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What is it Like Being in Prison?

By Warren Wake, Prisoner of War in America

Contrary to what most people think prison is, it is not. It is not the bars, the fences, the razor wire, the armed guards, the substandard food, or the three tier cellblocks. All of these items, and many more, are a part of prison but by far not the most important part. Those things are external. Prison is internal, it is about doing time in one's own head.

Your anger, bitterness, frustration, exasperation, fear, grief, and apathy are the real fences that you must cope with. These thoughts have to be lived with every waking moment, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, year after year. Many times, even your dreams are invaded by these black emotions.

Uplifting emotions such as interest, happiness, enthusiasm, and serenity are generally produced in pleasant and enjoyable situations, as in dining at a fine restaurant or spending an evening with someone you love. With these desirable situations, your thoughts bounce off these events, and you have good emotions. In prison, your thoughts bounce off the razor wire, the fences, the guards, and the unjust justice systems. You run the gamut of anger to apathy.

At the beginning of your journey, you are stripped of much of your identity because you have created a significant part of your personality through the clothes and jewelry you wear, the kind of vehicle you drive, your job, where you house yourself, your possessions, and your friends and family.

Prison takes all of this away. It houses you in steel and concrete, issues you prison clothing, and feeds you slop. You must also work at a job that either pays you nothing or at most a few cents per hour. You might hear from a few friends and family members if you're lucky, but most will abandon you after a few years.

You are left with your body and your mind. Most people are accustomed to obtaining their pleasures from external sources­­they become very unhappy and depressed at the beginning of their incarceration. With time, you learn to cope, but there is never one day in which you can forget where you are.

After a few years, give or take, you may begin to adjust. It is then you realize that your imprisonment is harming your family more than you, which only adds to your misery. But isn't that what prison is designed to do? To destroy the life of anyone who dares to break "their" laws. And in most cases it does.

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