writing on prison

7 More Frequently Asked Questions About Prison Life

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp else what’s a heaven for?”

In my last post, I invited you, my readers, to leave your questions about prison and prison life in the comment box at the end of my blog post. The invitation stands. Following are seven more frequently asked questions about prison. Don’t forget to leave your question(s) at the end. Thanks.

7 More Frequently Asked Questions About Prison Life

1) Q: Are older prisoners treated any better than the younger ones?

A: In Pennsylvania, for the most part, only in the older prisons are the aging prisoners shown a little more respect and consideration. The main reason for this, I believe, is that when in the 20+ new prisons were built and filled beginning in the mid to late 80s to the present, most of the staff in these new prisons were new to the systems and inexperienced. They didn’t have veteran guards around to show them the way, so they established their own way, hence, the loss of compassion and a little lead-way for the old-timers. This new generation of guards doesn’t want to be viewed as being “soft” by their peers or by the prison population, and showing compassion is often taken as a sign of weakness, so they don’t tend to show it much. They want to always give the impression and send the message that they are in control. The guards in the old prisons came up differently, were trained differently, and I must say they were and are treated with much more respect than the newer generation of guards.

2) Q: Are prisoners with serious mental health problems housed in prisons alongside “normal” prisoners?

A: Yes. Most of them live on a special housing unit of their own, but they eat meals right alongside us, go to the same yard as we go to, and attend the same church services and other functions that we attend. There have always been prisoners with serious mental health issues living and functioning in the general population.

3) Q: Is the suicide rate high in prisons?

A: I don’t know what is considered “high”, but they do occur far too often. Most men I’ve know who have taken their lives in here were not on any mental health rosters either. They just got tired and lost all hope and the will to go on.

4) Q: During a prison riot, what do the prisoners who don’t want to participate in the riot do?

A: I’ve only witnessed two riots, or major disturbances, in all of my years in prison; in both circumstances, those men who didn’t want to be a part of the riot just stayed out of the way. Usually, if a man is not an informant or a child molester or a known jerk and doesn’t want to participate in the riot, he’s left alone. Incidentally, riots rarely, if ever, improve prison conditions. While it can be said that one of the worst riots in American history, the Attica riot in 1971 did improve some of the inhumane conditions that existed in that prison before the riot, one has to ask if the price those prisoners paid was worth it. In the end, twenty-nine prisoners and 10 guards were massacred by the state police, and many other prisoners were maimed for life.

5) Q: How do drugs and other contraband get inside the prisons?

A: There are multiple ways, and I must leave it at that. This is not a question I feel comfortable commenting on.

6) Q: Are there healthy friendships between some prisoners and guards?

A: Absolutely not. Nor should there be. Lots of prisoners try to form friendships with the guards because it brings them comfort and makes them feel safer. It’s a form of the Stockholm Syndrome; bonding with one’s captors. They hang out with the guards and exchange all sorts of information about what is going on inside the prison. I’ve never known a single one of these men who wasn’t considered a traitor by the prisoners who know better than to engage in this sort of behavior. Most guards who work the cell blocks or housing units on a regular basis seek out these “friendships” in an effort to use the man, and they do. No longer can you walk on a housing unit in a Pennsylvania prison and see a guard sitting alone at his post. Now you will always see one or two prisoners leaning into the guard at the desk, joking and laughing, and often whispering. This sort of behavior was unthinkable years ago. Again, guards are not, and can never be, our friends, and this is not just because they despise prisoners, in general; it goes deeper than that. They are not here to help us. Their job title of “correctional officer” is nothing more than a euphemism. They are simply guards, and their job is to maintain the orderly running of the area in which they are assigned to work, to keep themselves and their fellow guards safe, and that is the gist of it. The only use they have for a prisoner is to obtain information from him. The relationship between a prison guard and a prisoner should always be viewed as adversarial.

7) Q: In a 24 hour period, how many hours are prisoners locked up in their cells?

A: Prisoners who have full-time jobs are generally out of their cells for 9 to 10 hours a day. Prisoners who don’t have jobs are generally out of their cells 7 to 8 hours.

Patrick Middleton

Patrick Middleton is a prisoner, author, and professional editor. Patrick is the author of Introduction to Experimental Psychology, 2nd edition (instructor’s manual and test battery and Research Methods, 3rd edition, (instructor’s manual and test battery); Healing Our Imprisoned Minds, a successful self-help book that is about to come out in a second edition; a memoir, Incorrigible; and the just released literary novel, Eureka Man. Patrick holds a Ph.D degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He was an adjunct faculty member at both the University of Pittsburgh (1983-1989) and Villanova University (2007-2010) for graduate and undergraduate students. He has been incarcerated in Pennsylvania since 1975.

If you have a question about prisons or prison life, you can post it in the comment box below and Patrick will answer it in a future post.