7 Misconceptions of What Prison Life is Like

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Americans have a lot of misconceptions about prison life that mainly stem from Hollywood movies and television shows.

Prisons are often portrayed as terrifying institutions where the biggest, meanest guy on the block survives. But is that actually the truth? Let’s find out.

Myth #1: You Have One Phone Call

When you’re arrested, you get more than one phone call if your charge has a bond. Most jails will let you call as many people as you need until you find someone to post your bond, but even if you’re arrested on a felony charge, you’ll probably have access to a phone.

However, an inmate can only call you if they have your number. If they don’t, you can look them up using a nationwide inmate locator like Prison Finder. With their inmate ID, you can send them your phone number by mail so that they can call you after sentencing.

Myth #2: Prison Clothes

After sentencing, you’ll receive your prison garb, but the fit isn’t like Orange Is the New Black. More often than not, your clothes won’t fit you, and someone else has already worn them. You won’t get a belt, so you’ll be pulling your pants up a hundred times a day, so you don’t trip.

Myth #3: Jail and Prison are Scary/Boring

Both can be true in some extreme cases. Jail is more likely to be boring because your day is filled with chores, jobs, and bedtime.

Prisons have an entire ecosystem where prisoners get up at the same time each day but have ample amounts of flexibility if they’re non-violent offenders. Prisons can become scary if you’re placed in a maximum-security prison when you don’t belong there, either due to overcrowding or a false conviction.

However, the “real criminals,” like murders and kidnappers, make up a small percentage of the jail and prison population.

Myth #4: Rates of Inmate Sexual Assult

Sexual assault does happen in prisons, there’s no doubt about that, but it isn’t as common as you think. Any instant of sexual assault in prisons is one too many, but you’re more likely to be a victim of violence as a male inmate. Female inmates experience more sexual assault than men.

Myth #5: Jails/Prisons Have No Creature Comforts

While it’s true that jails and prisons in America aren’t what they are in Norway, you still have access to comforts like television, showers, cafeterias, and an exercise room.

However, all jails and prisons allow you to get extra items at the concessionary if you have some cash.

Prisons and jails use a number system to assess who can buy items at the concessionary. Level 1 people have access to everything, whereas level 9 people have 0 access.

At a low level, you can buy transistor radios, better toiletry items, prayer rugs, shampoo, and foodstuffs.

Myth #6: Prisons Rehabilitate Criminals

Not true. There are several feel-good Hollywood stories where an inmate leaves the confines of prison to lead a better, more fulfilled life, but rarely does that happen.

The US has one of the highest rearrest rates in the world, where 76.6% of prisoners reoffend within five years. Although correction officers will claim that prisons are full of rehabilitation programs, like education, employment, and counseling, most of the funding has been cut in these areas.

If the United States wants to see a lower rearrest rate, rehabilitation has to take precedence. 

Myth #7: Joining a Gang is Smart

Apparently not. According to several inmates, you’re more likely to be a victim of a violent act if you’re in a prison gang than you otherwise would have if you kept to yourself. Minding your own business is actually the best course of action to take for most prison inmates to stay safe.

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