5 Reasons People Actually Wanted to Go to Prison

Some people really like jail. They would (and did) kill to go there
5 Reasons People Actually Wanted to Go to Prison

Prisons are buildings that convert criminals into angrier, better-connected criminals. As tools for reforming people, they aren’t terribly effective. We design them to punish inmates, not to fix them. The reasoning is that a miserable prison deters people from committing crime. Even when a convict leaves prison and never offends again, that might not be because they emerged a better person. It may just be because, having tasted prison, they fear it all the more and never want to return. 

Yeah, people don’t want to be sentenced to prison. Except for the occasional weirdo who does, for their own bizarre motives. 

To Beat Cocaine Addiction

In 2010, Canadian Michael Zehaf-Bibeau went to police and confessed to an armed robbery from the year 2000. The police did not now arrest him for that crime, because when they looked at their records, they discovered the incident he was talking about never happened. They did arrest him under the Mental Health Act, but they released him the following day. 

Zehaf-Bibeau wanted them to put him behind bars, which he figured would be a good place to detox from cocaine. You might think that’s what rehab is for, but rehab might not be so easy to get into, not if you’re Canadian and expect to be treated for free. Plus, Zehaf-Bibeau thought he deserved to be punished, for unspecified sins. So, he wanted prison, and if falsely confessing to armed robbery didn’t earn him a sentence, he had to commit armed robbery for real. 

He held up a McDonald’s — with a stick, so the robbery would qualify as “armed.” The clerk did not hand over any money but did call the police, who arrested the robber. Zehaf-Bibeau spent a little while in jail awaiting trial but was ultimately sentenced to time served.

McDonald’s sign

Emil Huang

The clerk was sentenced to Billions Served. 

That would be the end of the funny story of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. Except, in 2014, he went to the National War Memorial in Ottawa and shot a soldier dead. He used a hunting rifle this time, not a stick. Half a dozen officers then fired at Zehaf-Bibeau, killing him before he could attack anyone else. Hey, maybe when someone says he belongs behind bars, you should believe him. 

To Research a Book, for Christmas

In 1932, George Orwell could either spend the days before Christmas with friends and family or land himself in jail. He chose option B.

George Orwell


Freedom is slavery.

Orwell was writing a series of essays about poverty, which would eventually form his book Down and Out in Paris and London. You can’t really know about all walks of poverty without getting to know what life is like for people behind bars. So, that December, he got really drunk, enough for constables to arrest him for his disorderly behavior. 

George Orwell

He recorded in his essay Clink his observations of the jail where they dumped him. That’s what he claimed, anyway. Many people suspected that he made up the whole story. He even said he gave the cops a fake name, which thwarted all attempts to verify his account. The dialogue in the essay sounded a little too entertaining to be real. This dialogue also veered a little too colorful for the essay to be published:

George Orwell

But whether or not his reporting included a few artistic flourishes, Orwell was telling the truth. Archivists 80 years later confirmed his story, looking through jailhouse filings and finding proof of his arrest. They were also able to cross-reference the prisoner list at that time to the characters in the essay, identifying each of them, despite the fact that he’d taken care to invent fake names. We wish there was some adjective to describe such a system where records make privacy impossible. 

To Check Out North Korea

In 2014, North Korea arrested an American tourist, accusing him of espionage. It is very much possible for an American to visit North Korea, but your tour operator will warn you to strictly follow rules, or else police might nab you. Matthew Miller sounded like someone who’d mistakenly fallen afoul of these rules and had paid the price.

Then, after America negotiated Miller’s release, he told a very different story from what we’d assumed. He’d gone to North Korea wanting to be arrested, he said. He did not say this with a gun to his head, he was free now, and his interviewers were a news agency devoted to reporting on North Korea critically. He’d filled a notebook with jottings that falsely described him as a hacker carrying state secrets for Wikileaks. He’d defaced his genuine North Korean visa, to attract suspicion. Finally, he’d provoked authorities repeatedly till they took him into custody. 

Pyongyang street

Uri Tours

“I *said* Kim Jong Un is a big doodoo head. Hello? Anyone hear me?”

Miller’s motive in all this? He wanted to learn what North Korea’s really like, something that’s fairly impossible in an organized tour but that incarceration surely reveals with great clarity. He came away from his experience confused that he wasn’t tortured and pleasantly surprised by the conditions of his captivity. We therefore have our doubts that his curated prison stint revealed anything about what life is like for North Koreans. Sometimes, when you escape a simulation, you just find your way into a more convincing simulation.

As an Alternative to Homelessness

Ichiro Kojima decided prison was preferable to life on the streets. So, did this homeless guy steal a pack of gum, like the classic criminal who just wants to be arrested? Nope. Kojima wanted to be set for life, which meant he needed a life sentence. 

On June 9, 2018, he boarded the train from Tokyo to Osaka with a knife and a machete. He slashed at two women, both in their 20s. Then another passenger intervened, 38-year-old Kotaro Umeda. Kojima stabbed him dozens of times, with one wound half-a-foot long killing him. After that, he stopped. He had boarded the train with the intention of murdering someone, to secure his prison term, and he had succeeded. 


JobanLineE531/Wiki Commons

He’d have used a gun, but doing so on the bullet train would have been too on-the-nose. 

Japan sentenced him to life in prison. Yes, this was precisely what he’d sought in attacking those passengers, but the law’s the law. The rules have no loophole to guard against giving criminals exactly what they want. 

Because It’s All He Knew

Paul Geidel was 17 when he committed murder. He was working as a bellhop at a hotel, and he killed an elderly guest in a failed attempt to run off with the guy’s riches. Today, a 17-year-old is considered a child. In 1911, despite people that age working and marrying, that was arguably even more the case — the age of majority back then was 21. Nevertheless, Geidel’s second-degree murder charge earned him 20-to-life. 

That sentence lasted longer than anyone predicted. The first years went by easily enough, with Geidel seemingly on track for early release. Then doctors declared him to be legally insane (which is really the sort of thing that should be determined at trial, not years later). He moved now to a special unit for the criminally insane, where he spent nearly 50 years. After that, he went to another prison, before finally being granted parole in 1974.

Except, that parole wasn’t so final after all. Geidel rejected it. He wanted to stay in prison. He’d been there for over 60 years at this point. He’d missed the sexual revolution, the rise of television and two world wars, not to mention every personal milestone that a normal adult experiences. How was he supposed to adapt to life outside now?

New York 1974

Norbert Nelte Flipper

We don’t know, but it sounds like a great premise for a TV series.

The prison finally got rid of him in 1980. He was 86, and even today, no one in American history has spent as long in prison as he did. Details are murky on what happened to Geidel after this, but it appears he lived out his few remaining years at a nursing home, which really is just another kind of prison, one with less interesting inmates. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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