We’ve all seen Orange Is the New Black. Sometimes it can be pretty easy to decipher what is real what isn’t, and sometimes it can be a little tougher. For instance, did you know the character of Alex Vause looks a lot more like Big Boo than actress Laura Prepon? That being said, hear the real explanation of what women’s lockup is like from the ladies who lived there who told their stories to Reddit.
SHAVE ME FROM MYSELF
I got locked up in a women’s prison when I was 21. When you first get there they ask if you’re addicted to anything. If you said benzos or alcohol, they dosed you up with 4mg of Klonopin a day. So for the first 2 weeks when I was in the drug treatment area, things were very chill. There were a few verbal fights, but kind of a camaraderie between the women like, “we’re all just addicts trying to get through this together.” We had groups and AA, it was a daily thing for all the women with children to break down crying about missing them and how they’d literally do anything for their kids now that they’re sober.
Lots of hooking up in the bathroom stalls and showers. Something really weird, every few days they passed out electric shavers, there was one for each bunk and there would be a line of girls using these old shavers to dry shave their legs and pubes in the bathroom. Some of them would flip them and use the non-cutting side as a vibrator/dildo on others.
After 2 weeks there, I got moved to the maximum-security part. Here you were in a high tech building with one bunk in each room and locked in for most of the day. Or else you could go in the community room and watch TV a few hours a day. No more access to hot water. No more classes of any kind. You had to be there for over 5 years to be put in the trailers by where the drug program was. Lots of fights. It really was awful.
The county jail is arranged in “pods” surrounding the guard area. In my area there was one women’s pod and four for men. Each locked pod consists of a day room with bolted down steel tables, a TV, and a pay phone. Along the back wall are the cells, 6 in each pod. You can be in the day room during meals and between 9am and 9pm unless there is a lockdown (happened twice while I was there).
For the first three days, there were about 10 women there. My cell was the only single; the rest had bunk beds. My cell was roughly 6’ by 9’, and had a toilet, sink, and a steel platform for a mattress. The mattresses were about 1.5" thick foam covered in plastic. No pillow. One wool blanket that would cover your shoulders or your feet, but not both unless you curled in a ball. Everyone’s blankets were full of holes. It was almost impossible to sleep, between the uncomfortable conditions, unrelenting anxiety, and people in other pods screaming all night. Of the other women that were there, one was 8 months pregnant, one was 4 weeks postpartum, and two of us had 1 year olds at home.
By Monday night, we were full and they started putting mattresses on the floor in each cell, so I had a cellmate. For the most part, everyone was pretty sympathetic and supportive of each other. They only give you a new uniform every 4-5 days, and no deodorant, so everyone stinks all the time even if they shower. They don’t give controlled substances, even if they are prescribed to you. If it’s something that will kill you to withdraw from, like Xanax, they make you take librium. If it won’t kill you, like opiates, you’re sh-t out of luck. Overall it was really dehumanizing and bleak. It was boring and uncomfortable, and there wasn’t anything to do. I don’t ever want to go back.
PD DOESN’T STAND FOR POLICE DEPARTMENT
More sexual in there than you expect. One of the first things I learned was how to make a “prison dildo” out of a toilet paper roll, Saran Wrap, napkins and a rubber band.
MORE THAN PEN PALS
Drama was always high, mostly about who was writing letters to whose man on the out. It made me sad how these women were so convinced that they needed a man to take care of them and would do anything to keep one, even though it was usually their boyfriend who got them into drugs and prostitution in the first place.
SCHOOL FOR TROUBLED GIRLS
The best way I can describe it is like a boarding school full of every type of female you can imagine. I spent about two months at a facility with around 400 women, whose charges ranged from small petty crimes, to rape and murder. Everyone had their own cliques that they kept to, but there was a lot of stupid drama.
Try to think of the most troubled girls from high school, and then imagine 400 of them stuck together, in a place that is miserable, where they are isolated from their family and the rest of society. That’s basically the gist of it. But like any community, there are good people and bad people, and most of the time you can find a like-minded individual to make friends with.
The facility I was at had a huge library, pretty good food, and cable TV, so I considered myself lucky in that aspect. Drugs and contraband still got in… a lot. That always made things interesting. I met some really strange people, and saw women who committed unspeakable crimes. It opened my eyes to a lot of things I had never seen before.
Women’s prison is actually not that bad. They tend to create families with women who play the role of mother, father, kids, etc. There is very little violence. Most of the women are in for basically being an accessory to the crime with their man dragging them along into the bad situation or they are really bad addicts on the outside. But there are a very few who are actually really evil criminals. Still remember this one inmate who killed her husband and then drowned her 3 kids in the bathtub. She was very clearly insane. She had pictures of her kids and would show them off to other inmates and talk about how she can’t wait to get home to see them. The other inmates had no idea about her crime. It was just sick to watch.
YOU PUT YOURSELF THERE
A pregnant prostitute tried to fight me, I read fourteen books, listened to life stories from other inmates that would break your heart right in two, stayed up late laughing so hard about stupid things that we had to bury our faces in our blankets so we wouldn’t get in trouble, watched a new inmate come in overdosing on meth and screaming and picking invisible spiders off her skin while the guards laughed and told her to lay back and enjoy, wrote dirty stories at my bunkie’s requests with dirty illustrations to go with that were passed all over the pod, had a power outage during a snowstorm, and, in some weird twist of fate, had one of my worst enemies put briefly in my cell. Jail is crazy.
I still hate the smell of certain shampoos and foods, and I can’t use the little disposable toothbrushes you get at hotels. More than anything, it is just absolutely crushingly lonely, just this big grey box where your ultimately locked up with yourself and all of your mistakes and sh-tty choices, with nothing to distract you from the fact that you put yourself there.