A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how I sometimes daydream about being in prison. It was less about wanting to break the law and more about having some peace and quiet to think, read and write. Since then I have been told stories about prison by many people; some good and some bad.

I have no delusion that it would be an awful experience in real life as opposed to my fantasy prison where everyone would leave me alone and I had my own room. I have spent some time in prisons in Arkansas and Texas as a part of a church group and it was not great. It was the smell and the atmosphere of the place that hit you first. It smelled of rust, hundreds of bodies packed into tight quarters just all breathing and sweating together, and everything seemed to be damp. Not wet, just kind of damp.

I was told before entering the gates of my first prison, “If their mouths are moving, they are lying”. It was a bleak thought to kick off the trip. It was overcast and gloomy when we arrived. Very surreal, like a movie. The big gates slammed closed behind me and we were taken to a place in the prison where there was a huge area known as population.

The inmates were all in the same large place together, but we were separated from them by bars of course. I don’t remember how, why, or where I got it from but I had a Pepsi and my very first interaction with an inmate was with a young man with dreadlocks not much older than I was at that time (22). He stopped me and asked for a drink of my Pepsi to which I replied, “Sure”. He took a nice long drink and started to hand it back to me. “That belongs to you now,” I told him. “Enjoy”.

After a little awkwardness we had a nice long discussion but it ended abruptly when he suggested that we are now friends and should exchange watches. In hindsight I wish I would have traded with him. It would have been a better story, but at the time I could not bare to part with my Timex Ironman watch. At least his had a metal band, mine was rubber.

So we parted ways at that point. I told him, “I should mingle, I don’t want the other inmates getting jealous.”

I left my new friend and was almost immediately handed a Quran by one inmate, another inmate yelled at him for handing it to me because, “His hands are dirty”. This other inmate was 30 feet away, how did he know how dirty my hands were? He certainly did not have a sink anywhere near him and yet he got to touch it. So the book was snatched from me as though I was trying to steal it.

I learned something at that first prison and that is that a lot of prisoners are Bible experts. I am not saying that sarcastically AT ALL. I learned things about the Bible I never knew from some people that did little else than to read it over and over and over again. I learned quickly to not debate them, I was outmatched.

My time visiting prisons made me a better citizen. I have not gotten so much as a parking ticket in 20 years. I am not perfect, but my imperfections are legal.