Prison Cell Descriptive Essays

I_n February, Jennifer Lackey, a philosophy professor at Northwestern University, where I teach journalism, invited me to speak to a class she teaches at the Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison an hour outside of Chicago. Her students, fifteen men, are all serving long sentences, mostly for violent crimes. Some will be at Stateville until they die. I talked with the students about storytelling, and had them complete an exercise in which they described their cells._

I was so taken by what they wrote that I suggested that they develop these stories about the space, which, for some, had been home for twenty years. Over the past ten months, I have worked with them from draft to draft to draft. This process was not without obstacles. Sometimes, Jennifer couldn’t return my marked-up drafts because the prison was on lockdown. One student missed class for a month because, after surgery, he had to wear a knee brace, which the prison considered a potential weapon. Another student was transferred to a different prison. (I continued working with him by mail and phone.) One despaired at my comments and edits, writing to me that “this must be my last draft because clearly I’m incapable of doing it correctly.” But with encouragement and gentle nudging they kept going. Below is one of five of these stories that will appear on the site this week.

—Alex Kotlowitz

After a long day of landscaping work, I walked into the cell house and stood outside my cell, waiting for the gallery officer to let me in. Leaning against the bars, I noticed something moving in the back of the cell. I couldn’t tell what it was because it was hiding behind the steel bunk bed.

When the officer opened the door, I walked straight to the back and moved a laundry bag from the wall. To my surprise, it was a bird, a robin or wren—I’m not sure. I’m six feet seven and three hundred pounds, and when the bird caught sight of me it undoubtedly feared for its life. It scurried away, taking cover under the bunk bed. Its little legs moved so fast that it looked like the Roadrunner character. It found safety between two gray property boxes. I couldn’t help but laugh at its cartoonish ways. I lay down on the cold concrete floor and reached under the bed to grab it, but it hopped out of my reach. As I lay on the floor, it made its way to the front of the cell and jumped on a slot between the bars. It perched for a moment there. I sat up and admired its beauty. Its beak was bright yellow. Even its brown plumage, amid all the prison gray, seemed colorful. Sitting on the bars, it no longer seemed afraid. It barely moved; just its head swivelled from left to right and back again. It seemed so delicate. Its little black eyes were no longer looking at me. Instead, it appeared to be trying to figure out which direction to fly. I hoped it would find its way out of the building, so I waved my hand, shooing it toward the door, but it flew further into the cell house.

For a few minutes, I felt like I was somewhere else. It was a small crack in a routine that sets my life every day. My encounter with the bird brought a rare moment of pure joy, and so I’ve held on to this small memory. Ten years later, it still makes me smile.

Read the other stories in this series: “Learning to Hear on a Cardboard Piano,” by Demetrius Cunningham; “The Refuge of a Recluse,” by Marcos Gray; “A War Against the Roaches,” by Oscar Parham.

Luxuries Of The Prisons

When you think about the prisons, what comes to your mind? Not luxury and comfort for sure. The typical prison consists of gray cold buildings and not the most pleasant people that end up there, right? Don't be so sure.

If you'll have a closer look, you'll see that prisons can be different. Sometimes they are like in the popular TV series "Orange is the new black", and living there can be tough, but there are some luxury exceptions you couldn't even imagine. Here are some of the best prisons of the world, that look like hotels or resorts. But they are totally free, paid by the government, breakfast is included and you could stay there forever. Sounds weird, but it's totally true.


Halden Prison in Norway - the most luxury prison in the world

Norway has one of the lowest recorded crime rate, which is surprisingly with the most luxurious jails in the world. It seems that people who end up in Norway prisons couldn't regret less: they live in private cells with a mini-fridge, big flat-screen TV and their own bathroom. Moreover, prisoners can chill out in spacious living rooms, modern kitchens with comfortable sofas and coffee tables or participate in different sport activities, visit a fully-stocked library, a gym equipped with a climbing wall or a recording studio. It's pretty obvious, that criminals in Halden Prison live much better than many people around the world. Why?

And it's not only about this Prison, Norway is really famous for its comfortable jails. Bastoy Prison, for example, is the minimum security prison with small cottages and a small farm, where people work. As official prisons authorities claim, such an attractive and friendly environment reduce recidivism in prisoners. And not only Norwegians think this way - there are much more bright examples of luxury prisons, where you would love to stay if not forever, few years for sure. The only problem is that you need to commit a crime to get there.


5 of the World's best prisons:

  1. Otago Corrections Facility in New Zealand has everything from underfloor heating to rugby and tennis courts+fresh towels.

  2. Butner Federal Correctional Institution in North Carolina state, USA - a prison with a minimum security, quite corridors and a beautiful green garden.

  3. Suomenlinna Prison in Finland is a unique "open" prison, one of a kind. This luxury jail exists without prison cells and locked doors: people there share small nice houses, have their own private rooms and work on the island together.

  4. Qincheng Prison in China. Most prisoners here are important government officials, who eat fresh fruits, watch TV and enjoy the beautiful landscape outside.

  5. San Pedro Prison in Bolivia is the most unique place you can find. It's not even a prison, but a whole community with their own leaders, rules and entire neighborhoods for families of the prisoners, local shops and cafes.

And here is not the whole list - there are more than 50 prisons around the world that you can call luxurious. It's still discussable if such prisons really work, but it's a fact that modern, luxuries prisons become more and more common.

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