What Is It Like to Be Incarcerated?

The best answer to any question.
July 13 2014 7:12 AM

What Is Prison Life Like?

450371199-immigrant-detainees-eat-lunch-one-of-three-meals-a-day
Prison food: a rotating variation of the same items, over and over again.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Read Michael Morton's answer on Slate on what it's like to be wrongfully convicted of a crime.

Advertisement

Answer by Michael Morton, author:

The first thing that surprised me about prison was the monotony. Every weekday is more or less identical—week after week, month after month, and yes, year after year after year. The routine numbs you. It grinds you down like a persistent, hacking cough. Eventually, it also erases your sense and understanding of time itself.

Everyone's clothes are the same. The cells are the same. The chow schedule is the same. The food, though, is a rotating variation of the same things, over and over again. You go to work at the same time every day. You go to rec at the same time. You shower at the same time. The TVs come on and are turned off the same times each and every day. For some, it's comforting, predictable. For others, however, it is maddening.

The monotony erodes your individuality until you no longer exists. You have a number. Some people have similar or identical names, but no one has the same number. Routine … routine ... and then some more routine.

The second thing I did not expect turned out to be the people. Yeah, I expected "bad" people. But I didn't expect so many of them to be of "diminished capacity." Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are a lot of folks in prison making very stupid decisions.

I don't have anything against someone not being the proverbial sharpest knife in the drawer. But when you have to make social calculations based on the likelihood of someone doing something monumentally inappropriate or stupid, it makes life more complicated than it has to be.

More questions on Quora:

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.