Column: Prison Diaries, Entry 7 – Prison Sucks


Christopher Reina is serving a five-year sentence in federal prison. In his writing he shares how he is surviving prison life as a gay inmate. Chris is paying it forward by donating his compensation for this column to a charity close to his heart.

Entry 7 — March 5, 2014

After being locked up for nine months, I've pretty much decided that prison really and truly sucks. Big surprise, huh? One way I had of coping with my incarceration was to imagine myself in different scenarios to make sense of my surroundings. In the beginning, locked up in the county jail and kept indoors 24/7, I often imagined I was on a spaceship headed for some distant planet. I know it sounds goofy, but the challenges would be similar; confined quarters, boredom, and taking a long time to get there. Sometimes I'd switch between a spaceship and some sort of bio-dome experiment.

Then my friend Grey at the detention center in Miami shared how he liked to imagine that he was in a monastery, living a life of deprivation for the purposes of spiritual refinement. I admired the nobility of such a fantasy, plus it had bonus points for explaining why the place was such a sausage fest. After being moved to Oakdale I found out that Grey had been sentenced to 60 years. I can't imagine what one would pretend in order to deal with that.

When I first got here and saw all the khaki it was easy to imagine that I was simply in the U.S. Navy. But I've been here several weeks now and there seems to be little use in denying reality any longer. I am in prison, where today is just like yesterday was, and tomorrow will most likely follow suit, repeating for the next few years. So yes, today I am feeling a bit down.

Surely this is just a temporary funk, part of the process of adjustment. I have to remind myself that it's important to keep in mind how relatively fortunate I was in the sentence I received, and to gain strength from my fellow inmates who are coping with much longer amounts of time to serve. As they say here, “you do the time, don't let the time do you.”

Actually, if I really look at the facts and not just my feelings (always a challenge for an addict), I have to admit that things really aren't so bad. In fact, I can find plenty to be downright grateful for. I have managed to make a few friends here. After a bit of unpleasantness with my previous cellies, I managed to move into a much better cell with other SO’s [sexual offenders], all of whom are good guys and two of which are also gay.

I've also been assigned to work in the cafeteria five days a week on the serving line, for which I actually get paid a staggering 22 cents an hour. In my kitchen whites I look exactly like a Good Humor man. Now there's a touch of irony. Speaking of food, it's a far cry better here than what I wrote about in a previous column. No more mystery meat, no more hot bologna, or hotdogs served on corn tortillas. It's still prison food, heavy on the carbohydrates, but at least they seem to make an effort with it. And there's a sweet little library with enough to keep my reading needs satiated for the duration of my stay.

About that duration: I found out this past week that I might be eligible for up to 12 months off my sentence upon my completion of the Bureau of Prison's drug treatment program!

More on that later, but definitely something to look forward to. But most importantly, despite what I’ve put them through, I still have friends and family who love and support me. It gives me a great deal of comfort to know I'll have a future with them in my life.


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