Prison Life Most people have no idea what it feels like to be in prison, statistically only one out of every five people will know what its like to be in prison. Approximately 1. 4 million people out of the U. S.’s 280 million people are in prison. (Thomas, 2) The only reason people know about prisons is because of the media. The news, movies, and books all contribute to people’s stereotypes about prisons.
Prisoners receive three meals a day, workout facilities, a library, as well as other things. People are also given the idea, through the mass media, that prisoners are free to walk around certain parts of the prison. All of these ideas are cast upon prisons so that people will not be afraid of them. Society has been given the idea that prisons are not very bad on the inside. What is prison life really like? The mass media uses prison life as the source for movies and television shows. Over the years there have been many movies written about prison but the most prominent in my mind is Frank Darabont’s, The Shawshank Redemption.
Throughout the film there are many examples of the falsities of prison life. There are some elements of truth but they are out weighed by the misconceptions. Numerous prisoners are allowed to walk around the prison and the prison yard with no guards in sight. In actuality there are always guards around, especially on the inside. The prisoner’s movement through the prison is highly restricted.
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In many prisons there is some corruption but in the movie there is an exceptionally large amount. It appears that it is very easy for the prisoners to smuggle contra ban into the prison. Morgan Freeman’s character “Red” is able to get just about anything, posters, cigarettes, etc. In today’s prison system it is not something that is openly discussed, but it is not nearly as easy as it appears to smuggle things into the prison.
The television show “OZ” on HBO, is another good example of how the mass media sugarcoats prisons. The inmates live in a fictional prison called Oswald Correctional Facility, in which they have created a test program called Emerald City. Emerald City is a part of the prison that is separate from the general population. The prisoners are allowed a great deal of freedom.
They have television, games (i. e. checkers), computer facilities, a library, and a full gym. There are some ideas that are accurate from the show but the inaccuracies out weigh the accuracies. The prisoners are basically allowed to walk though Emerald City with very little supervision.
Although it is difficult for someone who has not been in prison to give an accurate portrayal of prison life, I shall, through my reading, attempt to describe some aspects of real prison life. The primary goal of prison is to punish and rehabilitate criminals. The prisoners are denied the simpler pleasures of life that most people take for granted. Prisons use deprivation of outside contact in order to accomplish rehabilitation. Traditionally, prisons are constructed of concrete walls and floors, iron bars, and very few windows this creates a dull and dreary environment.
The prisoners are always under some sort of surveillance by officers (closed-circuit television or officers who circulate through the population), are counted several times a day and are subject to personal searches as they circulate though the prison. (Jones, 10) The inmates are divided into separate living areas depending on what they are doing within the prison. They live in different cellblocks according to where they work (i. e. laundry, kitchen, etc. ), if they are in and educational program, if they are parole violators, if they have a high escape risk, if they have violated any of the intuitions rules, etc.
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(Jones, 12) Prisoners are allowed to work within the prison walls and are paid to do so. They usually receive a flat rate per day depending on what job they do. Some of the money they earn is given to them while still inside the prison. The rest of the money they earn is considered “gate money” which is given to the prisoner upon their release (Jones, 13).
Prisoners have many things that they have to cope with while in prison. The most common thing is missing one’s family or friends the next being missing one’s freedom.
(Zamble, 91) These are only two examples of the numerous things that inmates have to cope with. They are moving into an environment in which most of them have only heard about in movies or on television so they do not know what to expect. “The prison experience is sufficiently powerful that it nullifies much of the variance among inmates, and they come to resemble each other much more than before imprisonment.” (Zamble, 92) Everything in prison is basically uniform and routine. When you create uniformity it takes away people’s sense of self, it causes them to act similarly over time. So, if you were to imprison a person over time he would lose his sense of self and would become more like the people that surround him. Most prisoners try to keep as busy as possible in order to keep their minds off of family.
The more that they occupy their time the less they will think about things that they miss. By keeping busy the prisoners are able to keep themselves in higher spirits. If they have nothing to do some inmates turn to reading letters or writing letters. “‘When I feel down about [being lonely], I read a letter or write one.
If I don’t have a new letter I read old ones, they ” re still a pick-me-up and I feel better until I get a new one.’ ” (Zamble, 96) One of the inmates interviewed in Zamble’s book said this, and it is a good example of how some prisoners cope with being alone and not having a loved one around to associate with them. Some other methods of coping that prisoners’ use include drug use. It is difficult for the prisoners to obtain drugs but they are still present within the prison community. A large number of prisoners’ are / were drug users so if they are able to obtain any narcotics they use them as a means of escape from the harsh realities of prison life. Another method is trying to appeal their sentence, which usually ends up being unsuccessful. The belief that some how their sentence could be appealed brings some inmates hope of getting out of prison.
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After being in prison, even for a short time, a person can change a great deal. “Prison ization” occurs, this is when the inmate has had extended exposure to prison culture and the routines of prison life (Jones, 75).
According to Jones, “There is no one point at which new prisoners “adjust” to prison life, but the prison environment begins to seem less alien sometime between the first and second month of their sentences.” (Jones, 75) During the first few months the prisoner settle in their new environment. They walk thought the prison and learn where they can and cannot go. They also learn how to go about getting a job within the prison. By working with other prisoners he learns more about the prison world.
Because he is socializing with other inmates he is learning more about his surroundings, which in turn helps him adapt. This helps him learn more about the world around him. One of the first things a prisoner will do when he is put in prison is, “he attempts to hid his fear of other prisoners by trying to look and act like them.” (Jones, 78) This is one of the first steps for survival within prison. The most important thing inmates must do in order to survive in prison is they must make friends, as well as alliances. The prisoner’s best bet is to befriend older more experienced prisoners because they most likely have many alliances and know how things work within the prison. The idea of this is both to help the inmate learn more about the prison and also to possibly provide protection from other prisoners.
Weakness is looked down upon in prison, if a person is looked upon as weak he will become the target for verbal abuse, practical jokes, theft or assaults. This is why prisoners act tough, they do not want to be abused in any way by the rest of the population. If a prisoner sticks up for himself then this will help him avoid confrontation because it shows that he has a willingness to fight. Partnerships are another important aspect of prison life.
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Partnerships provide for “authentic relationships within the prison world.” (Jones, 80) Most inmates tend to have only one main partner to avoid conflicts. This way they have a relationship in which they can speak freely and not have to keep an impression with that one person. They can almost be themselves. Partnerships defiantly help the prisoners adapt to prison life by giving them someone that they can talk freely to. The prison economic system is very different from a regular economy. Although the prisoners do work for money, cash is not allowed within the prison.
All the money they make is deposited in either a personal spending account or a savings account (a. k. a. “gate money”).
All transactions that take place are done though a voucher system. Prisoner’s jobs are very low paying but it is sufficient for the inmate’s daily needs.
If they save, some can even afford to have a luxury item such as a television. Gambling is also a very important part of the prison economy, although most of the time it is for cigarettes or some other low-stakes wagers. Some of the biggest fears of inmates are rape, murder or some other dramatic event. Any one of these will cause an inmate to be more cautious, even in familiar territory. The most common causes of violence are debt or theft. Violence within the prison just adds the to new inmates uncertainty of prison life.
As time goes by the prisoners learn to rationalize any violence and therefore become desensitized by it. Violence basically makes for fresh conversation among inmates, at the same time truly violent acts remind the prisoners of the harsh realities of prison life. There is very little variation from the prison routine. Basically from the time an inmate starts his term till the time his term ends there is hardly any variation from his routine. The prisoners can either work every day or refuse to work and be locked in their cells during working hours. Obviously most choose to work and not be locked in their cells.
“‘I just seem to go through the motions every day. It doesn’t take much though to wake up when the bell rings, go to chow, when the bell rings, go to work when the bell rings, and go to your cell when the bell rings. There really isn’t much choice or alternatives; you either do or you don’t.’ ” (Jones, 90) With out actually being in prison it is hard for a person to grasp what it would actually feel like. The media gives us some idea but they are usually sugarcoated and do not give an accurate portrayal of prison life. A constant routine and hours of boredom constitute part of prison life. It is unfortunate that some people in our society are so bad that they have to go to such a facility..
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