Prison Life.

Day after day, year after year, imagine having no space to call your own, no choice over who to be with, what to eat, or where to go. There is threat and suspicion everywhere. Love or even a gentle human touch can be difficult to find. You are separated from family and friends.

If they are to cope, than prisoners confined to this kind of environment have no option but to change and adapt. This is especially true for those facing long-term sentences. Few people are completely unchanged or unscathed by the prison experience.

It used to be believed that our personalities remain largely fixed in adulthood. But despite relative stability our habits of thought, behavior and emotion do change in significant and consequential ways, especially in response to the different roles that we adopt as we go through life. It is almost inevitable then that time spent as a prisoner, in a highly structured yet socially threatening environment, is bound to lead to significant personality changes.

Key features of the prison environment that are likely to lead to personality change include the chronic loss of free choice, lack of privacy, daily stigma, frequent fear, need to wear a constant mask of invulnerability and emotional flatness (to avoid exploitation by others), and the requirement, day-after-day, to follow externally imposed stringent rules and routines.

The empirical consensus on the most negative effects of incarceration is that most people who have done time in the best-run prisons return to the freeworld with little or no permanent, clinically-diagnosable psychological disorders as a result. Prisons do not, in general, make people “crazy.”

However I was skeptical about whether the pains of imprisonment generally translate into psychological harm concede that, for at least some people, prison can produce negative, long-lasting change. And most people agree that the more extreme, harsh, dangerous, or otherwise psychologically-taxing the nature of the confinement, the greater the number of people who will suffer and the deeper the damage that they will incur.

‘Prisonization’

These chronic features of the environment might change prisoners’ personalities in terms of the “Big Five” model of personality that dominates most modern research on the general, non-prison population (based around the key traits like extraversion and conscientiousness).

Nonetheless, prisoners adapt to their environment, which they call “prisonization”. This contributes towards a kind of “post-incarceration syndrome” when they are released.

Former prisoners had developed “institutionalized personality traits”, including distrusting others, difficulty engaging in relationships and/or hampered decision-making.

I remember one prisoner telling me when she was release she said: “I do still kind of act like I’m still in prison, and I mean, you are not a light switch or a water faucet. You can’t just turn something off. When you’ve done something for a certain amount of time, it becomes a part of you.” Which is totally true.

The personality change that most dominated their accounts was an inability to trust others, a kind of perpetual paranoia. “You cannot trust anybody in the joint,” said another inmate. “I do have an issue with trust, I just do not trust anybody.” she said. “And neither do I,” I told her.

The prisoners described the process an “emotional numbing”. “It does harden you. It does make you a bit more distant,” one said, explaining how people in jail deliberately conceal and suppress their emotions. “It is who you become, and if you are hardened in the beginning then you become even harder, you become even colder, you become more detached.” Another prisoner stated: “I kind  of  don’t  have  feelings  for  people any more.”

In terms of the “Big Five” personality traits, one could characterize this as a form of extreme low neuroticism (or high emotional stability or flatness), combined with low extraversion and low agreeability. In other words, not an ideal personality shift for the return to the outside world.

As the long-term prisoner becomes adapted, in the true sense of the term, to the imperatives of a sustained period of confinement, he or she becomes more emotionally detached, more self-isolating, more socially withdrawn, and perhaps less well suited to life after release.

The environment in a prison is very strict with respect to both regulations and norms, and private space is limited. Such an environment places demands on inmates to acquire order to avoid both formal punishment and negative acts from co-inmates.

In other words, it can help to be conscientious to stay out of trouble.

(Pictured below: Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, W. Virginia. First pic, a peek inside Martha Stewart’s cell. Second pic, #PrisonLife #CellLife)

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Missing Her.

She’s not the type of person you miss when she leaves. In fact, you might not even notice she’s gone initiall, because you thought she’d always be there. She’ll casually go without a goodbye or some grand exit because it was hard for her to give up on you. It was hard for her to walk away and not look back. It was hard for her to accept no matter how hard she tried, you never were going to reciprocate what she both wanted and deserved.

She was around and gave you so much attention so often you took her for granted. You’re still going to think she’s someone you can pick and choose when you want to. What you don’t realize is, she made the choice to walk away already.

And it broke her heart to do so. But she had to because you left her with no other choice. If you weren’t going to appreciate her presence, she’d make you realize what you lost in her absence.

Missing her.

It’s going to happen when you least expect it. You’ll see her somewhere and she might not even notice you at first. She’ll be so consumed by the attention of someone else.

A smile. A nod. A casual conversation where you’re talking, but not actually saying anything.

You’ll look at this person who is making her smile so big and that’s when it’s going to hit how pretty she is when she’s happy. But you never saw that side of her, because all you did was disappoint her and let her down and bring out the worst of her.

You never saw how torn up she was about every little thing. But she lost sleep over you. You spent too much time talking about you. Too much time emotionally invested. And when you’re emotionally invested in someone, you don’t see how bad they are for you sometimes.

Maybe someone will mention her in conversation, and ask you how she’s doing because there was a time you knew. There was a time you were very much a part of her life, and so involved you could answer on her behalf, because you knew about every good day and bad one.

You’ll freeze for a moment and you’ll answer good but the truth is, you’re finding out about her life the way everyone else is. Through social media. Instagram posts. Facebook updates. Snapchat stories. And you aren’t hearing from her firsthand like you used to.

It’s going to hurt a bit once you realize that.

You’ll go to text her and you’ll realize you don’t even know how to say hello.

You’ll realize there are so many things you want to tell her. And you think back to a time when every conversation, she made about you.

Even when you ignored her she’d send a double text continuing to try to keep the conversation going. You’ll stare at her name in your phone, looking back at the date of the last time you spoke and you’ll realize how long it’s been. But what’s going to hurt more is that it took you this long to realize she was already gone.

What’s going to hurt is the moment you realize you did nothing to make her want to stay.

You’ll miss the little details of her life, even the things she used to complain about.

You’ll miss even the things that used to annoy you about her. How long her texts were, how she’d answer in less than 5 seconds making it so easy. How predictable she was and how you thought she’d always be there. Because no matter what you did or how you treated her, it never altered the way she treated you.

You’ll miss having someone who genuinely cared about you. Someone who took time out of their day to ask how you were and wait for an answer. Someone who went out of their way and always made sure they were there. Someone who took the time to learn and understand you.

Someone who wanted to know about your past to understand why you were the way you were. Someone who would have gone to the ends of the earth to make you happy and never stopped praising you or building you up, even if you were knocking her down.

You’ll miss her late at night when you’re laying there alone and you realize there’s no one to talk to. And it’s not just her you miss it’s the conversations you used to have, how she’d get you to a place no one else could. How she’d get you thinking about things caring about things, believing in things, even if it was you yourself. After talking to her she thought you could do anything, because that’s how much she believed in you.

You’ll find yourself driving and a song will start playing and you’ll freeze for a moment thinking of her. It’s one of the songs she made you listen to and it’s only now you realize why. It was just another clever way of her saying she cared without spelling it out.

You’ll drive past a place and it’s her ghost you’ll see there as flashbacks run through your mind of when you were there together, and things were so different.

You’ll think back to a time when you knew she cared even when you didn’t. Moments where she poured her heart out to you and all you did was listen.

And you’ll hate yourself for realizing it too late that you really do care. Maybe you always have. And you probably always will care a little bit. That’s the thing about girls like her, they come into your life just long enough to leave a lasting impression before they take off again. Forever leaving a little bit of an imprint on your heart.

She’ll leave and you won’t even be able to be angry at her for it. You’re more angry at yourself for not realizing what you had when you had it.

She’ll smile and hug you and ask how you are because she doesn’t hold it against you for not caring. But what she doesn’t realize is, how you do care. But you let her go on her way not saying anything because even you know, she deserves better and it wasn’t supposed to end this way.

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