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Vintage postcard showing prison tower and concertina wire
Illustration by Katrina Rodriguez; text effects by Teresa Tauchi

"Postcard From the Yard" is a series from Prison Journalism Project that presents brief but rich descriptions of a single scene intended to invite the outside reader into the space or moment occupied by the writer. Collectively, these stories build an immersive portrait of prisons across America.

My prison in Virginia has a silly rule: All beds must be made up by 8 a.m. on weekdays. 

To make things easier, some of us will sleep on top of our blankets. But those who sleep in the conventional manner of a free person — on top of a bottom sheet with another sheet and blanket over you — are more delayed. If you’re late, a corrections officer will smack your bed and bark, “You got five minutes to make your bed or you’re gonna get a charge!” 

In the geriatric facility where I reside, there are men battling cancer and various age-related maladies. But the officers will even hassle them if their bed isn’t made up properly. This they deem a courtesy — they could write up the charge with no warning, after all. 

As a result of this rule, over 95% of the inmates here sleep fully clothed on top of their blankets. Some claim that prison should teach self-discipline, but that seems a shallow excuse to harass old men. If one hasn’t learned self-discipline by age 60, the odds they’ll ever learn it seem pretty stacked against them. 

But I have to say that training us to sleep with all our clothes on is a damn fine preparation for living on the streets. When I pointed this out to the warden, he simply frowned.

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.

Kevin A. Connell is a former editor of The Compound Chronicle prison publication. He is incarcerated in Virginia.