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As an individual who has now been incarcerated for roughly six years for armed robbery, I’ve seen many lows, but a lot more highs. If you have ever heard the saying, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” then you can essentially apply that same mentality to situations in prison: “Prison isn’t a bad place, the people in prison are bad.”

I have been housed in a Level 4 security prison, which is the highest level of security a person who is imprisoned would normally be placed if given a sentence of more than seven years. The highest security level is actually Level 5, but that is strictly for those who need extra and extensive discipline; I’ve never been there. I have also been housed in a Level 2 security prison and am currently in a Level 1 facility.

Prison, for me, is just like any other institution designed for a specific purpose. It’s no less than a four-year college or rehabilitation center. If you come here, focus, buckle down and work on your shortcomings, this place could be the best thing that could happen to a person such as myself. 

The biggest and hardest obstacle to overcome in prison is your own mind. If you come here and tell lies to yourself, then you will misinterpret reality and your lies will become your foundation. 

The food, of course, is horrible, the living arrangements aren’t ideal and your circumstances are uncomfortable, but the one thing a prisoner must understand is they placed themselves in this predicament. And, to be quite honest, as a prisoner in the Michigan Department of Corrections, we have it pretty good compared to other prisons in the U.S. and around the world. 

In the Michigan Department of Corrections, we are afforded a bevy of extracurricular activities that help keep our minds easy. We have ping-pong, football, basketball, pool, volleyball, handball, softball, a weight pit, table soccer, bowling, hockey, personal televisions, MP3 and MP4 music players, tablets, instruments, portable radios, CD players, tape players and more.

I even had the opportunity to earn two college-level associate degrees. I have the opportunity to learn a skilled trade on top of becoming certified in certain fields within a promising career path. And, to add to the opportunities, training a dog has become available to inmates, including me, in Level 1 and 2 institutions.

The staff, faculty and administration in prisons where I’ve been can be compared to a teacher or professor. Of course, there are some staff that abuse their power and oppress the incarcerated, but overall, the majority of the staff complete their mandatory shifts and go home. There have been many accounts where the staff has extended a certain level of leeway to those of us in prison. There will always be a stickler who does not treat everyone equally, but that is just the reality of extending mercy; not everyone will feel they are being treated equally. 

As an incarcerated individual, I have had minimal contact with discipline. I have never received any major misconducts nor have I ever been in any trouble that would result in me being removed from the general prison population. 

At the end of the day, you are ultimately the deciding factor of what your prison journey will be like. How you choose to look at this situation is up to you. You can let it take control of you or you can accept your reality. If you attempt to play the victim, you will hinder yourself from transforming your mind. If you sit in prison and find faults instead of remedies, you will stagnate in your growth. 

We all come from different backgrounds and circumstances, but we were all born with a brain to think, reason and decide. If you choose to be disobedient to the law, then there is a place for you. Just know that inside of this world, the life that you choose to live is totally up to you. 

This is not permanent for most of us, so it’s best to keep an optimistic approach to the whole ordeal. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Cantrell Garner is a writer whose experience being incarcerated in four different facilities of various security levels has helped him understand the nuances of prisons. He is currently incarcerated in Michigan.