my favorite episode office Titled “The Criminal,” Michael Scott (Steve Carell) discovers that one of Dunder Mifflin’s new hires has a criminal record.
The funny thing is, I watched this episode before I actually went to prison, and watched it again after I got out. The second time I watched it, my perspective changed and it affected how I felt about the episode.
Michael Scott wearing a purple hood was just a funny scene when I watched it in front of the prison. After I was in prison, I noticed how wrong he was about prison inmates.
Of course, Michael Scott is an idiot, and it’s disgusting that he has no idea what he’s talking about. I notice the absurdity more when I have something to compare it to. Fun fact: I now have a pillow at home with a picture of “Prison Mike” who said: “The worst thing about prison is… is a dementor.”
When I saw the topic of today’s blog, this silly anecdote was the first thing that came to my mind. I think it’s because it got me thinking about how I see things differently when I get home, especially when it comes to how prisons and the criminal justice system are portrayed in popular culture.
Today’s topic isn’t just about my thoughts on before and after being in prison. Today’s blog topic is: How does prison change a person?
In this blog post, I’ll cover the following topics:
- Prisoners can make a positive difference in prison
- Prisoners can make negative changes in prison
- daily habits and routine
- Prisoners are different after prison
Prisoners can make a positive difference in prison
Prison, like all other significant life experiences, can change a person in many ways. These changes can be both good and bad, and will vary based on each person’s unique prison experience.
When a person goes to prison, where they are in their life plays a big role in how the experience affects them. Other factors include the crime the prisoner committed, the length of the sentence, the security level of the prison, available programming, and the support of family and friends.
What we take away from any situation depends largely on our state of mind, and prisons are no exception.
When I asked inmate Mistie Vance — who has been in prison for 10 years and is due to be released on parole next year — how prison has changed her, she said the following:
“For many people like me, prison is a life-saving experience – the catalyst necessary to change thinking and behavior. Sometimes in life we find ourselves caught in a cycle of negative thinking that leads to poor decision-making And unhealthy associations. If a person is incarcerated at a time when they realize that changes are necessary and are ready to make those changes, then prison can be an opportunity for growth unlike anywhere else.”
Misty told me that, for her, prison was the most positively transformative experience of her life. She told me she was a very broken and lost person after a lifetime of trauma.
“I made so many bad decisions that I couldn’t seem to find a way out of the life I had created to live the life I wanted so badly,” Mistie explained. “I needed to find love and acceptance and it overshadowed everything in my life and after a while I became someone I didn’t even recognize myself.”
Misty said she sees prison as her “land of opportunity.” She said she got in as a caterpillar and would one day turn into a butterfly. She also made it clear that prison helped her find her way back to God and see purpose behind what she was going through in her life.
Thanks to all the spiritual, physical, and educational opportunities in prison, she has grown in every area of her life, healed from past traumas, and found a strength that can only come through adversity.
She said she learned about who she is and what she believes in. She knows how to do what’s right, not what’s easy. She also learned how to embrace herself regardless of other people’s opinions. Essentially, the prison helped her become who she really was.
Prisoners can make negative changes in prison
Unfortunately, not all changes that may occur in prisons are positive. Due to the level of violence in prison, many people became stronger versions of themselves. At best, everyone is at least more alert and aware of what’s going on around them.
Some people become the aggressor and show it so they don’t become a target, while others try to keep a low profile to avoid unnecessary confrontation. Prison is definitely a living environment, and it’s a constant struggle, both on a physical and emotional level.
Prison is also a place where a person can paint themselves as who they decide to be. Many of the women Misty encountered during her ten-year incarceration were made-up versions of them — pretending for attention or sympathy.
Since most people have no idea who a person is on the outside, it’s easy for individuals to be who they want to be. In fact, many people are more popular, respected, and self-respecting in prison than they are on the street. They feel like they are characters. There’s a big difference between being who you want to be while incarcerated and pretending you’re not.
Some of the ways prison changes a person are their daily habits and routines. For example, a person who has been sleeping alone in a bunk for several years may be reluctant to share a bed with another person, and may even sleep in a bed at all.
Prisoners may have difficulty making decisions after such long decisions have been made for them, or be overwhelmed with options after having such limited options for so long. This is what prisoners call “institutionalization.”
The day I got out, I went to Walmart and stood in front of the toothpaste section for 10 minutes, overwhelmed by the choice.
Additionally, it can be difficult to connect with others for a period of time because institutions do not allow the same freedom in relationships. Touching and other intimate gestures are not allowed, leading many to shut down that part of themselves in order to protect their emotions.
Prisoners are different after prison
If you have a friend or loved one who is in prison, the best thing you can do for them is to encourage them to embrace the experience. Stay positive and supportive, because everyone needs a healthy support system.
Remind them that you don’t have to love everything they do to love them as a person, and acknowledge their feelings because we all deserve our feelings to be validated. If the people who come out of the prison are not the same as the people who went in, try not to over personalize.
For better or worse, with a little time and a lot of love, they can survive and move on.
Do you think prison will make you better or worse? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Interview with WERDCC inmate Mistie Vance in Vandalia, MO