Life From Inside A Prison Cell

(Caution is advised the following content is considered highly sensitive to some readers.)


“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, Really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”

By Angely Khan | 13th June 2018

The prison was no Shawshank, but the principles were the same, you stay line and count your blessing you don’t get stabbed. These were some of the joys of being in incarceration.

“The first night you spend in a prison”–(began telling a prisoner who will be identified as John Smith)–despite being a ‘big bad wolf’ will always be the scariest night. It is designed to break the toughest of men. My journey to Winson Green prison was quick, ‘orientation’ was a second, the ‘do’s and don’ts’ were a blur, and throughout ‘moving day’ I was in a trance. They showed me my cell shut the doors and for the first time throughout all the court dates, the verdict, the eerie sound of steel smacking against each, it sunk in.

The realisation of prison.

I was no longer a free man. I was told I would be a sharing a cell with another inmate. My roommate, to my knowledge at the time, could have been a murderer or worse but they got him on fraudulent charges, too. My roommate was more of a punishment than prison itself, he didn’t shut up, he did not understand the essence of personal space. He always wanted to talk, and he just could not grasp why they locked him up. “it’s not like I killed anyone.” He would say. It worried me to think his understanding of crime meant murder and anything else was conventional like extortion, kidnapping, rape or ransom; you get the idea. I picked up things fast, you had to that was rule number one.

  1. You have to learn fast.
  2. Keep yourself to yourself.

John Smith was neither conspicuous nor tall, his hair was wiry with a tint of ginger and groomed backward. He had a particular builders look about him, he smelled like cigarettes and burnt wood. Smith was a big, beefy man, but his hands told the story.  He continued telling me about what he hated the most …from indulging in your wife’s cooking to a bunch of unhygienic crooks cooking for you made me puke. Boiled potatoes, carrots, bread and if we were lucky we got porridge.

Prisoners serving life ran the prison, from the guards to the inmates. A two-way system, the men serving a life sentence would look after the guards, and in return, the guards kept them happy. The only real entertainment prisoners won were fights, nothing like a good brawl to get inmates lively especially, as some inmates are locked up for 23 hours. My most vivid memory of prison was a month into my sentence.

“I was in line for breakfast one morning and a group of inmates were stood by the kettle. They boiled the kettle over and over again until it was beyond sizzling and then poured sugar into the bowl add the boiling water. It all happened so fast, all I remember is seeing a poor fella on the floor screaming with a side of his face hanging off. The boiling water and sugar reacted as acid, but shit that was prison.”

Prison benefitted me in many ways; it secured me a job in construction once I got out. For a convicted felon like me, you’re lucky if you get a job collecting garbage. The third rule I learned was the most important rule, ‘I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine’ simple as that. The unwritten constitution; that’s one rule every prisoner obeys. It’s like the first rule of fight club.

John Smith reflects on his time in prison, it is true what they say about ‘Institutionalized’ I now understand why prisoners break the law just to go back in, or, violate their parole’ John Smith says, looking at his feet. The outside world becomes so unfamiliar to them prison is all they know 10, 20, 30 years locked up inside a six by 8-foot prison cell, begins to make a lot of sense; it becomes familiar. But I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, once they capture you; it is a long way to rehabilitation.

(Full version coming soon)
Photo credit: Allan Swart

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