behind the scenes: receptions


This is my second behind the scenes post. Many don’t realize at first, but there are two prison receptions: the initial reception center and orientation at the “main camp”. These are crucial times. They dictate whether or not your sentence will be unduly difficult, at least in the short-term.


by Alex King

Intake has left you exhausted. As you reach your dorm, however, you quickly realize that resting is not in the cards. Stepping through the metal door has the feel of breaking through icy water. Everything is surreal. The dorms are alive at night, and now you are a part of that society. The evening lasts forever. Seconds crawl by. You’ve made it to prison, and now is when you will see first hand if you are capable of making it through.

Shock doesn’t last long. As it wears off, basic needs begin asserting themselves, and you realize you have work to do if you are going to see them fulfilled. You become aware of the place you have been consigned to. Danger lurks everywhere threatening a debilitating paranoia. Entering “prison politics” is a lot like walking into a tornado.

In the reception center, the first thing you notice is the prevalence of salesmen. Nearly anything can be had, at a price. Everything is being sold, from hygiene items that aren’t in the canteen window and books, to pornography and even drugs. One of the first pitfalls is being swindled. Whether the many salesmen or faux friends, you’re surrounded by people trying to make a profit.

The other aspect of reception comes in the form of gangs. The pressure is on to conduct yourself in a manner that doesn’t make you an easy target. Who you associate with, what you say, how you say it, even how you hold yourself, your demeanor and the way you act, if any of that paints the wrong image, you could easily find yourself involved in something bad.

All of this creates a weighty pressure you carry around all day and makes sleep fitful. This environment, these people, it spins you around, bludgeons you, leaves you battered and bruised, bleeding so badly that, by the time you’re called to pack up, you’re relieved to be out, even if it means going to someplace far worse. Your number’s up. It’s time to go. Transport is rough. Intake all over again. You’re searched, then processed. Follow the line. New dorm, new people. Orientation at your main camp is about to begin.

So far, the road has been difficult. You’ve had new experiences and you know from this what prison really is. You finally feel as though you’ve weathered the worst of it and came out standing on your own. By the next morning, you realize how wrong you are. The reception center was full of hunting lions. You made it out of the den only to walk into a forest of spiders.

The people around you have lived in this place for years. They have developed an unnerving patience. They know you will be here for a long time, and the worst of them are betting on the end game. Navigating this new world is treacherous, at best. For an unfortunate few, it’s lethal. You’re caught in the vortex. All you can do now is pray you land on your feet.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Alice In Chains performing “Rooster



6 Responses to “behind the scenes: receptions”

  1. September 27, 2014 at 2:41 am

    Interesting post. I saw, a few months earlier, a documentary about a reception centre which depicts these salesmen or profiteers and drug smuggling in this place. But he has not clearly put his finger on what can feel people passing by this place before finally joining the prison where they will serve their sentence. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    • September 27, 2014 at 7:47 pm

      I’m happy to share, and I am happy to know that I am providing some new information. Hopefully I can help to provide some clarity on prison as these “behind the scenes” posts continue.
      -Alex King

  2. 3 pamelako
    September 27, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Thanks Alex for that insight. It’s difficult for a loved one to navigate through this horror as well. A forest of spiders seems perfect for what I’ve experienced with a juvenile I’ve taken under my wing for 10 years helping him with appeals. Watching him change so drastically is hard to face. Not knowing how to help and finding out you’re doing all the wrong things. Contributing to his downward slide instead of helping. It’s so hard to figure out what is really going on in those places. A cucumber in a pickle jar will inevitably become pickled. That’s why prison is a mistake for juveniles. Completely all wrong. You’re a courageous young man and I enjoy your writing on the subject.

    • September 27, 2014 at 7:57 pm

      Your cucumber analogy is not without a good measure of truth. It must absorb the vinegar, just as a prisoner must absorb the life they have been consigned to. However, this analogy fails in that the cucumber has no control over what it becomes in the process; this person you are helping does. I will be completely honest. There is very little someone on the outside can do to help those behind bars. You can encourage and support him, and you can be dedicated, and this will make a huge difference. However, the choice is ultimately up to him, what path he chooses and the destiny that follows. My only counsel is acceptance.

      I am glad you enjoy the writing. I shall continue these posts as soon as I can confine my thoughts to paper.
      -Alex King

      • 5 pamelako
        September 27, 2014 at 10:07 pm

        Thanks Alex for pointing out something I missed which is very helpful to me. You’re right a cucumber has no choice but to get pickled. A Person Does. And that’s a huge distinction. Why does someone want to be “pickled” if they can choose not to then? That’s the question.

        Also you are right also on that a person can only do so much from the outside. Legal help is one important area one can assist with. But so much is left for the inmate to establish. If one is going to lie and deceive and manipulate then that is a conscious choice not necessarily for “survival” which I am sometimes lead to believe. Sometimes I honestly feel like prey. Or to use a different analogy, I feel like a soccer mom who just walked into a biker bar. Completely Formidable place.

      • September 28, 2014 at 8:50 am

        You ask, “Why does someone want to be ‘pickled’…?” If I may, I would like to state this plainly. Your question is, “Why would someone want to adopt societal norms?” Outside of prison, fitting in with society, with whatever social group you are a part of, is something that is done without thinking. Very few want to create waves within their “group”. The same holds for prison. Imagine living in your home with a group of people and deciding to never eat with them, watch movies with them, deciding to listen to music they hate… it would make living difficult and the social setting tense. In prison, this tension can be dangerous.
        There is no good way to put this, so I’ll just say it outright: to make it through prison, you learn to lie. It becomes an integral part of life in there. I will not try to justify anything about this lifestyle, but I will say that you shouldn’t be too hard on this person. The best advice I can give is this: to avoid feeling wronged, decide how much you are willing to help this person, how far your conscious pushes you to go, then stick to that, regardless of circumstance. The benefit of your aid may not be obvious, but I can promise it makes worlds of difference. Even if the guy isn’t showing the gratitude he feels.
        -Alex King

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