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by Gabriella Solano

There seems to be this notion about prison, and prisoners. The taxpayers seem to think that we have it made in here, and are lucky to be fed and have a bed to sleep in. Not so. If you are one of the unfortunate ones to have no one to care for you financially, or emotionally on the outside … prison will break you if you allow it to. Living in prison is not cheap. Things add up fast. The “indigent kits” that CDCR provides for prisoners are a joke. There is a small bottle of lotion, a bottle of shampoo, and some razors that are to last you for a whole month. They provide no soap in the kits. Either way, this kit in no way will last for the whole month, because in prison everyone mysteriously gets a phobia of germs. You are required (by inmates) to take no less than two showers a day, more in the summer. If you don’t comply with this, you are looked down upon and talked about to everyone … no one will want you as a roommate. This in itself drives people into doing illegal things in prison, just to survive.

Now let’s talk about the food that we get fed. Where do I start? First off, the amount we are issued wouldn’t satisfy a toddler. The food is horrible, and sometimes unfit to eat. Yes, we get three meals a day; two hot and one cold (lunch), which consists of two pieces of bread, either some type of lunch meat, or peanut butter and jelly, one tiny packet of mustard, usually, and either a pack of pretzels, or graham crackers. And we are to survive on this for the day. People usually skip breakfast or dinner altogether. If you decide to purchase things off the canteen, you need to have plenty of money on your account because canteen prices are so expensive. This is why I say prison is expensive, so if your family sends you a limited amount of money you must spend it wisely … enough to last for the whole month because once again, we only shop once a month. Not to mention if you get vendor packages sent in to you from your family, you are looking at a minimum of $150.00 for a decent package, because for the packages, we get them only once a quarter, which comes to about every three months. These packages are so expensive and we usually get knock-off items in them. This is why I mentioned that if you have no one in the free world looking out for you, you are pretty much doomed in prison.

Finance is not the only obstacle in prison. I’ve been incarcerated now for almost 20 years, and honestly don’t know how I survived. By the grace of God is the only answer. I’m one of the lucky ones who have strong family support. That alone has helped me get by. I think back to when I first got here. I believe I had just turned 26, and entering this place with a life sentence. I was scared out of my mind, scared like I’ve never been scared in my life. You hear all these stories about prison, especially in the county jail. When I got here, I remember how tired I was after the long bus ride and the hours in receiving. When I finally made it to my cell, I sat on my bunk and cried until I could cry no more. After my long cry, I had to sit and face reality … my reality. To wake up every day of your life and the first thing you see when you open your eyes are those same cinder blocks staring back at you. You need to learn to live in this tiny cell with seven other women, who at times don’t get along. You quickly learn in prison the word humility. To humble yourself among all these women is difficult. You also learn to pick your battles in here, because lifer or not, if you want to make it out of here, you need to run a good program and change who you are supposed to be looking out for your safety. One of the main things you learn is that you see or hear nothing.

I was for a time in a desperate situation. I was depressed and, honestly, I was bitter. One good thing that prison does provide is many groups that you can attend, and get a different perspective on any issue. You learn to look at yourself from the inside, and accept all the mistakes you’ve made, and try to correct them. I quickly got myself into a routine that would keep me busy and help my days go by fast. I got a job, finished school and I’m even attending college striving for my AA degree. The main thing here is to keep busy or you will quickly get “caught up” as it’s called in prison, and that is the last thing you want for yourself.

Prison, like high school, runs with cliques. You quickly decide which clique you will be a part of. Or, you can go alone, but to pull that off you need to be strong and independent. When we get dayroom time, or yard time, it usually goes pretty well. We get to watch TV or simply interact with one another, or you can go into the game room where there are usually a group of girls playing different types of card games or dominoes. Also in the dayroom there is a tiny laundry room where we are allowed to wash our clothes, and in my opinion that is where most of the fights or problems start. Girls fight for laundry time … so silly when you think about it, but in prison it’s a serious issue. Out on the yard there isn’t much to do but walk the track. Once in a while someone will start a game of volleyball, but not usually. You can get a pass to go to the gym, but that is usually closed. Prison is mundane to say the least. The odd thing about it is even though the days are repetitious and boring, the time really does go by fast. How? I really can’t answer that question.

I can go on and on about life in prison, and the many things that go on in here, some good, and some bad. There are many aspects to surviving in here. This is not a normal environment by any means. Yes, we are paying for our crimes, but some of the stuff that goes on in here is inhumane. The systems tries to break you, dehumanize you, and clone us all into one entity that they feel we should be. To be fair, some of the women that come into this place really are bad. They look for trouble, they enjoy hurting people and causing trouble any chance they get. It’s an indescribable situation. Some of us make it out of here better people and never come back, while others seem to enjoy it and keep returning over and over again.

I have paid a high price for my reckless behavior as a young adult. I have spent the better part of my life in here, and missed so much at home. Do I deserve it? Yes, but I have paid for my bad choices, and in all that, I have come out of this a stronger, better version of myself.

Republished from “Perspectives from the Cell Block: An Anthology of Prisoner Writings” – edited by Joan Parkin in collaboration with incarcerated people from Mule Creek State Prison.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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