I was up with the dogs this morning, letting my wife sleep as long as possible before she has to go into her shift at the hospital. She’s been put on duty to stand outside the elevator in a modified hazmat suit and take every visitor’s temperature who is coming into the respiratory unit and have them sign in and out. I was watching TV and heard multiple people complain that the social isolation they’ve experienced over the last four or five days is akin to jail.
Fuck off, no it’s not.
I went to jail for six months in early 2014. I was in county jail, not state prison, and I was in a minimum security pod under protective custody — in Maine. I don’t believe jail gets much more mild than that, and I’ll still take social isolation any day. The drama queens and hyperbole spewers need to chill out and recognize they’re in for a long ride.
In jail, at least when you get there, you have your underwear taken from you. Until you buy some from the commissary, which can take more than a week after you arrive, you’ve just got the thick, rough fabric of the jail pants rubbing against your parts.
You also, at most, only get to change your clothes every two days. You can change your underwear, once you get it, every day, but the uniforms are cycled in and out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursdays, they’ll wash your whites.
In jail, you get your meals when they say (6 a.m., 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. in my case) and while you don’t have to eat what they provide, they aren’t giving you a menu to choose. I stopped eating meat when I was there because I couldn’t identify it and heard horrible rumors about the low standards by which food for incarcerated people had to meet. I actually mostly survived off junk food and oranges.
In jail, basically every day is the same. Time takes on a different cadence. It’s surreal. Even when people come visit, it’s not like they’re the same people because their lives continue yet yours is same as it ever was, same as it ever was.
A book cart came around in jail twice a week with a very poor selection. Thankfully, I was able to get books sent to me as long as they came direct from Amazon. But that’s because I had the money to do it. Most guys don’t. There’s also only about a 14-inch TV that got about 12 channels. Once I was there long enough and got tenure I instituted a system for picking shows based on seniority, but in most pods I was told it was based on muscle. And I still had to watch 4 hours of country music videos every day which was like torture. I still can’t hear Marin Morris sing “My Church” without having flashbacks.
I wrote two books in jail. Wrote. No access to computers. Or pens. Or pencils of a proper length. While in jail, I estimate I wrote 500,000 to 600,000 words. All with those pencils that you score mini golf with that are one-third normal size and have no erasers.
In jail, you sleep on a mat similar to the ones you used to do push-ups and curls on in gym class, except even thinner. You don’t have a pillow. It’s lights out at 11 p.m., but the lights never go fully out, and a guard does a headcount every 90 minutes, opening and slamming a large metal door, waking you up ever damn time.
But, perhaps the biggest difference I’ve experienced in this social isolation that is not like jail is an injury I sustained yesterday. I burned the tip of my left middle finger and it’s now got a giant blister, as you can see in the accompanying photograph. In jail, there’s no access to any flames or heating elements (although I learned if you take a staple from a magazine binding and plug each end into a light socket, you can create a circuit that is capable of creating enough heat to light a cigarette) of any kind. How did I mess up my finger? By touching the top of the Crème brûlée I was making before the sugar cooled off after firing.
Yeah, social isolation is nothing like jail.