January 4th, 2006 06:10 EST
A Day in the Life of an Inmate
The prisoner is not the one who has committed a crime, but rather the one who clings to his crime and lives it over and over. "
As I sit in my cell alone, with the cold damp walls closing in around me, seemingly getting smaller every day, I ask myself - was it worth it? Is this punishment fair? And as I sit here and continue reflecting on these thoughts, the answer hits me like a rock. As I watched the moisture slowly trickle its way down the wall, it was clear, my answer was right in front of me. I realized that fair or not, I must do my time, not let my time do me. "
Recently, I had an opportunity to interview an inmate at the Wakulla Correctional facility located in Florida`s Panhandle and while visiting with him he shared his daily experiences with me. I will call him John.
5 a.m. - Chow time " the lights came on and a voice came crashing over the loud speaker bunks made ". At that point, the room comes alive, beds began to squeak across the floor and a low rumble begins to fill the room as we, the inmates slowly slipped back into the reality that our previous choices in life had placed us in. "
This is how John`s day begins. We have to be dressed, class A, which means, a t-shirt worn under a blue shirt and tucked in, as well as a clean shave, with our fingernails cleaned and trimmed. Then it is a quick rush to get to breakfast on time. Once there, we have only five minutes to finish our meals. A typical breakfast consists of one piece of fried bologna, with grits and water. The food is not like you would find at McDonalds or at your school cafeteria. There is no trading of food allowed, " said John.
6 a.m. " The first group meeting of the day is held on the basketball court. This is where inmates are instructed to line up and march two complete circles around the court. After that they get a five minute smoke break.
However, smoking is not a simple task for inmates, it is an elaborate ritual set up based on status and counter cultures as well as street laws. Just getting a cigarette can sometimes become a challenge. We smoke cigarettes called rips, John said. " Rips are cigarettes rolled by hand usually from Zigzag or Topps brand of tobacco. Tobacco does not come cheap in jail. Marlboros are $5 a pack and beyond the means of most inmates. It is much easier to work off a $1.60 a pack, " he said.
Coffee and cigarettes is the biggest commodity in prison. You`d go nuts without them, "
7 a.m. " It`s time for treatment. As in every rehabilitation program, group therapy is an essential part of the recovery process. In John`s case, treatment consists of a small group of inmates, which is set up as a peer evaluation and disciplinary system based upon write ups which are grievances and accusations made by fellow inmates and staff. Basically, it is a form of organized jail house snitching, " said John.
However, it is hard to snitch on others because as inmates you are also trying diligently to create a trust system between each other. Unfortunately, we are forced into it, " he said.
For example, if you snitch on someone for being out of place then their first repercussion is a written warning, 2nd offense, the inmate has to stand up in front of everyone in the group and say 3 core skills out loud. Forecasting, thinking through what is most likely to happen as a consequence of some action. " And the 3rd offense is a 5000 word essay. It works because it helps you break bad habits, " said John.
10:30 a.m. " its back to the bunks to get cleaned up for lunch. Preparation for lunch is the same routine as breakfast. We have to make sure we do not have any razor stubble, and that are face and hands are clean, " he said.
11 a.m. " We get another five minute smoke break, and then it`s off to lunch. We only have five minutes to eat and they don`t care if the food is hot or not, " said John. The inmate`s lunches consist of a pile of slop and a roll. If we talk during lunch, we get in trouble, " he added.
12 p.m. " its back to the dorms until everyone is fed and then we go to the basketball courts to march again. If one of the inmates is having a bad day, then we all have a bad day. Or if someone is uncoordinated, that will affect all of us too. Therefore, it`s very important to try to develop some sort of teamwork, because without a doubt, we are all in it together. So in a weird way, I slowly began to see how this could be part of the recovery process, " he said.
1-4p.m. " it`s time for another series of group meetings with different therapist covering different topics. After group, we then do to dinner which starts at 5 p.m. which we are treated to another spectacular serving of slop, " said John.
6 p.m. " After dinner the rest of the day is pretty much a carbon copy of the earlier part except now it`s after dark and things become a whole lot scarier. You always here the stories about people in prison and everyone saying "don`t drop the soap." Everyone knows the rule; do not go to the bathroom by yourself at night. Once I saw two white guys jump a black guy and they stabbed him with a shank " (a toothbrush carved into a knife). They stabbed him over and over again, and the guards did not do anything about it. "
7-11 p.m. " This is our only free time. We play cards, read, watch TV and then its lights out at 11 p.m.
Prison is definitely a place you do not want to be. However, at the beginning of this interview, you asked me, did prison help you? Well the answer is yes. Without a doubt, I am a more conscientious and caring person. But, I think that the biggest change in my life as result of prison is that I am no longer a selfish person. I think prison saved my life and I hope to now to set a good example for my daughter and my younger brothers by living the type of life I know that I am capable of.