April 6, 2020, 11:25 am
Level four prisons are more restrictive than level twos (Michigan no longer has a level three). All movement is controlled, and generally, prisoners spend as much as 21-23 hours a day in their cells. Other than mealtimes and mandatory callouts, prisoners are only allowed an hour of yard time, and sometimes another hour of small yard time right outside their housing unit. Because men in level four prisons are locked down so much, they have even devised a “level four shuffle.” During movement to and from chow, and sometimes even to other callouts, prisoners will shuffle slowly, extending their time outside of their cells.
Because prisoners in higher security level prisons spend so much time in their cells, they devise creative ways to stay busy. Many prisoners have televisions, but one can only watch so much TV. Reading is a good option too, but that also gets boring after a while. So, necessity breeds invention, and some prisoners are extremely inventive.
Some level four and five activities include:
* Writing stories and books (usually handwritten)
* Learning to draw, paint, or crochet–this requires spending money on hobby craft items
* Creating gift items to sell–I’ve seen beautiful jewelry boxes made from craft sticks, model cars made from cardboard and found objects, picture frames made from pebbles, and even purses made from Ramen noodle wrappers!
* Learning to play an instrument–this is tricky since our options are very limited, essentially to ukeleles and harmonicas. I’m fortunate, now that I’m in a level two prison to be able to learn to play the guitar using a loaner guitar from the class I’m in
* Creating unique recipes with limited food options–this sometimes requires a contraband “stinger,” which is used to heat food using tap water, salt, and the stinger, a homemade heating coil.
* Developing (and using) an in-cell workout routine
* Learning new card games–especially if you’re housed with a bunkie
These are just a few of the creative activities prisoners have been using for years during their times of forced isolation (social distancing). Level two (and level one) time in prison is much less restrictive, giving prisoners more options of ways to spend their time.
In a few months the coronavirus will have lost its grip on the world, and people will be returning back to their busy lives. And when you do, remember the boredom you felt during your own isolation. Remember the sense of uselessness you felt, the “itch” to DO something. Remember feeling without purpose and like your life is on hold. Whether it’s time in a restrictive security level four or a less restrictive level, that’s what doing time in prison feels like every day, especially when confined to a closet-sized cell.
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