One of the most obvious differences of living in prison compared to the free world is that you have very little control over who you spend your time with. When a prisoner arrives at the prison for processing, they are assigned a cell and a bunk. Prisoners have no influence over where and with whom they live.
Outside of solitary confinement or medical quarantine, prison inmates are never alone. They have absolutely no privacy or solitude. They are always in a small room with their maid, in a community bathroom or shower, in a crowded cafeteria or recreation area, or in a classroom or workplace. Prisons house literally tens of thousands of people, and prisoners must adapt to and navigate this confined world.
Prisons are their own little societies, and everyone handles this reality differently. Prisoners have leaders, and everything from race to crimes committed form factions.
I have been out of prison for several years, so I contacted a person in prison and asked her to answer today’s topic: Can you keep your mouth shut in prison?
In this blog post, Mistie Vance, an inmate at the Chicosey Correctional Center in Chicosie, Missouri, will cover the following topics:
- Prisoners can choose to be alone
- Prisoners must choose their friends carefully
- A healthy balance between socialization and isolation is possible
Prisoners can choose to be alone
Prison, like everything else in life, comes with the choice to be who you choose to be. While we may not be able to choose not to be physically present with other people, as we are incarcerated with hundreds of other inmates, we can choose to remain ourselves.
Being alone doesn’t depend on being somewhere with no other people around. This is determined internally.
I’ve been a little lonely personally. I grew up in a very strict and isolating environment, not allowed to do things like go to other kids’ houses or go to school to dance, play sports, etc.
I was very socially awkward and bullied at school because I was forced to wear embarrassing clothes and not participate in the same activities as other kids. Later in life, I continued to choose abusive partners who further isolated me from the rest of the world and made me feel alone and at ease.
Prisoners must choose their friends carefully
Thankfully, I think my formerly solitary lifestyle has served me well in prison. Because of the huge differences in personalities here, not everyone is on the same page emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.
So it’s important to be very selective about who you choose to spend time with. Unfortunately, depending on the prison, there are anywhere from two to six people in a cell, so it’s impossible to be alone.
However, with enough time and self-discipline, you can learn to tune out negative influences and focus only on those things that will help you achieve your personal goals.
In places like this, it’s not always easy to spot someone he/she identifies with, as many people pretend to be someone they’re not, and most have underlying motives or agendas for befriending others.
My best advice is to sit and observe how a person behaves with others for a while before involving yourself in the person. If after a few months people seem genuine, sincere, true to the values they profess, and treat others with dignity and respect, then you may be able to involve yourself without negative consequences.
A healthy balance between socialization and isolation is possible
Personally, I have had to learn to balance healthy socializing with limited time in isolation. As humans, it is important that we become part of something greater than ourselves—connecting with others, both giving to ourselves and receiving from others.
Our talents and experiences can help others, and their talents and experiences can positively impact our lives. It is important that each person has a sense of purpose in his/her life, a meaning of his/her existence, otherwise all our life experiences are meaningless. Total loneliness is the most tragic decision of all the decisions one can choose to make in this life, because we are born to love and be loved.
While socializing is important, especially in prison, be selective about who you choose to socialize with. If someone doesn’t have your best interests at heart, goes in a different direction, doesn’t share your values, it’s best to keep your distance.
Only when you sabotage yourself or your goals through bad decisions, connect yourself with those who will be the encouragement and hold you accountable. Don’t give in to the pressure to be with the wrong person or situation because at the end of the day, you are a product of the company you own.
It is possible to be alone in prison. But more important than completely isolating yourself is learning to balance healthy socializing with when to go away.
People can be our greatest ally or our greatest damage — we can choose who we keep our secrets in and who we keep safely at a distance. To enjoy all that is in life, we must give—whether in prison or in freedom—and we must be brave enough to give of ourselves and receive from others. In doing so, we make the world a better place and establish our unique and important place in it.
Do you think prisoners are best left alone in prison? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: A personal essay from inmate Mistie Vance, Chillicothe Correctional Center