14 Former Inmates on What Prison Is Really Like

Most of us are curious about the experiences we haven’t (and, fingers crossed, may never) had.

We want to know what it’s like, and in the case of prison, we’re also a bit curious whether or not it’s like the movies.

If you’re dying for verified details, here are a few from 14 people who have done the time.

14. Criminal.

Never been to prison but worked in highway maintenance with inmate laborers within the last year.

They get paid a wage of $0.65.

Not per hour but 65 cents for a full day of labor.

13. Like most things, you can’t really get it until you get it.

Think of the absolute last place you’d ever want to be and, check it out, they won’t let you leave.

Jokes aside, there’s no way to accurately describe it. Having your freedom taken away is not something you can understand until it happens to you. Which is why people who say “_______ is like jail/prison!” sound like idiots.

12. What a shocker.

I did 30 days on Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail…for riding my bike while wearing headphones.


I got popped in a smaller suburb for a warrant I knew I had, and hadn’t paid off. This was on Friday. I figured I’d end up in the city jail for the weekend, and get time served out the door on Monday. It was a price I figured I should have to pay for being stupid enough to let the warrant go that long. I got to court Monday morning, and was promptly informed that I had NINE warrants. It was then that the pants-shitting began…

I argued, through my absolutely useless public defender, that I had one warrant. I was allowed to see the warrants, and all but the one I knew about had a signature that wasn’t mine. Surprising the hell out of me, the Commissioner on the bench (not an actual judge) dismissed all of them…except the one I admitted to having. That one, I got six months for, with a mandatory 30 days required. He wanted to “teach me a lesson.” I was not even remotely happy, but somehow managed to keep my mouth shut long enough to not get slapped with any additional charges or time. TBH, I was scared shitless.

I got sent to County that night. For the first couple of days, I was under the wing of a guy I’d been locked up with in the city jail. He kept an eye on me, and helped me figure out what the hell was going on around me. We were in a huge dorm those first few days, and since I had on a pair of shoes with a Velcro strap across the top, of course, they were stolen from me. I ended up with jail slippers after that. Eventually, I was assigned to a trustee dorm, since my “crime” was non-violent, and given a job in the jail store. It was actually pretty mellow, as long as you followed the rules, which I did. The deputies fed us from their commissary, which was better than the crap we got, and the actual work wasn’t all that bad. Mostly, we sat around and talked.

Then, my asshole of a now-former brother-in-law got involved, and got me sent to a facility for the more delicate prisoners…also known as the pussy dorm. So much for the easy job…

That’s where being 6’6” and (at the time) 225lbs worked against me. Because I was one of the largest guys in this particular dorm, I was constantly threatened with being sent to the problem dorm across the way by the deputies, who only saw size. I kept my head down, visited the library daily, and within a few days, got put on the food line, which meant I got to eat while the food was hot, and got more of it than the others. I spent a ton of time playing spades with a few other guys, and actually helped one guy learn to read, which was pretty cool. I ran into him at a local theme park a few months later, and he quietly thanked me for helping him learn, because it helped him get the job he had.

I went back to court after the 30 days, and the Commissioner actually threatened to not sign my release order because the cop that picked me up on the warrant had actually complained on my behalf to the head judge, and he was salty. Apparently, he was told six months for a traffic warrant was way out of line…but no one thought to actually overturn the sentence and set me free early. Fortunately, he did sign the order, and I went home the next day.

11. I do believe it.

Nobody ever believes it, but I’ll say prison is essentially, take the building you’re in right now, and imagine spending two years before you can walk outside. The majority of the prison experience is just knowing you’re stuck in that building.

Also, if you complain or break a rule, you spend three months in the bathroom.

10. The soap thing might be a myth.

I was kicked out of the house often as a teen so I became friends with other kids with fucked up parents. Some of those friends had exceptionally fucked up parents – dad in triads, parents smoke crack etc (this is in Hong Kong) so they went to jail quite a lot (two of them still in there, they are triad members and got caught selling meth).

From what I’ve heard, it depends what kind of prison you’re in. In juvenile for the more serious criminals, they had to workout for 6 hours a day in the yard – if they were too tired to continue they would get kicked until they got up and continued the exercise. There was lots of social time though, which I think is a bad thing cuz my friend JR told me he learnt how to make a knife from newspaper pages by soaking it in water and pressing each page on top of each other!!! I think these friends just led him into more crime.

One other friend went to minimum security prison. He said the prison was actually trying to rehabilitate people – even though he had to stay in the cell more, they would get classes. He learnt how to be a hairdresser in prison and now he’s looking into doing that! So not all so bad

I asked all of them about ‘Dropping the soap’. Nope, that’s not a thing in prison, at least not prisons in Hong Kong

9. The not knowing can get to you.

Honestly it’s not too bad by itself. We were all kind of like a family there. The worst part for me was just how uninformed I was. I had no idea how long I was going to be there and no idea what was going to happen to my house and job.

Luckily it all worked out thanks to my friends and family. I feel truly bad for people who dont have people to look out for them. I just couldn’t imagine.

8. I still have a lot of questions.

Jail in America: shitty, cops were f%cking with me through the whole booking process, took my blood under threat of tasing me, put in a cell with a dude who sold heroin and was super stupid. Talked about this book where he wanted me to explain what a wizard actually was. Got bailed the next day so basically like 36-48 hours in jail(from the time of my arrest to walking out the door). As we are waiting to get processed to bail out dudes in line with me are setting up deals and telling each other to meet up at x casino if you wanna score later. The first 12 or so hours I was still high as a mother f%cker and couldn’t sleep or anything.

Jail in japan: took hours of being interrogated before they fed me or did anything. Finally transferred me to the jail (from the police station), put in a cell with two Japanese dudes, no one spoke any English and I barely spoke Japanese, we passed time trying to teach each other small phrases and communicate as best we could. Found out one dude had robbed houses during a flood and was gonna be there for like a full year then would get sent to prison. They pulled him out to interrogate him daily for like 3 hours. Other guy had gotten in a fight or something I think. When you get booked in you have to sign a thing that says you won’t kill yourself and if you try it’s illegal and they’ll basically charge you with another crime.

Side note, you don’t get a phone call in japan at all, so to anyone who knows you or anything you just vanish off the face of the earth, no one knows if you’re dead or what happened, you just get thrown inside. You can get a lawyer/public defender to call someone for you but only if you know their number by heart, can’t look at a phone or anything, and even if you know the number they still won’t for the first 24 hours or so. So your family/friends all are panicking wondering what happened to you

You were allowed to read but all the books were in Japanese so I couldn’t read sh%t but a picture book really. Guards kinda treated me like an exotic animal just coming to the cell to look at me and stuff. Other guys were talking about a white dude being in the jail. Got out after like 48 ish hours and paid massive fines and then all charges were dropped and that was the end of it. Also you’re not allowed to sleep in the day so if you lay down they come and make you sit up and be awake. You only can shower once a week so I didn’t get a shower, they did give me a sweatshirt cause it was freezing.

Food in the Japanese jail was a sh%tty little bento with fish, rice, some kind of pickles and miso soup. They hand a mat and chopsticks through the little cell grate and you’re told it’s illegal to kill yourself with them. Before I went to talk to any officers or the prosecutor was made to shave. When I got out the main guard guy told me cheerfully in Japanese “enjoy your life!” Ha.

7. A very sad tale.

My a brother was in prison, he was almost beaten to death by guards. He still won’t talk about it and it’s been over 20yrs.

He’s a paranoid schizophrenic with bipolar disorder, he was in and out of the system since he was nine yrs old although the schizophrenia didn’t come on to his later mid 20’s and the bipolar after the prison stint. We believe the bipolar was trauma induced created by the beating although that’s not an official finding.

He lives alone, talks to very few people and is musically gifted, he plays guitar masterfully and sings just as well. If you have five hours to spare he has a wonderful conspiracy story that involves Ozzy and Sharon Osborne having Randy Roads killed…he backs it up with YouTube videos that seem completely harmless to the average person but he shows you what they’re really saying with the hidden messages……

I love him, a lot, but spending five minutes with him is mentally exhausting and emotionally traumatic.

6. Parents like these are terrible.

I have misophonia so I couldn’t stand the snoring and didn’t have access to commissary so I couldn’t get earplugs. I was freshly 18 and tried to sleep in our church after being locked out of my parent’s place, ironically over religious differences (didn’t want to serve a Mormon mission). The set of keys I had nabbed that I thought would get me into the church didn’t work (outdated) and I just started walking to a friends. A neighbor called it in and I was charged with Attempted Unlawful Entry.

I spent hours and hours in the shower (to drown out the sound), and didn’t call anyone for bail because I was so messed up. I was nicknamed “waterboy”. 5 days later somebody filed a missing person’s report for me and my friend’s parents bailed me out. The financial strain of being independent during the 2009 depression led to homelessness and some other unpleasantness, especially with all the fines and probation and “rethinking” class costs. I was able to get to college in 2012 after getting kinda back on my feet, but I feel like I never quite got over this time in my life.

5. All depends on your perspective.

I had a lot of drugs in my system and I had a pretty good time.

It was cold and I’d been living on the streets of vegas for a while.

I was only there one night, but it got me off the street finally.

4. A lot of gross.

Really f%cking dirty. Nasty. Disgusting. Imagine a bus stop public toilet, but you’re locked in it with a bunch of random crackheads. It’s not dramatic like the movies.

It’s gross, boring, and uncomfortable. Forget basic medical care. You’re riding that sh%t out alone until you’re inches from a lawsuit.

3. Instant sadness.

9 months for selling MDMA at a music festival.

Prison is a walk in the park, lots of very derogatory jokes, cards, watching shitty tv, cooking tasty but shitty food. Gay guys walking about trying to look like women. Very depressing and exhausting.

I needed to go, I realized what I really want in life and what I no longer want in my life.

You read your letters over and over and smell them to smell your loved ones. Play frisbee outside while eating candy, wall ball… Some basketball…. Kinda like a boys club/camp you’re not allowed to leave.

I’d have dreams I was free or being let free… Only to wake up and for a half second wonder where I am, then the instant sadness and disappointment of realizing where you are….

2. Well…that’s a story.

I caught a charge for public intox and forgot which day I was supposed to be in court to get it settled. In turn, warrant was issued for me. They finally caught up with me and I was arrested. I already had somewhat of a bad track record.

So, I was given 366 days in prison.

I was put in a dorm with about 40 other women. A bit scared because I had never done time. I was on the top bunk and slept as much as possible. One evening I discovered that my roll of toilet paper had been stolen out of my footlocker. And we only got one roll every week, no exceptions. Socks and underwear were very hard to come by also. I was told by another inmate who had stolen my TP.

In turn, I waited until she went to rec yard the following day and got her only pair of socks from her bunk bag. I had waited for a couple days to poop because it’s just 4 toilets off to side with no privacy. Needless to say, I had to go extremely bad. She was still out at rec.

I proceeded to grunt out this massive turd… INTO HER SOCK. I tied it up and put it in her pillow case. My TP was never stolen again.

1. The boredom and the food leave an impression on everyone.

I was in Appomattox jail for 6 days. The arrival process is pretty humiliating. They strip you, make you bend over cough, squat and cough, than shower while watching. Their policy is first 24 hours confined. I was lucky and had a pretty nice roommate.

In the cell the toilet is annoyingly close to the bunk bed. There were two common shower areas in the main area walkway. The food sucked. Mostly it’s just so damn boring. TVs were on when we could go to the common area but you could barely hear them. We got sent to our rooms for every little thing like getting too loud.

One fight broke out but mostly things were chill. I swear somehow I did not poop for the entire time….My body was like .nope. Worst part is they messed up my sentence because of sloppy handwriting. I was supposed to only be held a day. I wouldn’t have even had to change my clothes just stay in the courthouse holding cell. I later went to court over it and had my fines and community service dropped.

These answers definitely fed my curiosity!

If any of these surprised you, tell us what in the comments!

Please and thank you!