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7 Horrifying Things You Didn't (Want to) Know About Prison

#3. Prisoner Ingenuity Knows No Bounds

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One of the great tragedies of the prison system is that so many young people only realize their talents after getting locked up. You take a bunch of guys with zero college or (legal) work experience, lock them in a big building, and suddenly they're master engineers. I found that if you give these guys a PlayStation controller, they'll quickly make you a quality electronic tattoo gun.

Scott Campbell
This looks cool, but they could get the same functionality out of a pen, some string, and a needle.

And what about ink? Sure, the stuff inside a pen works OK for a little while, but it fades real quick. Fortunately, some long-ago chemistry savant/coke dealer discovered an ingredient that could make his sweet ink last longer: human urine. Sure, it isn't exactly sterile, but you know what they say: You can't make an omelet without rampant staph infections.

You've probably heard about prisoners being pretty good at turning stuff like spoons and pencils into deadly knives, but that stuff is easy work. A skilled prisoner can make a knife out of literally any solid substance you care to give him. We had one inmate spend days wetting sheet after sheet of newspaper and compressing them together under a small stack of books. Eventually, the paper dried into a rigid cardboard brick. The inmate sharpened this on the floor of his cell, and in about a month he had himself a fine little face-stabbing knife.

Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty
There you go, kids -- start creating.

But prison ingenuity is at its best when it comes to the business of getting shitfaced. Each cell contains a bunk bed with a small gray box for that bed's inmate to store his stuff in. And in most cases, "stuff" is a synonym for "personal brewery." These guys will mash old fruit up with toothpaste and ketchup, stick it in a bag, and let it ferment quietly under their belongings. When they open it up, suddenly the building is full of a stench like oranges and puke. Some inmates will cut it with Metamucil so it goes down easier, which does not help matters as far as our noses are concerned.

That's not even getting into what happens when these guys drink the stuff. Once, a huge dreadlocked dude chugged an entire gallon of prison wine (or "pruno"). He got aggressive, and the whole mess ended with two empty canisters of prison mace, three injured guards, and one passed-out prisoner who woke up very confused the next day.

Bill Wunsch / Denver Post / Getty
Black-and-white vision is a common side effect of prison mace.

#2. Most of the Sex Is Consensual

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The running joke/warning about prison is about how much you're going to get raped in there (and the HBO show Oz did feature about six rapes per episode). It seems like fear of nonstop rape is what scares people most about prison, not any of that trivial stuff like losing your freedom for years or having a criminal record.

Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images
We'll just leave this here.

Well, I worked in prisons for seven years, and I only saw one rape. If you're wondering how all of these males can go without sex for so long, well, who says they do? There are plenty of guys who are willing sex partners. You'd walk by cells and see one guy's head bobbing up and down and just knock on the gates and say, "Hey, you crazy kids, that's enough!"

That's not to say that sexual assault never happens or to trivialize the problem for the people it happens to. But the truth is that between 0.7 and 6.3 percent of inmates report being sexually victimized, and while even one is too many, that's still far short of the nonstop rape frenzy that pop culture portrays. In reality, a lot of prisoners just embrace being one of the, uh, more desirable men in lockup. They grow their hair long, get some sexy tattoos, and start flirting with whoever makes the best pruno and/or knives.

Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images
Beneath that scruffy proto-beard lies the face of desire.

#1. There's No Method to the Madness

Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images

You probably assume that prison is ordered a little like Dante's hell and inmates wind up on different "levels" based on the severity of their crime. Nope! If you make it into a federal prison for a nonviolent drug charge, you might wind up cell mates with Johnny the Cop Stabber, who, despite his colorful nickname, is a serial rapist.

Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
And head of the Bible study group. He's a complex man.

As a private prison, we were only supposed to get inmates up to a "medium" level of severity. We had a points system, and once they got above a certain number, we had to send them to the state. My job for a while was to do that paperwork, and guess what: The state would fiddle with the numbers all the time in order to dump the inmates on us. I'd go into their records and add up their infractions and realize that these guys were much more dangerous than the state had said. Whenever we wound up with someone who was WAY too violent for our prison, the state would wait forever to take him back.

That means that prison, like America, is a great melting pot. But instead of being a place for people of all nations, faiths, and creeds to live together, it's a place where kids who made one dumb mistake hang out with career criminals. There's a reason our recidivism rate is so very high: Prison is crime college. I had a 19-year-old kid in there who went on a joyride in his grandma's car. She called the police, hoping they'd just put him in jail overnight to scare him. But the DA decided to make an example out of him and charged the kid with car theft. Now he's in prison, learning how to steal cars for real.

Kevork Djansezian / Getty
At least he'll stay in shape.

Robert Evans is Cracked's head of Dick Joke Journalism and manages the Workshop Moderator team. You can contact him here.

Related Reading: Down for more Cracked-style reporting? Check out our insider's look at drone warfare. And if you're shipping a package this holiday season, you should probably check out this article by a former UPS loader. After all that, why not wind down with a heartwarming look at the terrible face of modern homelessness?

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