Memoirs of a Prison Intern Part 1 – Jump In and Don’t Drown

When I was a sophomore in college, just barely 20 years old, I accepted a internship in a state penitentiary.  I had been a criminal justice major for all of three semesters.  Obviously I was ready for this (that is sarcasm in case you missed it).  Apparently my professor thought I was because he is the one who encouraged me to apply for the internship.

It all happened very quickly.  Within about a weeks time I applied, interviewed, and got the job.  I didn’t have a chance to stop and think about what it would be like to work in a prison.  I didn’t stop to wonder if this was something I could even handle.  I had absolutely no idea what I had just signed myself up for.  

Working in a prison was very hard.  One should expect that, but I didn’t.  I didn’t know what I expected, because like I said I didn’t have a lot of time to build expectations.  Still, I was naive enough to think that it would be easy.

That the job would be easy.

That working with inmates would be easy.

That it would be easy to walk away every day and just be fine.

How very wrong I was.  It was anything and everything but easy.  And yet working there was one of the best decisions I have made so far.

Walking through the prison gate is something that becomes normal very quickly, and yet is a feeling that you can never quite get use to.  The gate slams behind you as you walk into the prison, and the despair is palpable.  It hits you like a wave, and it is suffocating.  It is if the very oxygen you breathe has been replaced with every regretted decision and unheard cry for help.

And how can one naive girl walk into that feeling prepared?  The answer is, you can’t.  There is nothing that could have prepared me for something like that.  Just as there is nothing that could have prepared me for every hard decision I would have to face.

How to help those which you cannot help.

How to show mercy without showing weakness.

How to fake enough confidence that I don’t get eaten alive.

How to stop the whistling, the tears, the fights.

How to pick the black and white answer when everything around you seems to be a swirling mass of gray.

I walked up to the gate, and tried to very confidently hand them my ID badge to let me in.

They just gave me a look, “Who are you?”

I mean seriously, this happened about every day for my first month working there.  I know I don’t look very intimidating, but my badge says Unit Manager Intern.  So I would have to embarrassingly stand there (again) as they called around to confirm that yes, this girl is our intern.  Thanks for the confidence boost everyone.

Today was my first day actually working inside the prison walls. I had maybe been there an hour when a Code Red, Code 3  was called for our unit.  Which meant that somewhere two inmates had started fighting.

I headed towards the scene, only half running because lord knows I was not going to be the first one to arrive there.  Correctional officers were flying by me like lightening bolts, yelling at me to move out of the way.  Each time I tried, I would almost run into a different CO that was sprinting down the hallway.

When I arrived at the scene, I just saw a huge pile of men.  I am sure somewhere under that pile of COs were the two inmates that started fighting.  One by one they started to peel themselves off of the pile.  They handcuffed the two who started the fight, and started to walk them out.

And that is the moment when I realized, oh that man is not wearing any clothes.  He got into a fight naked, and now that very naked man is walking right towards me.  In that moment the only thing I could think was what the hell have I gotten myself into. 

I learned that life is 98% of having absolutely no clue what you are doing, but doing it anyways.  There are somethings  Most things in life are impossible to prepare for.  I learned to not be intimidated by those things, because those were the moments that I found out what I was truly made of.   Most of the time we don’t know what we are capable of surviving until we do.  However, this was only the first of what I would experience.  So until next time.

Wire

**** I was talking to a good friend who I asked to give me feedback on my blog.  He told me, “Its good but I am left feeling like I want to know more about you.”  Huh I guess I didn’t realize people would care about that stuff.  So I decided to write a series of memoirs about my life experiences, because I some how find myself doing things like catching chickens in Africa or running to stop a fight among inmates.  

Coming soon is part 2 of Memoirs of a Prison Intern. 

Thank you for reading,  and please feel free to comment below.  If there are any stories you have that you would like to share, or any stories from my life you would like to read about please let me know.

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12 thoughts on “Memoirs of a Prison Intern Part 1 – Jump In and Don’t Drown

  1. “The gate slams behind you as you walk into the prison, and the despair is palpable. It hits you like a wave, and it is suffocating. It is if the very oxygen you breathe has been replaced with every regretted decision and unheard cry for help.”

    I love the words you used to describe this feeling. It is so poignant.

    I admire your courage. I can’t imagine how it felt to walk into that situation being a woman. There are for sure different challenges working in a prison being a woman as opposed to a man. I will look forward to the second part.

    • Thank you that means so very much to me. It was hard to be a woman and not a lot of people get that so thank you. But it also gave me a toughness I didn’t have before because I had to learn to stand up for myself and not take crap from anyone. I had to learn to take myself seriously when no one else seemed to. The hardest part was the whistling. I would get whistled at everywhere that I walked. While whistling can be somewhat innocent it becomes degrading when it happens all the time. Anyways thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts!

      • Being a man, I won’t pretend to understand the challenges a woman faces but I can only imagine in that environment.

        Showing my age here, but in a time long ago, which would never happen today in a million years, my 6th grade class was taken to a juvenile detention facility as part of the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.

        Mind you, we all went – boys and girls. This wasn’t some “Beyond Scared Straight” program where we all thought we were Billy Badasses. I was beyond petrified being 11 and the male inmates were 16 and 17. There is a HUGE age gap there. The things they said to us were terrible. I am not sure if this was rigged as part of some sort of scare tactic but they took us into the main room and all the inmates started walking towards us. One of the guards cocked a shotgun and they slowly backed up.

        I imagine the whistling was the least of your worries. I am sure the things you were told and heard were beyond degrading.

      • Yikes that sounds like it would also be scary, especially at that young of an age. I did hear quite a bit of degrading things, but luckily I could write them up for that if I wanted to. Most of the time they would just “test” me to see if I would stand up for myself.

  2. “The gate slams behind you as you walk into the prison, and the despair is palpable. It hits you like a wave, and it is suffocating. It is if the very oxygen you breathe has been replaced with every regretted decision and unheard cry for help.” – Great description. There’s so much going on in our country right now with law enforcement, but the average person has no idea what it feels like to be on this side of things (even if it is through interning). There is a weight within law enforcement that not many get a real taste of, but it sounds like you were. Can’t wait to read part 2.

    • Thank you! It is true there is so much to our criminal justice system that many don’t understand. One of my biggest pet peeves are when people who have come from good families and lived a relatively easy life would say to me, “Well they are criminals they deserve to be there.” And I am not trying to justify anyone’s actions, but there are way more social economic factors that many people are unaware of. It is easy to point fingers when you have never been starving, or when you have never been abandoned by your parents. But it can be hard to explain that to people who have never experienced it. I think that is why I just haven’t talked much about my experience in the prison, because many people just didn’t understand. Thanks for reading!

    • Oh thank you so much! I have learned that bravery does not mean we are not afraid. I am afraid as much as any normal person would be, I am just to stubborn to let the fear win. Glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Pingback: My Article Read (8-9-2015) | My Daily Musing

  4. Pingback: Memoirs of a Prison Intern Part 3 – Battling the Social Stigmas | These Days

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