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By Tom Odle
As a person who is in prison and is closing in on 31 years in here, there are a lot of rumors and misconceptions about prison that have circulated in the media throughout the years that need to be addressed, and some misconceptions put to rest once and for all.
To start, you arrive at your designated facility where you are about to do some time and are looking around. You wonder where all the amenities are that people have been complaining about, like tennis courts, swimming pools, and whatever else the public has been told makes it so sweet to be here.
You are herded off to an area where your chains are removed and you are strip searched (in case you found something on the bus that you just had to have and thought you could hide it). Thus begins the onset of the strip searches that will never stop as long as you are in prison. The cold dehumanizing nature of being told to get naked, lift your nuts, lift your dick, bend over and spread ´em, pull your mouth open with your fingers so they can see in your mouth (and hope you don´t get the officer who thinks it is funny to make you lift your genitals and then open your mouth). Once they have seen more of you than you have, you get dressed to go get some bedding.
There is a pile of mattresses – none are new – they are filthy, smelly and stained from who knows what. Whatever your imagination conjures up is probably worse than the actual truth of the stain (or is it?). You have to find one that is the least smelly, less stained and not ripped open, unless you aren’t bothered by sleeping in someone else´s filth. This is, if you are allowed to pick out your mattress, as sometimes there is just one waiting on your bunk when you get there. Then come the sheets and blanket and pillow (if you are lucky). Sometimes the sheets are new, sometimes not – they can be brown, stained and sometimes very thin. Blankets are the same and pillows are like the mattresses – yellow with stains and special stain marks on them that could be who knows what. But this is where you are expected to lay your body and place your head. This, nobody tells you about and thankfully once you have been there a while, you can find a real good mattress or catch a shipment of new ones that come in, but very rarely. If you are fortunate, you can buy your own sheets and pillow and blanket. That will run you about $40, if you are lucky.
Next, you shuffle to clothing, where you are given state issue clothes to wear – of course, rarely anything new or anything that really fits. Don´t complain too much or they will hand you some clothes so damaged that you´ll be charged for them when you come to exchange them (because you will have to exchange them, as you can´t wear them). But once you have been here a while, you can exchange with guys going home as they really don´t hold you up too much when you are going home, or so that is what I’m told.
So, now you have your bedding and clothes, time to find you a cell. Your cell is smaller than most bathrooms and holds two people. Of course you don´t know this person, and if you don´t get along, your time becomes very difficult. Hopefully you don´t get a celly who doesn´t clean up after himself, doesn´t pee all over the toilet and leave it there, or leave dirty dishes everywhere, or a mess every time he does anything. You have to hope he doesn´t feel free to go into your personal property and rummage around or take a few snacks because then you have added problems. Most people on the outside think you can complain to the authorities and they will fix it, but that’s not how things work. First thing is you say nothing to authorities and secondly, if you do, they don´t want to hear about it, and will do nothing, so you´d better know how to address the issue or fight – then the authorities will “fix” the situation by placing you in segregation.
Most facilities hold 1,800 – 2,400 people which are about 500 – 1,000 people more than what they are designed for. When recreation happens, there is nothing to do – no way to blow off steam – so you have a bunch of already-angry people with nothing to do but simmer. They might blow up on their celly for some small thing or on staff because of the look he gave. You never know what could be the trigger.
Last but not least, the most important thing. You have a visit. You haven´t seen your family in a long time and you receive an embrace that lasts more than a few seconds, when the visiting room officer screams in front of the whole room that it is long enough. Now the tone of frustration has been set for your visit, (as if you needed more frustration). Some acts are done to dehumanize you, like the strip searches before and after the visit. You can be strip searched at any given moment during your stay in prison. Shakedown = get naked. Visit = get naked. Transfer = get naked. Suspected of anything = get naked. People in the free world don´t and can´t comprehend this. Imagine the chaos if at any time the free world police could grab random people to strip search like they do here. If your visit hugs you too long you are taken to segregation for sexual misconduct, but the staff can pat you down and grab your genitals, buttocks, chest – whatever – in the name of security.
Do we talk about the food? Or am I a baby because I complain about these things and occasionally go hungry because I can´t digest what is served. I don´t complain too much because I put myself here and have to deal with these situations, but people out there who think things are sweet here and that I am well provided for are wrong.
Everybody wants and needs one of those mattresses, right? Everybody likes living with vermin and bugs crawling on you at night, right? Serving food no animal lover would feed his dog is humane, right?
Just because we make mistakes doesn´t mean we should be dehumanized and regarded as human waste. As the old saying goes: To err is human, to forgive is divine.
But now you are here, welcome to prison. Let´s see if we can find you a better mattress to begin with….
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