Worse Case Scenerio: Average Joe/Jane find themselves in Prison, would you go insane?

Scenerio - You find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time…All of a sudden police are questioning you for committing crime-X. Probable cause is established, reasonable doubt is cast, and you find yourself - a completely innocent person - behind bars for something you had nothing to do with.
It does not matter what crime has been charged against you - let’s just suppose you are in jail for 5+ years…Would you hack it out? Or would you go insane being ripped away from your friends and family, spouse, children etc…etc…

This has always been an architypal fear of mine - not that it would ever happen but the thought of spending my life in a cage away from friends and family and my wife would tear me appart. Heck I’d rather be on the lam!

What about you?

It would suck, believe you me. Just knowing I couldn’t be there for the ones I love would drive me insane.

I’m scrawny. I’m a fairly small guy with soft skin and a purdy mouth. How would I survive prison without some cuddling? I’d be that crazy quiet guy that no one messes with because they don’t know how crazy he might be. If need be, I will eat someone.

Hm, good question=)

I would be very pissed off at being there despite being innocent.

After the initial pissed offness mellowed into a sort of simmer-mode, I would probably do something like use the continuing education function found at a fair number of institutions to go from paralegal to lawyer-not-passed-the-bar, and see what I could do with working with one of those help-the-innocent groups. At least it would serve to keep me busy while serving my sentance.

I think I would be fairly upset with reading addiction going unfulfilled…I would read in my sleep if i could keep my eyes open, and I have a ‘stable’ of about 100 favorite books that are my steady rereads [sort of like teddy bears…they help me get out of the real wrld when things are tough.] Although they are all in e-book format, and on the cute little removable media chips, I really can’t see them letting me have my PDA in the slammer…unless it could be documented that having access to my PDA and library is required to keep me from going nuts…I can do without TV, I could do without internet [though I would miss SDMB and World of Warcraft immensely] I really would find it difficult to go without reading. Hell, they could lock me in solitary, shove food trays through the door and let me shower a couple times a week and I would be happy as a clam with my PDA and books…

Yeah, I think I’d go into stick-it-out mode. The ladies’ prison here in Miss. isn’t too bad, especially if you can stay in one of the county lock-ups. Carpet, A/C, three squares a day - I can dig it. :slight_smile:

Plus, up at Parchman you can go out and work their truck-vegetable farm. They have a HUGE ASS vegetable farm. So, fresh air and good work and all that.

Also, inmates (non-trouble making kind) have access to the library and all.

It would majorly suck, but I’d be alright.

I think, other than the ass-rape, I’d quite enjoy it. (DISCLAIMER: The following is based on certain assumptions that may or may not be true. If anyone has more information about how actual prisoners live, please inform me.)

Things that would be better than what I have now
Air conditioning. It’s 71F right now, even at 3:30 AM, and part of my brain is telling me that the air conditioning alone would almost be worth it. (It’s a little-known fact that the melting point of us Minnesotans is 75F.)

Meals prepared for me, three times a day, that are nutritious and well-balanced. While by no means gourmet, they can’t be worse than what I constantly eat from the vending machine at work.

Medical treatments courtesy of Joe Taxpayer. While I do have (some) coverage through my employer, it is my understanding that prisoners have much, much better coverage. I heard rumors (second-hand, from people who knew prisoners) that dental coverage for prisoners is excellent. As I currently have no dental coverage, this sounds pretty damned good.

Not having to deal with life in general. I hate going shopping. I hate the realization that I desperately need a haircut and have to find time and energy to bother getting it cut. Etc. I think I’d like these hassels to be taken care of.

Free access to a weight room. I’m scrawny, and would like to work out more. I figure if I blow the right guy, he’ll spot for me. (Seriously though, I’ve wanted a weight bench since I was about 12. My parents promised then pretended that they hadn’t promised about ten Christmases in a row. Now that I can afford one myself, I have no place for it.)

Things which would be roughly the same as I have it now
Cramped living quarters. Of course this isn’t so bad, since I rarely leave my room anyway, except to go to work or to the movies on the weekends. And giving up movies is a small price to pay for giving up work. :slight_smile:

Lack of contact with loved ones. I avoid my mom. My older sister lives far away. My younger sister lives with mom, so I inadvertantly avoid her, too, which she seems ok with. My brother and I barely talk anyway, so a phonecall now and then would be about the same. And I see my dad for about 5 minutes every week, even though I actually live with him. (We keep opposite schedules.) Honestly, I think getting away from my family would, on average, be rather nice for at least the first four years.

Routine. While I suspect prison is slightly worse in this regard, I doubt it’s much worse. I wake up. I run through a shower. I go to work. I work my ass off. Boss says it’s not enough. I work enough to work two asses off. I go home. I shower again. I eat. I spend a few hours reading the Dope and playing WoW. Then I go to bed. While I’d definitely miss the Dope and WoW, getting up at a particular time every day wouldn’t be so bad if I knew I didn’t have to go to work.

Things that would be worse in prison
The chance of rape or violent assaults. However, I suspect this is largely dependant on what sort of prison I would be placed in. Definitely a minus, though.

Lack of Internet. I swear I’ve read about prisoners having Internet access, but I don’t think it’s typical and I’m sure it’s very supervised and used only for certain purposes. I would very much miss this messageboard and the other sites I visit daily.

Lack of freedom. While I rarely go anyplace exciting, I do go to movies now and then. And it’s nice to know that if I wanted to I could just drive out of town to a nice steakhouse, or buy lots of booze and get sozzled at home while watching the Lifetime movie of the week. While I never actually do either of these, it’s nice to know that I could.

To sum up:
Depending on the type of prison I got sent to, I think my stay would be anywhere from surprisingly nice to shitty, but survivable. (And only shitty because of the violence and rape. Take that out of the equation, and it becomes merely “annoying, but survivable” at worst.)

I don’t know, BlackKnight, but I’d guess that being surrounded by people who, for the most part, aren’t being nice to me would negate all those things that you think would be better. Out in the world, people aren’t always nice, but they’re rarely openly hostile.

I’ve always been interested in prison. I studied some deontology in grad school, and situations in which conventional morality is radically altered or reversed (like prison, prostitution, and war) fascinate me. This fascination means that I tend to like prison movies, but it doesn’t mean I’d enjoy doing time. I’d miss my music gear, my clothes, and the occasional moment of quiet solitude. (I don’t think solitary confinement would be the same thing.)

Anyway, prison has always been an irrational fear of mine too. Maybe it is archetypal, and we all have it deep down. But I also remember being very young and listening to my father tell me, a bit too often, about the consequences of breaking the law. I guess he was determined that I not grow up to be a criminal, because he filled me with the belief that if I ever pissed and missed the pot, I’d end up in prison, possibly in front of a firing squad. My dad tends to overstate things, and as a child I tended to take things a bit too seriously. I grew up more or less assuming that I’d go to prison at some point, though I never had any inclination to break the law.

Somehow, though, the authorities have let me maintain my illusion of freedom for almost 48 years. If I were locked up, I’d probably find a way to survive. At least at my age, I might attract fewer “suitors.”

I think I could manage it. I’d be horribly upset, of course, but I don’t think I’d go insane. I’d try to keep a low profile among my fellow inmates. If the prison has a library, I’d read a lot. Maybe I’d work on writing a novel. If they have an educational program, I’ll pursue another degree.

I don’t want to go to prison, especially since I’m a pretty law-abiding person and thus I’d be sure to be there undeservingly, but people can adapt to just about anything, and I expect I’m no different.

My best friend works at Attica. (for you young dopers, it’s a maximum security prision in Western New York that had the worst prison riot in US history in 1971.)

Him and his friends joke that they are doing 25 to life too, 8 hours at a time. Listening to some of the stories they tell I know that I could “get by” but hate every single moment of every day while doing it.

For instance, picture no A/C and 2000+ guys who are not compelled to shower in brick buildings with small windows in 90° heat. Lot’s of dumb violence all the time. Og knows what is done to the food.

I think I could hang in there for a few years. Maybe 5 or so. I’d use the time for study & exercise, maybe get a few more tattoos. If it was 10+ year sentence I think I would try to escape and leave the country. If they can catch me at least I would be in prison for a valid reason then.

This were I step in. First off, the ass-rape is a lot less common than most people think. Most prisoners are smart enough to realize that rape is not a long-term survival tactic when you’re locked in the same building with your victims. Coerced sex is not unknown but forcible rape is very rare.

On to other issues:

Bwa-haa-haa. AC in prison. The only place we have AC is where we keep our computers and some offices in our administration building. You, as an inmate, won’t be visiting those areas. You’ll be in the cell where it’s 95 degress and you strip down and wrap a wet towel around your head.

True. Basically you’ll get the same kind of food you’d see in an unimaginative high school.

Also true. Full medical, dental, and mental health care. No deductables and a free drug plan.

Here it’s sort of like being in the army. You won’t have to worry about making these decisions. But other people will be making them for you and telling you what to do.

Access to weight equipment (and a lot of other rec equipment) usually depends on belonging to the right group. If you notice that everybody using a weight machine or watching a TV is part of the same gang, don’t assume they want new friends.

As for blowing somebody, that’ll usually work to get you in the area. But no guy is going to let his “girl” lift weights. You’ll get to stand there and hold his towel and water bottle.

We have movies. But we also have work. The movies are optional; the work isn’t.

The visiting and phone programs would fit in with the contact you described. Visits are usually on weekends and legal holidays. Phones are theoretically available most of the day, but the number of phones is limited. If you’re lucky you’ll be someplace where the officers control the phones and tell you when you can call. If you’re not lucky, you’ll be someplace with “open” phones and your fellow inmates will decide when it’s your turn on the phone.

Prison is all about routine. Everybody’s on a schedule. And as I said above, work is part of that schedule. Those floors aren’t going to mop themselves you know.

As I said above, rape is actually pretty rare. While it’s small comfort, you’re more likely to be killed than raped (and, despite what movies tell you, murder is also rare).

Theft is common, especially if you’re able or willing to fight. There’s a sort of code of honor involved; stealing something by stealth is considered the lowest of crimes. Sneak thieves in prison are regarded below child molesters. But it’s okay if you openly walk up and take something from someone. If they don’t challenge the theft and fight you, it’s generally considered they don’t deserve to keep their possessions.

In New York (where I work) internet access is zero. Computer access is almost non-existent.

Like you said, that’s no longer an option.

Any other questions?

I dunno. I think most guys in stir aren’t all that psycho; I’m guessing a lot are in the same “wrong place/wrong time” boat except they’re guilty, as in, “When I finished robbing the gas station I had a beer then went home but the cops were waiting for me. I guess that was the wrong place to go at that time.” Maybe not the most intellectual conversationalists but they could be fun to hang with.

Read this book: You Got Nothing Coming : Notes From a Prison Fish.

A 47 year old guy, MBA, a mid level executive at Pac Bell for 18 years, no trouble at all with the law previously, finds himself in the Nevada State Penitentiary serving up to 12 years for (IIRC) aggravated manslaughter. Long story.

It is at times very funny, but you can tell that there were more than a few moments of sheer terror. He probably got lucky with his assigned roomate or it could have been worse.

I fancy myself as an Andy Dufresne who keeps a low profile and uses brains to find a safe niche.

Thanks for the info!

I readily admit that about 95% of my knowledge of prison is based off of movies and TV shows, which I know aren’t particularly interested in authenticity.

I do have a couple of other questions, if you don’t mind answering them.

You point out that prisoners are expected to work, and mention mopping floors. What other forms of work do prisoners perform? Are they assigned jobs randomly?

What’s the overall level of inmate-on-inmate violence?

Do prisoners have access to a library?

I don’t know how many prisons you have knowledge of, but do you know how significance the difference is between a maximum and a minimum security prison? Do the terms refer in general just to how “secure” the facility is with regards to the chances of prisoners escaping / rioting / etc., or are there substantial differences in the priviledges given to and restrictions put on prisoners?

(For the record, I still think I’d survive prison mostly OK. But I am beginning to wonder. I think details make the difference.)

I can answer a few of these. My husband is Deputy Warden at a medium-security facility.

In this prison, inmates don’t HAVE to work-- jobs are available, but they’re not forced to do them. (But most want to work because otherwise, they have no money to buy candy and cigarettes from the commisary.) Jobs vary from institutiton to institution. My husband’s prison has farm jobs, cleaning jobs, porter duty, and manufacturing jobs (they make office equipment for state entities.)

Relatively low. Fisticuffs might erupt once in a while, but in this sense, the inmates police themselves a lot of times. They just don’t want the hassle.

They do, but it’s not that great. You generally won’t find a lot of intellectual works or great literature-- more along the lines of Stephen King, mysteries, westerns and the like. Inmates can put in requests for certain books, but the library fund is somewhat limited.

The latter is the correct explanation. Your security level generally is assigned based on your behavior while on he inside. Some inmates, like terrorists or mob guys, or people who are particularly dangerous, get automatically assigned higher classifications, but it’s usually based on how violent you are while you’re incarcerated.

It’s not a nice place to be, but with a short sentence, I think I could survive it.

If it were life, I’d just go ahead and kill myself. It’s not a cruel or inhumane environment, but a person like me simply couldn’t take it forever.

Pretty much what Lissa wrote. Except in NY, all inmates (except those locked up in a disciplinary or medical unit) are required to work. “Porter” jobs are the most common - basically you’re a janitor. In my jail, every inmate who transfers in gets assigned as a porter. Every month or so, we have a program committee, staffed by employees, who decides who gets what job. All inmates go through at least once for theior initial assignment and anyone can request a reassignment (but will not necessarily get it). You can also be taken off a good job if you mess up and sent back to being a porter.

The work is not back-breaking. Most jobs are broken up into three hour modules. Inmates are required to work two modules a day, six days a week. Going to classes counts as a program and all inmates in NY who don’t have at least a high school diploma are required to take one module of school each day.

There are two library systems; the general library and the law library. Access to both is pretty much open to anyone but you can lose your general library privileges if you do something wrong.

Violence is not uncommon but as Lissa noted, the vast majority are relatively minor fistfights. Two guys will get into an argument over something silly, like which TV channel to watch, and neither one wants to back down. Eventually one will throw a punch and they’ll scuffle until the officer gets there to break it up. Then they get locked up for thirty days.

When an inmate first comes to prison from the county jail, he (or she) is sent to a reception prison. They’re they’ll be processed, evaluated for physical and mental health issues, interviewed about the education, have their background reviewed, and be told the basics of what is expected of them and how the system works. If an inmate is expected to be a security problem he’ll go to a maximum security prison. Inmates with relatively minor crimes might go to a max because of their history.

The difference in a max jail is that the inmates are under tighter control. Inmates in a medium, for example, will generally be allowed to walk on their own to places like the mess hall, gym, or library. Max inmates will be escorted by officers throughout the jail. Max prisons will also have more security features like wall towers and gas ports. In a max jail, every inmate will be locked into a cell; most medium jails use dormitories (sort of like an army barracks).

Despite the fact that this, and other, assumptions have been disproven, this line made me giggle. Repeatedly.

I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who has wondered whether I would survive an “accidental” imprisonment.

This isn’t quite the same, but many, many years ago, I was hospitalized for depression. The story is kind of convoluted, depending on whose point of view you listen to, but my treatment team in the hospital somehow convinced me that I would have access to a wider array of long-term services if I would terminate my commercial health insurance and enter the state-run system. (I say convinced, because they had access to a whole lot more information about this than I did, and I also feel that I was not really capable of making good decisions based on my depression. I think I was pretty much like, “Yeah, whatever you guys think would help.”)
So, I ended up in a state hospital. It was hideous. It was exactly what you might imagine a state hospital to be. And, no, it’s not prison, but you are, in fact, locked up. You have no control (at least intially) over your schedule, your surroundings, the actions of your fellow humans, etc. I often think that putting someone in a state hospital would be a quick and easy way to cause insanity in someone who was otherwise balanced.
Anyhow, I was really not there for very long. And after a brief period of very reactive “I’m going to fight my way out of here” actions, I just got kind of calm about it. Got through each day by just getting through each day.
I have subsequently come into contact with people who were there for years and years and years. I can’t imagine, honestly.

My brother did 6 months in medium secure for stupidity (when you’re on probation for assault [aka drunken fight where the other guy presses charges] you GO to the police station twice a week whether it’s convenient or not!) and actually came out better than when he went in.

He’s a big guy but as he had nothing to do he worked out a lot and lost his gut and did enough courses that he’s now a welder instead of a door to door salesman/bum.

I think it depends on the prison and the sentence.

If I was injustly convicted of a violent felony or a sex crime, I’d probably kill myself. By the time I got out, the best years of my life would be over, my career would be ruined, most of my family would be dead, I’d have none of the financial savings (IRA, 401k, etc.) necessary to retire, and I’d have a huge black mark on my life that would prevent me from getting a decent job and even integrating into a community.

A shorter sentence for a lesser crime? I think I could tough it out without going insane.

You could sustain yourself with the hope, if you were truly innocent, that the false imprisonment could be worth many dollars when you finally prove your innocence.

There are many stories of people, having spent many years imprisoned, being freed due to some one else finally confessing to the crime. There was a professional fighter, his name escapes me, Denzel played him in a movie,who was released after many years. He sued the Town, City, State for compensation of his ‘lost’ years, and collected.