This week’s blog post was inspired by a problem we had here Prison Insights, but I have no experience in incarceration. So instead of trying to recall random anecdotes from my incarceration nearly a decade ago, I decided to reach out to a current prison inmate.
For this post, our guest blogger is Mistie Vance. She has been in prison for more than a decade and is not scheduled for parole until 2025. Misty and I became good friends while we served sentences together at the Eastern Women’s Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri.
She was my personal trainer and aerobics instructor, and we often spent time together during smoke time or in the prison yard. She is an amazing lady and I am sure our readers will be delighted to hear from her. Especially since she has more up-to-date inside information.
To that end, Misty answers today’s question: What would happen if you starved yourself to death in prison? In this blog post, Mistie will cover the following topics:
- Prisoner hunger may go unnoticed
- Self-harm is common in institutional settings
- Negative energy is everywhere in prisons
- Mistie’s personal experience with self-harm
- suicide attempt in prison
Prisoner hunger may go unnoticed
Starving yourself in prison probably doesn’t go unnoticed unless you make it a big deal. Believe it or not, the CO (Corrective Officer) in prison doesn’t really care if you are healthy or emotionally stable.
As long as you follow directions and stay out of trouble, their job is done. The only way anyone would even notice is if you were running around telling everyone to pay attention, or if you were watching suicide in the hole, because in that case they would be monitoring your food intake.
Self-harm is common in institutional settings
In fact, there is a fair amount of self-harm in institutional settings. Given that most of us aren’t very good at coping with pain and suffering outside of prison, we’re really having a hard time here, and our coping options are very limited.
Since we can’t just go for a walk, swim, cuddle a loved one, or take a relaxing bubble bath, we can only find ways to get through difficult times without getting bogged down or worse.
On top of the usual stresses of everyday life, we’re forced to live around so many people with different personalities—many of whom don’t fit ours.
Negative energy is everywhere in prisons
Negative energy is everywhere, and it can be hard to stop it from infecting us, even when we’re in the best of moods. There are also people here who enjoy spreading malicious lies or otherwise hurting others as a form of entertainment. For whatever reason, they get a morbid satisfaction from watching others suffer.
As if life wasn’t hard enough, being separated from the people we love, unable to live the life we want, we face the added pressure of guards who feel the need to harass us for no reason, schedules that drive anyone crazy, and Rules so trivial they would be laughable in the real world.
There is no such thing as free speech here. Half of what you want to say will get you buried in a hole, and the other half will get you naked in tortoise shell.
Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia are a problem for some people here, as are other forms of self-harm, such as cutting.
Some inmates have chosen to cope with life by not being there, taking prescribed psychotropic drugs to help them sleep peacefully. Others who can afford it get street drugs to treat their pain or boredom.
For years, I’ve used exercise as a coping mechanism, sometimes healthy and sometimes excessive. Anything can be addictive when used in excess.
Sometimes, just being so busy that you don’t have time to stop and process your pain is a way of coping (or should I say, not coping). People in and out of prison use all these forms of coping mechanisms in the hope that somehow, somehow, they’ll be able to escape the hurt of always being one step behind.
Mistie’s personal experience with self-harm
I myself have personal experience of starvation in and out of prison. In my teens, I developed anorexia. Living in an abusive home, facing ostracism and bullying at school, my life was miserable and I felt a strong sense of helplessness.
It started by donating my lunch money to get people to like me, but when the weight started coming off, I found myself in control of certain things for the first time in my life. I’ve spent every waking moment obsessed with my weight for years, and I don’t want my worst enemy to be in such pain.
Having been incarcerated for over twelve years, I found myself sometimes regressing back to the coping mechanisms of my youth. When something devastating happens in my life, I find myself unable to eat until the worst is over, which gives me a sense of control when life seems completely out of control.
When my heart hurts so much, I feel like it’s literally going to tear from my chest, and the tears are like a never-ending river. The next time I can breathe like I’m underwater, that’s when I abhor food.
Some things never change. All that changes is the duration of things. We cope as best we can, trying to choose the lesser of evils.
suicide attempt in prison
Another popular and self-destructive behavior that is very common here is cutting. It’s almost become commonplace, as many women here have either done or still do to relieve the enormous stress of their day-to-day lives.
Most cut their bodies in less noticeable places because getting caught would lead to suicide time watching in the hole. But you also have quite a few people doing it for attention, make sure everyone knows.
Every year, many women commit suicide by slitting their wrists. Some are pretty serious, but I haven’t seen a successful suicide attempt by wrist slitting in the two prisons I’ve been in.
Unfortunately, during my incarceration, I have seen several successful suicide attempts. One involved a woman who, after trying several different methods, ended up stuffing a large hunk of crumbled bread down her throat so it wouldn’t fall or pop up and choke her.
The other was a friend of mine who hanged himself. Thankfully, they were able to bring her back to life, but she was legally dead for a few minutes before they could. It is a tragedy that many incarcerated people commit suicide every year in the United States.
In defense of the facility I stayed at, they did try to monitor the mental health of those who showed a high risk for suicide and other self-destructive behaviors. If at any point a person fears what they might do to themselves or others, they are placed in a suicide cell and closely monitored for their own safety and the safety of others.
In this case, the person’s food intake is also monitored until they start eating. So a prison may not be able to watch everyone who is starving, but you can trust that if your loved one becomes too emaciated or sick, they probably won’t go unnoticed. In that case, their medical and mental health issues will be addressed and dealt with, even if the person does not need help.
It’s important to remember that the best help for someone suffering from unhealthy coping mechanisms is the love and support of those closest to them.
Reach out and show the incarcerated people in your life how much you love them today. Of all the avenues of healing, none are as life-changing and effective as love and acceptance. Three words say it all. Love changes everything.
Would you like to write to Mistie Vance or donate to her commissary? If you want to deposit funds into her commissary account, you can do so at JPAY.com. Select Missouri—Chillicothe Correctional Center—Inmate #1231904 Mistie Vance.
You can write to her:
Mistie Vance #1231904
3151 Lytton Road
Chillicothe, Missouri 64601
Sources: Personal Experience Essay by inmate Mistie Vance at CCC in Chillicothe, MO