It was a strange place. A lot different from what I thought it was going to be like. Awkward eye contact sent shivers down my body as I looked at each man in the same blue jean pants and white shirt.
I woke up on a chilly November morning speeding to meet my professor so we could go to the Nevada State Prison. With specific guidelines to not wear the color blue, I realize as am in the car that my shirt is that exact color. Blue. I park my car frantically trying to find any other shirt to put on before my professor arrives. Ironically, putting on an orange striped long sleeve shirt I get into the car ready for an hour long ride. Not knowing what to expect I pick apart my brain of every prison show or movie I’ve ever watched and try to mentally prepare myself for the day. We pull up to the prison and I can feel my palms start to get sweaty.
We walked into a small room where we gave a man behind a glass window our ID’s, and were handed visitor passes. As if we were inmates we had to take off anything metal we were wearing, down to a simple bobby pin in our hair. Walking through the metal detector over and over, everyone got a little nervous as they walked through feel like they were a criminal. After about half an hour of everyone walking through the metal detector, we finally were allowed to enter the prison.
Giving us the tour of the prison was the Warden, the Director of the prison, and a guard. We all followed each other entering what seemed like a different world.
Walking through the yard inmates walked freely about some avoiding eye contact and others expressing their excitement through whistles and comments to other inmates. The warden was a no nonsense type of guy and promised us that if any inmate were to be inappropriate they would be dealt with. With nine women walking through an all men’s prison, you could imagine how fast the word spread that we were there. It was as if every inmate knew we were going to be there before we even set foot onto the grounds.
I was warned there would be a smell throughout the prison that was indescribable. With one inhale I instantly knew what they were talking about. The smell followed us throughout the prison, but became a normal scent by the end of the day. The first facility, we walked through was the kitchen and dining area. Expecting to see some weird version of meatloaf, or something green bubbling in a pot; the food selection was actually quite appetizing. Greeted with the warm smell of sweet bread, the man in charge of the kitchen explained the food the inmates were given. Two hot meals a day for breakfast and dinner, and one cold meal which was lunch. Their menu for the week included food choices that most people in or out of jail would eat, such as pizza, lasagna, oatmeal, veggies, pasta, sandwiches, different kinds of fruits. They even give options for Kosher meals for those of the Jewish religion.
We walked through the yard as we entered the gym where inmates were playing basketball. The second we stepped foot in the gym it was as if every man in there froze and their eyes were glued to the sight of us. It was the most uncomfortable feeling I’ve ever had knowing over 20 men were just paralyzed watching us. Not able to make eye contact with anyone I made sure to keep my sight on the floor until we left the gym. Immediately after walking out every girl shook their boy in a kind of uncomfortable way to get off the feeling we had walked through there.
Our next stop was the mental facility, I had been warned by my professor this was the worst part. I was eager to see the medical part of the prison, curious if it would be as professional as a hospital or doctor’s office. Being in the medical building it was like we were no longer in a prison and in a doctor’s office. Men and woman walked about in their scrubs explaining to us that working at the prison was exactly the same as working anywhere else and that they highly enjoyed it.
The second floor of the facility was where they kept people whom were mentally unstable. Only one inmate was staring through the little window on the door as we walked by. The stare was eerie, as if he wasn’t even looking at you, but through you. Walking away, I looked back and his eye followed us until we walked down the stairs.
The building next to the medical building was what we would call the “shoe”. The cells in their were extremely small and had writings and pictures all over the walls with sayings like “God is my savior” or “_____ is a b*tch ass snitch” The variety of language painted quite the picture on the tan walls. There was a room in the building where we watched new inmates get shoes and watch a mandatory video about prison behavior. Most were very young ranging from what seemed like 18-20. They each had the same defeated look on their faces like it just set in that they were now the residence of the Nevada State Prison. It was very sad to see such young people wasting their precious lives in jail.
We then entered the cell units of the prison where inmates were bunked with each other, two to a cell. The inmates walked freely about as some were on the pay phones and others just having conversation with one another. We looked in the cells seeing TV’s mounted to their beds, and various objects on the walls, including a calendar of woman in bathing suits, which really surprised us that they allowed them to have something of that sort. We went up and down the hall and every inmate was very to themselves, not making any inappropriate remarks or gestures, they just went about their business.
The last building we went through was the freest part of the prison where inmates of good behavior stayed in a huge open room with beds next to each other. They were free to walk about in this area, playing games, watching TV, listening to music, and eating all sorts of foods you would see at a gas station. This was the most interesting part of the tour. It was as if these inmates were at a boys summer camp with how much freedom they had in there. We spent the most time in this building because we were all so intrigued by the way they were allowed to go about. Standing in the front of the room asking questions, some inmates watched us, as others payed no attention as if we weren’t even there. All the sudden in synchronized movement each inmate went next to their bed as count started. That was our cue to leave.
Gathering our items we thanked everyone who had taken us on the tour. Exiting the prison, the weird stench stuck to our clothes reminding us of the odd day we just had.
A few days later watching television, a show about jail life called Locked Up came on. Seeing as I had just been to a prison I curiously watched waiting for the show to show the eye opening side of the prison I had seen a few day prior. As I watched, the show displayed nothing but the ruthless vicious side of prison life that I didn’t see while on my visit. It made me wonder if the show was just revealing what society views prisons are like, or if my experience was a sugar coated side of the prison life. Watching inmates on the show being beaten and with few access to the laid back side I was shown, it made me wonder what really goes on in prisons. As I believe our legal system does a lot to keep those who are a threat to our society away, I wondered if some are being treated inhumane at times. A serious issue that should not be closed off to the public eye, as we all are humans and deserve to be treated as such.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/marineperez/