Ex-Cons Share the Prison Habits They Had a Hard Time Breaking

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You’re probably a little curious about life in prison, but (hopefully) not curious enough to actually wind up there.

In a recent AskReddit thread, a number of ex-cons came forward to share the habits they formed while in prison and had a hard time breaking once they were released.

(And none of them are about dementors.)

Staring at sharp things. Like there’s no desire to use them inappropriately, but you are just kinda shocked they’re there and available for use. You might be surprised what qualifies as a sharp object. I remember whenever someone tried to hand me a knife or something to cut veggies I’d be afraid to touch it. Glass was the biggest thing though, just mirrors in all the bathrooms. Real ones. I could smash that and have a big, jagged weapon — I can’t believe this Italian restaurant has such a dangerous thing in their bathroom.Skishkitteh

I don’t smoke, but every time someone offered me a cig I would pocket it. On the inside, that’s a bartering chip, Took me about a month or two to break.interchangeable-bot

One of my foster sons came to us from juvie. Every meal, his arm was around his plate and he wolfed down his food. My mastiff couldn’t keep up. He always ate with his back to the wall, hunched. Took my wife and I a month to show him no one would take his food and we had plenty more. The funny part is he went into the Marines and did 8 years. Got out honorable and is now working in corrections.c3h8pro

Hoard feminine hygiene products. We were super limited on the number of pads or tampons they gave us. They didn’t give any to the women in holding cells. There was dried and fresh menstrual blood on the floor and concrete benches, and a drain in the middle of the rooms like they intended to hose down the room, but if they did it was not often enough.feitceirarose This next admission will break your heart a bit…

Constantly looking over my shoulder. By far the hardest conditioning to break, which I haven’t and doubt I ever will, is the constant pessimism and cautious optimism. You see, when you’re waiting to work your way through court, get a deal, and get sentenced, you will have your dates changed 50 times, hope for certain things only to be disappointed, and any time you are told something hopeful it doesn’t work out. As a result, I never get excited about something until it actually happens. When my wife told me we were pregnant, I was obviously happy, but because I’m always cautiously optimistic and rarely show emotion, I couldn’t feel comfortable or excited until I knew that my developing daughter was healthy. Even then, it didn’t really hit me until she was born. You can apply this to anything, especially big events. Getting engaged, planning the wedding, buying a house, ANYTHING. I still hear from my wife how I wasn’t crazy surprised or excited to be having a kid. You just can’t get your hopes up or look forward to anything until it is here or has happened. I’ve been home more than 7 years now and with my wife for 6.5. She’s truly the catalyst that motivated me to truly change my life and to not give any more of my life to the system, but she’ll never know how happy she makes me because she misinterprets my cautious optimism/realism for pessimism or indifference.Elrond_the_Ent

I didn’t use a fork for a few weeks. Ate everything with a spoon without thinking. –justinlarson

My stepdad has been in and out of prison for the majority of his life. He always said that whenever he gets out of prison he’s so used to it being loud all the time that when he got home he couldn’t sleep because it was so quiet. – emitpan00

Dude I work with said for the first little bit after getting out he would take one leg out of his pants whenever he took a sh*t. Not sure how common that was. Dude’s a fighter though, so maybe that had something to do with it.themeltykind

Taking as long as you want in the shower. For the longest time after I got out, I took less than 5 minute showers.Dysphoric_Otter Do you ever wonder why people are being nice to you? This next person had a hard time with that…

I eat fast. I don’t sit with my back to the door in public. I always scan crowds constantly. I question WHY people are nice to me. I carry extra clothes, water, and various other things in my car in case I need it. (Not a hoarder but harder to get rid of stuff) I don’t like being away from home overnight. I also quit eating boiled eggs, I over season my food, and I refuse to drink Kool-Aid anymore.IceburgSlimk

God, I got out two years ago and I cannot for the life of me shake my aggressive posturing… That’s all prison is, being hyper-vigilant, and I would argue worse yet, always appearing indifferent. Like you could be kickin’ it with your “friends,” laughing, watching tv, but then even the slightest misphrasing of something or a sudden movement will shift the whole mood of the room at a drop of a dime. So whatever emotion you display has to be instantly shut off and at a moment’s notice, you have to be “booted and suited.” I would return to my unit on occasion and there would be blood smeared on the walls from a fight I missed. You didn’t look at it. Eyes forward, indifferent. Emotion is weakness, and though I was secretly panicking, I had to bury it and put on as a cold motherf**ker. – PaintshakerBaby

I was only locked up for four months in total. All things considered, I got off easy. Hardest habit to break was just doing something without telling someone else. Hard to remember that there’s no authority figure once you’re out. –MaxDMJ

I had to completely change my sense of time. I agree with all the people who said they ate super fast, but then we would slow walk back from the chow hall- any excuse for a few minutes more outside. I made sure I never consolidated enjoyable things. If I had a snack- I ate it and concentrated on it. If there was something good on TV, I watched it. Now, I’ll snack while I watch a movie because there aren’t enough hours in the day- but on the inside, I was trying to make hours and days go away. I’ve got a good job now, and nice respectable friends, but I still react to confrontational situations more quickly, decisively and… efficiently than they do. I’m able to pull back at the last minute, but it’s pretty clear that violence is not a tool in their arsenal.DeuceTheDog

I spent 72 months in prison for a tragic car accident that I had caused. After I was released I kept telling my wife exactly what I was doing without her asking. She thought it was funny at first but after a few weeks of it, she was starting to get bothered.carter5oh This next person couldn’t even escape their prison habits while they slept…

My ex would sleep a certain way all the time. To me it seemed like he was sleeping as if he was in a coffin, his arms were crossed and he wouldn’t move the entire night for a couple months. He eventually broke that habit.myjobbetternotfindme

Making prison commissary-only food. Everyone around me thinks it is gross as hell to throw summer sausages, pickles, cheese, Doritos, Cheetos, and such into my ramen noodles, but good lord, I can’t stop, and I have been out for five years.peanutjesus

Doing laps. In prison, every time you get time on the yard, you do laps. Seriously, almost every single person does it too. When you get out, it’s hard to break that habit.Official–Moderator

A somewhat-friend of mine did a few years and the one habit he couldn’t shake was distrusting people. He said that people in prison are never nice, if they’re nice it’s because of a hidden motive. Up to this day, he still doesn’t trust people who act nice/generous/helpful toward him.ehamo

Never been to prison, but I did a few months in county jail. Something I haven’t seen mentioned is trading food. When I got out I asked my girlfriend to trade me her chicken wings for my macaroni. Pure habit. I really could’ve just gone to the kitchen and gotten more chicken. –Ondareal Little things become a big deal after an experience as drastically different as prison. Next up, one person maintains a strange collection after release…

Not me personally but I know a guy that said after he got out he just wanted McDonald’s. When he got there he spent 20 minutes staring at the menu trying to decide what to order because he wasn’t used to having choices. Anynamethatworks

My uncle was in prison for a while and we’ve talked a bit about his experience and how it effected him: -He has a hard time not being violent. You’d never guess since he mainly just sits in a corner and smokes but he’s been out for nearly ten years and still always struggles with using his words -The guy cannot stand authority. He tells me that its hard to listen to bosses when you know you’re probably smarter and tougher than them. He knows most people feel this way, but he just can’t ignore it. He’s taken up professional carving so he can be his boss. -He’s really in touch with our native roots now, on account of joining a first nations gang in prison. -Doesn’t talk much, I don’t know if that’s because of prison but he really only speaks if he wants to. Not the type of guy who likes to talk just to talk. -Doesn’t have a lot. He has some sort of abandonment issue or something so he doesn’t want a lot of things to miss if he goes back to prison. -For all the time he doesn’t spend with people, he’s out with nature or doing something in the wilderness. I think it helps keep him calm and feel connected.hippynoize

I find myself hoarding toilet paper under my bed. Sometimes I do it without thinking and I’ll look under there and have 10 rolls of paper. tentosamo

I knew of a guy who got out after 15 years. He had to call a friend to come and let him out of his apartment. They’d go out, do some shopping or whatever and then his friend would “lock him up” for the night. Dude could not work doors himself without irrational fear. He did get better after a few months, but I hear he still has trouble doing things independently.VikingTeddy

When my dad got out of prison (10+ years) we nicknamed him Martha Stewart because he was such a clean freak. His home looks like an Ikea catalog, he has glass containers for his shoes, he wakes up early to iron/wash/scrub everything. When I lived with him for a year, I was grounded so many times over leaving water drops in the sink.pimberly Even conflict and violence become normalized in prison. See how one ex-con deals with it on the next page.

Isolation. I used to be a social butterfly but after spending so much time keeping to myself I don’t know how to socialize anymore. 88Knuckles88

Definitely sleeping habits. Still haven’t broke them. Haven’t slept a full night in over a decade. Any noise and my eyes are open and I’m wide awake. I can hear really well. A raccoon comes nightly to eat scraps and cat food and I can hear him crunching outside on the porch from bed on the opposite side of the house (roughly 60feet away). Wide awake.themanicmechanic3

An ex-con who works for me always ask to use the restroom. I have politely informed him that there is no need to do that, he’s an adult and can use the restroom whenever he pleases, but he keeps asking and apologizing saying that it’s hard to break the habit. He even told me it’s hard to pee whenever he hasn’t gotten permission, out of fear he shouldn’t be going in the first place. To get around this now he tells me “I’m going to the bathroom, you might want someone to cover my station” so I think we found a happy medium.MountainLizard

My partner was locked up for six years in various state prisons. He still gets wide eyed when he hears someone call someone else “b*tch” or “punk” even as a joke. His instinct to fight someone over the littlest things still hasn’t worn off. He’s really working on it though.notintheglasses

The hardest thing for me was not waking up at 3 or 4 am, wide awake, thinking about food. I would have to eat a small meal and try to go back to sleep. Took me about a year to sleep through the night again. I only broke this habit about 6 months ago.CapGunRoulette7 A few makeshift prison solutions stuck with people after they left, on the next page.

Placing a shirt over my face while I slept. In jail (never was in prison), the lights are never turned off. The COs want to be able to make sure that nothing bad is going on in the cells. Even though they never actually check and are very, very slow to come provide help to people who actively call for it, even if there’s a violent assault or medical emergency in progress. kierkegaardsho

Lots of institutions are cold. And most inmate wear doesn’t have any pockets. So every once in a while, I find myself still using my “jail pockets”. It’s just sticking your hands into your pants to keep your hands warm.Ant-Acid

I was in for 10 months for a white collar fraud crime when I was 19 (nearly 20 years ago now). Wasn’t a long time, but long enough to start to think of prison as your “home”. Hardest habit to break was the desire to play cards, chess, and other trinket games no one wants to play with you on the outside. I’d go to friends houses and I’d say “let’s play Spades” and they’d look at me like I was crazy. I would play these games daily for hours… so I had a strong habit of wanting to do so. Everyone else was play video games, watching TV, going out, partying, etc. I just wanted to play Spades man.ethanwa

Well, it wasn’t me, but my Palestinian coworker who had been in prison in the west bank literally couldn’t look someone in their eyes. Definitely something he got from prison. It was really hard seeing this lovely person so disabled and traumatized because of his time. timsDoubleTins

Hiding my phone when someone walks into the room, been out two months and I’m still like that. jackofharts94 Some truly thought-provoking perspectives on the next page…

Mealtime was the hardest for me. It doesn’t matter if you are hungry. If it isn’t mealtime, you don’t eat. When I first got out, i kept missing mealtime (the specific time when you are supposed to eat), sometimes only eating once a day. It took me weeks to realize that I could eat whatever/whenever I wanted. I was all alone, sitting hungry with food in the fridge, because I didn’t eat an hour ago and I couldn’t eat until breakfast. A friend took me out to a pizza place a couple days after I got out and the waitress asked me “What’s your favorite kind of pizza?” and I honestly didn’t know how to answer the question because it didn’t matter if you liked it. I actually thought about it and answered “I don’t know” and they looked at me like I was joking. It’s been a long time, and I think broken most of my habits. I still don’t feel comfortable in crowded spaces where I can’t track every single person. I still have a hard time making decisions, and sometimes need people to tell me to do basic things, because I can’t just do them. physical0

It’s been 9 years I’ve been out, solitary confinement never really left me, the notion that the world is turning around you but you’re standing still, growing sideways. It’s a tough one to shake.Xerxesthegreat1

Not me, but my friend’s mother was in jail for some time several years ago. She said that upon getting out, it was very jarring and difficult to adjust to how colorful the world is. I thought that was a very interesting but poignant observation. Samuel_R_Irvin

My friend did two and a half in Florida State Prison. Said the first thing he did when he got home was shower until all the hot water ran out.WuTangGraham

Not me – but guy who worked for me. When things were very busy, I would often get carry-out lunch for everyone and bring it back to the workplace. This one guy would eat a cheeseburger and french fries in two minutes. Wow! Once I asked him why he ate so quickly. He said “Well nobsforgma, I spent 7 years in a Federal prison and if you didn’t eat your meal in 10 minutes, you didn’t get anything. That 10 minutes often included the time it took standing in line to get your food.” OK then. I never said anything to him about it after that.NoBSforGma Share this with someone who you think would find this information fascinating!