Getting here, I'd say everyone misrepresents it— cinematically, I mean.
Stale air and concrete walls closed in on me earlier during processing. My autonomy was violated as they clicked cameras at me. I'm unsmiling, naked as the day I was born, and handed scratchy clothes— my identity erased and replaced with a number. The clanging keys and buzzing doors disorient, and I'm led to a sparse mini studio with lifeless grey walls. An uneven, thin cot and metal toilet welcome me. The closest thing I have to a window is the cell-bar door to the corridor, where a guard roams back and forth.
I conceded that I'd be greeted with painful shrieks and howling shouts of others echoing down the cell block, and the newbies would be seated alone, head in hands, mind racing to establish how they got there. I don't think everyone is an irrational murderer like they tell us... some people are probably feeling self-resentfully accountable for their non-violent burglary offense, tax evasions (ironic), immigration mistakes, or their ceaseless drug habits that they've tried to stop a couple of times leading up to now.
Though, I'm sure there are still plenty of inmates who are unbothered, thinking, what's a few years a pause before going back to what got me here in the first place? I would say that life before already feels so distant to the former, whenever they arrived. Friends, family, freedom, namesake— gone. For the latter, I don't think they're thinking about it, just living out this nice little vacation from the exhaustive nature of committing unlawful acts.
At the scream of a whistle, we shuffled to the dining hall, tense and silent. I stared down at whatever the 'making-school-cafeteria-lunches-look-like-a-Michelin-Star-meal' of the day was. I think guilt or indifference would come back into play here again. The inmates who knew they fucked up— though still less culpable than others, look down to avoid the glare of anyone who might see them as weak, while those who firmly and aggressively deserved their sentence had defensive eyes darting around the room, watching over their tough hides especially closely. Then, we were herded back to our cages, heads counted like preschool children after recess. This was surely emasculating for the hardened criminals.
It's difficult not to want to ask what happened to the person sharing my cell or those passing by, but I preferred not to speak if it wasn't necessary. I figured I'd get to that in a few days once I'd processed the new situation. I'm not exactly a guiltless type who fears nothing.
After hours of tedium, a bell rings for yard time and I fast blinked as I stepped into the sunlight, blinded temporarily. It was shocking and the air felt different, almost foreign, even through the chain link fences and watchtowers. Some inmates would be pacing the far end, struck by a heated argument. Others tossed a basketball around or played cards. Mostly, though, faces would be blank with boredom.
At this point, I found an empty patch of dirt to sit down in, staring at the sky, trying to reminisce about the freedom of open spaces and the warmth of a loved one’s touch. But it was a bit like recalling a dream upon waking. Too soon, the bell clanged lazily again, and everyone was lined up and counted. We trudged back inside. I had some time to myself— as myself as I could get. I wrote a bit before lights out. I didn't sleep that first night and long, dark hours stretched endlessly ahead while my cell-mate slept seemingly peacefully. He must have been here a while.
Tomorrow will be the same routine, the next day too. If Hollywood wants to show this cinematically, they'd be better off using a movie like Groundhog Day. After some monotonous days, I knew I'd simply be going through the same motions, now I'd join up with the thousand-yard starers wandering aimlessly within the walls, biding my time until release.