1. 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 pissed 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 Walmart 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.
2. The main thing when you get out is how fucking busy the world is. The people are running around doing so 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.
3. The food! spent 2 years on vacation in club fed… when I got out a hamburger was so rich I threw up half way through. Also, girls….
4. 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.
5. Did a few years in the pen. 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.
6. 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 sh*t, do a lot of posturing, finger pointing, and pushing. I learned to be a much better, more effective fighter in prison.
7. The biggest difference is the lack of respect for personal space. Inside, that place is sacrosanct. It takes a long time to get used to people rubbing past you and not watching where they’re going.
Also, first time playing basketball at the park hearing the word “b*tch” thrown around jokingly. My first instinct was to get ready for violence and these idiots are just verbal sparring back and forth for shits and giggles. Call someone that word inside and that scenario will not end well for someone.
That was over a decade ago and I still check the exits as soon as I enter a building, watch the doors and try to always sit with my back to a wall.
8. 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.
9. 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 a 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.
10. Did 2 years federal time (Ab, Canada). 7 months in one institution, 17 in another closer to home. Met some really good guys. I know it’s hard to believe not EVERYONE in jail is a scumbag but it’s true. One friend lent my mom 2k to help pay rent no questions asked.
For me, the big change was crowds and people doing things you just don’t do in the pen. I went to Walmart the day after I got out and found myself getting annoyed and frustrated just hearing the people around me. That and not taking the silverware from restaurants out of habit.
Or having all the ketchup I wanted. And being able to buy whatever I needed or wanted without having to wait 3 or more weeks for things.
While in I started working in the coral metal shop welding. Signed up as an apprentice and pretty much did all I needed for my first year to be completed. Now I’m a red seal welder and making better choices in my life.
The food in the facility wasn’t always bad. But most times it wasn’t enough.
I had a 15 inch television, cd player, a guitar and a fan. I also had an awesome roommate – big dude, former military, super intelligent. He helped me be more confident and assertive I helped him with anger management and kept him from killing stupid inmates. Seriously… I honestly think I saved a few lives…
11. I don’t really talk about much anymore since I changed a lot since then but from 15-17 I went to youth detention center (what you think of as juvenile hall). While I was there the food was horrible and we didn’t have access to anyone on the outside world. Phone calls for 10 minutes a week to the parents was the only time we used technology.
When I got out I remember how weird it was to be able to walk anywhere without having to tell staff or have a staff follow you. I could simply get up, go walk anywhere I really wanted, and that was it. After being boxed in a couple acres barbered wired place for so long you become a robot. After being in for 2 years I had a hard time catching up to experiences that my peers went through while I was gone, mainly with girls. I had to finish off some high school so I went back to my old high school. For the first 3 months I was pretty socially awkward looking back, but girls. There was girls, so many of them. I went from 100 all boys all the time to girls. Finally, food, holy – food was amazing. I went straight to in-n-out the day I got out.
I got out 8 years ago since then I graduated with a bachelor’s of science, finished a post-bacc, and currently trying to get into medical school. All of this I never thought would happen when I was 15, making horrible decisions.
12. 10 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)