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Is Prison As Bad as People Say it is?

Is Prison As Bad as People Say it is?

When I went to jail, I didn’t know what to expect. My only exposure to life in prison came from television and movies.Also, as I am at Prison InsightsWell, Hollywood got it wrong.

It amazes me that prisons aren’t filled with vicious murderers and rapists. But don’t get me wrong – there are some bad guys out there who have done a lot of time for horrific crimes. However, the vast majority of people who get locked up are ordinary people who made very bad decisions or got caught with a bunch of bad guys.

Some people were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others handle cases for loved ones. Some suffer from addictions and mental health issues. Most prison inmates are just regular people with unique problems and situations.

When people ask me if prisons are as bad as they say they are, I always tell them no. It is not. It is a community of people who live and work together under constant supervision. Ideal? Absolutely not. I found being deprived of liberty the most horrific experience of my life. However, it’s still not as bad as I expected.

For today’s blog post, I reached out to a friend of mine who is currently serving time at WERDCC in Vandalia, Missouri. Her name was Mistie Vance, and she was held for 10 years. She’s answering today’s blog post: Are prisons really as bad as they say they are?

In this blog post, Mistie will cover the following topics:

  • you made the prison
  • Prison could be a great opportunity
  • prison can be very lonely

you made the prison

Like everything in life, prisons are what you make them. Your perception of a situation creates your reality. Perception is everything, and happiness is a choice. On a day like today, quarantined in a housing unit for being positive for COVID-19, jail is worse than they say.

For the third time this year, I am locked out of the rest of the camp, not allowed to go out or enjoy entertainment or library privileges, and I am unable to connect with the most important people in the world to me – my soul mate, best friend and future wife. On a day like today, a prison feels like a concentration camp, without the freezing showers, squalid conditions and starvation. Being separated from family and friends is a kind of hell in itself.

Don’t get me wrong, prison wasn’t always that bad and was actually one of the best things that ever happened to me. I didn’t always have a bed to sleep in, food to eat, and a roof over my head. I didn’t always know that I wouldn’t be raped, beaten, or mercilessly abused today.

I’m safe, I’m healthy, and – after a decade in prison – I’m still recovering from a lifetime of brutality and confusion. Prison saved me, and prison changed me.

Prison could be a great opportunity

Life gives us opportunities, and my incarceration was the greatest opportunity of my life (by far). Thanks to all the programs available, I have been able to change my life physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Not only have I completed hundreds of bible studies, read dozens of self-help books, attended countless seminars, taken dozens of classes, received job training, received AFAA certification, taught aerobics, and taught six years.

I also educate other criminals about the impact their crimes have had on their victims and share my story with hundreds of others. I also give back to the community by helping to sew a restorative justice quilt and helping with their annual garden.

prison can be very lonely

On the downside, prisons are a very lonely place. Even when surrounded by people, many times I feel alone. I have lost the opportunity to watch my children grow and be there for them when they need me most. All I ever wanted was a family and I’m still waiting for the opportunity to make that dream come true in my life.

There’s a lot of drama here, and a lot of people still indulge in their selfish ways, trading people for money, playing games, taking drugs. For people who really want to do better and live better, opportunities for true friendship are rare. Prison is a place where one has to be by one’s side and guarded most of the time to avoid the drama that is rampant here.

Not everyone you meet in prison is who they seem, but on the other hand, I met some of the most amazing people in my life here – including the love of my life. Relationships are not allowed here, which makes owning a very challenging endeavor.

Add to that the fact that you are surrounded by people who want to serve their own agendas without regard to your relationship, and it makes things even more challenging. Believe it or not, some people can’t stand seeing you happy!

Most relationships here won’t survive all the movement, separation, drama from the prisoners and reverberations from the officers, but on the rare occasion you’ll find your soul mate, all the challenges in the world won’t let you separate.

My partner and I have been together for three and a half years and even though we are both banned from any contact right now due to my isolation and social distancing, we firmly believe that God will bring us back together soon.

Are prisons really as bad as people say? It’s both good and bad. This is an opportunity and a lack of opportunity. It’s safe, but it’s not. Prison is the epitome of fullness and scarcity, of freedom and limitation.

Prison is life – how you choose to live it. Your attitude towards something can make or break it. That’s the beauty of life – we can choose. Is the glass half empty or half full? It all depends on how you look at it.

Do you think you can endure life in prison? Let us know in the comments below.


Essay from Mistie Vance, WERDCC Inmate