Former Inmates Are Sharing Their Secrets And Stories That Would Surprise Non-Incarcerated People, And It's Incredibly Eye-Opening
"If you take every bully from every class and put them all inside a camp, that's what prison feels like."
Recently, Reddit user u/Max_Fenig posed this question to the r/AskReddit community: "Former inmates of Reddit, what are some things about prison that people outside wouldn't understand?" Here are some of the most surprising answers.
1. "Sometimes you miss it once you're out."
"There are some days where I just feel defeated by the daily stresses of life, and I remember being able to wake up every day and not really have to worry about a lot of things. I didn't have rent or utilities to pay. I didn't have to go grocery shopping. I didn't have to do yard work. I didn't have to keep a schedule of places to be and worry about making sure I had enough time to get from place to place or anything. It was a weird kind of freedom while being extremely un-free."
2. "Sex happened a lot, and it was weirdly casual in a fucked up way. It happened between guards and inmates, and inmates and other inmates."
"A lot of girls in my prison had boyfriends or husbands on the outside, but would blow a guard for extra commissary, or finger each other because you were bored standing in line. This seriously happened. 'Gay for the stay' is surprisingly accurate."
"Many of the officers there are consistently inappropriate and have sexual relationships with some of the inmates. I had one in particular ask if he could lick my toes, and a girl I knew had sex with one so he'd sneak her in vodka."
"There are lots of sexual relationships between inmates. They cause a lot of drama, but it's endless entertainment."
3. "Most of the dudes in prison have a hustle of some kind. You have engineers, tattoo artists, cooks, etc. There's a niche for everybody."
"They're trying to make 'money' in prison to survive. Also, the ingenuity of design with some of the things they make — like tattoo guns, for example — is quite impressive."
4. "Good sanitary products were like gold for us. You know the common trope in prison is cigarettes are currency? It was like that with good tampons and pads."
"Someone smuggled in a box of diapers, and she was like a queen for the week because they could be used as makeshift pads. A lot of our menstrual cycles synch up as well, so you could hoard some good stuff and wait for the right week to sell."
5. "Some people’s lives are ruined by going to prison, and in many different ways. We had an 18-year-old girl come in — straight-A student, super smart, and super nice. Very innocent, good girl type. By the time I left about a year later, she was someone’s bitch."
"She was tatted up like crazy and was known for being able to get certain drugs. It was depressing seeing her downward spiral. Prison destroyed this girl, and there are hundreds of stories like this."
6. "Honestly, it's not always so bad. These days, there are so many drug addicts in low-security prisons that they sometimes group them together in the same blocks. I was one of them, and everyone was respectful and friendly."
"When I got there, I was in full opiate withdrawal, and my cell mates gave me food and comfort to help me get through it. This is not always the case, for sure, but I've dealt with some worse people on the outside than when I was locked up."
7. "I remember when my uncle got out after serving a 10-year sentence, we had to explain to the kids that they couldn’t just wake him up like normal because he may wake up violent or scared. They also couldn't scream or take anything from his room."
"He was on a strict schedule even after being released: wake up at 5 a.m., work out, sweep, read, eat, etc. EVERY DAY was the same schedule. He would set new boundaries, which we respected. It was a learning experience for the entire family, and even to this day, his schedule remains the same. It’s actually interesting."
8. "How boring it is. You spend your entire time just waiting. Waiting for court. Waiting for a sentence. Waiting to get out. It’s a level of boredom I never want to experience again."
9. "I used to work with underserved/at-risk youth and went through the equivalent of a 'scared straight' program at a prison so I could learn more about it and determine if it could help deter any of my students from going further down a bad path."
"I saw a lot of fucked-up stuff in just one day, but oddly, the thing that stuck with me the most was walking by a tiny cell that had 14 beds. There was an enormous guy in the cell — he definitely was 6’6"+ — named 'Kongo.' Kongo pointed at a steel toilet in the middle of the cell and goes, 'Fourteen of us share that toilet, and when you shit, you’re shitting in front of everyone. Rap music glorifies thug life, but I’ve never heard a song talk about shitting on a cold toilet in front of an audience.' For some reason, that stuck with me."
10. "Not everyone in there is evil and ruthless all the time. I remember there were a couple of lads in my wing who got taxed, bullied, and just couldn't stand up for themselves. One had all his stuff, including his blanket, taken off him, so a bunch of the hard cases in the wing decided to go after the bullies and gave them an ultimatum: Give him his stuff back and leave him alone, or we'll kick the shit out of you."
11. "When there is violence, it's actually kind of silly."
"I remember a guy punching a member of the kitchen crew because he didn't give him enough slices of bread. Another time, a guy was beaten bloody with a table leg because he was in debt with 'double bubble,' which is a kind of tobacco loansharking. Inmates take stuff like that seriously."
12. "You will be starved of medical attention, whether you're severely withdrawing from drugs or alcohol or have chest pain."
"If you buzz up, most of the time you’ll be told, ‘You’re fine,’ or a guard will look through the door flap eight hours later. You’ve basically got to die to get any attention."
13. "A lot of people in prison are pretty normal — they just have zero impulse control."
"Everyone feels like beating the shit out of a stranger in public sometimes, but some people just don’t have the thing in their brain that tells them not to do it. That’s why it’s idiotic to start shit with people on the street — you never know who is willing to throw their life away in a moment of passion."
14. "When I tell people my story, I feel like they don’t understand that prison (at least for me) wasn’t entirely like how it's portrayed in the media."
"Sure, there a riots, yard fights, people get shanked, and there are scary dudes who look like they want to kill you, but in reality, they just look mean and scary as a way to protect themselves."
15. "You can make 'Chinese food' out of pork rinds, dehydrated rice, hot sauce, instant tea mix, and some other ingredients that I'm forgetting."
"For some odd reason, my mouth is watering just thinking about it because in prison, it was the most delicious thing ever. Now that I’ve been out for three years, I’m positive I would be repulsed if I tried to eat it again."
16. "If you take every bully from every class and put them all inside a camp, that's what prison feels like."
"You have to walk on eggshells as not to offend anyone, and you should never give information if they ask. There are a lot of thoughts going on. But at the same time, I really gained some clarity in there, and when I came out, nothing affected me that much anymore. Every problem seemed small compared to what I was used to."
17. "If you've never been to jail, you wouldn't understand that everyone's sexual needs will be satisfied — with or without privacy."
18. "Some things I learned in prison were to never tell anyone when you're getting a visit or money on your books. Never borrow anything. Never be friendly with anyone holding a badge. Always ask permission to sit on anyone's bed, and NEVER sit where that person would lay their head."
19. "Coming back into society is strange and hard. The boredom, structure, monotony, and social norms are completely gone once you’re back in public. It’s jarring and tough to deal with sometimes."
20. "People on the outside don't realize how important letters are to you when you're incarcerated."
"It's the worst feeling when your people don't answer the phone. Communicating with a loved one in jail makes all the difference in the world."
21. "It feels like time is just passing and you’re not able to do anything about it."
"It's the feeling of being restrained and put away from society as if you’re a rabid animal. I went in for drug charges, so I didn’t do anything that harmed anybody in any way, and that brings such a sense of injustice."
22. "The food and not being able to choose what to eat. That was a freedom I absolutely took for granted."
23. "I caught up on a lot of reading and was exposed to many books I’d never otherwise read outside, and I had a lot of time to really think about what I wanted to do when I got out."
"I'm still on probation now, but my last sentence really fucked me up. Even if it was less than a year, it lit a fire in me because of that feeling that the world was moving on without me."
24. "Prisons are so LOUD. I swear people just always speak at the loudest they can, and some just don't stop."
25. "The number of times you will be told 'No' is staggering. And the worst part is that plenty of times, you'll be right, but blanket policies will just shoot you down."
26. "There's a respect level that's unparalleled with the outside world. If someone steps on your shoes, or vice versa, people apologize. When you interact, you treat each other with mutual respect."
"Theft is also a big one. Both in my cell and on a tier, I never locked my storage locker. I, not once, had anyone attempt to steal anything or rummage through my shit. I was surrounded by thieves, all of whom who didn't steal. There are weird honor codes with theft in prison. If you take something from someone to their face, it's OK. If you sneakily steal something behind their back, you're going to have a rough time."
27. "Wearing shower shoes. It took me years to get used to having my bare feet in a shower again."
28. "Prison is a mindset, and in many ways, you can’t leave that mindset after you’ve left."
"I still have many mental issues or triggering situations just from my inability to leave that mindset, and it’s been almost six years."
29. "The best comparison I can make to serving time in prison is that day-to-day life is similar to soldiers who get sent overseas."
"Obviously not so much in the obvious aspects and freedoms, but in the camaraderie you build with the group of guys you're there with. We ate together, laughed together, went to war together, and we bled together. We were regimented, and we had each other’s backs. The only other time I’ve heard of anyone else speak like that is when people describe what it's like overseas. You create lifelong bonds. So when I hear soldiers telling their stories from overseas, I get it. Clearly we weren’t heroes, but I get it."
30. "One of the first things I noticed from my stay in a women's prison is that as a coping mechanism, some women began to somehow regress mentally and act very childlike. And when I say childlike, I mean like baby-talking."
"I noticed my neighbor doing this when I first arrived, and I definitely thought it was just a weird personality trait she had. Then when I went around and met more people, I saw that so many of them were doing it! They would baby-talk and throw pretend fits and refer to themselves as bad babies? It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen."
31. "Dental care is horrific. Have a toothache? They want to pull it out. Have something seriously wrong with your health and you can’t get out of bed? Too bad."
"If you don’t go to work, you get a 'ticket,' and if you get one of those, you can no longer make phone calls home or order commissary. If you go to medical, they just tell you to drink more water — it’s their one-size-fits-all medical advice."
32. "Many people develop weird nicknames. I can’t tell you how many girls I met who were nicknamed 'Breezy' or 'Flaca.'"
33. "I spent a year and a day in a federal prison camp in Oregon. I went in completely terrified of what my new life would be like, and I left with more friends than I'd ever had in my entire life."
"My days were spent playing softball, reading books, playing pickle ball, and watching movies. I had a solid core group of friends, and we ate every meal together and played board games daily. Within a few weeks of being there, all my stress was gone and found it to be oddly enjoyable. I looked forward to waking up every day and spending time with my friends. I think I laughed more the year I spent in prison than I had in at least 10 years. I'm still friends with a handful of guys I met there, and we see each other often and are all now close with each others' families. Definitely not what I expected going in."
34. "My father worked in prisons for over 25 years. One thing he told me that stuck with me was that inmates would often say how they missed the feeling of their body being submerged in water."
"There are only showers in prisons, and some of these men were locked up for decades. Imagine never feeling that weightless feeling again if you were serving a life sentence."
35. "Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. Keep your head on a swivel so you don't get blindsided, but more importantly is stay out of other people's business."
"You see two guys dealing drugs? Walk away and act like you didn't see shit. See a guy tattooing in his cell? No the fuck you didn't."
36. "There is a disturbing amount of people in US jails with mental health issues, and many are not on meds."
37. "Deaths happen often in prison."
"Suicides, old age, cancer, the occasional murder. You'll never hear about it on the outside."
38. "Drugs, knives, booze, and tons of outside things are smuggled in. You can get almost anything for a price."
39. And lastly: "One of my best friends did six and a half years on a white collar crime. However, he was at a medical facility because of his diabetes, and therefore, he met individuals from all the federal security levels. He said something that I thought was interesting: In prison, he met the worst, most despicable human beings...and the finest human beings he'd ever met."
Answers have been edited for length and/or clarity.