When a person gets sent away to prison, I imagine they need to adjust fairly quickly to life on the inside. There are ways of doing things that will help keep you safe and keep you out of trouble with the guards, and basically just make your day to day life as easy as possible.
Those habits don’t usually translate to life outside of prison, though, but depending on how long a person has been institutionalized, they can be hard to break.
These ex-cons are sharing the habits they had to work hard to leave behind bars.
1. Not eating like an animal.
One of my foster sons came to us from juvie. Every meal his arm was around his plate and he woofed down his food. My mastiff couldn’t keep up. He always ate back to the wall hunched. Took my wife and I a month to show him no one would take his food and we had plenty more.
Funny part is he went in the Marines and did 8 years got out honorable and is now working in corrections.
2. Don’t save it for later.
I had to completely change my sense of time. I agree with all the people who said they ate super fast, but then we would slow walk back from the chow hall- any excuse for a few minutes more outside.
I made sure I never consolidated enjoyable things. If I had a snack- I ate it and concentrated on it. If there was something good on TV, I watched it. Now, I’ll snack while I watch a movie because there aren’t enough hours in the day- but on the inside I was trying to make hours and days go away.
I’ve got a good job now, and nice respectable friends, but I still react to confrontational situations more quickly, decisively and… efficiently than they do. I’m able to pull back at the last minute, but it’s pretty clear that violence is not a tool in their arsenal.
3. Hard to imagine.
Taking a sh%t with my underwear up to my thighs to hide my junk.
It took a long time to go back to pants around the ankles.
I forgot it wasn’t normal until my girlfriend pointed it out.
4. A luxury, for sure.
Taking as long as you want in the shower.
For the longest time after I got out, I took less than 5 minute showers.
My friend did two and a half in Florida State Prison.
Said the first thing he did when he got home was shower until all the hot water ran out.
5. A short list.
Not wearing shoes in the shower.
Eating with forks and knives.
Having salt and pepper for food.
Not always having to watch your back.
Being able to get food when you want it, and just get up and leave to go for a drive or something.
6. You can just do it.
I spent 72 months in prison for a tragic car accident that I had caused.
After I was released I kept telling my wife exactly what I was doing without her asking.
She thought it was funny at first but after a few weeks of it she was starting to get bothered.
7. As good as cash.
I don’t smoke, but every time someone offered me a cig I would pocket it.
On the inside thats a bartering chip, took me about a month or two to break
8. It was too quiet.
Not an ex con but my step dad has been in and out of prison for the majority of his life, he always said that whenever he gets out of prison you’re so use to to it being loud all the time that when he got home he couldn’t sleep because it was so quiet.
9. A laundry list.
I eat fast.
I don’t sit with my back to the door in public.
I always scan crowds constantly.
I question WHY people are nice to me.
I carry extra clothes, water, and various other things in my car in case I need it. (Not a hoarder but harder to get rid of stuff)
I don’t like being away from home overnight.
I also quit eating boiled eggs, I over season my food, and I refuse to drink Kool-Aid anymore.
10. This sounds awful.
Hoard feminine hygiene products. We were super limited on the number of pads or tampons they gave us. They didn’t give any to the women in holding cells.
There was dried and fresh menstrual blood on the floor and concrete benches, and a drain in the middle of the rooms like they intended to hose down the room, but if they did it was not often enough.
11. All of the choices.
Not me personally but I know a guy that said after he got out he just wanted McDonald’s.
When he got there he spent 20 minutes staring at the menu trying to decide what to order because he wasn’t used to having choices.
12. I never would have thought.
I didn’t use a fork for a few weeks. Ate everything with a spoon without thinking. It’s not the most interesting thing but I hadn’t noticed it posted here.
13. No need to defend yourself.
Staring at sharp things. Like there’s no desire to use them inappropriately but you are just kinda shocked they’re there and available for use.
You might be surprised what qualifies as a sharp object. I remember whenever someone tried to hand me a knife or something to cut veggies Id be afraid to touch it.
Glass was the biggest thing though, just mirrors in all the bathrooms. real ones. I could smash that shit and have a big jagged weapon, i cant believe this italian restaurant has such a dangerous thing in their bathroom. stopping thinking of objects as weapons is hard
14. Find your optimism.
Constantly looking over my shoulder. By far the hardest conditioning to break, which I haven’t and doubt I ever will, is the constant pessimism and cautious optimism. You see, when you’re waiting to work your way through court, get a deal, and get sentenced, you will have your dates changed 50 times, hope for certain things only to be disappointed, and any time you are told something hopeful it doesn’t work out.
As a result, I never get excited for something until it actually happens. When my wife told me we were pregnant (I already knew from her symptoms that she was but still, you never know for sure till you take the test), I was obviously happy, but because I’m always cautiously optimistic and rarely show emotion, I couldn’t feel comfortable or excited until I knew that my developing daughter was healthy. Even then, it didn’t really hit me till she was born.
You can apply this to anything especially big events. Getting engaged, planning the wedding, buying a house, ANYTHING. I still hear from my wife how i wasn’t crazy surprised or excited to be having a kid. I was, I actually was the half of the relationship who was dead set on a kid when my wife supposedly could’ve gone either way.
You just can’t get your hopes up or look forward to anything until it is here or has happened. I’ve been home over 7 years now and with my wife for 6.5. She’s truly the catalyst that motivated me to truly change my life and to not give any more of my life to the system, but she’ll never know how happy she makes me because she misinterprets my cautious optimism/realism for pessimism or indifference.
15. I mean…
My dad was in and out of jail when I was a child. When he was out he used to make me “jail house slams” basically whatever you can find to throw into ramen as you said.
I thought they were the best thing ever, and it was so cool cause I ate what my dad ate, right? Fast forward about 12 years and I’m telling my gf this story and she’s just like. “… your dad fed you prison food?”
16. In case he needs to run or fight.
Dude I work with said for the first little bit after getting out he would take a leg out of his pants when he’d shit.
Not sure how common that was, dude’s a fighter though, so maybe that had something to do with it.
17. In case he needed to jump up?
My ex would sleep a certain way all the time. To me it seemed like he was sleeping as if he was in a coffin, his arms crossed and wouldn’t move the entire night for a couple months.
He eventually broke that habit.
18. That’s a good reason.
Not me – but guy who worked for me. When things were very busy, I would often get carry-out lunch for everyone and bring it back to the workplace.
This one guy would eat a cheeseburger and french fries in two minutes.
Once I asked him why he ate so quickly. He said “Well nobsforgma, I spent 7 years in a Federal prison and if you didn’t eat your meal in 10 minutes, you didn’t get anything.
That 10 minutes often included the time it took standing in line to get your food.”
OK then. I never said anything to him about it after that.
19. You can’t trust anyone.
A somewhat-friend of mine did a few years and the one habit he couldn’t shake was distrusting people.
He said that people in prison are never nice, if they’re nice it’s because of a hidden motive.
Up to this day he still doesn’t trust people who act nice / generous / helpful / .. towards him.
20. Gotta keep an eye out.
Being paranoid always looks over my shoulder and never letting anyone stand behind me.
Even people passing on the side of me I’m always turning my head to see what they’re doing.
food I could be the last one to eat first one done and I still stand when I eat around people.
21. Why would you want to do that?
The hardest thing has been to talk without using the words f**k, f**ing or a$$hole in every sentence.
22. You’ve gotta make yourself look big and scary.
God, I got out two years ago and I cannot for the life of me shake my aggressive posturing… Thats all prison is, being hyper vigilant, and I would argue worse yet, always appearing indifferent. Like you could be kickin it with your “friends,” laughing, watching tv, but then even the slightest miss phrasing of something or a sudden movement will shift the whole mood of the room at a drop of a dime. So whatever emotion you display has to be instantly shut off and on a moments notice you have to be ‘booted and suited.’ I would return to my unit on occasion and there would be blood smeared on the walls from a fight I missed. You didn’t look at it. Eyes forward, indifferent. Emotion is weakness, and though I was secretly panicking, I had to bury and put on as a cold motherfucker.
I got in one fight. We beat the shit out of each other in the gym area and if you judged by other peoples responses, it was like nothing was happening at all. Many quietly walked away, while others just stood there emotionless. If it had gone south for me I could have been killed in front of 250 people, and nobody would have said or done jack shit. That is true loneliness the which of like few people in the first world truly understand. Fuck, if I got a bad fever in bed at night (which I did several times) even though there were six bunks in my cramped cell, I could have died in my sleep and the guards would have only noticed at count.
There were 12 guards on duty for 1500 inmates… think about that. If someone wanted to fuck with you, you’d be hamburger meet before a guard showed up. So thats the way it was. High tension all the time, mad respect for everyone, stay jacked as fuck and walk shoulders straight on the yard. In the weight area, Ive seen John Cena looking swastika tatted aryan motherfuckers say please and thank you to for weights to Terry Crews looking black power guys and they said the same back. That simple. Your fortune is on your back and in the words you speak.
Surprisingly, it equated to a surprisingly smooth system. Once you earned your bones (respect) on compound you just went through life like a robot and there was little friction, because everyone knew the smallest spark could ignite an inferno. So many stories I could tell… but the point is that raw genuine brute value has no currency in the real world. People will scoff at you that are the size of your thigh… i get cut off in line at the grocery store… people mean mug from across the room. All that shit is liable to get you hurt in prison, and its hard to let go of this mentality once your out.
I am an educated white kid from a rural area, and I was thrown into a metropolitan prison. I didn’t have an ounce of aggression in me before. And my wife, who has stuck by my side through it all, says Im as gentle and kind as before, but my prison mannerisms stick around nonetheless. She’s always telling me not to make such strong eye contact with people, not to cross my arms all the time… ugh… it is subliminal and I’m getting better at it but its been hard as hell to shake. Moral of the story, dont go to prison kids, because your only one poor decision away.
Tldr; Aggressive Posturing
23. There’s enough to go around.
Never been to prison. But i did a few months in county jail. Something i haven’t seen mentioned is trading food.
When i got out i asked my girlfriend to trade me her chicken wings for my macaroni. Pure habit.
I really could’ve just went to the kitchen and got more chicken.
24. At least it’s healthy.
In prison, every time you get time on the yard, you do laps.
Seriously, almost every single person does it too.
When you get out, it’s hard to break that habit.
25. More than a few things.
My uncle was in prison for a while and we’ve talked a bit about his experience and how it affected him:
-He has a hard time not being violent. You’d never guess since he mainly just sits in a corner and smokes but he’s been out for nearly ten years and still always struggles with using his words
-The guy cannot stand authority. He tells me that its hard to listen to bosses when you know you’re probably smarter and tougher than them. He knows most people feel this way, but he just can’t ignore it. He’s taken up professional carving so he can be his boss.
-He’s really in touch with our native roots now, on account of joining a first nations gang in prison.
-Doesn’t talk much, I don’t know if that’s because of prison but he really only speaks if he wants to. Not the type of guy who likes to talk just to talk.
-Doesn’t have a lot. He has some sort of abandonment issue or something so he doesn’t want a lot of things to miss if he goes back to prison.
-For all the time he doesn’t spend with people, he’s out with nature or doing something in the wilderness. I think it helps keep him calm and feel connected.
Nice enough guy, but prison kind of fucked him up I think and he’s going to live his life being slightly disconnected with people.
26. It’s what you’re used to.
Making prison commissary-only food.
Everyone around me thinks it is gross as hell to throw summer sausages, pickles, cheese, doritos, cheetos, and such into my ramen noodles, but good lord, I can’t stop, and I have been out for five years.
These are so interesting. The human brain is a strange and wonderful thing.
If you’ve spent time in prison, what would you add to this list? Share with us in the comments!