Though we all love Orange is the New Black, life behind bars is not glamorous at all. Quite the opposite - incarceration can be harmful to inmates and their families.
The land of the free, in particular, has a prison problem. The US legal system is the biggest jailer in the developed world and has no problem throwing people in jail for small fines and traffic tickets. Cooped up in small jails or locked in solitary confinement, prisoners often suffer from numerous health and mental problems.
Designed originally for men, life in jail is particularly damaging for women and their dependents. The number of incarcerated women, including pregnant women, is growing at an alarming pace. Female inmates face unique challenges: they are left menstruating without sanitary pads, some are shackled during labor and delivery, and often inmates suffer violence that nobody talks about.
So, here are 20 uncomfortable pictures from inside women's prisons.
20 Capturing The Essence of Beauty
While most people associate prisons with orange uniforms, the truth is that beauty and fashion cannot be tamed. Interestingly enough, according to theguardian.com, some prisons organize beauty pageants to boost prisoners’ self-esteem. We should note that back in 19th century inmates wore black-and-white stripes, which were slowly abandoned in favor of gray and orange uniforms.
19 There's Nothing Like A Home-Cooked Meal
Prison is not meant to be enjoyable. Thus, it’s only logical to assume that prison food is nothing like Michelin star dining. In fact, according to howstuffworks.com, prison food in the US and across the globe is detrimental to prisoners’ health, lacking in nutrition and not meeting people’s religious and dietary needs.
18 Sent Away From Home
Lack of privacy and transparency is all part of the prison system. One of the worst things to happen is to be transferred from your "own" cell to another unit or even a different prison. Prisoners are often unaware of such decisions and are rushed to collect the few things they have.
17 What Are Moral Crimes?
Designed originally for men, the prison system can be extremely unfair to women. In many Muslim-majority countries, such as Iran, and Sudan, women can be sent to prison for moral crimes. According to bbc.com, the so-called Islamic morality police can punish innocent women for wearing loosing clothing or trousers.
16 Theater, Art And Love In Prison Matter
Prisons can be dehumanizing. Therefore, art, literature, love, and theater matter. Prison theater programs, for instance, allow inmates to develop skills and empathy, which can help them make sense of their chaotic past. In fact, according to nytimes.com, the recidivism rate among people involved in prison theater programs is low.
15 Things Nobody Talks About
While we associated prisons with serious crimes, the sad truth is that many female inmates are victims of domestic violence or human trafficking. These women are often trapped in a circle of revictimization. Nevertheless, authorities often turn a blind eye to inmates who were hurt by other inmates or prison staff.
14 Inmates Or Graduates
Imprisoning people should not strip women from their dreams and rights. As imprisoning one person often costs more than $31,000 a year, authorities should help inmates resocialize to reduce recidivism rates. Prison education programs, for instance, can help people gain vital skills which can prepare them for the "real" world.
13 Growing Up Behind Bars
Imprisoning women can be detrimental to society at large. In fact, two-thirds of female inmates report having one or more children and dependents, which leaves their families more vulnerable. When it comes to pregnant women, the prison system should invest in prison nurseries and ensure mothers can keep their babies and boost their early development.
12 Health Is Often Compromised
From inadequate care to pure neglect, prisoners often face poor living conditions. According to theguardian.com, poor healthcare is ruining people in jail; for example, Hep C is 10 times more prevalent in correctional facilities. People with chronic conditions, such as asthma, are also exposed to risk. Sadly, pregnant women suffer the most as prisons do not accommodate for their physical and emotional needs.
11 Shower (Hell) Time!
Privacy is one of the basic things correctional facilities strip people of. Using the toilet only three feet away from a complete stranger? Completely normal in jail! From shaving to playing with oneself, bath time in prison can be hideous as both inmates and officers can pass by and look in.
10 A Sense Of Community
Despite the tremendous conditions people face behind bars, there’s a sense of community to help inmates keep their sanity. According to vice.com, friendships can protect women’s well-being and help them make sense of a sentence that might feel like an eternity. Yet, maintaining friendships with prison buddies can be tricky when one gets outs.
9 The Comfort Of One's Own Cell
My home is my castle, people say. According to howstuffworks.com, the typical prison cell in the US is 8 by 6 feet, with a bed and a toilet; sometimes three people can be placed in one cell. Note that prison cells are different across the globe; while Norway lets prisoners live in small local communities, in El Salvador a 12 by 15 cell can hold up to 30 people.
8 Tampons Are Not A Luxury
Menstruation remains a taboo throughout the globe and women’s prisons seem to reinforce period taboos. Sanitary supplies are seen as a luxury - in some prisons, inmates, including new mothers, receive only 12 free pads per month. 88% of inmates report leaking blood. Many women make their own tampons out of clothing, which may lead to infections and toxic shock syndrome.
7 Growing Old In Prison
Incarceration rates in the US are among the highest in the world, and children are no exception. Incarceration is extremely damaging for girls and young women and often unnecessary. In fact, data shows that around 77% of all incarcerated youth were in for nonviolent crimes. Experts claim that kids can’t cope with jail, so many turn to illegal substances or self-harm.
6 Being Spiritually Free
Incarceration can be detrimental as people’s faith is put to an extreme test. Alarmingly, according to data, women are more likely to self-harm while in prison and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Thus, some countries offer spiritual programs to help inmates stay sane and make sense of all the challenges in prison.
5 What Is A Prison Workout?
Being locked up in a cell for a long time with nothing to do is challenging. It’s no surprise walks and exercising become vital. Prison workout and yoga, for instance, can also help women gain self-control and reshape their lives. According to theartofliving.org, yoga and meditation empower inmates and help them accept their past.
4 Forced To Give Birth In Handcuffs
One of the worst things that happen across the US is shackling pregnant women during labor and delivery. While many inmates report giving birth chained to a hospital bed, some women are forced to give birth alone inside prisons. Note that the US holds more than 30% of the world’s incarcerated women and maternal mortality rates across the country are among the highest in the developed world.
3 Jailing People With Serious Mental Problems
Due to poor living conditions, stress, boredom, and extreme violence, inmates face numerous health and mental problems. Incarcerated women are more likely to self-harm than men. Moreover, incarcerating people with serious mental illnesses is common. These people are often segregated and exposed to risk. Data shows that there are more than 1.2 million inmates with mental problems across the globe.
2 Prison Overcrowding Is A Global Crisis
Overcrowding is another major problem, which can be detrimental to people’s health. According to vox.com, there are more than 200,000 incarcerated women across the US and women’s population numbers keep increasing. Probation is often set with impossible conditions and the system keeps throwing people in jail for small fines and traffic tickets.
1 Staying Sane In Solitary Confinement
Although sharing a cell with other people can be challenging, solitary confinement is something all inmates fear. Often pregnant women, transgender inmates, and people with mental problems are locked alone - spending more than 22 hours without any social interactions. The psychological impact is detrimental and some people may die because of treatable conditions such as withdrawal.
Sources: BBC, How Stuff Works, The Guardian, NY Times, The Art of Living, Vice, Vox