What Do Inmates do in Prison?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: November 18, 2022

What do inmates actually do in prison? That’s a question we get a lot here at Prison Insight, and we’ve noticed there is a lot of misinformation out there about what life is like for a prison inmate. So, instead of sourcing different articles or speaking from my experience years ago, we decided to ask someone who is currently behind bars to write this blog post.

Our blogger today is Mistie Vance, who is currently serving a 20-year sentence 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. 

Here is Mistie’s take on today’s blog question: What do inmates do in prison? In her post, she will cover the following topics:

  • The prison experience is different for every inmate
  • Inmates have numerous opportunities available to them
  • Prison can be a chance to connect with spirituality
  • Working out, library books, and self improvement classes
  • Every inmate must have a job or go to school
  • Not all inmates choose to better themselves
  • Writing is an important part of passing the time in prison
  • Some inmates don’t engage in life while in prison

The prison experience is different for every inmate

The way an inmate chooses to pass the time in prison depends entirely on that individual. Some inmates use their time in a productive manner, choosing to use this time as an opportunity for education and self improvement. 

These are the individuals who long for something better than the life they had before coming to prison, and will do whatever it takes to ensure that they don’t walk out these gates the same as they came in. 

Other inmates are still stuck in the mindset that brought them to prison and choose to live their lives inside in much the same way as they live their lives in the free world. Happy to just “pass the time,” they spend their days gambling, slinging and using drugs, and hanging out with their friends on the yard. 

Between the two extremes are the inmates who truly want to do better, but just can’t seem to be able to overcome the many temptations that surround them.

Inmates have numerous opportunities available to them

For those who truly want to do better, prison offers many opportunities that aren’t always available in the free world. Prisons offer G.E.D. classes, college courses, and vocational education classes at no cost to the individual, making educational advancements possible that may not have been as easily accessible to some individuals outside of prison. 

Not only is education more easily accessible and affordable, but inmates are also faced with fewer distractions such as work and caring for their families, making it easier to focus on completing their education.

Prison can be a chance to connect with spirituality

For some, prison is a chance to connect with their spirituality, or re-connect if they were formerly spiritual and have neglected that aspect of their lives before coming to prison. 

For these inmates, their priority is taking advantage of the many church services, bible studies or other forms of spiritual enlightenment available in prisons. It is a time for introspection and finding the truth of what they believe in, while at the same time finding a way to live their truth.

Working out, library books, and self-improvement classes

Not only is prison a great place to improve yourself mentally and spiritually, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to improve yourself physically. For some inmates, working out is an obsession! Just look at some of the hard bodies you see coming out of prison and you’ll know what I mean! 

Workout equipment, videos on our prison issued tablets, and an outdoor track give inmates numerous options for finding what works for them. In the two women’s prisons I have done time in, we even have aerobics classes taught by AFAA certified inmates like myself, teaching inmates how to work out in a safe and effective manner. 

Not only do these inmates build better bodies, but they find an outlet for stress and better cognitive function as well.

Besides the previously mentioned self improvement opportunities, other healthy options for activities in prison include sports, classes such as Pathways to Change and Victim Impact classes, and self improvement through utilizing the prison library. 

For us bookworms who are thirsty for knowledge (and enjoy a good mystery), the prison library is essential! I myself have probably read thousands of books during my thirteen years in prison! The simple act of reading alone can open a person up to experiences and knowledge that goes far beyond these prison walls.

Every inmate must have a job or go to school

Although I can’t speak for every prison, most prisons require an inmate to have a job, unless they are a full-time student. 

Jobs in the institution include food service, canteen, warehouse, clothing issue, library worker, chapel worker, recreation worker, dorm tenders, yard maintenance, maintenance, work release, laundry, floor crew, or porters at various locations. 

Jobs are mandatory, and unlike on the streets, there is no calling in sick. Failure to work or being late for work will result in a conduct violation or a trip to the hole. Having a job in prison is an excellent opportunity to learn good work ethic and experience the pride that comes from a job well done!

Not all inmates choose to better themselves

Not all inmates choose to use their free time in a productive manner. Many inmates spend their days playing cards and gambling, making drug deals on the yard, or having a little fun creating drama for those around them. 

It never ceases to amaze me how many people truly seem to get enjoyment out of hurting others. Prisons are full of lies and manipulations in every conceivable form. 

Many inmates spend their days watching TVs and eating canteen that they have acquired through manipulating “tricks”—men and women they call and sell dreams of a future together in order to get them to send money. 

Another favorite pastime of many inmates is to have several girlfriends in here, convincing each that they are the only one and causing much hurt and insecurity for all. Relationship issues lead to most of the fights I see in the prison I am currently in. You can be assured there is no limit to the drama you will find in the institutional setting!

Writing is an important part passing the time in prison

Another way inmates pass the time in prison is through writing. Most inmates have someone they write to on a regular basis, whether it be children and family, friends, or pen pals in other institutions. I once knew a girl here who was writing to 12 different men in other prisons! 

Aside from letter writing, many prisoners choose to keep journals to help document their experience and growth, write poetry or other creative writing, or even write books about their lives. Writing is an excellent way to pass the time, and an opportunity for continued growth.

Some inmates don’t engage in life while in prison

Unfortunately, some inmates choose not to engage in life at all while in prison, and spend the majority of their time sleeping. They will fake illness to get lay-ins that get them out of work, skip recreation periods, and sometimes won’t even get up to go to meals. 

Their only goal is to get out of here so they can begin living again. 

To me, this is very sad. Every day is a gift, and there are opportunities to learn and laugh and live no matter where you are. What if, after a year of sleeping your life away, you suddenly died unexpectedly? You just wasted the only life you had by not living it to the fullest while you had the chance! We spend so much time wishing for more instead of treasuring what we have.

How do inmates spend their time in prison? Pretty much the same way anyone spends their time. Working, playing, eating and sleeping. Living, laughing, loving and learning. Making tough decisions and living with the results of those decisions. Facing down their demons and hoping to come out victorious in the end. 

At the end of the day, inmates are just people, and people do the best they can to live up to the ideals they value. How anyone spends their time is a reflection of who they are, and every day we all have the choice of who we will be.  

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 so she can purchase food, hygiene items, communication tools, and clothing, you can do so at JPAY.com. Select Missouri — Chillicothe Correctional Center — Inmate #1231904 Mistie Vance.


Personal Experience Essay by inmate Mistie Vance at CCC in Chillicothe, MO.
  • Great post! I appreciate the effort you put into explaining the topic in a clear and concise manner. It’s really helpful for someone like me who is new to this subject. Thank you!

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