Life behind bars is very different than the every day life we're used to. These ex-cons share the stark differences between the two lives they've come to know.
“When I got out a hamburger was so rich I threw up half way through.”
The food was definitely something I noticed when I first got out of jail! I spent 2 years on vacation in club fed…and when I got out a hamburger was so rich I threw up half way through. Also, girls….Source
“I was honestly surprised by how much the world hadn’t changed.”
Twelve years down. I was honestly surprised by how much the world hadn’t changed. Kids coming in towards the end of my set kept telling me how amazed I’d be by the changes, and that I was going to lose my mind, but it honestly felt like I’d been gone two weeks. Some stores had moved in, some had closed. All my high school friends had wives, and all the girls I knew had kids. Yeah, the internet’s in your pocket now, and it’s no longer capitalized, but I’d read a magazine or two and these things didn’t surprise me. Source
“Upon release you lose all that structure and there doesn’t seem to be any…”
The main thing when you get out is how f** busy the world is. The people are running around doing sssooo much “stuff” that it’s very overwhelming. Initially the penal system is very boring and you are trained with a Pavlovian response to do certain tasks at some signal. Beep. Line up for chow. Beep. In your cell for count. Beep. Line up for chow. And so on. You build a program around that and become used to the pacing. Upon release you lose all that structure and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the frantic pace of the world.
You get over it after awhile but it’s a striking contrast. Source
“I had to get used to people looking at me while I was walking.”
I did a few years in the pen. I had to get used to people looking at me while I was walking. In prison making eye contact (AKA gunning off) usually leads to a fight. For nearly a year since I’ve been out I’ve had to remind myself that people are just looking at me, not looking for a fight. Source
“The first thing I noticed is how the world didn’t stop while I was away.”
The first thing I noticed is how the world didn’t stop while I was away. You kind of fool yourself into thinking it did while you’re in and, in a way, for you it does. You expect your loved ones to be exactly the way they were when you went in, but they’re not. And you’re not. It can be hard to deal with. Like when they tell you about movies they saw, video games they played, concerts they went to…and you get so jealous. You know it’s petty, but life stopped for you and you get ticked off that it wasn’t waiting exactly where you left it.
The hardest thing to cope with is all the movement and people invading your personal space. I freaked out the first time I went to Wal-Mart and someone reached from behind me to get something off the shelf. After constantly having to have my head on a swivel my first reaction was to fight. I had to stop and remember I was in the free world again, that people were just acting like people and I was the one who needed to adjust back to society, not the other way around. Source
“But oddly enough you get cake every day.”
Oh, and portions! You don’t get a big portions in prison. But oddly enough you get cake every day. I think it’s due to the fact that they have to feed you a certain number of calories daily and a cake is a cheap way to fill a lot of calories instead of real food. But forget it, its cake! You can only eat so much cake before it gets old. Source
“I didn’t have a life to share and talk about outside of my prison life.”
Everyone you see has a full life, with experiences, memories, and interests they’ve been involved in while you were away. Small talk is incredibly difficult because the only experiences you have to draw on are prison stories. I did 6 years and I found myself getting stuck between wanting to open up about myself, and trying to keep the fact that I’m an ex con a secret. I didn’t have a life to share and talk about outside of my prison life.
Also, girls. I was floored by how attractive they seemed when I first got out. I went from seeing nothing but orange prison scrubs and brown officer garb around mostly men to a university campus. I remember sitting in a class and looking at a girl in front of me. She didn’t even seem real. She seemed perfect. This happened a lot for a couple of months.
The day I got out, I went with a friend to a casino buffet for that first meal. This was in Vegas and there was a girl in a bikini who walked up and offered to take a Polaroid with me for $5 or some stuff. I still have that pic somewhere and I look dumb as heck! She literally scared the jeepers out of me. It was so awkward. I could smell her perfume. She wrapped her arm around me. I hit sensory overload and couldn’t even talk. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to tip her or what. My buddy led me away like I was hammered. I felt like Chris Farley when he does the bit where he’s super sweaty nervous.
Also, why doesn’t the outside world have California vegetable ramen? I miss the f* outta that flavor. Never seen it anywhere but the yard. Source
“I didn’t like being around people for a long period of time.”
I got out a few months ago and the change I noticed with me is that I didn’t like being around people for a long period of time. I had so much anxiety working at a Tropical Smoothie when I first got out. I felt at danger when there was no need for the feeling. Nobody was a threat but I couldn’t let go of that fight-or-flight instinct I learned in prison from getting into fights and watching the dorm activity to avoid best I could any violence. I’m still struggling with it, but its not as bad like it was in the beginning. Source
“People fight very differently in the real world.”
People fight very differently in the real world. In prison, you don’t have a whole lot of time to fight so you go for the throat immediately. If you plan to get in a fight, an effective strategy is to microwave a cup of water and throw it in their face before you let loose with the punches and kicks. Minutes later, you have a face full of mace and guards all over you. In the real world, people talk a whole lotta stuff, do a lot of posturing, finger pointing, and pushing. I learned to be a much better, more effective fighter in prison. Source
“I found that people were less social and distant when out in public.”
I was convicted of a white-collar crime and was imprisoned for 14 years. When leaving prison, I found that people were less social and distant when out in public. I went from only really seeing people in their 20s with cellphones out occasionally to seeing 10 year-olds texting while listening to their ipod.
Another change I noticed was teens (most, not all) being blatantly rude, on purpose. I don’t know if it’s their upbringing or a rebellion phase, but being rude to complete strangers (especially the elderly) is one of the first things I noticed which was rarely happening when I was growing up. In jail, it doesn’t matter if you were convicted of fraud, murder, conspiracy to commit a crime, if you even gave somebody the wrong look, or just had the intention of being rude, that could earn you a few trips to the prison hospital. Source
“I had to learn how to use a fork again.”
I had to learn how to use a fork again..that was weird. Also the food. I didn’t eat much for about 2 months after I got out.. I stuck to Raisin Bran and confused the F out of my family. Source
“The car ride home was horrible.”
Ten years. The car ride home was horrible. Drove 40-50 mph was like going warp speed. The world was full of colors I have not seen in such a long time. When I got near my hometown, I noticed how all the newly planted trees have grown. The city is now nearly landscaped. Cellphones all over the place. (You were the boss back then if you had a cellphone and a pager). Source
“How hard it is to get a basic job.”
How hard it is to get a basic job. I got out of the slammer in 2011. I remember applying to call center jobs that paid 12 bucks an hour, and I was competing with people who had Masters degrees. I was floored. Source