What Prison is Really Like

Alright kid, you’re scared. I get it. You just got sentenced to 5 years in the pokie and ain’t no one gonna make you smile right now, not even Gumby. Go ahead and cry, but get it all out now because once you’re up the river, I guarantee them extra tears are gonna do nothing but rock the boat.

What is prison really like? You’ve seen the movies – Escape from Alcatraz, Shawshank Redemption, Chicken Run. Well trust me, I’ve been there and the slammer ain’t nothing like these stories. Not one bit. If you want to know what it’s really like in prison, you ain’t gonna find it in Hollywood. Unless, maybe you rent Jailhouse Rock…WHICH I HIGHLY RECOMMEND!!

You want to know how to survive in jail? It’s all about image. From the moment you arrive, everyone’s gonna be sizing you up, seeing if you got what it takes. So what you gotta do is find the biggest, baddest dude in the yard. March right on up to him, give him the red eye, and shout, “What you looking at cowboy!? HUH!? You wanna dance!?”

And with that, you better bring it, because the music is gonna kick in and the dance-off is on! The freespin, jazz square, Fosse, Lindy hop – you better use them all because this guy is gonna be walking on air. Leap, twirl, slide – do whatever it takes to keep up with your competitor. Put together a killer routine, match the cowboy step for step, and your reward is the instant respect and applause of the entire yard.

Great, you made it through day one. Well stop celebrating Fish, cause you’re still a long way from easy street. Now you gotta align yourself with a prison crew. I hope you’re good at choreography, because that freestyle shit you did back in the yard isn’t gonna cut it.

The next day in the yard is gonna be hectic. The Jets, The Sharks, even The Toros – they’re all gonna be out there practicing their routines. You better be ready, cause sooner or later one of them veterans is gonna twist an ankle or pull a hammy. If you’re lucky, you’ll get asked to sub, and boy, you better not disappoint. This is the big house buddy, and that means you’ve only got a couple counts to nail the whole routine.

Rikers Penitentiary, circa 1979
Rikers Penitentiary, circa 1979

Impress the best, and soon you’ll be cavorting through the cellblock as a full-fledged member of one of the hottest dance crews in the clinker. With them at your back, you’ve pretty much made it. Even still, you can never let your guard down – not even FOR A SECOND! At any moment, an impromptu battle can break out. Despite the spontaneity of the whole thing, you’ve got to be ready to dance and sing in unison with your crew, and production values have to be KILLER. Fail to bring it, and your crew could lose territory, squad members, or worse – a top seed in the annual statewide dance competition.

So buck up, buddy. Dry your eyes and turn that frown upside down. Because when you’re on the inside, stage presence is everything. Remember – big smiles, jazz hands and loads of enthusiasm. That’s the key to surviving life in prison.

Accurate at the time, but amateur hour by today’s standards:


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