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Prison: Not Privilege

Updated on June 21, 2014
krsharp05 profile image

Kristi spent two years working in the Scared Straight program at Lansing Penitentiary. AKA: J.A.I.L. (Juvenile Assistance Intake Liaison)

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Life In Prison

There seems to be a colossal misunderstanding about what life is really like for those who live inside the walls of a prison; the men and women who are incarcerated for all manner of crimes, serving months, years, perhaps a life sentence or if they are paying the ultimate price, they merely exist on death row. This topic comes up in various conversations both liberal and conservative and the reality is, if you've never spent any time in a prison, you simply cannot make an educated argument about an inmate's true quality of life, or lack thereof. Please allow me to set the record straight - so far as I know it to be.

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The Most Dangerous Prison in the USA

Four-Star Accommodations

There isn't a single cell block in any prison that offers Hilton-style service. There are no fluffed pillows, no down comforters or chocolates left on the bed. The average prison cell is 6'x8' with a bunk bed or single bed, a toilet with a sink connected to the top and if you're among the favored, your cell has a makeshift desk unit. The Florence Administrative Maximum Security Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado is the domicile of federal inmates who are considered an extreme threat, nihilistic, hazardous to inmates or civilians; prisoners who require unyielding control. Each of the 490 cells has a bed, a desk and a stool which are solid concrete. In addition, they all have the toilet/sink combination units and a shower which is kept on a timer to impede flooding. The window in each cell is 4" x 4' and was strategically designed into each cell so that inmates cannot designate their location within the facility. Their only view is sky and rooftop. The exercise yard at ADX is an over-sized concrete pool which was also constructed to maintain a sort of confused whereabouts.

Some prison facilities are so overcrowded that they have provided warehouse style bunk houses where inmates are assigned to a bunk and a footlocker or straight locker. This type of housing is the most dangerous method of consolidating inmates due to the amount of violence that takes place in prison and the inability of guards to keep a visual contact on every inmate at all times. An example of this type of accommodation is the Maricopa County Tent City in Phoenix, Arizona. Tent City was originally designed to hold 1,000 inmates. It now has the capacity for more than 2,100. The purpose of Tent City was to deter the early release of inmates due to space issues.

Huntsville Texas Death Row Housing Unit
Huntsville Texas Death Row Housing Unit | Source

Prison Food

Prison food is always a great topic of debate - whether or not to use meals as a form of punishment and how ridiculous it is that inmates get three free meals a day and a warm bed to sleep in. If you ask an inmate whether or not they feel the food is being used as a form of punishment they'll most likely tell you "yes". Currently there is no legislative standard guideline or regulation for the nutritional value of meals for any discipline of corrections however, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) offers certification, publications, resources and guidelines by which prisons can operate to provide effective management in all aspects of corrections. The only regulations that are currently enforced are for food preparation and safety. While some prisons conduct their own inspections, others prefer to be regulated by non-profit organizations such as the American Correctional Association.

A typical meal served in prison consists of:

  • meat (3-4 ounces)
  • vegetable (1/2 cup)
  • starch (3/4 cup)
  • salad (3/4 cup)
  • bread (1)
  • dessert (1)
  • beverage (1)

When I worked at the prison, those were not the typical meal options. It was common to have a main item, a vegetable, a side dish, a beverage and on a great day, a dessert. I've eaten the food in the maximum security dining hall many times and there was not a single meal when I would have asked for a second helping.

I asked a few other people about their experiences at other prisons and an excellent point was brought up. Inmates who work in the dining hall have somewhat of a powerful position in that they can control portion size and purity of product. It has happened that inappropriate fluid or matter has been introduced into the mixture or onto the plate of an antagonist. Chow hall employees garner a lot of respect by other inmates.

Weapons in Folsom Prison (YOUTUBE)

Violence In Prison

You will never meet a more creative group of people than prison inmates. They can take simple objects and transform them into just about anything. They have plenty of time. Most commonly found creations are radios, tattoo equipment, tattoo ink, weapons, liquor, wine, hot plates, candles and lighters. While radios and hot plates don't pose as much of a bodily threat to inmates on the yard, weapons are a constant source of threat and risk. Inmates may spend a great deal of time engineering a weapon and then devise a method to discreetly carry it throughout the prison. Since the lines of segregation are clearly drawn in prison, if an attack is coming, you'll never know it. The most emotionally charged testimony I've ever heard about death in prison was from a man who served two years and witnessed 12 deaths during that time. He went into detail about a new inmate who was stabbed to death with a toothbrush that had been made into a weapon. Two veteran inmates had taken the toothbrush and filed it down on both ends against the cement floor to sharpen it. A small and inconspicuous device fashioned into a deadly weapon.

Although new prison facilities are built with the goals of maintaining a safe environment at all times, older buildings are more susceptible to spaces which are seemingly invisible and out of earshot to guards and staff. Areas of opportunity are problematic for violent or deviant behavior, sexual misconduct or drug use.

CBP Border Patrol agent conducts a pat down of a female Mexican being placed in a holding facility.
CBP Border Patrol agent conducts a pat down of a female Mexican being placed in a holding facility. | Source

Women In Prison

Female inmates encounter the same problems that male inmates deal with. The violence, drugs, segregation, food. Women also deal with another issue and that is sexual misconduct by male officers. One report filed in 2009 in a Topeka women's prison alleged that nearly 80 male officers (1/3 of the staff) were involved in an illegal exchange of drugs for sex with female inmates.

Concertina razor wire surrounds prison.
Concertina razor wire surrounds prison. | Source

Institutionalization

"Institutionalize" MerriamWebster.com. 2012.http://www.merriam-webster.com/help/citing.htm (24 Sep, 2012).

: to accustom (a person) so firmly to the care and supervised routine of an institution as to make incapable of managing a life outside.

In a prison setting institutionalization is also referred to as "prisonization" because it erupts from the negative consequences of incarceration as opposed to being in a hospital setting. It is the process by which inmates incorporate their acceptable and "normal" lives into the "abnormal" and incongruous world of incarceration.

Prisonization installs over a period of time and the longer an inmate is imprisoned, the more dramatic and ingrained the affect will be. When you are taken from one extreme and slammed into another it's severe and stressful. Prisonization can be an angry process for some because the feeling of confinement becomes overwhelming. Spending most of their time in a small, colorless space with almost nothing to do creates the feeling of isolation. The purposes of allowing inmates to have access to television, exercise, radio, books, art and church are to create balance within a world of chaos. If the inmates stayed locked in their cells 23 hours a day with no television, no pictures to look at, no books, no radio, no ability to converse with other people, the instant they were allowed to come out for meals it would be a full-on war. The few activities they are allowed help prevent riots, fights, murder and mass chaos. Though it's not a perfect system, it's the system that's in place.

Most Notorious Prisons in the United States

show route and directions
A marker2939 W. Durango Street Phoenix, AZ 85009 -
2939 W Durango St, Phoenix, AZ 85009, USA
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Maricopa County Tent City Jail

B marker15-00 Hazen St East Elmhurst, NY 11370 -
20-0 Hazen St, East Elmhurst, NY 11370, USA
get directions

Rikers Island Prison

C marker1 Main Street, San Quentin, CA 94964 -
San Quentin State Prison, 1 Main St, San Quentin, CA 94964, USA
get directions

San Quentin State Prison

D marker5880 HWY 67 SOUTH FLORENCE, CO 81226 -
5880 Hwy 67, Florence, CO 81226, USA
get directions

ADX Florence Supermax

E marker4500 PRISON ROAD MARION, IL 62959 -
4500 Prison Rd, Marion, IL 62959, USA
get directions

USP Marion

F marker17544 Tunica Trce, Angola, LA 70712 -
Angola Prison Rodeo & Arts, 17544 Tunica Trce, Angola, LA 70712, USA
get directions

Louisiana State Penitentiary Angola

G marker815 Southeast Rice Road, Topeka, KS 66607 -
815 SE Rice Rd, Topeka, KS 66607, USA
get directions

Topeka Correctional Facility for Women

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    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      This is a little sad to read about, but it is the real world of prisons. Thanks for sharing what we do now see on the outside. It is a dismal world for those people. I hope this article deters many from that lifestyle.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 4 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Very informative hub. Thanks for sharing your personal experiences. Hopefully you have helped clear up some misconceptions about the prison system.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for a realistic view of prison; I grow tired of articles that talk about the country club atmosphere of prisons; those articles are written obviously by someone who has never spent time in a hell hole.

    • jose7polanco profile image

      Jose Misael Polanco 4 years ago from Los Angeles

      Sure the have 3 secured meals a day, everyday housing, and custodians as compared to a great number of people who lose their houses or have no meal in an entire week. I have never been in prison before, but surely it is no a good thing. Most of my friends who have been there say they could be ok with the food, bathroom, restoom and so on; but the worst they say is the others inmate who always try to intimate them and or steal their food and rape them.

    • krsharp05 profile image
      Author

      krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

      teaches, Thank you for reading. I am sensitive about this subject since I've spent time working in a prison. I always hesitate to get into this debate because it's not a pretty picture but like you say, it would be nice if something this simple acted as a deterrent. I appreciate your comment. -K

    • krsharp05 profile image
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      krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

      spartucus, Hopefully I can shed some light on the topic. I know it's not the warm and fuzzy side however, it's important. Thank you for reading and commenting. -K

    • krsharp05 profile image
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      krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

      billybuc, I laughed immediately. Thank you for saying that. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. When this debate begins I always have to find my peaceful place before I can join the conversation. Great to have your comment. -K

    • krsharp05 profile image
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      krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

      Jose7polance, Thank you for reading. I know that violence is a major issue in prison. Smell is actually a factor, the restrooms are disgusting. Prison is an entirely different world. The moment you walk in, it's as though you stepped into a whole other society that exists within the prison. Thanks for the comment. -K

    • mio cid profile image

      mio cid 4 years ago from Uruguay

      It has always worried me that the legal system in this country can make it possible for a person that has committed no crime to end up in prison.This doesn't happen for example in Uruguay the country where I was born..........If you are in prison there is because you committed a crime.If you are a law abiding citizen you need not fear ever ending up in jail.

    • krsharp05 profile image
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      krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

      mio cid, Thank you for taking the time to read. You are correct that there are are a dangerous number of innocent people who are incarcerated in the US. Great strides are being made to stop wrongful imprisonment however with the privatization of prisons, it's often alleged that inmates are set up and entrapped by guards which leads to extended prison sentences - vicious cycle. Thanks for commenting. -K

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for giving us an insider's point of view. It seems that resent news has led people down the wrong road

    • jose7polanco profile image

      Jose Misael Polanco 4 years ago from Los Angeles

      I have heard that is not a life style people want, but why on earth are so many still going back so quickly? In 2002 the federal bureau of prison or other federal agency conducted an study and learned that the longer an inmate stays in prison sentence, the less likely he will go back.

      Do you think some people do not stay long enough?

    • krsharp05 profile image
      Author

      krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

      Mhatter, Great to have your input, thanks. It sure does seem like we can fill them up quickly. -K

    • krsharp05 profile image
      Author

      krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

      jose7polanco, I believe it's a lifestyle as opposed to a singular event which determines recidivism. Additionally, there are flaws with governmental studies because they only look at singular incarcerations - meaning they don't take into account whether or not the individual has a prior record, was a juvenile delinquent or was a systematic failure. I think that the length of incarceration is not nearly as critical as 1. potential for diagnosis if necessary 2. treatment 3. rehabilitation 4. education 5. re-entry into society.

      The government should be mandating on-going studies which interface with all aspects of possible deviant behaviors starting as soon as a juvenile enters the system. Until a comprehensive study is done, the singular data is irrelevant. -K

    • jose7polanco profile image

      Jose Misael Polanco 4 years ago from Los Angeles

      Potential diagnosis, you mean every single case is different right? Here in CA people under the 3 strikes laws receive more time after the third offense. That si great for child or other forms of sexual predators but not making sense for drug users (non dealers only consumers) who should get rehabilitation.

      After the first offense drug user get a 12 month probation and assist regularly to a rehab...after the next 2 offenses a severe punishment is applied. You could be right, every case si different.

      One more thing, judges in CA are told to look at the offender and consider a sentence if he is not capable of controlling himself, he could be placed in rehab or medical treatment after completing the sentence, originally used for chil abusers who lost control over themselves but it also applies for non violent offenses.

    • krsharp05 profile image
      Author

      krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

      By diagnosis I mean that they should look at the inmates entire history from childhood until incarceration to see whether or not that person came from a background that limited his or her chances of successful navigation in the first place - Were they extremely poor? Did they grow up in a criminal family? Are they educated? Do they have an underlying disorder? I use diagnosis too liberally - my apologies.

      I'm familiar with the three strikes law and in some cases it does far more damage than good. That's a whole other discussion. :)

      I propose that a long term and comprehensive study be done starting at the time a juvenile would be taken into custody for any reason. There really is no such thing as expungement so the records would be available, the task would just be tedious.

      It's much easier to build prisons and lock men down than it is to take the time, money and effort to educate and integrate. -K

    • jose7polanco profile image

      Jose Misael Polanco 4 years ago from Los Angeles

      And as they say, it easier to build stronger children than to repair broken men.

      great hub, it is really interesting, we never get a close view in TV about prison life.

    • krsharp05 profile image
      Author

      krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

      jose7polanco, You hit the nail on the head! Thanks for the great conversation. -K

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, KR. An honest picture of prison life is important. A friend of mine who was imprisoned in a low-security Federal prison for over a year saw that the chicken coming into the kitchen was labelled "not fit for human consumption.

    • krsharp05 profile image
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      krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

      SidKemp, That actually surprises me in a Federal prison. I always joke that if you're going to commit a crime, make sure you kill the postman on the way out - because Federal prisons are so much nicer than state prisons. I don't really want to go to prison. Either way, serving food that's not fit for human consumption is probably practiced more than we both know. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I really appreciate it. -K

    • christalluna1124 profile image

      christalluna1124 4 years ago from Dallas Texas

      K,

      AS A FORMER CORRECTIONAL OFFICER I FIND YOUR ARTICLE TO BE EXACTLY THE DESCRIPTION OF BOTH STATE AND FEDERAL SYSTEMS. MANY ARE UNDER THE IMPRESSION THAT IT IS AS YOU SAID A LUXURY HOTEL OF SORTS. THIS IS SO FAR FROM THE TRUTH. I HOPE THAT MANY WILL READ YOUR ARTICLE AND REALIZE THAT EVEN THOSE CONVICTED OF A CRIME ARE DESERVING OF BETTER THAN WHAT OUR CURRENT CORRECTIONAL SYSTEM OFFERS. WE SHOULD GO BACK TO THE IDEA OF REHABILITATION. MANY OF THESE INMATES WILL AT SOME POINT BE RELEASED TO LIVE AMONG US IN SOCIETY, THEREFORE I FIND IT CRUCIAL TO PROVIDE SOME KIND OF EDUCATIONAL AND EMPLOYMENT TRAINING.

    • krsharp05 profile image
      Author

      krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

      christalluna, I'm not sure I could have said it better myself. Bravo! I'm a firm believer that anger begets anger and violence propogates violence. Sending people to prison is like sending them to the University of Failure. It's truly unfortunate that most people will never understand the truth and ugly reality of life behind bars until they are locked inside them. I sincerely appreciate your excellent comment and feedback. Thanks for taking the time to read. -K

    • Karamella profile image

      Karamella 3 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this information with the public. So much more information and analysis of this Prison Industrial Complex needs to be shared. Not only is it a University of Failure, it's a well oiled machine producing Post Incarceration Syndrome. I think the word Correction in any form should be removed from the name of every agency that is in reality simply serving up large portions of Punishment and Dehumanization to the individuals in their custody. I believe that everyone working in the "Corrections System" including Community Corrections employees (Parole/Probation Officers, etc.) should have their performance measured based on the long term outcome and effectiveness of their ability to "Correct/Rehabilitate" and "Supervise/Manage" individuals in their custody or under their control. As long as the public keeps believing that the "criminals" are the only defective component of the Public Safety System, it will not improve. A system/factory/machine is measured by how well it produces the intended product. The Prison Industrial Complex is producing individuals more "broken" when they leave the system, than when they came in, in many cases. In our state 86% of the incarcerated have substance abuse issues or the disease of addiction. And regardless of the fact that our state has had a mental health and addiction treatment parity law since 2007, our prisons provide addiction treatment to about 10% or less of individuals with high level addictions who have a high likelihood of recidivism. If they had any other DISEASE would the Prison Industrial Complex get away without providing any treatment? Something like 60% of the crimes committed in our state are somehow related to substance use, abuse, or addiction, but we don't provide any treatment of the condition that contributed to the crime? How is that improving "Public Safety"? Our Criminal (In)Justice system would be dissolved immediately if it had to face an "effectiveness" test. All efforts are directed at identifying the law that was broken, identifying who broke it, and deciding how to punish the law breaker, which does nothing to repair the damage done, or prevent the damage from being done again, unless you lock people up forever. The public seems to be vastly unaware that 95% of the incarcerated will eventually be released. Do they really want people coming back to their community in worse shape than when they left? If you found a homeless sick dog and you wanted it to be adopted, would you put it a cold, harsh, dangerous environment, let people torment it often, feed it poorly, let other dogs constantly growl and threaten it, never have it examined or treated by a vet, poke it with a stick when it was sleeping, and then wonder why it wasn't acting friendly and spunky when people came to see it? Well that's just what is happening in our prisons today. Over 2 million Americans incarcerated. 1 in 36 people are somehow involved in the "system" (incarcerated, or on parole or probation). More than 3500 people serving life sentences for non-violent crimes. Many of them first time offenders. The USA, Iran, and North Korea (and maybe some small country in Africa) are the only countries in the world who permit a child under the age of 18, when the crime was committed, to be sentenced to death. 22 of them since 1976. We need a good dose of Restorative Justice in this country. It's not a new concept, it's actually a very ancient one, and it's a helluva lot more effective than our "modern justice system". Wake up America, your $$$ is being wasted and you aren't safer because of all the money being flushed down the toilet of the Prison Industrial Complex. If you want peace and safety, work for REAL Justice that Restores Balance and Heals Communities.

    • krsharp05 profile image
      Author

      krsharp05 3 years ago from 18th and Vine

      Karamella, thank you for reading and for commenting. You have introduced many excellent arguments which also apply to the juvenile justice system. I believe there is a total failure in this country to recognize what is lacking and I think that is what you are saying. We simply house people, minimize and turn a blind eye when the money runs out. I appreciate your input and passion. -K

    • nickico profile image

      Niquel Cozart 2 years ago from New Jersey suburb

      Very informative. I should hope after reading your hub people will not make the classification that prison is compared to even a 1 or 2 star hotel. It really wakes people up to what prison life is like. Thanks for the very detailed information.

    • krsharp05 profile image
      Author

      krsharp05 2 years ago from 18th and Vine

      nickico, Thank you for reading and commenting. It's interesting when people start talking about prison that they often equate prison to living in a hotel and being "served". Sometimes I just listen to people go on on when they have no real understanding. I appreciate you taking the time. Thanks again. -K

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