BBG’s Words Beyond Bars series draws inspiration from The Inside-Out Prison Exchange at WVU. Although BBG is not directly affiliated with or endorsed by the program, we wholeheartedly celebrate its mission of creating a unique educational environment where college students and incarcerated individuals unite as peers to engage in a seminar conducted inside prison. This program aims to challenge college students’ preconceived notions about crime and justice while providing incarcerated individuals with a broader context to reflect upon their life experiences. Like the program that inspired us, our series seeks to foster transformation and serve as a catalyst for social change.
By Mark Peez
Coming from the “real world,” as we inmates like to call it, the prison system is a stark contrast. It is the ultimate environmental shock, where the freedom to wake up, use the bathroom, or shower is completely stripped away. The adjustment to this new reality must be swift and firm.
Within the prison system, inmates face racism from authority figures and fellow inmates. With its nationwide reach and diverse inmate population, the federal system is more complex than the state prison system, which houses individuals from the specific state where the crime was committed. In the federal system, inmates are often divided into “cars” based on their state or region, leading to a distinct separation among Black inmates that is not as prevalent among whites or foreigners. This division based on region or state makes unity among Black inmates almost impossible, as they are not identified primarily by their race but rather by the regions they represent.
Every day presents new challenges, even though the routines may seem similar. Inmates must constantly adjust to various situations, such as dealing with gangs, race riots, or conflicts over cells. This dynamic environment requires adaptability and the ability to handle unforeseen circumstances. Adjusting to prison life varies from person to person, and for many, the most significant adjustment is being separated from their loved ones, especially children. While it is necessary to maintain some connection to the outside world, inmates must also create a mental separation to cope with things beyond their control. It is not uncommon to witness individuals struggling with their mental well-being due to the inability to control external factors while the world outside continues to move forward. Accepting this reality and learning to compartmentalize emotions become crucial for survival in this ever-changing environment.
Mark Peez is currently incarcerated and focused on a brighter future.