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When you are sentenced to prison after being convicted of a crime, you will be in a corrections environment for at least one year. Prisons house inmates who commit felonies, and those types of crimes can have a sentence ranging from one year to life without the possibility of parole.
This means that when you go to prison, you are going to be in a highly controlled environment for a significant amount of time. Prison is all about a strict routine and rules, and spending a lot of time behind bars can cause a person to become “institutionalized.”
Depending on how long they are on the inside, an inmate can start to experience a loss of basic life skills. If they don’t have access to a TV or radio, their knowledge of contemporary life starts to fade.
Even though inmates might see or hear about life on the outside, being isolated from the free world causes them to disconnect. By the time their release date comes, an inmate can be so ill-prepared for the modern world that they will need significant resources and a support system to have any chance of success.
On top of the controlled environment, prison inmates also have to live their lives 24/7 in survival mode. You always have to watch your back, be careful about who you associate with, and get violent when necessary.
Prison is its own world, with its own economy, social hierarchy, and community. This unique environment has a profound effect on a person’s mental and physical health, and dealing with the consequences of that upon release can be a monumental task.
All of this leads me to today’s blog topic: When released from prison, how do you let go of the prison mentality?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
Many people who are released from prison have not served their entire sentence. Instead, a majority of inmates are usually released after serving a percentage behind bars and must finish the rest of their sentence on parole, probation, or supervised release.
When you are on parole, you must call your parole officer as soon as you walk out the prison gates and make an appointment to see them right away. If you don’t follow all of the rules of your parole, you run the risk of being sent back to prison to complete your sentence behind bars.
For me, being on parole was kind of like having a babysitter. Anytime I wanted to do anything, I had to check in with my parole officer. I had to contact her regularly, share my finances, keep her updated on my housing and employment status, and submit to random drug tests.
I was lucky, though.
Because I have a college degree, professional contacts, and a fantastic family support system, I was able to succeed on parole without any problems. I was able to find employment rather quickly, I had a good place to live, and I had transportation to always keep my appointments with my parole officer.
Unfortunately, when many inmates are released from prison, they don’t have a decent place to live and a support system to help them get back on their feet. Many prison inmates don’t have a good education, and adding a felony to their record makes it nearly impossible to find a job.
I wanted to talk about what it’s like to be on parole because I wanted to make it clear that there are expectations when an inmate is released. They are expected to jump back into the world and acclimate right away.
Inmates are supposed to work, pay their bills, attend all required meetings or treatment sessions, and have a decent place to live away from anyone else with a criminal record. But, it can be an intense challenge to do that right away after being in prison for years.
If an inmate has a good parole officer, he/she will introduce them to resources that will help them adjust to life in the free world.
An inmate can experience some serious culture shock when they are released from prison, and the longer they are inside, the worse it can be. I was locked up from 2013 to 2017, and the change in social media, streaming platforms, and smartphones during that time was massive.
I felt like such an idiot when I touched a smartphone for the first time in four years.
You will have to help your inmate adjust to their new normal by teaching them the basics of new technology. One of the sweet things my sister did for me when I was released was give me a phone that was already setup and ready to be used. That was a nice gift and it helped me ease back into the world.
Mental health issues like depression and PTSD can also show up after being released from prison. Readjusting can be difficult, and finding a job and apartment with a criminal record can be a frustrating experience.
When therapy isn’t an option, you can help your formerly incarcerated loved one by just talking and communicating with them regularly.
To have the best chance at success after prison, inmates are encouraged to surround themselves with good people and stay away from the bad influences. I never really had any bad influences in my life, so I worked on pulling myself out of my depression by setting goals for myself.
It took me a couple of years, but I was eventually able to put thoughts of prison behind me for the most part and move on to the next part of my life. Getting my own place and being able to take care of myself financially was a big part of letting go of my years in prison.
I’ve covered a few ways that inmates can move on and let go after being released from prison, but I haven’t really tackled the subject of letting go of the prison “mentality.”
The truth is, you don’t really let it go. Being in prison completely changes a person. If you’re on the inside for a long time, your time there becomes part of who you are.
Prison lingo hasn’t completely left my vocabulary, I can still make my favorite ramen noodle dish in the microwave, and I am still pursuing goals that were originally thought of while sitting on my bunk in room 207C of 4 House.
I am still very aware of my surroundings, I respect others, and treat them the way they deserve to be treated. Believe it or not, that’s about as close to a prisoner’s code or a prison “mentality” as you could get.
How would you describe the prison mentality? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Why Exiting Prison Is So Hard https://psychlopaedia.org/society/why-exiting-prison-hard/
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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