my mind…
It’s honestly hard to remember the months in there because most of the time NOTHING’S HAPPENING. Nothing. You’ve read until you can’t stand it. You’ve slept all you can. You can’t play cards cuz your celly is sleeping…
So you stare at the ceiling and wait. It’s so weird to realize you’re doing the equivalent of “time-out” for months. You’re not waiting for 5 minutes. Not waiting 5 hours. You’re waiting for a day that is months away. Just waiting.
3. Life keeps moving
Honestly the worst thing that happened? Life kept on moving outside of the walls. It doesn’t inside. All my friends went on trips, made memories, met new people, and I missed all of it. Lock up was generally pretty tame, as I kept to my own and was in a low risk tank. (perks of being a 20 year old in jail for weed)
Unrelated, but I also think people underestimate how much our prison system really hurts people. Being in for not a long time and in a low risk tank? Didn’t matter. Ended up with some ptsd. I couldn’t fall asleep without a knife in my hand for the first four months I was released. I had nightmares and didn’t sleep a night through (sober) for the same period of time.
Our system does nothing to rehabilitate anyone. They throw you all together and take people who made stupid mistakes and exposes them to hardened criminals who happens to to be pretty good at leaving impressions on people.
Twelve months on the inside. Very first day in Prison, VERY FIRST DAY, I was in line for supper and this big guy comes up behind me, squeezes my butt and whispers in my ear “are your panties wet.”
Scared stiff I turned around, and the guy jumped back and said in a friendly tone “Oh my mistake mate thought you were someone else” and left the line.
5. Time’s up
Eight months inside and one instance always sticks out in my mind. I was running out of phone minutes and spending what precious time I had left talking to my child. We didn’t get to talk as much as I liked, had unfortunately more important people to talk to (lawyers, trying to find jobs for my release etc.)
This guy comes up “I need the phone.”
“Hold on man, I only got a couple minutes left.”
He takes the phone and slammed it into the payphone holster and abruptly hung up on my daughter. Still breaks my heart because I cherish every minute I can have with her.
The first day I was assigned to a new unit after being sentenced (DUI, 90 days) I got put in a 5 man cell. It wasn’t my first time locked up and had been in the jail a few weeks so I wasn’t too nervous. The guys were cool to me all evening, all 4 had done time before in much worse prisons. They were all playing cards and I didn’t know the game so I sat on my bunk reading.
They started off saying weird cryptic stuff, random stuff regarding vaseline and who was cute on the block, etc. It ramps up over the course of an hour, then they start playing strip poker. Meanwhile I’ve been hearing every word they say and studiously ignoring it. They got bored of being subtle and began saying awful stuff about having sex with each other. I ignore everything, while secretly getting scared they’re going to do something to me.
Eventually all 4 got up (shirtless) and they trapped me on my top bunk and started grabbing at me. I yelled and they collapsed in laughter and spent the next 48 hours telling everyone who’d listen.
7. Easy mistake, right?
My cellmate put jam in my shoes the morning of my release.
Oh and when I first got there they accidentally entered me into the system twice giving me two prisoner ID’s only one of which worked and put all my money and post on the other one… Didn’t sort this out till I finished my sentence months later.
I did 3 1/2 years in Texas prisons. I believe that the worst story I can recall was my first full day in a “State Jail” facility (used as a transition center for up to 2 years before one is sent to a real “prison” in Texas). A guy came up to me asking if I smoke cigarettes. I didn’t but thought, why not?
So he told me to head to the gym when that time came later that afternoon. We went to the gym and fired up a cigarette while we walked around the basketball court. As we were walking around the court, we approached the “universal gym” machine where a variety of people were using the various pieces to work out.
The guy who offered me the cigarette advised me to follow him to the other side of the basketball court and to stay away from the universal gym. A few minutes later a guy sat down and leaned back to do some bench press when four guys grabbed him (one on each arm and one on each leg).
All I could think was “what have i gotten myself into…”
9. No sleep
Did 3 weeks in county for basically being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I had just turned 18 and had never been in trouble not even in school. I was interrogated in a small room by a huge undercover agent (with a ‘stache) who told me that they knew I was the ring leader and that he would make it his personal mission to see that I spent the rest of my life in jail. Did not know any details so I said nothing. When I was put in a cell my cellmate was a 6’2 bald Mexican gangster guy and every night he would loudly masturbate while I clinched my thin bed sheets in fear not sleeping until I knew for sure I no longer heard him. I was released for lack of evidence.
10. Tv shows
Almost a huge fight between 3 Vietnam Vets and a 25 year-old meth dealer because he switched from the History Channel to that week’s new Breaking Bad during our precious tv time. That was my first time watching the show and he made the right call.
11. Just sucks
I was incarcerated for 9 years 1 month 4 days. I’ve seen many things. I just turned 30.
The worst I’ve seen was 2 guys on life sentences back in courts for retrial seeing a rival enemy in for DUI over the weekend. Guy didn’t make it home.
This isn’t something that happened to me, but it’s something I observed while in. My life was uneventful in my time…which was only about 4 months, and only during nights because I had multiple releases.
Anyway, our jail was divided into sides and floors. The higher up you were, the worse of an offender you were. 1L was the floor with the men with releases or protective custody, 1R was women. Up through 5R and L which were serious, violent offenders.
1L was 12 individual cells (~5’x8′) surrounded by a larger cage, one tv in the dead middle. Our floor got the new arrivals who mostly (myself included for the first 2 months) had to sleep on rubber mats on the floor.
One day a young man whom I knew from childhood was moved onto our floor. He’d been in the system since about 12. He had finally been granted work release. The guards hated him. They didn’t pull any punches. This was the year 2000. He was about 19 at this time. The night they moved him in was uneventful.
The next morning, his release was for 6am, to be at work at a restaurant at 6:30. The overnight guard loved doing things like dropping our food or releasing us late or holding us for an extra inspection or whatever. That morning, he was “too busy” to let this inmate out until 9am. Our only phone was collect, and he did, for whatever reason, turn it off that morning so none of us could use it. Kid finally gets out, his ride still waiting, and beats feet to work. They actually let him work till noon, at which point he came immediately back like he was supposed to, during which time they made him sit in the sally port for about 5 hours w/o food, water, or bathroom.
So he gets in (after dinner) and goes back to his cell, pretty dejected but not being bad or disrespectful. The next morning, they do the same thing. He gets to work and the manager can’t do much but fire him, so he comes straight back to work and calls his PO on the way, and she calls the jail to tell them that he won’t need his release the next day.
So he comes back on the floor, and pretty much immediately gets on the phone w/ his lawyer and family trying to find a new job.
Queue the worst guard in the place. She comes walking down the floor (outside the second cage) laughing, saying something like “How was work X?” To which he responds “You know how it was.” And she says something like “Shoulda known a lazy good-for-nuthin’ wouldn’t get to work on time. Looks like you’re going back upstairs with the rest of the idiots.”
So he says something like “Don’t you have anything better to do?” which was of course what she was hoping for. “LOCKDOWN” she says loudly, which is where we all go back to our cages or mats. We all abide. She gets on her walkie and says her “close first left” and locks us all in, ~3 hours before normal time. He says something like “You ain’t gotta take it out on all these dudes, they didn’t do nothin'” and she says “SHUTUP INMATE. ON YOUR KNEES.”
Now you have to remember that she’s ~6 feet in front of him, and none of us can see because we’re all in our cages. Only the cage next to him can see her really because he’s in the last cell. So she starts screaming at him, calling him names, making fun of him…nasty nasty stuff. So …. he calls her an idiot, or something. She pulls out her can of bear spray (giant pepper spray can) and just hoses him down (and the rest of us, by proximity). Then she calls in the “response team”, which is just one dude and his dog, and they haul the kid out (not fighting!) in cuffs and drag him away, leaving the rest of us to wheeze on pepper spray for the rest of the night.