#155 How do inmates pass time (retro)

April 25, 2010 at 8:06 pm Leave a comment

How do Inmates pass the time?

You’ll think I am insane, but this blog is actually based off a game show I saw today.

Before we get into that, I wanted to say hello to the newer readers from a number of new blogsites. I have gone from 7 blogs to about 13…with a few more to add. That means (I hope) that there will be newer readers to check out my blogs. If you are on some of those newer prison blog sites, you will get from time to time some of my “retro” blogs. I do this because some of my other blogs have over 180 blogs already on it, which is about 700 pages of writing. To try to kickstart the newer blogs, I will add some of my older ones from time to time.

So if you read one of my blogs that talks about the NCAA Championship and another about Halloween, you will know those are older blogs, but it allows me to give you something more to read about my blogs.

In addition, please email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com to ask how you can support my writing. It is important to me.

Now, how do inmates pass the time?

This question actually comes from a game show I was watching today. This morning I was about to step outside and I happened to see the “Family Feud” and they were in the bonus round. One of the questions they asked the contestants was, “what do they do in prison to pass time?”.

Needless to say, I was interested in the answers.

Remember, this was the bonus round, where the family was trying to win the big bucks. The first person said “write letters” and scored 3 points for it. The second person said “lift weights” and it scored 12 points. They said the number one answer was “read”.

I thought about that and decided to write a blog on it to see if this is how I would see it. Certainly a lot of you have loved ones in prison, and you may be interested to know what inmates really do to pass time.

Well, let’s talk about that.

Remember, I can only speak from my experience, so any answers or blogs I share are purely subjective and relative. What I did here in NC prisons could be completely different from what a guy does in California…or even in another NC prison. But at the same time, there may be similarities since we are all human.

So, let’s look at this. According to the game show, three answers provided were “read”, “lift weights” and “write letters”. Now, if you asked me add a few more answers, I might say, “watch television”, “sleep”, “gamble”, “hustle”, and “get exercise”. Now, let’s agree on this, getting exercise and lifting weights are the same thing, so I am going to replace the “lifting weights” with “getting exercise”. That way we can also imply that any physical activity qualifies as getting exercise, ok?

So we have seven different activities that inmates can do to pass the time. Before we continue, I also want to add this as well. I could have said, “do work” but that is not a voluntary way to pass time. If you think about it, if you have a prison job, you are not really passing time, you are working. So I don’t consider prison jobs as a form of passing time, even though it CAN be argued that it does in fact do just that. I won’t argue an inmate who says that working in a kitchen or a dorm janitor does pass time, because in the most general of cases, it does. But for the purposes of this blog, I will leave that out.

Now, if I was working on that game show and had to place each of those answers in order, and by the percentage of people that actually do that more in prison, I would arrange it this way:

Sleep: 1%

I know on the game show they said “read” but from my personal experience, I think of the 7 answers, this would be the least. Now don’t misunderstand this, I am not saying guys don’t like to sleep, I am saying that when you have free time on your hands, and to pass the time, very few guys will opt to take a nap. Now we may be splitting hairs here, but I am also putting this last because the basis of “passing time” is the idea that you have free time, and want to do something. I am not counting guys who take a nap because they are tired. If you are tired, then it becomes more of a necessity to take a nap, not an option. If all things were equal, and an inmate had some free time on their hands, very few would opt to take a nap.

And you know, there is something about this too. I have noticed that when you are in a difficult situation, like in prison or jail, sometimes the worst feeling you get is the first few moments when you wake up. Why is that? I think part of it has to deal with the fact that you are mentally, physically and even spiritually fighting against all the negative things going on in your life. You might be able to hold off well, but when you sleep, you release your guard. It seems that you are most vulnerable when you first wake up. I have been in many situations where the worst feelings of the day come the second I wake up, because ALL the negative things of my life flood on me and I have not prepared myself to fight them off. This could happen to lots of guys in prison too, which could be one reason why some don’t take naps unless they have too.

Write letters: 3%

This one is kinda low too, but again, don’t be misled by what I am saying. I am not saying that guys DON’T write, I am saying that to pass time, most don’t do this. There are a lot of reasons for this, although I was an exception to the rule. I wrote my butt off while I was in prison; once at Sanford Correctional I sent 100 letters to everyone from NCDOC, state senators, state representatives, prison officials, colleges and universities, ministries, even the Pentagon.

I kid you not.

But I have always loved to write, so it was no problem for me. But for most guys, writing isn’t a comfort. The fact that I am blogging proves that for me, writing is a form of comfort and expression. But for many guys in prison, this isn’t the case.

I remember one person on a site challenging a blog I wrote by saying that most guys in prison can’t read or write…that is not true. Many guys in prison cannot read or write, but NOT most.

I think the reason why most guys don’t write to pass time is because it is hard to express themselves. Remember, often times you have to check your emotions and not show weakness, and many guys extend that to even writing. They are afraid to show emotions when they write. Yet I think it is more that most inmates never learned to express themselves in their writing. Lots of guys know how they feel, but it is extremely hard to actually express it freely, so they don’t. Most will write letters out of necessity, to make sure nobody forgets them. But as far as passing time, most may pass on it.

Read: 10%

This should be higher, but I cannot rank it any higher because the truth is many inmates don’t read as a hobby. Some do, but many don’t. Part of this is due to the restrictions many prisons have on reading material, another part is due to some of the piss-poor libraries some of these prisons have. One of the worst libraries I ever saw was at Sanford Correctional…wait, there WAS no library at Sanford!

Sanford Correctional had no library, but instead had two large bookshelves in each dayroom filled with some of the oldest books known to mankind. These books were so out of date it was ridiculous. We’re talking books dating back to the 60’s or 70’s. You could tell that they got them donated from some local library, who obviously was gonna burn them or throw them away. Well, why not give the trash to the inmates; it’s not like they can read and it makes the prison look like they care….

(he said in great sarcasm)

Now inmates do read, many go to the library (if they have one) to check out a book or two. Many inmates read the daily paper, but most look for the sports section or the comics section (like me). One of the reasons why it is hard to really make reading a hobby in prison is that you really don’t have a lot of “quiet time” to read. Unless you have a single cell, or even a double, you really don’t have a lot of free and quiet time to read a book, especially a long one. And you know, that even goes for reading the Bible. I am not gonna say I know every verse in the Bible, but I did read it quite often, and read numerous ministry magazines, books and booklets. Heck, it got me through some rough times, but it was sometimes a challenge to find the right time to read. So guys DO read when they get some free time, but not as often as I bet they would want.

Watch Television: 11%

Lots of you think this is silly because you assume that inmates can’t do anything BUT watch television (depending on the prison). But this is, in my opinion, accurate because I think that if an inmate wants to pass time, there is a 11% chance that he will watch television. If a camp of 1000 inmates had free time, about 110 may choose to watch television.

But there are a lot of factors here. When I was in prison, most camps I was on didn’t have cable, so the options of watching television was limited. And to add to that, most prison televisions were fixed, meaning that once the channel was set, it was not to be changed at least for the next 30 minutes. You just can’t sit there and turn to what you want (although some camps do allow that).

This made it harder to really find something to watch. Me personally, I hated shows like “Cops” and all those Judge Judy-John-Jerry-Juliet shows. It amazed me how guys IN prison could watch shows like that.

But to add to this, often times the yard was open while the televisions were on, so given the choice to go outside or watch television, most guys choose to go outside because you could get out of the dorm and socialize with other inmates. Sure, guys watched television at times, I watched a lot of sports and every now and then a movie, but most times if given a choice of how to pass time, many guys opted to do other things.

Gamble: 20%

This actually SHOULD be higher, but because this is also very risky, I think this is pretty accurate. Again, if the question is asked what inmates do to pass time, I think a good bit of them would say “gamble”.

Is it wrong? Of course! Is it against the rules? Of course! But that does not deter from the fact that many guys do gamble…even I did it several times.

“Wait a minute, I thought you said you read the Bible…”

Yep…what, did I say I walked on water? Did I say I was perfect? NO! I am just a guy who did time, but did his best to cope with this situation as best as he could. And I suppose many guys felt the same way.

When I say “gamble” that means a lot of things. Some guys gamble with cards, some gamble on placing bets on sporting events but in either case, these guys are finding an aggressive way to pass the time. I am not saying this is good, I am saying this is what they do. And to be honest, I kinda enjoyed it.


Because with gambling, there was that element of challenge, something that actually stimulated me. The idea of winning or losing based on your choices in sport. I got in a few gambling bets when it came to football and basketball, I LOVED those sports, but there were also bets on racing too. I won’t get too much in detail with it, but I gotta tell you, it was kinda fun, win or lose.

It kinda makes sense because the idea is to pass time; what is better than challenging yourself or others in a bet. It gives you a reason to look to the future. Remember, a lot of these guys believe there IS no future for them (including me), but if you make a bet on the Sunday football games, there is then an expectation, and a hope that you might do something right today. You just might win. And many guys are willing to gamble off some free time to be a winner…at least in that form, since society sees them as losers.

Get exercise: 25%

I think this is pretty accurate too. As much as I would like to put “gamble” higher than this, in the greater scope of things, I think getting exercise is more popular by the inmates…and safer too. You’re not gonna get a write up for playing basketball or lifting weights or taking a walk.

In the game show, the guy answered “lifting weights” as his answer, I think if he had made it more broad, as in “get exercise” he might have gotten a few more points….

Oh by the way, they scored 189 points, but needed 200 to win the big money…maybe if he had said “get exercise, they MIGHT have won…

On almost any day you give an inmate an option on passing time, most would go outside for a number of reasons. One, to get fresh air, two, to get out of the dorm or cell, three, to socialize with other inmates from other dorms or cells and four, to get exercise.

When I was in prison, I often took laps around the yard. I might have walked a million miles during my incarceration. Most inmates don’t do a lot of walking but there are many forms of exercise. Some guys lift weights, some play basketball, some pitch horseshoes. Others play shuffleboard. Some camps allow softball and other sports. For many guys, exercise is a form of burning stress that has built up inside them. I often found it quite therapeutic to walk around for as long as the yard was open, just thinking about stuff. Sometimes I made a few friends of guys that also liked to walk too.

Hustle: 30%

Again, this is subjective but I believe if given choices of how to pass time, most guys would find a hustle. Now many of you would assume that this means the same as gambling. That is not true, although “gambling” could indeed be a form of hustling.

To “hustle” in prison is to find a way to supplement your needs, often against prison rules. Sure, prisons may have jobs, but let’s face it, me working as a dorm janitor at 40 cents a day, 5 days a week means I have to rely on $2.00 a week. It’s very difficult to manage on that, even in prison. So many guys find other ways to make a few extra coins.

Most inmates may hustle from time to time. One guy might make cards for some money or barter, another might do hair (yep), and another might draw portraits for other inmates. I used to write poems and sell art paper or make certificates. Even a guy with nothing can sell medication or some of his personal property for money or barter. You can even lend items like a canteen man and make something. There are numerous ways to make a hustle in prison, and many guys do it from time to time.

If given a choice to pass time, I think most guys may choose to create a hustle because it gives them something to do, and can possibly make them a few dollars to supplement their needs in prison. Some guys do tattoos, some try to even give legal advice, almost any talent can be used to make a hustle. Sure, this is frowned on by literally every prison, but most kinda turn their head to it because they realize that as long as nobody is hurting anybody, at least the morale is normal.

Note here, many novices in prison issues don’t get that, because you want every inmate in every prison busting rocks, and eating bread for dinner. I DARE you to enforce that in any prison and see how fast a riot happens. And remember, it’s not just inmates that are in that riot, many officers are often caught up in it too. So it makes sense to keep some reasonable morale in the prison, while still establishing order. If you lose that, you run the risk of men acting more like animals…and that is not humane.

So anyway, those are my answers for the question, as I said, this is relative on what I believe, so another inmate might say something different, and that is cool. We all did our time differently, but I would hope that there are some similarities. Anyway, gotta go, be sure to support my writing by emailing me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com.


Entry filed under: girlfriends with boyfriends in prison, God and prison, inmates, jail, LostVault, mothers with sons in prison, prison, prison abuse, prison blogs, prison books, prison cards, prison food, prison jobs, prison mail, prison pen pals, prison support sites, Prison Talk Online, Prisonbid, rehabilitation, son in prison.

#154 Banned from a prisn (new) #156 I dare you! (retro)

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