There are many opinions about how to resolve the many problems of the American prison system. Why does the United States have more prisons and inmates than any other country. Why does the United States have a high recidivism rate? It may help the pundits if they had some familiarity with actual everyday life for an inmate. We have discussed previously “What is Prison Really Like”? Prison movies concentrate on the portrayal of the violence of inmates and the brutality of correctional officers. In the real prison world, most inmates are not violent and most correctional officers are not brutal. The movies and prison television shows do not show the actual every day life of inmates. Violence is part of the prison environment, but the prison life is composed of many different scenes.
A typical winter morning breakfast in Hagerstown, Maryland:
Breakfast was approximately at 5A.M. The inmate had a few hours of sleep and the decision was whether to go to breakfast. The decision did not involve putting on his clothes since he was fully dressed all night including his winter coat and socks for gloves. The cell’s window has been broken for months despite repeated requests for repair. The nights of 20 – 30 degrees turned the cell into an icebox. The prison regulations prohibited gloves for inmates, thus he used socks to cover his hands. The mystery meat for dinner turned the inmate’s stomach into a war zone for part of the night, but the thought of hot coffee propels him to go to breakfast. He usually made hot coffee from the water in the cell sink, but the hot water was not working for the past week.
As he exited his housing unit, there were streams of blue lines of inmates pouring forth from the other housing units walking to the chow hall. There were guards in the yard watching the inmates. The officers were obviously unhappy about their morning duty. One guard screamed at an inmate who wore only his t-shirt. The inmate argued that the cold did not bother him, but we all saw that he was shivering. It was the inmate’s way to show in this bizarre manner that he was still an individual among all of the blue coats. All of the inmates marched into the chow hall hoping that the guards would allow at least 10 minutes for breakfast. There have been meals where after 5 minutes, the guards smiled and motioned that the meal was over. During those times, as the inmates walked from their tables, they stuffed food into their mouths. Some inmates would hide food in their pockets. Depending on which officers were on duty, certain correctional officers searched the inmates and would confiscate the food. There were also other guards who would look the other way.
Breakfast was over and the inmate was back in his cell. He waited for the winter morning to warm up the cell.