Is Prison As Bad as People Say it is?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: September 30, 2020

When I went to prison, I had no idea what to expect. My only exposure to life behind bars was from TV and movies. And, as I’ve explained numerous times on PrisonInsight, Hollywood gets it extremely wrong.

To my surprise, prisons aren’t filled with evil murderers and rapists. But please don’t misunderstand me – there were some bad people in there doing a lot of time for terrible crimes. However, the vast majority of people who are locked up are normal people who made a really bad decision or who got caught up with a bad crowd.

Some were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others took a case for a loved one. Some were suffering from addiction and mental health issues. Most prison populations are just normal people with extraordinary problems and circumstances.

When people ask me if prison is as bad as they say it is, I always tell them no. It’s not. It’s a community of people living and working together under constant supervision. Is it ideal? Absolutely not. I found having my freedom taken away to be the most horrible experience of my life. But, it still wasn’t as bad as I expected.

For today’s blog post, I reached out to a friend of mine who is currently serving her sentence at WERDCC in Vandalia, MO. Her name is Mistie Vance, and she’s been incarcerated for 10 years. She’s going to answer today’s blog post: Is prison as bad as people say it is?

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

  • Prison is what you make it
  • Prison can be a great opportunity
  • Prison can be extremely lonely

Prison is what you make it

Like everything in life, prison is what you make it. What you believe about a situation creates your reality. Perception is everything, and happiness is a choice. On a day like today, quarantined on a housing unit for COVID-19 positives, prison is worse than they say it is. 

For the third time this year, I am locked away from the rest of the camp, not allowed to go outside or have recreation or library privileges, and I have no way to communicate with the person who means most to me in the world-my soul mate, best friend and future wife. On a day like today, prison feels like a concentration camp, minus the freezing cold showers, squalid conditions, and starvation. Separation from family and friends is it’s own kind of hell.

Don’t get me wrong, prison isn’t always this bad, and has actually been one of the best things that ever happened to me. I haven’t always had a bed to sleep in, food to eat and a roof over my head. I haven’t always had the security of knowing I won’t be raped or beaten or mercilessly verbally assaulted today. 

I am safe, I am healthy, and I am still – after ten years of incarceration – healing from a lifetime of cruelty and confusion. Prison saved me, and prison has changed me.

Prison can be a great opportunity

Life presents us with opportunities, and my incarceration has been the greatest opportunity of my life ( so far ). Thanks to all the programs available, I have been able to transform my life physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. 

Not only have I completed hundreds of Bible studies and read dozens of self help books, I have also been able to attend countless seminars, taken dozens of classes, had vocational training, obtained my AFAA certification to teach aerobics and taught for six years.

I have also taught classes to other offenders about the impact their crimes have had on their victims, and shared my story with hundreds of people. I’ve also been able to give back to the community by helping sew quilts for restorative justice and helping out with their annual garden.

Prison can be extremely lonely

On the down side, prison is a very lonely place. Even surrounded by people, I feel alone much of the time. I have lost the chance to watch my children grow up and be there for them when they needed me most. All I ever wanted was a family, and I am still waiting for the opportunity to see that dream materialize in my life. 

There is a lot of drama here, many people who are still caught up in their selfish ways, using people for money, running games and using drugs. The opportunity for true friendships is rare for a person who truly wants to do better and have better in their lives. Prison is a place where one must stay to themselves and be guarded much of the time in order to avoid the drama that is rampant here.

Not everyone you meet in prison is what they appear, but on the flip side, I have met the most amazing people in my time here-including the love of my life. Relationships here are not allowed, which makes having one a very challenging endeavor. 

Add to that the difficulty of being surrounded by people looking to serve their own agendas without regards for your relationship and things become even more challenging. Believe it or not, some people can’t stand to see you happy! 

Most relationships here don’t survive all the moves, separations, drama from inmates and repercussions from officers, but on a rare occasion, you find your soul mate and all the challenges in the world can’t keep you apart. 

I have been with my partner for three and a half years, and though we are both suffering from not being allowed any contact right now due to my quarantine and social distancing, we keep our faith that God will bring us back together very soon.

Is prison as bad as people say it is? It is both better and it is worse. It is an opportunity and it is a lack of opportunity. It is safe, and yet it is not. Prison is fullness and wanting, it is freedom yet the epitome of restriction. 

Prison is life-what you choose to make of it. Your attitude about something is what determines whether or not it is a blessing or a curse. That’s the beauty of life – we get to choose. Is the glass half empty or half full? It’s all in how you look at it.

Do you think you could handle living behind bars? Let us know in the comments below.


Essay from Mistie Vance, WERDCC Inmate
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