Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable in Prison


Get comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s what I tell everyone I talk to who’s going to prison or who just got there. Let me explain what this means. To start, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to suffer. Prison isn’t a luxury hotel, but it’s also not a torture chamber. Humans adapt quickly to new environments and you’ll develop a routine that works for you.

And that’s the problem. Because we are creatures of habit, anything that messes with our routine makes us uncomfortable. Lots of people say they hate change. Prison is constant change. Even if you stay at one spot (a prison) for years, you’ll deal with constant change. You will move to different housing units. You will move to different rooms so often you’ll wonder why you ever unpacked your property. Every quarter, staff moves around and they all have their own rules they follow. Recreation and the library close when the wind changes direction, it seems. Sometimes administration makes up rules just to make rules and look busy.

“I Sentence You to 10 Years of Constant Change”

Instead of sentencing people to prison, I think judges should say they’re sentencing people to so many years of “constant change.” That can be taken two ways: (1) you’ll endure changing circumstances, or (2) you yourself will change. Maybe it’s both. That’s up to you. But the best way to handle prison is to get comfortable being uncomfortable, because change will definitely happen. And it can be uncomfortable.

So, how can you get “comfortable” being in prison? As I say in my book, Worse Than a Murderer: Doing Time as a Sex Offender, it’s a mindset and not a physical thing. Even if you find the best mattress in the unit, you’ll lose it eventually. Being comfortable in prison means being concerned with what matters, and ignoring what doesn’t. And there’s the key: Figuring out what matters to you and what you can ignore. Prison is about loss of control. Prison staff purposely take away the control you have over things. You don’t have control over when food is served, when the lights go out at night, or many other things. They do. But there’s lots you can control, such as how you respond to people who push your buttons. The things you are able to control are what really matter in prison. Even in real life, for that matter.

Finding Meaning in Prison

My favorite story about happiness in prison is from a guy who found his happiness working around the prison fixing things. When COVID-19 hit, everything shut down and this guy couldn’t go to work and fix things. He had based his happiness on this prison job and when it disappeared so did his happiness. He would complain endlessly about how he was bored and then he’d complain about all the things he used to enjoy before his job ended. Even watching TV sucked!

However, when I asked him to tell me something he was passionate about and that he could still control, he was a totally different person. He said he loves to help people who struggle with addiction. When he turned his focus on that, he found fulfillment. No matter what changes he had to endure while the prison struggled with (and botched) handling COVID-19, nothing could take away his ability to help others with addiction.

The lesson here is to find something that gives you meaning and purpose in prison that the prison system can’t take from you. Some dive into learning new things. Some take to writing poetry or books. Some lose weight and get healthy.

Find what works for you and you’ll figure out how to get comfortable being uncomfortable in prison.

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