Though Hollywood has made prison and the discussion of what happens a sensational occurrence in many instances, your prison experience is likely to be much less glamorous and probably less violent. The popularity of prison based dramas and even documentaries are often extreme because this is what entices viewers, but the reality of prison is actually much less enticing and definitely not a time for lasting friendships or fun. If you find yourself or a loved one heading to prison or already there, then it is always nice to know what it is really like as opposed to how it is portrayed.
Prison is not one giant gang, nor is it always overly violent, or a group of people hanging out sharing details of their lives and crimes. While the level of the facility your loved one is in will determine some factors, like the amount of time out during a day, types of allowed activities, and visitation types, the basics are the same. One of the big things seen on television and movies is that everyone smokes. As smoking in public buildings is no longer allowed, neither is tobacco in the prison system. So rest assured your loved one will not be wasting money on cigarettes and tobacco unless it is brought in illegally.
Another aspect of television prisons are the overabundance of gangs and violence. While there is some truth in advertising, this is not necessarily what prison is like. There will likely be some gang activity in prison, depending on the area. County jails are less likely to see gangs as much as clichés of individuals who seemingly help each other out, but the truth is you will not be forced to join unless you choose to do so. This may mean you have to stand up for yourself at times to prevent further fighting, but gangs are not required. There will also be some violence likely in prison. When you lock numerous people in a small area for any length of time, tempers will flair and fights may break out. These could be over something silly such as changing a television channel or could be for something more extreme such as theft of commissary items. This is truly what prison is like.
That being the case, commissary items are important in the prison system and are often what keep inmates able to maintain composure over time. Commissary items may include anything from snacks to cable and basic necessities. The money is placed on the inmates books and they can purchase whatever they can afford. Many times, Ramen noodles and flavor packets become a type of prison currency as actual cash is not allowed. This may sound odd, but it relatively common.
Mostly, prison is like a boring class in which the activity choices are limited and controlled by someone else. There will always be rebel students, trouble makers, and the quiet ones, but all in all it works out as you simply keep your head down and serve your time, doing whatever possible to make it easier without breaking the rules.
Doing a jail visitation can be tough as you may have certain days and times that visitation is allowed and the type of visitation will vary from facility to facility. Some may allow visitation in an open room with others. You will not be allowed to touch each other much and the room may get loud. Others may have jail visitation through a glass divider or even over a video phone. The types of visits usually depend on the security level of the particular inmate. Time will be limited to a certain amount and when time runs out, you and your loved one will part ways immediately. This can be unpleasant, but is necessary. When you arrive for a jail visitation they will ask you to leave any personal items in a locker or bin for security purposes and you may be patted down or have to walk through a scanner. Again, this is just for security and to make sure no outside items are brought to inmates. Though it may be tough to visit a loved one in prison, it is often a way to help them pass the time and know someone is waiting on the outside.
For further information on jail visitation in specific states and facilities, check out our visiting hours page.