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Former Inmates Shared Secrets About What Being In Prison Is Really Like, And It's Not What You Might Think

"For the most part, it's nothing like what you see in TV and movies."

A while back, Reddit user u/jojuinc90 asked former prisoners, "What is something nobody tells you about being incarcerated that you had to learn on your own?" They opened up about their experiences and what it's really like to be incarcerated.

An inmate stands behind prison bars, gripping them
Halfdark / Getty Images / fStop

Here are the eye-opening results:

1. "Your word is everything. Breaking your word puts you roughly on par with a sex offender. You give your word on something, it needs to be gospel. Someone gives you theirs, assume it is too β€” and be ready to go if it isn't."

β€”u/Cerinthus

2. "Everything is for sale, or at least has a market value. Don't do anything for free unless it's for someone you know."

β€”u/Cerinthus

3. "Sustained eye contact means you're starting shit. Someone makes it with you, assume they're sizing you up."

A close-up of someone staring intensely
Manuel Breva Colmeiro / Getty Images

β€”u/Cerinthus

4. "Current prisoner here in the Philippines. Anything can be smuggled in if you pay the right guards β€” even sex workers. Money is power."

"You can get away with almost anything if you have enough money."

β€”u/TotallyDepraved

5. "There are people to avoid, and if you have a decent celly (cellmate), they'll point them out, somewhat like Shawshank."

"I was in medium security for six months on credit card fraud, so I wasn't near any expected dangerous people anyway, but there were still the territorial guys you were just better off avoiding."

β€”u/ripplecutbuddha2

6. "Keep to yourself, and don't stand out in any way. This also means don't be the 'funny' guy who makes everyone laugh. You want to be as invisible as possible, really."

"For the most part, it's nothing like what you see in TV and movies. Don't start anything, but be willing and able to defend yourself if need be."

β€”[deleted user]

7. "People gamble a lot. Sometimes you will enter a unit, and people gamble on everything. You wanna play chess? You need to gamble to play. Dominoes? Gamble to play. Basketball? Gamble."

Domino pieces scattered on a table
Serkan Ismail / Getty Images / EyeEm

"I remember we watched The Bachelor, and we all had money on which woman the guy would kick off the show. Meanwhile, the guard is confused about why 30 people are all watching The BachelorΒ rose ceremony."

β€”u/61pm61

8. "Not being able to leave is incredibly frustrating and nearly impossible to put out of your mind. The entire time, part of your mind is raging at your captivity."

β€”[deleted user]

9. "The guards just sat and watched YouTube all day and night. Seems like a dream job if you've got no soul."

β€”u/DrMeowbutuSeseSeko

"Had an uncle who was a guard. Said it was the most soul-destroying job he'd ever had. He also said that most of the time, he got along better with the prisoners than with the other guards."

β€”u/foul_ol_ron

10. "I was a female inmate in a state prison. Anyway, I know there's a huge difference between men's and women's jails, and a huge difference between jail and prison. But one thing that no one tells you is that it's going to be so boring. So endlessly boring."

A female inmate with handcuffs
Nichcha Sombutpanich / Getty Images / EyeEm

"For women's and state prison, there are a lot of programs and jobs available to fill your time, but there's always a wait β€” and you have to be in for a certain amount of time before you qualify for a lot of things. While I didn't enjoy my stay there, I always ended up being able to make the most of it and have a good time."

β€”u/chchchchia86

11. "Not a longtimer here, but show everyone respect. If you bump into someone, it's critical to say, 'I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention.'"

"You never shake hands, you fist-bump. You can't be nice to the guards β€” just polite. There are a LOT more illiterate people than I ever thought possible."

β€”u/drank-too-much

12. "A good book is worth a lot."

β€”u/J_Cant_Box

13. "For me, the loss of everything outside of my body was the biggest shock. You don't have anything they don't want you to have when you first go in, so in a way, it's like being born into a new world, but fully aware."

β€”u/ripplecutbuddha2

14. "Wear slippers in the shower, and shower every day. Not doing one of those gets you beat up here in California."

A shower head turned on, spraying water
Maciej Toporowicz / NYC / Getty Images

β€”u/hb_simon

15. "Summer vacations. A friend of mine was recently locked up during summer months. Because guards take vacation the same time as everyone else, three days a week were spent on lockdown β€” meaning that one to two hours of outside time didn't apply because of staff shortage."

"He's out now, and very thankful for his freedom."

β€”u/FattyDD

16. "A lot of people were uneducated. No idea about geography, history, science, or anything. This led to me being a tutor in there for people taking the GED."

β€”u/61pm61

17. "It's WAY louder than you think it would be. There are always people who never seem to sleep."

A simple bed in an empty cell
Benjamin Rondel / Getty Images

18. "No one tells you how hungry you're gonna be. The food sucks β€” and not just sucks; it's absolutely not fit for human consumption. But you get hungry enough to eat it. They only serve 1,200 calories a day in women's prison (at least mine did)."

β€”u/chchchchia86

19. "A friend of mine did some time. He had internet and PlayStation, and a chef made breakfast and dinner every day. They had to make lunch themselves with access to a full complimentary kitchen. Knives, cutlery, and so on were freely available."

"They often went outside to shop groceries, and some even went to work. Basically, the only thing was to stay away from the sex offenders. This was a medium-security correctional facility in Norway."

β€”u/Sensur10

20. "There is a store there, and you can get anything you want. The way a store works is that one or two people in the unit have every possible commissary item you can get."

An opened bag of potato chips
Aleksandr Zubkov / Getty Images

"You want a bag of sour cream potato chips? He'll give it to you, and next week, you owe two bags. Or you get two ramen soups and owe him three next week. I will never forget when Hurricane Sandy hit, and the unit ran out of coffee. People couldn't function and stopped working out, and coffee throughout the jail was going for super-high prices."

β€”u/61pm61

And finally...

21. "Try not to talk about your time or open up about how you are feeling about it. There's always somebody who is going to do way more time than you and doesn't want to hear it."

"Let's say you're fighting a case, and that case has you doing 16 months. I understand that a lot of people would be stressed about it β€” I get it; jail sucks. That being said, try to keep that to yourself unless somebody you are cool with asks."

β€”u/hb_simon

Any of these surprise you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.