Illustration by francescoch via iStock.

Prison can be a place that strips you of all happiness, but I have found a way to focus on the bright side by changing my perception of it.

The living accommodations let me relive my childhood with its junior-sized bunk beds. Yes, a 45-year-old man can still drape a sheet over his bunk, make a fort and still be cool. All of the 12-feet-by-15-feet cells come fully furnished with a small table, footlocker and a stand-up locker for two adult men. 

There are no arguments over picking out colors or styles. The state has already saved us from that dilemma. 

It is also a rent-free, gated community that has the best surveillance system in the state. Video cameras are everywhere, including the bathrooms. The perimeter security fence is sure to thwart any intruder. The 15-foot-high fencing, with layers of shiny concertina wire has a vibration sensor should some burglar try to use a ladder for entry. I am safe from the outside. 

My gym membership will not expire until I am released. I pay no fees or get cornered by personal trainers seeking new clients. There are long lines and gang members get first choice, but who can complain? I still get my workouts in.

As for current fashion trends, I never hear how “those gray pants are so last season.” I don’t have to worry about whether the colors of my outfit match, nor do I have to worry about my clothing being wrinkled. Faded clothing just means that I have been here a long time. It is always in style. 

During the pandemic, I’m pretty sure that my prison is one of the only communities of 1,800 people that reached “herd immunity” in less than a year. Everyone got sick at one time or another and the quarantine wing was full for several months. 

Now we see on the news that new COVID-19 cases are happening, but we have had no new cases in months. When store shelves were running out of toilet paper, I continued to receive my single roll of toilet paper every Wednesday and Sunday. It may not be the same quality as Charmin or Quilted Northern, but it has the texture that even cowboy legend John Wayne would admire because it doesn’t take crap off anyone. 

Have you ever had a neighbor that bragged about his 64-inch flat screen television? He probably let you know how great the sound was and how crystal clear the picture was. He would certainly let you know how much he spent on it. Not here. 

Our 13-inch plastic, see-through, flat screen is really not something to brag about. This is the type of television that guys will purchase for about $137 and leave behind. Television bragging rights are not an issue. 

Fans of the hit television series MacGyver can feel like they are on a film set here. For instance, you can learn how to turn a AA battery and a standard stapler into a lighter or how to create a tattoo gun by using the motor from a CD player, some batteries and a bristle from a steel brush as the needle. 

You’ll also learn how to make homemade ink with soot from burnt hair grease, alcohol extracted from deodorant and a homeostatic mixture that a chemistry professor would admire. Here, the handle of a flyswatter is a universal tool to stir boiling spaghetti in a water pitcher. How practical!

The culinary creations made in a prison cell would make Emeril Lagasse say, “Bam!” 

A birthday cake can be made by crushing up a 16-ounce bag of vanilla wafers in a medium-sized bowl, adding one can of 7UP, and microwaving the mixture for 10 minutes. There are an infinite number of dishes that we can make with ramen noodle packages by adding all sorts of meats, cheeses, crushed chips, mackerel and anything else in the canteen. 

Speaking of the canteen, if I want to make a purchase, I just type in my order and pick it up on Friday. There is no bagging, and my green mesh bag is durable and reusable. Such an eco-friendly society! 

Granted, I haven’t heard of people outside having to worry about grocery bag hold-ups, as long as you walk fast and make no eye contact, you should be able to make it back to your cell with your items — usually. 

Relationship issues, divorce and break-ups are a common occurrence in this environment, but I cannot think of anywhere other than the military where such a diverse group of men can come together and support the wounded. 

Your support system will verbally condemn the heartbreaker as we listen to Taylor Swift break-up songs, allowing the tears of misery to trickle down our cheeks. 

In the 11 years I’ve been here, I have not witnessed a car accident nor have I been held up in traffic. I don’t have to deal with car insurance premiums or get my driver’s license renewed. The long lines at the DMV are a thing of the past. 

If there is a tornado warning, or the siren blares of some impending doom, I don’t have to think about where I should go to seek safety. I go to my cell. 

For those that have a complex about their bodies, prison life will take care of that. When the corrections officers walk through the wing, your private parts are no longer private. Strip searches are a common event. The shower room with four showerheads, a video camera pointed inside, glass windows and no dividers will let you experience voyeurism firsthand.  

Conflict resolution is a skill that is practiced almost daily. With a lot of alpha-type males living in such close proximity, the chances of pissing someone off is great. Avoiding a fistfight or a stabbing is a crucial talent that can save your life. A course like this would cost money on the outside, but in here, it is just part of survival. 

Then there is the matter of living with another man. We are confined to each other’s moods, body odors, music preferences and television shows for years on end. After five years, this should constitute a common law marriage regardless of one’s sexual orientation. The IRS should include it as a qualifier for a tax credit.

Prison life can bring a person down and destroy their sense of normalcy. If I look for the bad, I will find it. But if I look at how the situation parallels the outside world, I can think of myself as being in a community that accepts everyone regardless of their age, race, religion or sexual orientation. 

I have never heard of the institution turning anyone away who has received permission from the court system to come and stay for a while. They will leave the light on for you! 

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.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Shon Pernice

Shon Pernice is a contributing writer, a veteran and a Kansas City native, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a combat medic and came home with traumatic brain injury and PTSD. He has been published in Veterans Voices, The Beat Within and Military Magazine, and he is a contributing author to the book, "Helping Ourselves By Helping Others: An Incarcerated Men's Survival Guide." He is incarcerated in Missouri.