By Matt Stroud
A few months back, when I first started with In These Times, I had a talk with Logan Sachon at The Billfold about what I intended to do with The Prison Complex and why I find prisons so infuriating and fascinating. It was an enjoyable discussion. But when she asked me, “What do TV and movies get right … and what do they get wrong” about prisons, I admitted I didn’t really know; I’ve never served time in a prison, and anything I possess approaching a journalistic expertise about incarceration comes from what I’ve read, conversations I’ve had, and policy discussions I’ve followed.
So I decided to get in touch with some prisoners to see how they’d answer Logan’s question.
In a partnership with Between the Bars — a fascinating site that allows prisoners to blog about whatever they want — this is the first in a hopefully recurring series of posts by prisoners about their daily lives behind bars. Since we’re just getting started here, the prompt is simple: “What do TV and movies get right and what do they get wrong about prisons?” Our first response comes from Jennifer Gann, a prisoner at Kern Valley State Prison in the desert of Southern California about 45 minutes by car northwest of Bakersfield. Kern Valley is a maximum security facility for men with just about 4,100 prisoners.
Jennifer’s letter has been scanned and posted here. The text of her letter follows:
I’m a 44 year old transgender woman activist and prisoner in California. I have been incarcerated for the past 24 years, and I’ve witnessed every imaginable aspect of the prison system from the inside.
Initially, I was sentenced to “seven years” in state prison after being convicted of a robbery charge. I’ll admit that I’m no angel, but I served the time which fit the crime. I’m a drug addict and ex-gang member who has made a lot of mistakes which I now regret.