How Do Inmates Pass the Time in Prison?

By Mistie Vance

Updated: September 7, 2022

This week’s blog post is all about how inmates pass the time in prison. We get a lot of questions about this topic here at PrisonInsight. Instead of me recalling things from my time behind bars nearly a decade ago, I thought I would reach out to a current prison inmate and let her answer this question.

This week’s guest blogger is Mistie Vance, who is currently serving a 20-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter and armed criminal action at Chillicothe Correctional Center in Chillicothe, Missouri. She’s been in prison for more than a decade and is not scheduled for parole until 2025. 

I became good friends with Mistie when we served time together at the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri. She was my personal trainer and my aerobics instructor, and we often spent time together on smoke breaks or in the prison yard. I’m sure that our readers would love to hear from her. 

So, here is Mistie’s answer to today’s question: How do inmates pass the time in prison? In this post, she will discuss the following topics:

  • How inmates pass the time depends on several factors
  • Exercise is always an option
  • The biggest factor is the individual inmate
  • The opportunities are there, and they can make a prison inmate a better person

How inmates pass the time depends on several factors

How a person spends their time in prison depends on several factors. The type of facility and opportunities offered vary from prison to prison, as does the amount of time spent daily in lockdown. 

Many maximum security men’s institutions are 23 hour lockdown, meaning the inmate only gets one hour per day outside of their assigned cell, therefore limiting options. 

Other prisons, like the two I have spent the past twelve years in, only require the inmates to be locked down during count times and overnight. The more time an offender has outside their assigned cell, the more options they have as far as daily activities.

Exercise is always an option

In any prison, exercise is an option, whether done inside a cell, out on the Rec yard, or inside a gym. Library’s are also available at all institutions for all the bookworms out there. 

Most inmates have jobs in the prison, and televisions are available for use for the general population in most prisons. All institutions have various religious services, educational programs, and classes inmates can take to better themselves. There are many options to choose from regardless of where an inmate is housed.

The biggest factor is the individual inmate

The biggest factor in what an inmate chooses to do with his or her time, is up to the individual. Is the person highly motivated or lazy? Does the person wish to make changes in his/her life or are they content to keep living the way that they were living before? 

Does the individual want to spend time helping others and giving back to the community, or are they more interested in selfish pursuits? Is education something that is important to the inmate? What an inmate will do with their time is a reflection of the individual themselves.

In my twelve years as an inmate in the Missouri DOC, I have seen how hundreds of prisoners have chosen to do their time, and the long term results of those choices. I have seen offenders that stay in trouble, constantly go to the hole for fights and drug use, and don’t take advantage of educational opportunities. 

These are the girls I see being released and coming back over and over again—except when they end up dying before they get the chance to make it back. On the flip side, I have seen girls who stay out of trouble, choose to stay clean, and take advantage of programs to better themselves, that go on to lead very successful lives outside these walls. 

Who we become in prison, or in life, is a choice that only we can make.

The opportunities are there, and they can make a prison inmate a better person

My personal prison experience has been a very advantageous one. The person I was coming into prison was very bent and broken from a lifetime of abuse and bad choices. I couldn’t respect the person that I had become, and therefore wanted desperately to make the necessary changes to insure that I would never be that person again. 

My poor self esteem and desire to be loved and accepted had led me to a life of addiction that ended in my taking the life of another. I knew I had to change so that the life that was taken wouldn’t be in vain, and I could somehow make up for some of the hurt I had caused others throughout the course of my addiction.

During the 19 months that I spent in county jail awaiting trial, I did dozens of Bible studies, attended church services three times a week, and completed an addictions ministry course twice. 

I helped teach GED classes, prayed for and with others, and counseled the girls coming into the jail that were having a really hard time. I made the choice not to lie to men for money like a lot of women do in jail and prison, to finish the things I start, and to do my best to walk in integrity by not lying, stealing, or engaging in frivolous sexual encounters. Though options are very limited in jail, I found ways of being productive with my time.

Upon getting to prison, my world opened up in many ways, and I was able to take advantage of many opportunities to better my life and the lives of others. I spent two and a half years in a Christian program offered by the facility that taught me not only about God, but also about how to function in a community—something I had never done as I had always been isolated from others. 

I was blessed with the opportunity to facilitate the prison’s ICVC class—a class that teaches the impact our crimes have on victims—for two years, tell my story in pre-release classes for two years, and give back to the community through restorative justice, where I sewed quilts and worked in the prison garden. 

I was also able to obtain my AFAA certification, and taught aerobics for many years, using my teaching platform to not only help women become healthier physically, but to help instill confidence in them as well.

Besides the classes I have taught, I have taken many classes, graduated from the Vocational/Technical school and earned a certificate for professional gardening, and had many jobs where I have been able to learn responsibility and practice a good work ethic by being on time and doing the best job I can do. 

I have read hundreds of books, many of them to increase my knowledge of various subjects, worked on my own physical well being through diet and exercise, and had the opportunity to play sports for the first time in my life. I have laughed and cried, loved and lost, and become something I could never quite be before—Me.

So you see, what a person does in prison is completely up to the individual. You can get on good psych meds and sleep your life away, wasting precious time in a life you only live once, or you can make every day count by finding ways of impacting the world around you. 

The choice is up to you. 

No matter where you are in your life, or in the world, you have a choice of who you want to be today and what kind of life you want to live. It’s never too late to be the person you always wanted to be, and it’s never too soon to start making a difference!

Would you like to write to Mistie Vance or contribute to her commissary fund? You can write to her at:

Mistie Vance #1231904
3151 Litton Road
Chillicothe, MO 64601

If you would like to deposit funds into her commissary account, you can do so at Select Missouri — Chillicothe Correctional Center — Inmate #1231904 Mistie Vance.


Personal Experience Essay by inmate Mistie Vance at CCC in Chillicothe, MO.
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