One of the most glaring differences about living your life in prison compared to the free world is that you have almost no control over who you spend your time with. When an inmate arrives for processing into a prison, they are assigned a cell and a bunk. Inmates have no influence on where they live and who they live with.
Outside of solitary confinement or medical quarantine, a prison inmate is never alone. They have absolutely zero privacy or solitude. They are constantly in a small room with their cellie, in a community bathroom or shower, a crowded chow hall or rec yard, or in a classroom or job site. Prisons literally warehouse people by the thousands, and an inmate has to adapt and navigate through that confined world.
Prisons are their own little societies, and everyone handles this reality differently. There are leaders among the inmate population, and cliques form based on everything from race to crimes committed.
It’s been a few years since I was released from prison, so I contacted a current inmate and asked her to answer today’s topic: Can you keep to yourself in prison?
In this blog post, inmate Mistie Vance from Chillicothe Correctional Center in Chillicothe, MO will cover the following topics:
Prison, like anything else in life, comes with the option of being who you choose to be. Though we may not have the option of not being around others physically, as we are incarcerated with hundreds of other inmates, we can make the choice to keep to ourselves.
Being alone is something that is not contingent upon being in a place where there are no others around. It is something that is determined from within.
I have personally always been a bit of a loner. I was raised very strict and isolated, and wasn’t allowed to do things like go to other children’s houses or go to school dances, play sports, etc.
Since I was made to dress in embarrassing clothes and not engage in the same activities as the other kids, I was very socially awkward and bullied in school. Later in life, I continued to choose abusive partners who further isolated me from the rest of the world, making isolation feel comfortable to me.
Thankfully, I feel like my former lifestyle of staying to myself has served me well in prison. Due to the vast differences in personalities here, not everyone is on the same page emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.
Therefore, it is important to be very selective about the people you choose to surround yourself with. Unfortunately, depending on the prison, you have anywhere from two to six individuals in a cell, so being physically alone is impossible.
However, with enough time and self discipline you can learn to block out the negative influences and focus only on what is going to help you achieve your own personal goals.
It isn’t always easy to recognize a person he/she identifies with in a place like this, as many people pretend to be individuals they aren’t and most have an underlying motive or agenda in befriending others.
My best advice is to sit back and watch how a person conducts themselves with others for a period of time before allowing yourself to become involved with the individual. If after a period of a couple months people seem sincere and genuine, true to the values they profess to have, and treat others with dignity and respect, you can probably involve yourself with them without negative consequences.
For myself personally, I have had to learn to balance healthy socialization with limited periods of isolation. As humans it is important for us to be a part of something greater than ourselves- connected to others to both give of ourselves and receive from others.
Our talents and experiences can help others and their talents and experiences can positively impact our lives as well. It is important for everyone to have a sense of purpose in his/her life, a meaning for his/her existence, otherwise all of our life experiences are pointless. To be completely alone is the most tragic of all decisions one could choose to make in this life, as we were made to love and be loved in return.
Though socialization is important, especially in prison, to be selective about who you choose to associate with. If someone doesn’t have your best interest at heart, isn’t headed in the same direction as you, and doesn’t have the same values as you, it is best to keep your distance.
Only associate yourself with those who are going to be an encouragement and hold you accountable when you are sabotaging yourself or your goals through bad decisions. Don’t give in to pressure to be around the wrong people or situations, because at the end of the day, you are a product of the company you keep.
It is possible to keep to yourself in prison. But what can be even greater than completely isolating yourself, is learning the balance between healthy socialization and when to walk away.
People can be our greatest allies, or our biggest detriment- the choice is ours in who to allow into our confidences and who to keep safely at a distance. To enjoy all this life has to offer-in prison or free-we must be brave enough to give of ourselves and receive from others. In so doing, we make the world a better place and establish our unique and important place in it.
Do you think it’s best for an inmate to keep to themselves in prison? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: A personal essay from inmate Mistie Vance, Chillicothe Correctional Center
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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