Monday, March 30, 2015

What's It Like In Prison? And, the Reflect Project

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be in prison?

First, know the difference between 'jail' and 'prison.' Jail is usually a temporary holding place while people await trial, or for people arrested for more minor offenses such as a DUI. They stay overnight and then are released after paying their fines. Once the sentence is given (the amount of time to be locked up) the prisoner is then moved to a larger facility referred to as Prison. In a smaller town, there may be no actual jail but a few cells in the local police station where people who are arrested can be held. If necessary, they can be moved to a jail with more cells available in a larger town.

*When can you be arrested?
If a police officer sees you commit a crime, he or she can place you under arrest. You can also be arrested for breaking a state or federal law or a city ordinance.

You can be arrested if the officer has reason to believe you have violated a federal law, even if the officer did not actually see you do it.

You cannot be arrested for a traffic violation unless you are impaired, i.e., have been drinking or using drugs and it would be dangerous to allow you back on the road.

You can also be arrested if there is a warrant (document issued by the legal system) out for your arrest.

The police will typically place handcuffs on your wrists when you are arrested.

                 Outside of a prison. Barbed wire on top of the fencing, and watchtowers.

*What happens if you are arrested?
First, you will be booked in. This means, you'll be searched, issued prison clothing, and your property will be taken and held until you are released (the clothes you were wearing, wallet, watch, money, things like that). If you are intoxicated or high on drugs, you'll be put in a holding cell until you sober up. You may or not be fingerprinted.

The next day, you will have a court appearance. If you are not sentenced immediately, you will be placed in a cell that is commonly 10' x 7' in size, and you may or may not have a cellmate. There is no privacy in the cell: guards walk by and can see into the cell at all times, even if you are using the toilet.

All prisons and jails have their own specific rules, and are different if you are considered a risk to yourself or to others, or if you have broken prison rules and are being punished. There are situations when you would only be allowed out of your cell for one hour in a 24 hour period.

If you have not been sentenced yet, a typical day can go something like this: medications (if you are taking any) are passed at 6:30, breakfast at 7:00, then you and the other prisoners will clean your cells and the common areas. There is no TV or phone usage (and we're talking old-fashioned phones on the wall, not your own personal phone) until these areas pass inspection. After that, you can participate in prison programs (educational, behavioral, etc) and this is also the time to meet with your attorney and make calls.

                                Expect your phone calls to be monitored and recorded.

At 11:00 the prison is locked down and searched for anything out of order, including contraband. Contraband means items you are not allowed to have. This could include extra towels or sheets, food, or of course any kind of a weapon you may have made using whatever materials you had on hand.

Once the area has passed inspection, you will be given lunch. Meals in prison pass nutritional requirements but are not particularly healthy or interesting.

After lunch, you will again have free time, supper, and then back to your cell for lights out at 11:00. Remember, this schedule applies to people who are not sentenced yet, and each prison has its own practices.

*What about people who have had their trials and were found guilty, and sentenced?
As a prisoner, you have lost most of your rights because you have committed a crime. You do still have freedom of speech and religion and due process, and the right not to be discriminated against. You have the right to clean and sanitary living conditions and adequate food. You have the right to read, and not to be physically restrained for no reason.

For those who have been given their sentences, there will be a work schedule observed from about 7:30 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. Jobs can include producing useful items, working in the laundry, the kitchen, cleaning, mixing paint used by the Highway Department, making furniture, or working in the prison print shop.

Pay for these jobs is very minimal, sometimes only 9c to 15c an hour, but occasionally will be a few dollars per hour. The purpose of having the inmates do a job is (1) to keep him or her occupied and thus less frustrated and angry at being locked up and (2) to learn a skill he or she might use once released. If the prisoner owes money to the state, to a victim, or child support, it is taken out of his or her wages.

Here are some careers working with Corrections:
           -some inmates have not completed their high school diplomas, some not even close. In some cases, college courses or training are taught on-site in an effort to give the inmates more ability to obtain employment once they leave.

Writer Trent Bell decided to interview prisoners and ask them what advice they have to offer. He asked them what they would have told their 'younger selves.'

It's called the  Reflect Project, and here are some bits of advice from people who made some big mistakes that landed them in prison:

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