A Day in the Life of a Prisoner

“we aren’t deadbeats — our days are, in fact, incredibly full.”.

People are constantly asking me: What’s a day in prison like? Is it boring? Or are you busy? So the other day, I toted a pocket-sized notebook with me everywhere I went, scribbling down every single thing I did.

I thought I’d share my findings with you to show you that we prisoners aren’t deadbeats — our days are, in fact, incredibly full.

At 1:30 a.m., I’m jarred awake in my cell by an officer wielding the brightest flashlight in the world. He gives me 10 minutes to throw on some clothes and escorts me to the isolation cells, where I strip down again for a thorough search and begin a three-hour suicide watch. This is my prison job: to sit with inmates deemed suicidal and just talk with them, and make sure they don’t try anything.

a day in the life of a prisoner essay

The 18-year-old black kid I’m assigned to on this day is soft-spoken, and severely depressed. (I’m 43 and white.) He opens up surprisingly quickly about the many horrors of his childhood. He’s lived a very hard life, which is typical for incarcerated people but is always deeply upsetting nonetheless. I almost cry several times. There’s not much I can do for him except listen, so I do so as if this young man is my own child.

Shift over, I’m strip-searched again and escorted back to my housing unit, where I take a quick shower, stretch, meditate, pray, then climb back under my itchy wool blanket and hit the sack around 6 a.m.

I wake up at 10, thanks to all the hooting and hollering outside my cell. I take a few minutes to center myself, climb from my top bunk and am met by my service dog in training, Ross.

As I dress, Ross wags his tail and prods me with his cold, wet nose, which never fails to make me smile.

I then hike down the Rock (our term for the cell block) to the communal bathroom I share with 48 other inmates, brush my teeth between four young kids who are rapping, handle my morning business on the toilet, and return to my cell once again, where I pour Ross another bowl of water, buckle on my pouch full of treats, then venture back out into the bowels of our unit with the dog in tow. We spend the next 40 minutes training him to follow my commands.

Next, I grab my tablet and a cup of instant coffee, and hurry to our JPay.com (a prison email service) kiosk (a computer encased in damn-near indestructible stainless steel), which is my only window to the outside world.

There, I pay a guy a ramen noodle soup for holding me a spot in line, then plug my tablet in and upload and download emails.

Once finished, I jog over to our unit’s kitchen area, where I wait in line to use one of two microwaves shared by 96 convicts. Luckily, I’m able to heat up my coffee before I hear, “Five minutes til count time, people,” blaring over the PA system in the same dull, unsympathetic voice that has spewed these words multiple times a day, every day, for years.

“Be on your bunks and be visible! I repeat, be on your bunks and be visible for 11:30 count or you will get a ticket!”

During count, I write a few emails (to be uploaded later) and listen to the news on the radio as I lie in bed waiting for the guards to make their rounds. I then throw on my workout clothes (a pair of tattered pants covered in patches), shrug on my state-issued “winter” coat, and stand by my cell door, waiting for it to open.

Count times in prison are an imprecise science, from a convict’s point of view. Sure, they start at the same times each day: 5 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 4 p.m., 9 p.m., and midnight. But when each one might end is anybody’s guess. It’s basically purgatory.

On this particular day, I get lucky. Count is cleared at 12:10, which means I’m out the door and on the yard by 12:20.

I usually pick this time slot to head out to the yard because it’s virtually empty — most inmates are inside right now having lunch. I run a few miles, do pullups, pushups, sprints, and finish with weights and stretches.

When the prison opens its massive, razor-wire-topped gates at 1:40 for a controlled mass-movement to the yard, I head inside like a fish swimming upstream through a river of convicts. Hundreds of them. At times like these, I need to stay hyper-vigilant. In such a crowd, a man could get butchered and the guards wouldn’t know it until they discovered his bloodless corpse lying crumpled on the walkway after the crowd had passed. I duck and dodge, pausing a few times to say hi when someone calls out my name.

Safely back in my housing unit, I mark my place in line for the shower (there’s just one) by dropping my towel and soap dish outside the stall. I then fix myself a bowl of instant oatmeal using our hot water dispenser, stir in a spoonful of peanut butter, a handful of cashews, almonds, and sunflower seeds, mix a cup of milk (powdered), dig a few bananas out of my locker (purchased on the black market), then sit down to enjoy lunch as I await my turn to bathe.

The shower is the one place I’m guaranteed to find solitude, if only for ten minutes at a time. By now it’s around 3, so I grab another cup of coffee, return to my cell, pull up to the desk that my bunkie and I share, and study Spanish grammar before doing some writing in my native tongue. Sometimes fiction, sometimes poetry, sometimes creative nonfiction.

Today it's fiction.

From 3 until 6, I soar free. I delve into my fantasy world and live vicariously through my protagonists as they experience love and loss, battle evil, and fight to make their world a better place. (I am forced to pause for twenty minutes, though, while I jump up onto my bunk at 4:30 for count time.)

At 6:10 or so, I roll out with the herd of orange- and blue-clad convicts heading toward the chow hall. There we wait in one of two lines that snake between long dining tables lined with small circular stools as guards bellow: “Tuck in your shirts, gentlemen. Or you will get a ticket.” We eventually arrive at the filthy, food-splattered serving counters, where Trinity (our privatized food-service contractor) ladles us a tray of gray plop they call “Turkey Ala King,” a rock-like biscuit, and canned green beans overcooked into a tasteless, scentless mush. I choke down what I can, then scram. The chow hall, too, is a dangerous place to linger.

After dinner, I teach a writing class that usually lasts about an hour. Today, it runs over, because we actually have quite a lot of fun learning the difference between active and passive voice. Around 8 I call Mom. At $3 (almost twice my daily pay) per 15-minute phone call, I can only afford to speak to her once or twice a week.

Quickly and efficiently, with skill honed over many years of phone company abuse, Mom fills me in on her life (her feet hurt from standing up all day at work, and she’s getting a new roof on her house), and talks about my brother David’s upcoming wedding (it’s going to be beautiful). As usual, a robotic voice suddenly breaks in: “You have one minute remaining. Thank you for using GTL.”

Mom often cries. Sometimes I do, too. Then our phone call is over until next week.

At 8:30, I take Ross out the back door of our unit for his final potty break. I then jog upstairs to the microwave area, heat myself a ramen noodle soup, and pop myself some popcorn. 9 count hits. This is my chill-out time. For the next two hours, I sit on my bunk and slurp noodles and crunch popcorn while I watch T.V. or read a book.

Day complete, I kill my T.V. and lamp, stretch, meditate, then pray, and finally burrow my way under the itchy wool blanket again, and doze off.

One more day down. Somewhere around 3,650 to go …

Jerry Metcalf, 43, is incarcerated at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, Michigan, where he is serving 40 to 60 years for second-degree murder and two years for a weapons felony, both of which he was convicted of in 1996.

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Why Write About Life in Prison?

Because every story needs hope..

This essay is excerpted from The Sentences That Create Us: Crafting A Writer’s Life in Prison, a recently released collection of essays from Haymarket Book and PEN America. Edited by PEN America’s Director of Prison and Justice Writing, Caits Meissner, the book weaves together insights from over 50 justice-involved contributors and their allies to offer inspiration and resources for creating a literary life in prison. 

It started out just another day in prison: I shuffled the deck for a game of spades. My opponents had either been cheating or were having one hell of a lucky streak. Or maybe I just sucked at stacking the deck. I was certain I’d gotten all the cards just where I’d wanted them, when everyone stopped talking, eyes wide.

With my back to the window, I smelled the acrid stench of old insulation and smoldering cloth before turning toward the flames. Outside, grown men with faces covered in towels and T-shirts ran every which way. Prisoners were laying waste to the building’s weak points: the windows and doors. I’d later hear that some officers—fearing for their own safety—opened doors and stood back as their prisoners revolted in response to the warden’s lockdown orders. A billowy plume of smoke rose from where the chow hall used to be. A brick exploded against the metal grate barricading the window, and glass shards cascaded through the room. As my opponents rushed out into the chaos, the cards fell to the floor, the king of spades staring up.

The entire prison began to riot.

The year was 2009. The aftermath was Kentucky’s costliest riot in history. A friend of mine asked if I could help him put the experience into words for his family. For the first time since my imprisonment, I sat down to capture the havoc and devastation on paper. With pen to paper, my words flowed like the tears I was too ashamed to cry.

I’d never before been asked to describe the hell of prison. Why had I resisted depicting my environment for so long? I’d always wanted to be a creator of worlds, an author, an artist with words. Only somewhere along the way, I’d become convinced I wasn’t smart, educated, or articulate enough to say anything someone else would ever give a damn to hear. My dream of being an author was beat down by the poverty I was raised in, my inability to focus on my teachers, their lessons, and my grades, and eventually by the drug addiction I used to mask my inadequacies.

Three years into my incarceration, I was asked, “When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

It was then I decided to do something different. My pursuits turned to writing. I’d ask any and everyone for help. I’d finally dream. I’d change! But there was the nagging thought: Would anything I put down on the page make a difference? It was discomforting to not know where to begin, or what I wished to say.

Who was I as a writer? I found myself emulating all of my favorite authors in an attempt to locate my voice. But everything I wrote received the same critiques. Despite my imitation, I wasn’t making the progress I wanted. I still needed to work on my dialogue, characters, and plots. Discouraged, I stopped showing anyone my work. For a time, I stopped writing altogether.

It was only after my success with the riot piece that I felt comfortable enough to want people to read my work again. I felt validated, even if only temporarily. By then, the piece had been published on prisonwriters.com, and now all I had to do was wait. Someone would recognize my greatness, I thought to myself. And someone did—just not in the way I’d imagined it.

The friend who I’d written the riot piece for signed me up to join a group from Pioneer Playhouse, a local theater bringing the arts to prison. I was less than thrilled. Though I had zero interest in acting or writing plays, the prison offered nothing else.

I took the risk and joined the Voices Inside program.

“Write about what you know,” said the instructor. “Write from the gut.”

“I’m not writing about prison. Nobody gives a damn about prison,” I replied.

As it turned out, though my prison riot piece had been published, aside from pats on the back from a few of my fellow inmates and a small fifteen-dollar payment for the article, no one else said a thing about it. I’d bled on the page, and no one seemed to care, or even notice. The other twenty inmates of the very first Voices Inside class all agreed—no one wanted to write about the hell we all woke up to every morning. Instead, we showed up with our knockoffs of popular sitcoms, SNL skits, and all too many thinly veiled retellings of Romeo and Juliet.

The work was uninspired. The plays we would go on to write and perform in class all suffered greatly for our avoidance. With excuses of writer’s block, procrastination, and sheer refusal, we were lying to ourselves.

In attempting to tell stories—any stories—to avoid the topic of prison, we weren’t being true to our stories. I decided to set down the heavy sack of shame that I’d lugged around everywhere since my conviction. I wrote a new play in which I spoke of my own incarceration, not as something that had taken my life from me, but as something that had allowed me the time, separation, freedom to examine “my life.”

I wasn’t dead. None of us were. And though we’d all been stripped away from our families, our comforts, our routines and were confined to this “new normal,” our lives had not come to an end.

My first prison play involved the very people I’d spend the next twenty-five years locked away from: my children. With myself as the protagonist, I used my children’s hypothetical questions, blame, and confusion over my absence as the antagonist to reveal every truth I’d once steered clear of. Ultimately, guilt and innocence aside, it was my own poor choices that had put me in a prison of my own making.

I staged the play in the crowded classroom we used each week. Desks were moved aside to make an improvised auditorium with a few rows of plastic chairs. The play took place in the span of a visit with my now-grown children—strangers to me, with the names and once-familiar faces of the young people they’d been fifteen years before.

I wrote them as tragic characters who’d missed out on the father who had never put down roots, never truly loved their mother, never even attempted to be the man his children needed him to be. In the play, my daughter, the eldest, arrived on the scene to confront me with her anger. How could I ever leave her alone with two small brothers and a drug addict for a mother? Had I been the one to put the pipe to her mother’s lips, the needle in her veins? Did I know about the overdoses? All the strange men who’d found their way into my daughter’s bedroom in the middle of the night? Did I know all of the pain my being incarcerated had caused? Was I happy? Did I know all of the terrible things my children had grown up hearing about me? Did I know?

The man playing my daughter slapped me in the face with her last question before rushing offstage in tears. A voice from the audience called out: “Fucking go after her, man!” But the play ended with my character being restrained by an officer’s single hand.

Afterwards, I sat devastated and exposed. But as I glanced around the room, everyone’s resentment toward the man playing the officer was clear. I could feel them stewing on the same question. How do we begin to comfort the loved ones our decisions have taken us away from?

“That child needed her father,” said the man beside me. “I hate prison,” he said, placing his own comforting hand on my shoulder. “That really happens.”

Eleven years later, I still hear my fellow prisoners complain of having to share the details with those in their lives who know nothing about the realities of prison. No one wants to relive the grief of their incarceration. Ripping off scabs is painful. Their reticence is valid. I am patient. They have to find the courage on their own terms, within their own voices.

Why write about prison? Every story needs hope.

In our stories, we may have started out the murderers, rapists, thieves, and addicts, the monsters, the bad guys, the adversaries, the villains, the defendants, but prison does not have to be the end of our tale. If we don’t write our own endings, we hand our pens over to the legislators, owners of privatized prisons, and propagators of the lies behind mass incarceration.

I write about prison because there are more people in prisons in America than populate some small countries.

Because my experiences are the experiences of countless others. I write because there is truth in our stories that cannot, must not, be denied: the separation from our families, the toll on our loved ones, all the wasted time, the warehousing of our bodies, and our fruitless efforts to prevail against a flawed reality of incarceration.

That is the story I dare everyone to acknowledge. And only people behind bars can tell it as it truly is.

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a day in the life of a prisoner

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A Day In The Life Of A

Ever wondered what it’s like to be a prisoner? He may have done something wrong to end up there, but ever wondered how someone’s life is, once they get put behind the bars?

I opened my eyes and a yellow light on the ceiling greeted me with a bright stare. I rolled myself out of the bed with a slight groan and my back started complaining by cracking in different places like firecrackers.

I can see the sun shining outside my cell but no warmth is being given in. The only warmth I get is from my 2cm sheet of "blanket". The air-conditioner in front of me just drones on and on and on, slicing the early morning silence. Overall, my room isn’t the best place on earth, but I don’t have a choice but to rot in it.

My bladder was going out of control so I went across the room to my own private buzzer. Like a doorbell, when pressed, a speaker on the ceiling becomes an intercom and expressing your needs is as easy as talking to a brick wall.

After a few seconds, a scratchy voice breaks the silence.

Join now!

"What?"

"I need to go to the bathroom."

After about a minute, the door swung open and I hurried down the hallway. Afterwards I walked back into my "bedroom" and waited on my bed, with thoughts of freedom on my mind, for the clang of the keys and the daily morning directions.

"Get up, get up, sweep and mop your rooms and brush your teeth. Make your beds. Get up, get up……"

This is a preview of the whole essay

Throwing my towel around my neck, I went to the foul toothbrushes and walked into the bathroom. Four sinks, bolted to the wall, provide about seven toothbrushes and water for our pearly whites. Once I finished, I wiped my mouth and threw it into the bin for the dirty laundry and grabbed a broom and trudged back into my room, with envious thoughts of freedom sliding down, inside my skull.

Once I swept the entire room, I waited for the same rattle of keys that always gets my stomach growling. Time for breakfast.

When the unfriendly staff unlocks the door, the beauty of temporary freedom puts a smile on my face. We walk in single file, with boys on one side and girls on the other. After they’ve checked us up, we put our hands behind a backs and walk towards the dining hall to eat breakfast, which consists of muesli and lukewarm water.

 Breakfast ends and we head to the playground for free play. Free play is the time where the prisoners are allowed to do whatever they like and play whichever sport pleases them. As a prisoner, all I can do is enjoy it to the best I can. The fresh air is soothing yet disturbing at the same time. As usual, I just sit by myself and reminisce on old times and past events. However, when my imagination takes me back in time, my reality doesn’t change. The harsh reality of being in prison.

We come to the Lunch Quarters and wait for our lunch to arrive. We change out of our trainers and back into our sandals and as a privilege, we are giving deodorant to pump on ourselves. After playing and sweating, everyone’s hormones are high and skin is glistening.

Lunch is here. Today’s menu consists of a hard cheese sandwich and a desert of crackers, with butter as hard as a rock. We usually go through four jugs of lukewarm water. Everybody here thinks that the lunch meal is by far the best meal of the day, but compared to the food in the outside world, it’s just plain repulsive.

After lunch, we go to daily lessons. The lessons are never constant. They’re always changing, but most of my life is going to go down the drain here, so I don’t really bother listening to the so-called teachers much.

After school is done, we go back to our rooms and just soak in the solitude. That’s all us prisoners can do. Most people think about their dreams and ambitions when they are in solitude. My life has become so feeble, I can’t even do that. When you’re a prisoner, all your dreams and wishes fly out the window as soon as you step into the 4-by-4 cell.

We come out for dinner and then go back into our cells. I know the details are very limited but after all the working, sweating and mopping, the rest is just a blur of dullness that just comes and goes.

Since I have been here, my capability to deal with certain situations has increased. I choose to block out all voices, and I am almost always dissociated. This faculty is a break from the world. A place where I don’t have to worry about when I’m going to wake up, what I’m going to eat, where I’m going to sleep…..etc. Everything is planned out for me. It’s actually like a hotel for me with room and board. When people receive a sentence, they associate it as being the worst time of their life. Nevertheless, this prison has given me a lot of time to think about my life, my mistakes and what I need to do in life to be a better person. Afterall, you only have one life and no second chances.

A day in the life of a prisoner isn’t always dreary but being connected to the outside world only by the 4 o’ clock news is quite dismal.

Although being locked up here isn’t the best thing in the world, its not all that bad. Prisoners get all the attention they need, even if they don’t want it.

I have grown quite attached to this institution. When I had my freedom, I was unsure about a lot of things, like if I’ll be able to get food and a bed. Here I get both. If you take advantage of prison, believe me, you will go far.

Well, that’s enough of me talking. What you have just read is the utmost and bitter truth.

a day in the life of a prisoner

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  • Subject English

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a day in the life of a prisoner essay

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A Day in the Life of a Prisoner

I wake up at 4:55 AM each and every morning. Why? Well, in part, because I can, because I have the freedom to choose at what time I’m going to start my day. This is not true of every day mind you, as many things can change an individual’s schedule or routine. That said, I get up that early, again in part, because when my door most often unlocks, at about 5:15 AM, I don’t want to be in the cell any more where I’ve been for the last number of hours.

I most often choose to eat plain oatmeal with peanut butter, (unless it’s Sunday when the chow hall typically serves eggs, potatoes and toast) because in part I don’t want to experience anymore of the chow hall that I reasonably have to, and because I can afford to eat oatmeal (at $1.00 per pound) and peanut butter (at $2.15 per 16 oz. container) for breakfast.

Work starts at 6:00 AM and I count myself as extremely fortunate to have what we call an industries job. This is an 8-hour a day, 5-days a week, job, in the penitentiary’s industrial laundry. We process linen from the surrounding hospitals, colleges, institutions, etc. Between 1 million and 1 and a half million pounds per month of linen gets processed through our facility. I work in the maintenance department, which is responsible for keeping the equipment running smoothly, maintaining operation of the machinery, scheduling down time for repairs, etc. This job also pays exceedingly well (comparably speaking) as instead of the average monthly income of around $45.00 I earn roughly $150.00 monthly. This has allowed me to maintain regular contact with family through phone calls at 0.16 per minute ($4.80 for a 30-minute phone call) purchase some items to make life more livable through supplementing the food provided from the chow hall with items from canteen / commissary, as well as pay off my restitution and court fees over the last 17-years of roughly $15,000.00 so that should I one day regain an opportunity to live in the community, I’ll be able to start that life without monetary debt.

Typically, around noon I’ll have lunch, which most often gets eaten in that place I’d rather not frequent, the chow hall. Our menu rotates every 3-months (by seasons) with few exceptions, and while that isn’t horrible for a couple of years, when you start passing decades by, it gets redundant and the desire to consume food outside of what gets offered day in and day out grows. I’ve come to think of what I eat as simply fuel.

Between 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock I’m off work and might try to get outside for some sunshine if I’m lucky enough, maybe some exercise, jog around the track or just walk some laps with someone who I need to catch up with for however long. Otherwise it’s reading, studying for work, educational purposes, etc.

Dinner is around 5 PM, that same chow hall that I’d most often rather not go to, however I don’t want to suggest that the food is so bad that we can’t eat it because that’s not the case, many here are well overweight, it’s simply the choices those individuals choose to make in how and what they consume, what level of activity they participate in, whether due to their abilities or basic drive, and what medical conditions may exist in their lives.

During the evening hours I try to write letters, read, call family and friends, maybe attend a function or fundraiser if I’m fortunate enough be involved in something of that nature, educational opportunities, youth outreach programs, etc. For many however, it’s nothing more than watching TV or staring at a blank wall. Again, I’m fortunate, both in my personal agency and my outlook on life.

When I’m asked about “what prison is like” I offer that it is an extremely lonely place, where every moment of every day is dictated for you, and where there’s tremendous opportunities for self-reflection. In the movies, on TV, and through media coverage, you see individuals that get swept up into the justice system and there’s this emphasis on the crime, the trial, entry into prison…then there’s a few scenes of portrayed prison, walking the yard with the tough guys, pumping iron, watching your back in the shower room, etc. and lastly this great experience of being released from prison, back to spending time with family and friends, BBQ’s in the summer-time, and so on and so forth. All very “event orientated” without the day-to-day experiences put on display. In part that’s because you can’t show the day-to-day loneliness, the feelings of exclusion, the feelings of shame and cowardice that accompany an individual’s incarceration. The realization that we’ve not only victimized our actual victims through whatever offense(s) we’ve committed, but we’ve additionally victimized our own families, the community, society as a whole, our friends and loved ones, everyone in fact that we come in contact with. The courts, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, juries, corrections officers, police, detective… and the list goes on and on!

So what do I hope to get across here? For starters, we as prisoners are human beings, individuals who have failed society for whatever reasons and though no excuse relieves us from our poor life decisions, without hope and help to be better people, without redemption, society is all but lost in its entirety through our bad behaviors. In a discussion group with college students not long ago, after describing some of the opportunities available here in the penitentiary in which I reside, one student asked me if we as prisoners deserved such opportunities. I paused before answering that society deserves us to have such opportunities, because if we do not come out of prison with more skills and a more productive mindset then we came in with, we are destined to once again fail society.

This is a day in the life of a prisoner… one who considers himself extremely fortunate in countless ways and for just as many reasons.

Cross-posted at Public Criminology and Rise Up . 

Trevor is the current President of the Lifers Unlimited Club and a leader of  RISE UP! (Reaching Inside to See Everyone’s Unlimited Potential), a youth empowerment program at the Oregon State Penitentiary. To see more writing/advice from the men in RISE UP!, please check out the program’s blog at www.riseuposp.com and feel free to comment there.  They would love to hear from you.

Mom — July 8, 2015

What a wonderful young man you have become Trevor. I am so very proud of you.

Bill R — July 9, 2015

A well-considered and thoughtful post, thanks. I hope you return as a productive citizen.

John George — July 10, 2015

One of Socio Images best posts. Forces one to think about how you actually spend your time.

Here's a man who truly suffers a lack of "privilege." Here's a man who has little hope that his hard work and playing by the rules will provide him with significant material rewards in the way that most calculate such things. And yet, he chooses accept responsibility for his actions, live a life of hope and thankfulness, and actively seeks to enrich himself and the things with which he is connected. And he is succeeding.

This man must have done awful things, and yet he is an inspiration. Thank God for free will.

Vanessa Sosa — July 11, 2015

Does it look like I give a shit? Prison is supposed to suck, do the crime do the time. Why is it so hard to behave, work hard and keep your nose clean? My grandparents managed, what's your excuse?

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a day in the life of a prisoner essay

Day in the Life of a Prisoner

Take some time to reflect on these pieces. Did anything surprise you about “daily” prison life?

“Ripping-off Kafka” was inspired by Jackson State Prison. Writer J.S. Copeman describes his experience in the prison: “…suddenly I remembered all the cockroaches I’d lived with during my stay behind the Wall at Jackson. A wretched place on so many levels. From the orange water, the predatory homosexuals, the sociopaths, the deranged and drug addicted prisoners overdoing it every other week in there. Stabbings and suicides (1995 being a banner-year for that) were literally daily events at SMI (a.k.a. “Central Complex”). Furthermore, with the poor air quality, there’s an incinerator described in the piece that fits as a great metaphor, don’t you think?”What do you make of Ellis. Jr’s “Diary of a Dead Man (Excerpts)?” What about “Orwell’s Nightmare?” In what ways does the carceral state [*probs should include definition*] reflect the Big Brother government in Orwell’s 1984 ?

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What Do Prisoners Do All Day? A Look at the Daily Life of Inmates

Prison life often conjures images of monotonous days filled with boredom and confinement. But the daily routines and activities of prisoners can vary greatly depending on the type of facility, security levels, and privileges earned. Getting a glimpse into what prisoners do day-to-day can provide insight into how incarceration impacts individuals.

Typical Daily Schedule and Routines

While each facility has its own policies, most follow a strict schedule to maintain order and security. A typical day may look like:

  • 5-6 AM – Wake up call and breakfast. Most prisoners are required to make their beds and tidy their living space before heading to the cafeteria.
  • 7-8 AM – Morning count. Correctional officers conduct an inmate count to ensure no one is missing or has escaped.
  • 9 AM – Work assignments, vocational classes, or medical visits. Many prisons have jobs like laundry, landscaping, janitorial work, and food service that inmates are required to do. Those with skills take vocational classes.
  • 12 PM – Lunch time. Prisoners get a break for lunch before resuming their work or activities.
  • 1 PM – Recreational time. Facilities usually allow 1-2 hours for exercise, sports, or leisure like watching TV or reading. Many have dedicated yards, gyms, or libraries.
  • 3 PM – Additional work or education programs. Some prisons offer GED or college courses for inmates seeking to advance their education.
  • 5 PM – Dinner. The last meal of the day in the cafeteria.
  • 6 PM – Free time. Inmates can socialize, shower, make phone calls, and unwind from the day. Certain facilities allow visitations during the evenings.
  • 9-10 PM – Final count and lockdown. Prisoners must return to their cells for the overnight inmate count before lights out.

Strict adherence to the schedule allows correctional facilities to maintain control over the inmate population. While monotonous, the structured routine provides prisoners with purpose through work, learning, and rehabilitation programs.

Common Inmate Activities and Privileges

Beyond the required daily tasks, inmates have time each day to engage in sanctioned activities or enjoy privileges they’ve earned. Here are some of the most common ways prisoners can pass time:

Work Assignments

Work eligible inmates are required to maintain jobs within the prison facility such as:

  • Kitchen and cafeteria duties like food prep and cleaning
  • Janitorial and maintenance like cleaning common areas and doing repairs
  • Landscaping and groundskeeping of the prison yards and gardens
  • Laundry washing of inmate uniforms and facility linens
  • Clerical work like mail sorting and office assistance

Inmates typically work 6-8 hours a day on their assigned jobs. This gives them productive tasks to accomplish and skills to build.

Education and Vocational Training

Furthering their education is one of the most valuable activities for inmates. Prisons across the country are increasingly offering:

  • Academic classes  – Many prisons have classrooms and teachers to help inmates earn their GED or high school diploma. Inmates who dropped out of school can advance their education.
  • College courses  – Some facilities allow inmates to take college-level courses or even earn associate or bachelor’s degrees. This allows them to work towards degrees for after release.
  • Vocational training  – Prisons provide useful job skills through vocational programs in trades like automotive mechanics, construction, plumbing, welding, and computer coding.

Education programs give inmates positive goals to work towards during incarceration and critical skills that lower recidivism rates.

Exercise and Recreation

Most prisons allow 1-2 hours per day for exercise and leisure activities:

  • Yard time  – Inmates can get fresh air and walk, jog, or play sports like basketball, volleyball or handball in designated secure yards.
  • Gyms  – Many prisons have workout facilities for weightlifting, cardio equipment, and exercise classes. Being active relieves stress.
  • Games  – Boredom is common in prison. Inmates often play cards, chess, checkers, and board games with each other.
  • Reading  – Facilities have libraries where prisoners can read books, magazines, newspapers to pass time.
  • Television  – Watching TV in the common rooms is a popular downtime activity on weeknights and weekends.

Recreational activities provide physical and mental breaks from the boredom of confinement.

Socializing and Hobbies

Daily social interactions and personal hobbies help inmates maintain mental health:

  • Socializing  – Meals, yards, and rec rooms allow prisoners to talk and build friendships. Some write letters to pen pals outside prison.
  • Religious services  – Attending religious gatherings or Bible study provides spiritual fulfillment.
  • Arts and music  – Some prisons offer music or art classes. Inmates write songs, poetry, make crafts, or draw.
  • Crocheting and knitting  – Yarn crafts like making blankets are popular prison pastimes that give a sense of purpose.

Meaningful social connections make time pass easier and benefit rehabilitation.

Visitation and Communication

Maintaining ties with family and friends outside prison is extremely impactful:

  • Visitation  – Prisons allow visitation sessions a few days per week for a couple hours. Inmates can visit with loved ones in person.
  • Phone calls  – Most facilities allow 5-15 minute phone calls 1-2 times a day to approved numbers. This allows inmates to call family/friends.
  • Video visits  – Some systems let prisoners have virtual video call visits remotely with visitors through webcam technology.
  • Mail  – Inmates can receive and write physical letters to stay in touch with outside contacts.

Staying connected to support systems lowers rates of recidivism after release.

Typical Daily Activities for Different Inmate Populations

Daily life inside prison can vary across facilities and security levels. The routines of specific inmate populations have some key differences.

Female Prisoners

Women inmates share similar schedules but have some unique activities:

  • Childcare  – Many women’s prisons have programs for mothers to spend time with and bond with their children. This includes supervised play rooms.
  • Pregnancy care  – Pregnant inmates get access to prenatal medical visits and motherhood classes to prepare.
  • Domestic activities  – Some women learn skills like sewing, cooking, and housekeeping to aid reentry after prison.
  • Rehabilitation  – Facilities target counseling, addiction treatment, and trauma programs at issues facing incarcerated women.

Accommodating women’s needs, especially motherhood, is an essential part of their rehabilitation.

Youth Inmates

Juveniles in detention centers have tailored programs:

  • Classroom schooling  – Licensed teachers conduct middle or high school classes for incarcerated youth to keep up with studies.
  • Trade skills  – Auto mechanics, woodworking, and cooking classes teach career skills.
  • Counseling  – Individual and group counseling aim to correct behavior problems and influences that contributed to crimes.
  • Recreation  – Detention centers emphasize exercise and sports to engage energy and decrease behavioral incidents.
  • Life skills  – Programs teach youth important abilities like managing money, cooking, and job readiness.

The focus for youth is education, behavior management, and habilitation.

Maximum Security

Inmates classified as high risk for violence or escape have tighter restrictions:

  • Regimented routine  – Tight schedules with frequent inmate counts and close supervision by guards.
  • Single cells  – Less time socializing; confined alone instead of sharing cells.
  • Limited mobility  – Restricted program access and privileges. Handcuffed with escorts when moving about.
  • Work duties  – Mainly individual janitorial and groundskeeping rather than vocational training.
  • Extra searches  – More thorough searches of prisoner quarters and possessions.
  • Heavy monitoring  – Constant video surveillance and guards observing all activities.

Safety takes priority over programming and privileges at maximum security levels.

While differences exist across populations, all inmates experience highly structured routines in the unique culture and environment of incarceration.

Sample Table of Prisoners’ Crimes and Sentences

Life inside prison is highly regimented and monotonous, yet inmates participate in a variety of work, educational, wellness, social, and personal development activities each day. Prison routines aim to modify behavior while providing rehabilitation programs that prepare individuals for reentry. While prisons could do more to foster healthy environments, understanding what prisoners do day-to-day provides a more complete picture of the inmate experience as well as the possibilities for positive change moving forward.

Related posts:

  • What is the Bureau of Prisons?
  • Where is Folsom Prison?
  • Are Prisons Obsolete?
  • How Many People Are in Prison in the US?

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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