Originally Published January 21st, 2020
For some of us, a life spent behind bars is nothing more than a scary thought. Yet, there are others who have lived through or are living that life.
If prison can mean rock-bottom for most people, it can be even more so if you’re a woman. Studies suggest that the US Criminal Justice System is giving women harsher punishments than their male counterparts.
Let’s take the case of Tondalo Hall as an example. She and her child were physically and verbally abused by her boyfriend. When police got wind of the child’s plight, both of them were arrested. What makes it more interesting though is her boyfriend was sentenced to only two years. Meanwhile, Hall has to spend 30 years in prison for failing to protect her child from her abusive boyfriend.
This is just one out of the thousands of cases where women got the shorter end of the stick. Even if several prison reforms have been instituted in the past years, the number of women in custody are growing faster than men.
Here are other truths about life in women’s prisons that will shock you.
1. IT CAN BE BORING
If your idea of what’s life for women behind bars come from a movie or tv show, you might want to reevaluate it. Though riots do tend to erupt sometimes, much of their days are routine.
They wake up at 5:00 in the morning or earlier if they work in the kitchen then the guards will start the counting. Afterward, they are given about 30 minutes to eat breakfast before they go to their various jobs. Each inmate has a job for which they are paid an average of $15 per month – essentially a pittance.
Lunch is served at 12:00 and like breakfast, they’re only given 30 minutes to finish eating. Then it’s back to work until 3:00 in the afternoon. It’s free time afterward where they rest in their cells, spend time with other inmates, pursue higher education or attend church service.
If they’re a lifer, they might have to do this every single day for 30 to 50 years. What could be more boring than that?
2. SANITARY PADS ARE A LUXURY
In the outside world, having your menstruation is perfectly natural. Yet, inside those prison walls, it can be a source of humiliation.
In most prisons, personal hygiene products are not free. In fact, they are much more expensive. That’s why a lot of women prisoners have to go with just one sanitary pad per day. That is if they can afford it. Those who can’t have to face the humiliation of staining their clothing and bedsheets.
3. SEXUAL ABUSE IS MORE COMMON THAN YOU THINK
Sexual abuse can happen to anyone no matter their wealth or power. But women in correctional facilities are more vulnerable to sexual assault than the others.
Many cases have been filed against prison guards who molested an inmate. Yet, statistics continue to mount up. Sex is oftentimes used in return for certain favors. The most common of which is sneaking in contraband such as drugs and other abusive substances.
4. IT CAN GET PACKED
Inmates bear much of the brunt for the lack of funds and continued privatization of prisons. One example is inadequate sleeping quarters.
Most jails have around 3 to 20 inmates who share a single cell. This means that there’s barely enough room for privacy. And if your cellmate has nasty habits or body odor problems, then you’re in for a treat.
5. JAIL CALLS ARE AN EXTORTION
Whether it’s the men or women’s prison, one fact remains: jail calls are extortion. The Federal Communications Commission reported that prisoners pay as much as $17 for a 15-minute phone call. Prisons usually have exclusive contracts with jail call providers which leave families with no other option.
There are however ways around this. GlobalTel found that jail call providers charge more if it’s a long-distance call. In most, if not all cases, calls from prison are generally treated as long distance.
To help inmates and their families make cheap jail calls, GlobalTel provides them with a local phone number that inmates can call. Calls to this number are then routed to the real number of the person they want to call. This simple yet savvy trick has already saved inmates thousands of dollars on phone calls.
6. SEXUAL ORIENTATIONS DON’T MATTER MUCH
Inmates are human beings with needs too just like the rest of us. That’s why being cooped up with people of the same gender tends to blur the boundaries of sexual orientations.
Women who are adamant that they are straight end up forming intimate relationships with other straight women. Whether it’s for companionship or financial support, relationships like this are more common than you expect.
7. DATING IS COMPLICATED
If you find dating to be a very complicated affair, then think how hard it must be for inmates. Starting a relationship with a fellow inmate can mean that you’ll be together all the time – like 24/7.
Prison is a lonely place and there’s not a lot of people you can trust or bond with. So when two inmates are in a romantic relationship, it can get pretty intense. This can lead to pretty bad confrontations when one is caught cheating. Since prisons are not that large, this happens quite often.
But nothing is as painful as having to say goodbye when one is about to get out and the other is left inside. Although not all prison couples split up over things like this, it can still be pretty devastating.
8. GOSSIP IS A MAIN SOURCE OF ENTERTAINMENT
When girls are gathered in one single place, gossiping is almost always inevitable. The same remains true for incarcerated women.
Since there is no other available form of entertainment, these women get their daily dose of drama from their fellow inmates. This means that the rumor mill gets grinding even at the smallest breath of scandal. And scandal is never wanting in prison.
9. YOU NEED CREATIVITY TO GET BY
Since supplies are hard to come by in prison, inmates need to get creative with what they have.
They cook their favorite food on a makeshift contraption and repurpose old clothes with spare craft supplies. They even made makeup from coffee granules, gel pens, and oil pastels.
10. GIVING BIRTH IS HAZARDOUS
It’s common knowledge that giving birth is dangerous even in sanitary environments. But inmates giving birth in prison are also chained to hospital beds during labor. It’s not like they’re going anywhere given their condition but still, protocols have to be followed.
Plus, there’s the fact that prisoners don’t always have access to standard medical care. The child is also taken from the mother after birth to be placed in foster homes which could worsen postpartum depression.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Judy Ponio is a firm believer in the power of sharing knowledge. Having extensive experience in the prison industry, she wants to share what she knows with the world. Judy also loves to write about political and legal topics.