The best way to describe my life is that it feels like a TV show. Sure, it’s similar to the reality TV show, “Lockup,” which offers people a view into jails and prisons across the world. But being incarcerated can also feel like TV programs and movies that are not remotely related to prison.
Let’s start with “Gossip Girl,” a show about privileged students at Manhattan prep schools. In my environment, this show reminds me of three corrections officers.
These mean officers once sought to inform me and others that we were inmates and nothing more. They were standing in a corridor, making comments as inmates passed by. (Walking through the corridor, where you’re always on display, is like the male version of “America’s Next Top Model.”)
They scrutinized each prisoner, assessing their physical appearance and swagger. They called them “crackheads,” “junkies,” “drug dealers,” “killers,” “child molesters,” “rapists.”
How did they know who was who?
I approached the reality show checkpoint, waiting nervously to be objectified. They paused, looked me over. Then that dirty word — the same pejorative uttered by my prosecutor — left their lips. It’s a nickname wannabe thugs use to bolster their street cred. A mobster’s attribute. Something you label a condemned person.
I’ve never killed anyone in my life. But I guess it doesn’t matter who I am. All that matters is who they think I am or who they want me to be. So I play the part. I’ll keep playing the part until the director says, “Cut!”
The show must go on and evolve.
In the reality show that is prison life, there are recurring themes and motifs: testosterone, racial identities, women, constant gossip, unwarranted jealousy, prison yards, razors and shanks. Put it all together and you have a show.
Some actors or inmates’ roles are short-lived, sort of like the losing contestants on “Naked and Afraid.” The next day, a new tenant might replace him. They are a fresh body with a new identification number — no association with the Actor’s Guild, but a background in criminal activity.
The new actors only matter so much. Scenes can quickly become redundant. Every day in prison is mostly the same. The script portrays the cyclical life of an inmate.
As a result, you have something called Groundhog Day syndrome, similar to the Bill Murray movie by the same name. You go to sleep and wake up in prison again — same stale cell, same cold bars and same paint-peeled corridors. The meals are the same. Your weird neighbors are the same. Your company officer never went home; he stayed in the same exact spot while you slept.
Everyone is playing their role, except you’re the star of this show. The only good thing is you get to play yourself, over and over again.
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.