As a former prisoner, I often receive questions about prison sleep conditions. The prevailing perception seems to be that prisoners sleep to pass the time and get up only to eat and use the bathroom.
The picture in most people’s minds seems to be of prisoners locked in a tiny cell surrounded by iron bars and concrete, with nothing else to do but eat through a tiny hole in the door, and sleep on the floor 24/7. on their bunks. However — in most cases — this didn’t happen.
In this blog post, I’ll discuss the ins and outs of sleeping in prison. Since prisons are a whole different animal, I’ll touch on that as well. Read on because I’m about to answer the question: Can you sleep in prison?
This blog post will cover:
- Can prisoners sleep all day?
- How are the sleeping conditions in prisons?
- Can you sleep in prison?
Can prisoners sleep all day?
Honestly, just hearing this question makes me laugh, and the simple answer to this question is: absolutely not. Even if you are in a SuperMax prison or AdSeg (Administrative Segregation) (called a “hole” or “SHU” (Segregated Housing Unit) in some prisons) and you are locked in a cell for 23 hours a day and sleeping the entire time is not an option.
First of all, there are several times in the prison, which happens every few hours. Where I was incarcerated, the counting hours were 5:00 am, 11:00 am, 4:00 pm, 9:00 pm and midnight. The 5:00am and 9:00pm counts are “ID counts”, which means that when officers come to your room, you must show your photo ID when they count you. At other times, they do a “head count,” so officials come by and count the number of people in the room.
You have to be counted twice during each counting time, so two officers come and count the votes within a few minutes of each other. You had to sit in your bunk at all times except at midnight, with the TV and radio turned off, and you had to stay put when the officers were on the flank. That means no need to get up to go to the bathroom or grab a drink of ice from the break room.
If you are caught sleeping while the votes are being counted, it is against the rules and you will be punished. Often, the punishment turns into “overtime” time, which means you have to complete different tasks when the officer needs help.
In the women’s prison where I was held, there were six women in one room. As the officers entered the wing for timing, they loudly announced their arrival. If someone in the room is sleeping, the roommate will wake them up so they can sit up and count without penalty.
The counting time typically lasts between thirty minutes and three hours. If the number of officers is exactly matched, it won’t last long. But a lot of times, they screw up and have to recount, and it takes a long time to count.
Just counting hours means your sleep is always interrupted at some point during the day or night, but sleeping all day is not an option as in most prisons everyone must have a full-time job or be a full-time working students.
Between work or school and other required classes and treatment programs, most inmates are required to stay somewhere from early morning to evening. When you do get a chance to sleep, the conditions are not ideal.
How are the sleeping conditions in prisons?
There is a strange hierarchy in prison, based on sleeping pads. Your bunks are made of metal and each has a sleeping pad. The guy with the longest time in jail has the best mat. They are newer, thicker and much more comfortable than the old pads newbies get.
The reason this happens is that when someone leaves their bunk, they have to get off their mat, and the remaining prisoners will start changing their mats to find the best they can find.
The old pads were so old they barely had any pads. Other times, they are very rough and very uncomfortable. The biggest reason mats get torn is because inmates are doing other things with the strings on the mat.
Older mats were sewn with string that you could tear off and use as dental floss, sewing thread, or hair ties. Prisoners do the same with their prison-issued coats. They rip off the cord in the inner lining and put it to good use. Nothing goes to waste in prison.
You are also issued a pillow, two sheets and a pillow case and must make your bed when you leave the room.
If you want to sleep during the day, it’s very difficult because there are so many things going on. People are constantly coming and going, your roommates are hanging out, watching TV or listening to music, and the lights are always on. Prisoners are also very noisy,
You have zero privacy in prison, so finding a quiet, comfortable place to take a nap is impossible. During my four years in prison, how many times have I been alone in my room long enough to be quiet enough to take a nap.
At night, lights out doesn’t mean quiet time. However, since most people have to get up early in the morning for work or school, most prisoners remain quiet and respectful, letting everyone in the room try to get some sleep.
You always have to use headphones for your TV or CD player at night, so no loud music. Also, there was very little shouting or talking. If this happens, it’s in the public bathroom area outside the room.
If someone in your room is snoring, there’s not much you can do about it. A lot of people have to get up in the middle of the night to go to work, so if they need to be up at 2am and ready to go to work, you have to deal with that.
Depending on the facility, you may hear clunky electronic doors opening and closing for a variety of reasons. There’s also a safety issue when you’re trying to sleep. Prisoners in facilities full of gangs and violence often don’t feel safe, and turning over to sleep can be difficult because you’re always on edge.
Getting a good night’s sleep in prison is next to impossible.
Can you sleep in prison?
I would like to bring up sleeping conditions in prisons because they are very different from prisons. At the county jail, most inmates are held in a giant pod with cells inside.Whether you’re inside or outside the cell — whether it’s day or night — it’s always loud.
Although I’m not a big fan of the A&E show 60 daysit does give a decent glimpse of what life is like being in a county jail. Most prisons won’t hand out anything but a dirty, worn-out mat and a blanket that doesn’t cover your entire body. So, good sleep in that situation!
Going to jail can really mess with your biological clock. Your schedule will be completely disrupted, and you will feel tired and hungry all the time. It’s a crazy environment and I don’t want it to happen to anyone.
So, can you sleep in prison? You can carve out a few hours every now and then. But if you can’t sleep without darkness and silence, you’re out of luck.
One of the first things I did after my release was buy a brand new mattress, sheets and pillows. I will never take a good night’s sleep for granted again. Are you surprised by the sleeping conditions in prisons? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Prison Talk: Getting a Full Night of Sleep in Prison 60 Days In: The Inmates Discuss Sleeping in Jail (Season 3, Episode 13) | A&E