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A stack of vintage televisions with static screens, implying the brokenness of the prison life.
Photo by maxxyustas for Depositphotos

There is so much people do not know about what we endure inside these walls. 

Some of what you see on television is accurate, but it’s just a small bit of what actually occurs.  It doesn’t show, for example, 60 women competing — coming close to physically fighting — to use three working telephones just so they can maintain connections to their friends and relatives in the outside world.

Barriers, such as the lack of working phones, make it difficult to stay connected to people on the outside. When the phones and the computer kiosk go down, we are left with absolutely no connection at all with anyone on the outside. 

Another hindrance is the fact that postal stamps have gone up to 58 cents. Some people cannot work and therefore cannot purchase the stamps to write to their loved ones.

The system has destroyed many of my relationships and connections, too. While many kept up with me in the beginning, they eventually forgot me. Still, I’m fortunate to have a wonderful family, who has supported me from day one and has helped to keep me connected with some people who care to remain by my side.

The prison system can break a person. Once you’re inside, you lose your individuality. You are grouped and categorized as a seven-digit number and, when you are referred to individually, it is just by a last name. Not a face. Not a person with feelings. 

Only the strong survive and come out better than they were upon entry. Some others succumb to a lifestyle of drug abuse to cope with whatever they may be facing. Some become bitter and angry and solve their problems with violence. Very few make wise use of their time and take advantage of any opportunities that may be presented to them.

Inside prison, we form our own communities and families. We talk, share our lives and stories with each other, and form friendships that can resemble the relationships we have with family members. We also develop a rapport with some corrections officers based on the way they treat us. Many see us as animals, and they treat us as such. But the good ones still recognize our humanity and view us as people who have made mistakes. It’s to these COs that we show the utmost respect.

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.

Chanell Burnette is a writer incarcerated in Virginia.