Despite what you may see on the TV (Orange is the New Black), life as a woman in prison isn't exactly what you believe it to be.
It is boring, and that is the best-case scenario! When we look at the worst case, a female in prison can be the victim of abuse, sexual harassment and high levels of neglect. The truth is, being a woman in prison is far from ideal!
In the world right now, there are millions and millions of women serving criminal sentences, most of which are for non-violence crimes. Even though women are seen as low-risk prisoners, the way that female and male inmates are treated are very much the same. (This even effects their prenatal care and feminine hygiene product allowances).
Female prisoners follow similar daily routines as male inmates. Here is the daily schedule of a prison, filled in with details from former female inmates' accounts...
6 A.M.: Hello World
Prisoners typically wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. in the morning to be counted and checked by guards. Almost all prisons have inmates share cells. Sometimes women will share with one or three other women, but some prisons have up to 20 women sharing one large room. If the inmate has a job in the prison's kitchens, the day can start as early as 3:30 or 4 a.m.
Right after waking up, inmates will go to breakfast, where they typically receive about 30 minutes to eat. Then they go to their various jobs. Every prisoner is expected to have a job, ranging from working in the kitchen to taking out trash. Prisoners fulfill janitorial roles, serve food, work on construction crews, do laundry, and other miscellaneous tasks. Depending on how time-consuming the job is, prisoners are expected to work until lunch time.
12 P.M.: Lunch is Here
Like breakfast, inmates receive 30 minutes to an hour to eat lunch before returning to their jobs or enjoying their free time. Depending on the facility and the nature of their crime, female prisoners can receive more freedom than their male counterparts, and during the day, they often have access to the gyms, bathroom facilities, library, and other recreational areas. Or they can visit the prison commissary.
All of the wages that prisoners make during their incarceration are handled electronically and can be spent in an in-prison store. Family and friends of the women can deposit money into their account each month, which can be used to purchase toothpaste, deodorant, soap, snacks, and other food. But commissary prices are expensive, and if women do not receive outside support, they are often unable to buy anything but absolute necessities. And, given their low pay, they often cannot afford even that much.
3 P.M.: End of the Work Day
At the end of the work day, inmates can go to the prison yard for an hour or return to their cells, depending on how much freedom the facility gives them. At 5 p.m., they have dinner. Depending on the facility, some inmates can make their own food. Commissaries sell various types of groceries, and some prisoners find creative ways to make meals or desserts.
After dinner, their schedules are flexible. Some facilities offer religious services in the evening, and some provide counseling or rehabilitation courses. However, due to low budgets, many women's prisons do not offer these types of resources for their inmates.
8 P.M.: Goodnight World
In the evening, prisoners can go to sleep anywhere from 8 p.m. to midnight. Many facilities typically turn out lights around 11 p.m., but during the time when prisoners return to their cells, they have relative freedom to choose their activities. Because prisoners who don't have heavy work schedules can have downtime during the day, women tend to bond closely with the other prisoners, creating prison "families" for support and companionship. At night the inmates are counted again — they're counted several times during the day — and they go to sleep. The next morning, the entire cycle repeats.
While the daily routine can be monotonous, weekends can be a reprieve to some women. Most facilities have visiting hours on weekends, although women's prisons don't tend to get as many visitors as male inmates.
The life of a female in prison can be lonely, with few opportunities for rehabilitation. Prisons are overcrowded, and physical health can often be ignored or endangered. As laid-back as it may seem sometimes, you wont want to sign up to join the fun.