Im a 44 yr old convict that has spent approx 20 of my years in jail or prison. I have embraced institutional life and became so accustom to it that at times I truly feel at home. Entire seasons have passed without a single thought of the free world or the life I could’ve had. I’ve literally went months at a time without a single moment outside, for any reason. Entire summers have passed in which I never felt the summer suns heated rays. I’ve watched the snow and ice accumulate outside my cell window without needing to wear anything more than my boxer shorts and a t-shirt. It’s a very unique set of circumstances for any human to find themselves in, in which their entire existence is lived without any need to adjust for the years seasons. The space station, Navy submarine personnel, and the institutionalized (medically or criminally) are the only people I can think of that can exist without the slightest concern about the weather conditions outside.
Within these walls I sleep, eat and bathe. All my social activities, library, and classes are under this same roof. Even the multi denominational chapel and the gym are accessible w/out ever stepping out of doors. When I’m lucky enough to share time with my loved one such as biological family or free world friends it is mandatory that they travel here and spend time with me inside this indoor world that has been created for me and those like me. (Yes, there is opportunities To go outside and by Federal law my keepers are required to make sure I’m afforded minimal opportunities for such)
And a times I’ve had prison assignments that required me to labor long hours out doors both during the summer heat and freezing winters. I’m not claiming to have been kept indoors against my will for long periods of time, just that after years of forced manual labor in the fields and or limited hours of recreational time confined in a exterior cage type environment with nothing to do except wish you could get beyond the Fences and wires that contain you one finds themself better off emotionally by avoiding the world outside of the institutional world that is available to them.
Before I even knew it I had spent so much time inside and in the climate controlled environment provided by central heat and air units in which a comfortable 70° something degree temperature is a constant, no matter the time of day nor the time of year that whenever I did venture outside I was either too hot or to cold. Without a river to wade into or a swimming pool to swim in the summer heat seemed unbearably hot and unenjoyable, likewise as winter set in and I sought a breath of fresh air I found my hands and feet uncontrollably cold and numb or my inner ear aching due to the exposure of the cold. Eventually it became apparent to me that going outside just for the sake of being outside was no longer enjoyable or satisfying.
What was once an almost life sustaining necessity had become just the opposite. Prior to incarceration I dont think that I’d ever went more than 12 hrs at a time without spending some time outside.
The dread and gloom associated with rainy days as a child because they kept me inside were now absolutely no different than the sunniest of days because somewhere along the way the once sacred outdoors had become only a inconvenience requiring that I alter my daily dressing routine (which otherwise never changed or needed to be modified) and or a confrontation with the world beyond the confines of the institution I live in.
I NO LONGER DO TIME. I SIMPLY LIVE LIFE IN A SECLUDED ENVIRONMENT. AFTER SO LONG AND TO AVOID DEPRESSION OR CONSTANT HEARTACHES I STOPPED MISSING WHAT I COULD NO LONGER HAVE, AND STOPPING LONGING FOR THINGS THAT WERE NO LONGER AVAILABLE TO ME.
I could only hurt and desire so much before I prevented myself from dwelling in these places. Instead of living in a constant state of unrest and sadness because of all the things I could no longer do and have, I had to instead embrace and enjoy those I could.
I morphed from a civilian stuck inside a prison that was getting by until my next visit or parole date, into a convict that learned all things prison. Exercise, tattoos, studying criminal and civil law, repairing electronics and learning every trick available to live as comfortably as humanly possible. Completly shutting out the outside world and all the traditions that are irrelevant inside these walls. One day at a time I first learned then began to enjoy each and every aspect of my daily routine until eventually I became so involved in this life and the rythm of it that very, very rarely does the free world or its events occupy more than a passing thought in my mind.
My incarcerated brethren became my family. Aside from my mom and dad the only people I write or talk to outside of here either recently left or are helping to facilitate my needs while Im here.
Instead of Crown Royal I drink bootleg alcohol homemade with fruit juice and sugar. Instead of pot and Xanax I smoke K-2 and eat pills from the infirmary that we’ve found will provide enjoyable highs. All narcotics that can be smuggled in, generally are. Hell, I considered myself a career drug addict before ever coming to prison, yet since my incarceration I’ve been introduced to PCP/SHERM, K-2, heroin and DM.
My first ever Facebook account has been created for me and utilized by me since I came to prison. I’ve learned to charge cell phones w/ AA batteries. I’ve learned to start a fire with a AA battery. I’ve learned to sew with homemade sewing needles and how to make homemade tattoo ink and equipment needed to sling ink. I can pass items from one cell to another without either person having any access beyond our cell walls. I’ve learned to brew coffee with nothing more than water, old t-shirt pieces and a candle made from hair grease or carefully wrapped toilet paper. Books become homemade exercise weights when bundled together in a pillow case or laundry bag, they make wonderful seats when stacked properly in the T.V. area. After reading them they can be dismantled so that the inner binding can be used as hot glue to make other repairs. A small stack of magazines is only a couple boot strings away from becoming body armor that will protect you from almost any sharpened instrument that comes your way. I could go on for days about all the uses I’ve been taught (or discovered) that can come from what most would consider worthless trash. Everything has hidden uses when your in prison. And all knowledge has the potential to be valuable.
Violence and all types of sexual perversion are prevalent but also completly avoidable to those determined to avoid them. Every man will find himself face to face with the occasional aggression. Fist fights are as common in prison as parking meters are to city folk. They can be avoided but more likely than not eventually you’ll find yourself in front of one. Imagine Jr. high school entwined with a crowded bar and you’ve just about got the proper environment. So many different races, types and organizations of people rarely end up so closely quartered and forced to interact daily. Add to that the fact that most in here are dysfunctional on some level or another and its easy to see why barbaric behaviors and uncivilized practices pass as standard. However, violence beyond knuckle to knuckle fist fights and minor skirmishes rarely happens without warning. Usually there is a series of incidents or flare-ups prior to an attack involving a weapon or a gang fight. There is unspoken standards that everyone understands and abides by when violence is to be used. So that we don’t have to live in a constant atmosphere of unpredictability and mayhem where one could be attacked without any warning for a perceived wrong that you were not even aware of we’ve established an environment that honors a man to man conflict in which issues are made known and if no resolution can be reached than a fight usually follows in an area that’s hidden from view of our over seers and win, lose or draw respect is established. Because none of us want to constantly look over our shoulder we promote a style of problem resolution in which the offended faces whoever hes angry with and is given an opportunity to challenge that person to a one on one fight. Its also understood that if you’re challenged to a one on one you must fight. Usually after a few minutes of good ole’ fashioned fist fight in which both parties were prepared and aware of why it’s happening everyone can go back to living among each other without long term resentment. Its when one person feels like they were assaulted without any warning or not given the chance to fight back that things escalate until one of them is hospitalized or murdered. Anyone that ignores the established code of conduct and doesn’t try to fight face to face prior to stabbing someone or smashing someones face in with a pipe, that person becomes someone that makes everyone else uncomfortable because you never know if you may have inadvertanly offended him and therefore may be caught off guard and attacked while your trying to relax without being given a chance to correct your wrong or defend your position and that unacceptable. Unpredictable guys dont stick around very long. The quickest way for one to find himself at odds with everyone else is to make other uneasy.
Prison is prison and it’s worst aspect is loneliness. As family moves on and life passes the loneliness only gets deeper.
A. Cole [illegible]
If you are working on an APWA-related project, please let us know how you plan to utilize the Archive. We hope to share information about your work with our readers and, whenever possible, with relevant APWA authors.
APWA is an open access archive. We encourage use of the writings for research, course planning, and projects engaged in examination of the criminal legal system. Reproduction of essays in their entirety infringes on author copyright without their explicit consent from the writers. Please contact us if you plan to reproduce entire essays; we will do our best to put you in contact with the authors for consent, and their compensation for any project that is profit making.