behind the scenes: climbing the hill

bts 3

This is the third installment on my impressions of prison. The bulk of a prison stint can be broken down into the first and second halves. The first half can either be the easiest, or the hardest. Regardless of individual perspective, it’s a constant, uphill battle.


by Alex King

Once orientation is done, the mind-numbing routine of day-to-day life begins taking its toll. You have a housing assignment. You have a job assignment. Everyday, the lights come on at the same time and your day begins. Chow time, count time, work call, rec call, canteen… all of it adhering to a schedule with variations so small, they may as well not exist. The schedule quickly fades into the background. It takes as much concentration as breathing.

Having averted or dealt with all the less dangerous tactics of your new neighbors, stressors from the population ease for a time. So long as you haven’t stirred the water too much, you become just another inmate to the officers. Life for you has all but stopped. The clock ticks backwards and the calendar never fills. All the illusions of time flying vanish. In the emptiness of prison life, you have the chance to truly take stock of the span of a day and time decompresses. Each hour is an eternity unto itself fueling the disease boredom.

Motivation bleeds out, draining energy and desire. A dissonance infects the mind. Reality pales, fading to a shadow of its former self. The outside world becomes a dream, present in times of vulnerability, gone with the rising of the sun. Nothing holds any substance. There is only the routine. All of life is encompassed in the present hour, the task at hand. Black despair lurks just out of sight. It threatens all it did at the beginning.

The human race is social by nature. We seek solace in the company of others. Isolation generates emotional and mental deficiencies that manifest in the form of myriad disorders classified by our esteemed psychologists. Self preservation will drive an individual to reach out to those who can relate. It is this base drive that allows the more dangerous of the inmate population to lie in wait. They understand that eventually, the prey comes to them.

Your involvement with the population goes deeper. Navigating this second wave of more dangerous pitfalls is particularly difficult. You begin to make observations. There are gang members trafficking or carrying shanks. Other inmates are looking at you in ways that make your skin crawl. Businessmen, drug dealers and prison lawyers have deals for you. Propositions are everywhere, each one accompanied with a definite undertone of danger. These subtle hints act as lures that must be denied very carefully.

As you acclimate to your not-so-new home, the worst part of this phase is the difficulty in identifying the danger. You are reaching out to people who are very careful to disguise their intent to use you. Getting what you need, social interaction, without becoming entrenched requires being noncommittal in certain ways. I managed to survive these initial tests and made it through unscathed. Many others I saw weren’t so fortunate.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Stone Sour performing Bother


2 Responses to “behind the scenes: climbing the hill”

  1. 1 matt
    October 4, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    So what I’m seeing as the common thread of your writings, thus far, is extreme anxiety. From the time it starts and every day that it continues, you must always be on alert and maintain constant vigilance, because when it comes right down to it, there is no one that you can really depend on but yourself. And as you’ve pointed out, while a smart/savvy person might learn to exist in that environment, there is still the persistent burden of the self-imposed isolation caused by that anxiety, of not being able to trust and to let down your guard and relax. When I try to find parallels within my own life experiences, I am reminded of how important trust, communication and comradeship were to fighting off the boredom and sense of isolation.

    • October 4, 2014 at 8:23 pm

      That is a good way to put it. Anxiety is generated in large quantities by this environment. While this will not aid in the isolation much, certain survival techniques can turn that anxiety into mere suspicion. At worst, it will become a slight paranoia, but either way, the stress would be relieved a little.
      -Alex King

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