What I Learned from My Summer in Jail


“When you go to jail, there’s so much simple stuff missing. You just want some good toilet paper or a real toothbrush, a real blanket and a real bed to lay in.” – Ja Rule

An excellent observation, Ja Rule.  Jail is not the Hilton, Marriott or Sheraton.  I have been lucky enough to spend a few nights at these places and jail is nothing like them.  Jail (at least the one that I’ve been in) is kind of what you would expect it to be; cold, sterile, overall uncomfortable.  I am OK with this, however.  I mean, how did you end up here? What did you do that brought you to this place? The answers to these questions are often more complicated than they appear in the big picture, but in the small picture, you did something ‘bad’ and for your own safety and the safety of others, you get to spend the night with me.  In jail.  With mediocre toilet paper, a simple blanket and a mat to sleep on.

I am currently in jail as a type this post with three friends who are all sleeping off the night before. I don’t know their stories, but I do know that they probably deserve to be here right now and it’s probably in their best interest. This summer I had the… well what’s the word I’m looking for?  Privilege? Opportunity? Let’s go with privilege.  This summer I had the privilege of working as a guard at the local jail.  As I worked, I learned and relearned a few simple truths.

Jail is a great place to focus and get work done. My job as a guard is fairly simple.  I need to check in on the prisoners regularly to ensure that they are doing OK and occasionally prepare meals for them (depending on the situation), but beyond that, my time is mostly my own.  I have found that sitting at the guard desk is a great place to ensure that I focus and get work done.  At times there is literally nothing else to do.  No distractions or other things I could be doing.  Who would have thought?

Sleep is wonderful. Now, I know this may sound silly, but I typically have endured sleep and not enjoyed it. Sleep was something I did when I was tired and something I knew I needed to do to maintain a healthy body, but not something I cared to do for any extended period of time.  I usually wake up early and am excited to start a new day.  I am that annoying morning person some of you probably hate.  Or at least I was. Working as a guard has, at times, required that I work overnight with little or no warning that I was about to.  There have been times when I have lived a full day only to get called at 11pm, 1am, or 2am and asked to guard.  Now, I’m not complaining about working crazy hours.  I signed up for it and it usually doesn’t bother me, but it has made me appreciate sleep on a whole new lever.  I don’t have any kids, but I imagine at times it is similar. Are there any parents in the world who haven’t learned to truly appreciate sleep or a good nap?

I need more friends overseas. Overnight shifts can get long and it is nice to visit with people who also happen to be awake.  I have had a few good visits with friends of mine who are up with little ones in the middle of night, but these are too few between.  Having some friends in places with a different time zone would be ideal.

We make choices and choices have consequences. Life is complicated.  Extremely complicated. The reasons behind why a person does what they do is complex and convoluted.  I chose to go to University and become a teacher.  Why did I choose to do this? I love helping people achieve at their best and pursue their goals.  Simple enough. Why do I like helping people? Complicated.  It probably has a lot to do with how and where I was raised and by whom. It probably also has to do with my personality and my interests.  Whatever the reasons, it is a lot more complicated.  Jail has reminded me that regardless of everything else in a persons life, some actions have direct, understandable and foreseeable consequences.

People make mistakes, but life goes on. Everyone messes up once in a while (Once and a while? /Once in a while? Google says once in a while so let’s go with that. I’m a teacher now so I should probably start figuring some of this stuff out…).  The trick is not letting one mistake become a pattern.  If a mistake becomes a pattern, the trick is finding ways to end the pattern.  Life will continue to move on regardless but how life looks will likely change.  I see people here who make mistakes and have to pay for them.  I also get to see them leave in the morning sunshine and hopefully make a better choice next time.

Who would have thought that jail would be such a good teacher for the guard? Today is my last shift of the summer and I will some aspects of this job, but I am very excited to meet my new class and start teaching.  Who knows what amazing and awesome things they will teach and reteach me?


1 Comment

  1. loved it. especially the sleep part. it is harder when you have children to deal with through out the day, then deal with children that aren’t yours through the night lol. the friends over seas made me giggle. my sister is a night owl so she’s always there to keep me company ha ha ha

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