Skip to content

What is it Like in Prison?

Prison is a difficult place for anyone. Understanding what daily life is like behind bars can give insight into the challenges inmates face. This article explores the realities of life in prison.

Daily Routine and Activities

Inmates in prison generally follow a strict schedule and routine. A typical day may look like:

  • 5:00 AM – Wake up call. Inmates are required to get out of bed and prepare for the day.
  • 5:30 AM – Morning count. Guards count and check each inmate.
  • 6:00 AM – Breakfast. A small meal is served.
  • 7:00 AM – Work or education programs. Inmates spend several hours in vocational training, education classes, or prison jobs.
  • 12:00 PM – Lunch. Another small meal.
  • 1:00 PM – More work or classes.
  • 5:00 PM – Dinner. The last meal of the day.
  • 9:00 PM – Lockdown. Inmates are secured in their cells for the night.

Inmates spend most of their waking hours in required activities or confined to their cells. There is little free time or privacy. Boredom and monotony are common complaints.

Facilities and Living Conditions

Prison facilities can vary widely, but living conditions are generally bleak.

Cells are small, usually 6×8 feet or 8×10 feet, with bunk beds, a toilet, and sink. Up to 2 inmates may share a cell. Personal space and privacy are nearly non-existent.

Food portions are small and nutritional value is low. Access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited.

Showers have scheduled times and inmates may have as little as 10 minutes to bathe. Hot water is not always available.

See also  Why Did Charles S. Dutton Go to Prison?

Noise levels are always high with guards shouting, doors slamming, and inmates talking. Earplugs may be handed out at night.

Personal comforts like nice clothes, cell phones, computers, and reading material are restricted.

Health and Hygiene

Maintaining health and hygiene can be challenging in prison:

  • Access to medical and dental care is limited. Appointments require long waits.
  • Mental health services are minimal with few counseling options.
  • Supplies like soap, shampoo, and feminine products are limited. Inmates must purchase their own from the commissary.
  • Laundry is done on a schedule, like once a week. Clothes may be worn for days between washings.
  • Crowded conditions foster the spread of communicable diseases. Outbreaks are common.

Overall, the facilities and environment take a toll on physical and mental health.

Social Hierarchy and Culture

A complex social hierarchy exists in prisons with unwritten rules and codes of conduct. Some key elements include:

  • Gangs – Gang affiliation offers protection and power. Those without a gang face more danger of assaults.
  • Racial divides – Inmates often segregate by race. Crossing racial lines can bring retaliation.
  • Debts – Gambling and a prison economy mean debts are owed. Refusing to pay has consequences.
  • Violence – Weapons and fists can be used to gain compliance and respect. Guards may look the other way.

Vulnerable or naive inmates can be exploited. Many are forced to adapt and become more hardened.

Dangers and Threats

Within a confined prison population, the threat of violence is always present. Dangers that inmates face include:

  • Assaults – Physical and sexual assaults by other inmates are common but underreported. Weapons fashioned from everyday items may be used.
  • Riots – Tensions between inmate groups or complaints about conditions can spark full-scale riots.
  • Self-harm – Mental health conditions, isolation, and loss of hope lead some to attempt suicide or self-mutilation.
  • Solitary confinement – Being trapped in a small cell 23 hours a day for weeks or years causes lasting psychological damage.
  • Corrupt guards – Some corrections officers abuse their power and use excessive force against inmates.
  • Lockdowns – Extended lockdowns for searches or riot control mean being confined in a small space for up to 24 hours a day.
See also  Why Did Andy Dick Go to Prison?

In an environment with so much danger, inmates struggle to feel safe and secure. Many are traumatized from their experiences.

Separation from Society and Family

Being removed from normal society and loved ones takes a major toll. While incarcerated, inmates face:

  • Little or no physical contact with family and friends. Visitation may be infrequent or prohibited.
  • Expensive phone calls and limited communication. Letters may be read and censored by guards.
  • Missing out on personal milestones like family events, holidays, births, and deaths.
  • Loss of parental rights. Children may enter foster care or be adopted out.
  • Few privileges. No internet access, television, or up to date news from the outside world.
  • Little chance to make outside social connections. Inability to find friends, partners, or social groups.

This isolation exacerbates mental health issues and makes re-entry into society more difficult. Maintaining family bonds can reduce recidivism.

After Release from Prison

Leaving prison comes with its own set of challenges:

  • Stigma of a criminal record creates barriers to jobs, housing, education, and relationships.
  • Parole restrictions limit freedoms including travel, associations, and living location. Violations can quickly land parolees back in prison.
  • Lack of savings or assets means released inmates start from nothing. Affording basic needs is difficult.
  • Social adjustment to technology, slang, and societal changes that occurred while incarcerated. Culture shock is common.
  • PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues may linger even after release.
  • High recidivism rates show that many former inmates reoffend and return to prison. Breaking the cycle is hard.

For all these reasons, life after prison is filled with obstacles. Successful re-entry requires intensive support services.


Life inside prison is difficult and disconnected from the outside world. Inmates face extreme boredom, health risks, social politics, violence, isolation from family, and lack of autonomy over daily activities. The harsh environment brings lasting psychological consequences and makes reintegration into society more challenging. While prisons aim to promote public safety and rehabilitation, the stark realities behind bars argue for criminal justice reform and improved conditions.

See also  Why Did Lil' Kim Go To Prison?

Frequently Asked Questions about Life in Prison

Here are answers to some common questions about daily living behind bars:

What do inmates do all day?

Inmates are required to follow a strict schedule of work, education programs, meals, counts, and lockdowns. There is little free time or privacy. Most waking hours are spent in assigned programming or confined in cells.

What kind of food do inmates eat?

Food in prison is institutional cafeteria-style fare designed to meet basic nutritional needs. Portion sizes are small and quality is low. Fresh fruit and vegetables are limited. Special dietary needs may not be accommodated.

How do inmates get necessities and personal items?

Inmates can purchase approved items like food, hygiene supplies, writing materials, and clothing from the prison commissary. Purchases are deducted from their commissary account, which their loved ones can add funds to. Inmates without funds go without.

Is there violence and gang activity in women’s prisons too?

While less prevalent than in men’s prisons, violence and gangs still exist in women’s facilities. Threats like sexual assault by inmates or staff, extortion, and fights occur. Those without a gang affiliation are more vulnerable.

What happens when inmates have a medical emergency?

Prisons have an onsite medical clinic, but access and quality of care are limited. For serious emergencies, inmates may be transferred to an outside hospital under guard supervision. However, this requires bureaucracy and long waits.

How do inmates stay in touch with loved ones on the outside?

Inmates can mail letters to loved ones and make expensive collect calls from prison phones. Some prisons allow visitation on weekends or holidays, but visitors may be extensively searched. Email, video calls, and social media are almost always prohibited.

Imran Khan

Share this post on social

About us

We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

See also  James Brown's Prison Diary: A Music Legend's Struggle for Freedom

Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

See also  James Brown's Prison Diary: A Music Legend's Struggle for Freedom