What to Expect and Not To Expect

Everyone has their preconceived conceptions of prison and the stereotypical inmate. These are usually very negative.

First and foremost, these images are more often than not false. Not everyone in prison is evil. Just because someone is incarcerated, does not automatically mean that they committed some heinous crime and are about to continue their alleged terrible deeds. Likewise, prison officials are also not evil.

When one enters a prison for the first time, what immediately hits you is the large clanking sound of all those doors closing behind you and realizing that you are not leaving any time in the near future. Even those prisons designated as honor farms or camps, that have no doors, manage to give you the feeling that your freedom has been taken away. Things that one took so for granted become something very special. For instance, the very idea that you cannot make a telephone call to whomever you want whenever you want. You cannot wear the clothes you want to wear, and, perhaps hardest of all, you cannot be with your family and friends and do what you want to do. You are now under someone else's control in almost every aspect of your life for the duration of the sentence.

Not everything about prison is bad. There are many stories of how inmates have raised money to help people in need. It is easy to be cynical about these efforts. However, when one realizes that an inmate usually earns less than a dollar an hour working in prison, even a small donation becomes big to him or her.

There is really no experience that can truly prepare someone for life behind bars. The best advice is to keep one's eyes and ears very open. Very soon one will learn who is who and who can be a true friend. Just like there are some people "on the street" looking to take advantage of an unsuspecting person, so too in prison. The major difference is that when that happens in society, we can always try to stay away from that person; in prison that is very difficult to do. Go to the next chapter for more information about how to cope in prison.

PO Box 60224 * S. Barbara * CA * 93160 * email rabbi@jewsinprison.org