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It's a reality most of us would never like to experience, but for some prison life becomes normal life. While we think we may have an idea of what it's really like, actual inmates, current and past, get us up to speed, revealing the unexpected and shocking aspects that come along with being incarcerated.
"One aspect of incarceration that couldn't be guessed is the degree to which our physical absence disrupts our interpersonal relationships. Prior to entering the prison system, I had a robust social network. I knew a lot of people and I spent a lot of time hanging out with friends, going to parties and getting involved in activities that most young people experience. At the time, I believed my relationships were stable and that somehow we'd always be connected. I thought I had a lot of real friends and people I could count on no matter what, but today I know differently. Remember the phrase, 'Outta sight, outta mind?' It alludes to the idea that once visual/physical contact is broken, the relationship itself is broken. This is precisely what many of us in prison experience during our incarceration. Of course, this outta sight, outta mind dynamic is not unique to prison but there's something about experiencing it while incarcerated that makes its impact so much more dramatic. In my case, it felt that as my relationships deteriorated, so did my capacity to have meaning in the outside world. I felt as though my friendships helped me maintain a sense of relevancy in life, and as a result I found myself trying desperately to hold onto friends and things we had in common. However, as my sentence progressed so did the distance between the friends I once cherished and me. Slowly but surely my physical absence whittled away at my relationships until my once vibrant social network was reduced to me, myself, and I. For years, I put on a front like I wasn't affected by what was happening, but inside I agonized over the loss of my friends. I ended up feeling disconnected, like I no longer mattered to anyone in the outside world. Today, after 18 years in prison, I have no contact with any of the people I called friends when I began my incarceration; they've all moved on with their lives and so have I. The only relationships I have strong enough to endure the 'outta sight, outta mind' dynamic are the relationships with my family. For this I am truly grateful because I don't know where I'd be without the unconditional love and support of my family. I think the toughest part of all is that I have a life sentence and I don't know if/when I'll ever have the opportunity to develop a friendship, romance, or any other meaningful relationship outside of prison again. Pretty much everyone I know or could come close to knowing is in prison. Couple this with all the uncertainty of prison life and the mistrust associated with prison culture, I've found it virtually impossible to really get to know anyone in here well enough to call them a 'friend.' For me, true friendship in prison has been a fleeting illusion to be pursued but yet to be attained. Perhaps one day that will change but as it stands, I guess you could say I'm a loner just doing my best, where I am, with what I have despite being 'outta sight, and outta mind'" (Source).