Roleplay Guide 015: Life In Prison (Character Guide)A lot of what people know about prison life will effect their writing when describing a character’s time in prison, or a character going to prison. But, a lot of what they know might not actually depict a life in prison. In this guide I will detail a few different areas of prison life that will hopefully make it easier. This guide is a general overview of prison life. (Includes helpful links)
BEFORE WE BEGIN…
Before we can discuss what prison is like, you need to understand the difference between a state prison, county prison, and a jail. Most people on the outside do not understand that a state prison is different from a jail. It is true that all three institutions incarcerate men and women. Jails hold those who are waiting for trial or inmates who are imprisoned for short sentences usually resulting from misdemeanor convictions. County prisons also hold individuals waiting for trial and inmates serving short sentences less than eighteen months. The actual incarcerated sentence determines whether you serve your time in a county prison, a jail, or a state prison. In many states, if your sentence is more than eighteen months, you will do your time in the state prison system.
COMING INTO PRISON
For many new incarcerates, they will go through a variety of emotions when entering prison — no matter how tough they are trying to present themselves. Typically, new prisoners go through shock as the realization of being in an actual facility may take some time. They will experience isolation; being away from friends and family will be hard and relationships often suffer as a result. Loneliness, and confusion tend to occur during the few first weeks — maybe longer.
However, inmates are often able to write letters to their families, but maximum security staff (in some cases) will censor them. This means that they will open up the letter and read what’s inside before sending it off. Staff, if they do this, also have the authority to throw away or not send letters.
- Card phones inside of prisons are granted to some inmates, where they can get a few minutes a day to talk to their family or friends.
INSIDE OF PRISON
Prisoners are required to work, which helps reduce the cost of the prison system. It provides a small wage and useful experience for jobs when someone gets out. Some prisoners can also do work in the community. Jobs can range from sweeping, to filing papers, to kitchen duties, etc.
Young prisoners who are schooling age must do at least fifteen hours of education a week. This usually is held in a room of some kind with a group of other young prisoners, where they are able to get one-on-one help and learn together. Older prisoners have the option of studying, too. As well as opportunities to study inside the prison where there is usually an officer responsible for education, it is also possible to study by distance learning. Some prisoners choose to study by correspondence at universities and colleges, while others study at the Open University or other organisations designed specifically for distance learning.
- Education and training in prison can reduce the re-conviction rates amongst offenders by allowing them to take up opportunities they may have missed before.
There is a system of discipline in prison which is administered by the head of the prison (the Governor) and by a group of people from outside the prison, called the Board of Visitors.
Discipline can involve things like
- increasing the time a prisoner spends in prison before he gets early release
- taking away some of someone’s privileges
- putting a person in a special unit if he is violent or disruptive
- taking him to court if he has committed a serious crime.
The disciplinary procedure must be fair, and in some cases the prisoners may have a right to legal advice and representation. A prisoner can’t protest his innocence to the media, but he can write general letters to the media about life in prison and issues about the system.
The prisoners have several other rights
- To write and receive letters and make telephone calls.
- Privileges which are having a personal radio, books, periodicals and newspapers.
- Watching television.
- Making purchases from the prison shop with money earned in prison.
- Recreation and eating with other prisoners.
Each prison has to have the Prison Service’s public policy statements about race relations clearly displayed. It is a disciplinary offence for a prison officer to use racially abusive language. Each prison has a race relations liaison officer, who deals with complaints from prisoners about racial discrimination and with problems or oral fights of a racial nature.
- A prisoner can also complain to the Commission for Racial Equality.
There are also other illegal things in prison like drugs. Drug use in prison is well documented. There has been a lot of media coverage of the use of hard and soft drugs by prisoners. Though, many people go to prison for drug related crimes, it has been reported that one in ten prisoners claimed to have first tried drugs while being inside prison walls.
Many prisoners divide themselves up by race. It is not uncommon for prisoners to become affiliated with a gang. It is even less uncommon for prisoners to become a gang’s ‘bitch’.
Many prisoners who experience homosexual relations do not always consider themselves gay. Sexual assault is a commonality for many facilities.
Most illegal contraband within prison is brought in by staff and guards, and general workers for a price of some kind; weapons, drugs, etc.
Prisons all differ from one to the next. Not all prisons are ran the same, nor have similar facilities within their walls.
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