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Prison Path Excerpt: A Snapshot of Prison Life

What is prison like

From Bradley Schwartz, the creator of Prisonpath.com, as part of my sentence, I was incarcerated for fifteen months in the Maryland state prison system. During my journey through the Maryland State prison system, I encountered all types of individuals. I observed indifference, cruelty, and random acts of kindness from inmates and correctional officers. I memorialized my travels in a memoir titled “Prisonpath.” I will post an excerpt from “Prisonpath” every month. The excerpts are written snapshots of real prison life.

The point of entry for any new state inmate is the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic, and Classification Center located at 550 Madison St in Baltimore. This prison was the initial conduit for all other state prisons in Maryland. In Baltimore, the inmate would be assessed physically, mentally, and for potential risk to others and himself. Based upon the risk assessment and other criteria, the inmate was transferred to maximum, medium, or minimum security prisons. The lucky few would be assigned to pre-release centers.

I had arrived in Baltimore after spending two weeks in a local county prison. I was wearing my court suit, my wrists and ankles were handcuffed, and a metal chain around my mid-section was connected to the wrists handcuffs. All of the transferees including myself performed the chain gang shuffle exiting the van.

I made a mistake by not wearing socks. My ankle handcuffs cut into my skin. The temperature in the van was boiling hot. All of the inmates were hot, sweaty, and thirsty upon arrival at the prison in Baltimore. The sheriffs went inside and left us in the van. After forty-five long minutes, the sheriffs brought us into the building where they removed all our handcuffs and chains.

The building was an old prison that surely had seen better days many decades ago. The interior of the prison consisted of dark, dirty, narrow hallways.  Women correctional officers were yelling at inmates and at each other. It was chaos in Dante’s Inferno.  I was placed in a holding cell with nine other new inmates. We all looked shell-shocked. As I entered the holding cell, the other inmates gave me a quizzical look since I was the oldest inmate by far. I understood their looks because not only was I the oldest, but I was still dressed in my messy and wrinkled suit that I had worn in court. The other inmates were in sweatpants hanging midway down their behind or in blue jeans.

The inmates ranged from young black and white gangstas to rednecks. At various points, the whites would call out each other “Hey Dog” during their stimulating conversations. One inmate said “Hey Dog, what are you here for? The other inmate replied “Hey Dog, the damn PO violated my probation. I was tired of waiting for her to show up for our appointments, so I stopped going. What about you?”

“Violation of parole, Dog. My dumb wife complained that I was hitting her. I only hit the dumb bitch a couple of times. So I knocked out a couple of teeth. What’s the big deal? Now I have to do the rest of my sentence – 3 years. Yeah, and a new charge of assault.”

This conversation was repeated with different facts and scenarios, but almost all of the inmates were there because of violations of parole or probation. Most violations of parole even if minor in nature resulted in prison again. Many inmates were back in prison because they had missed appointments with their parole officer.

One by one, we were escorted into a cold room where I stripped completely, bent over, spread my cheeks, and coughed so that the Uzi machine gun would pop out of my ass. The correctional officer who performed the strip search had much in common with a proctologist.  In my opinion, both had shitty jobs. After this strip search, an overweight, extremely tired looking, officer put my new prison uniform on the counter. I now wore blue jeans and a long-sleeved blue shirt. My business suit was mailed home. I was now dressed for my new world…

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8 Responses to Prison Path Excerpt: A Snapshot of Prison Life

  1. Carlos November 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    Whatever the reason, I am amazed at how not only how the prisons rules varies from Fed, to State to City that it is no wonder that it is a sytem that is just a profit making system. I agree that something must be done with those who break the law, but that system must include an oportunity for those incarcerated to have a chance at changing their life. Both sides of the fence have good and bad point as to why the system is not working. My question is that of why we know all theses failures and being able to spread them all over the cable stations and nothing is done to tray to remedy the problem. Is it that we are more facinated with the story than in finding the soultion?
    Is what you will report being selected or is it the truth of all you went through? Good luck!

  2. PrisonPath December 4, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    Carlos, in all probability, the outside world is fascinated by stories about prison life, but it’s not high on the agenda for important social issues. My observations and recollections are accurate to my total prison experience.
    By Bradley

  3. PrisonPath December 4, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    WONDERFUL MINISTRY WE NEED TO GET IN TOUCH.
    By Pastor Peter

  4. PrisonPath December 5, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    Greetings Gentlemen, I just happened to run across your posts because of Kairos Prison Ministry notification I received in my email. After reading your posts it is obvious that both of you are interested in some fashion to the situation with corrections in America…what I’m wondering (and this may be none of my business) is what exactly the nature of your interest is. Bradley, are simply desiring to share your experience with the world or is there bigger aim in what you are sharing? Carlos, is your interest in making a difference in the lives of convicted felons? The topic of correctional institutions is a subject that an interest of my own.
    By Micheal

  5. PrisonPath December 5, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    Micheal, for me, there are two goals. By sharing my experiences, the outside world becomes more aware of the many problems with our prisons. Secondly, the awareness will help with reforms.I will add a third, at heart,I am a storyteller.
    By Bradley

  6. PrisonPath December 6, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    Bradley; I like your goals for sharing. For me it has been eye-opening.
    By Willie

  7. PrisonPath December 7, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    Bradley,
    Thank you! The reason I asked is because I was incarcerated for 18 1/2 years in the Texas Department of (few) Corrections. So I understand your insight in a way that many readers probably will not. The issues facing our prisons (which in turn face our society) are a very interesting but very complicated subject to address. By address I mean have effectual impact on. There is no doubt that the philosophies which many people hold, law-makers being the most relevant, may sound good in theory (or not) but are in reality expensive exercises of futility. Foremost of these philosophies is that the answer to criminal activity in society is longer prison sentences. Of course there are exceptions to every rule so in my case those years I spent in prison ended up being an example of God’s grace. (For myself anyhow, it also gave time for me to have a negative influence/impact on those I came in contact with in the meantime.) Today I am a Family and Youth minister in New Mexico but I still have a heart for sinners, er-uh I mean, I mean convicts. So I am very interested in prison reform, but more importantly I’m interested in personal reform. The simplest explanation for why I say that is because of the HUGE percentage of convicts which will not, in fact seem incapable of, taking personal responsibility for their circumstances. You would think that the citizens of communities where ex-cons are returning would be interested in felons experiencing personal reform as well. However, it appears that many people are not concerned with that until it affects their neighborhood (or not until it affects their own home) so I would say that in the process of lasting prison reform there probably needs to be some societal reform as well. Having said all of that, every little bit helps so I thank you for your effort to bring awareness to more people. Sincerely, Mike
    By Micheal

  8. patricia December 8, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

    Fascinating thoughts! Really appreciated. I’ve been in Jail/Prison ministry as a lay person volunteer for some 28 years now, including PFM, GNJ&PM, serving as a Deputy Sheriff in Norfolk (to mininister on a not-to-interfere-with-doing-deputy-job basis), Probation & Parole Officer (with the same basis), Chaplain in Norfolk Jail as a lay person, and now Kairos since 1992, plus coordinating Angel Tree at church. —- Can’t say too much about Kairos! It’s the best prison ministry program I’ve seen, although others are good, too. Kairos (designed renewal program like Cursillo, Walk to Emmaus, etc) shows what power there is in showing men (& women) who are incarcerated in prison God’s Love. Seeing and receiving God’s Love for 30 hours for over 3+ days just transforms people (even convicted felons!). The follow-up programs are powerful and help keep the transormations going. — A typical prison of some 1,200 inmates may average approximately 500 serious incidents a year (fights, stabbings, attacks, killings). After Kairos is started in a prison it is done twice a year (usually spring and fall). Typically each one has 42 participants (residents), so after a couple of years, you will have some 150 or so (depending on releases/transfers) who have been to Kairos and have formed a safe Christian community in that prison. The number of serious incidents will typically be reduced to well less than 100. The more Kairos’s the more graduates and the less incidents. It’s like the oil of Gilead has been spread on that place! And it doesn’t cost the prison anything! — Sorry, I get carried away on this. It’s my hot button.

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