What's Being In Prison Like? 'Coming Home' Series Asks Formerly Incarcerated New Yorkers To Share Their Stories

Sure, Orange Is The New Black is getting people talking about the prison industrial complex, but what is it really like to be incarcerated? My co-worker Megan Ghiroli and I asked some of our formerly incarcerated patients over at the Mount Sinai Institute for Advanced Medicine if they would share a single experience with us (and pose for a glamour shot). We wanted to give these individuals the chance to tell us, in their own words, what it’s really like behind bars, and what it feels like to come out years — sometimes years and years — later. Because honestly? You don’t really know until you go, and everyone’s experience is shockingly different.

The result is powerful and shows the diversity of the prison experience. We loved giving these individuals the chance to tell their story, which can be immensely empowering on its own, and now we’re just as excited to use these stories to educate the broader public about daily life in a New York jail or prison.

Check out a selection of their portraits and quotes from their three minute audio clips ahead of the opening event on May 14th at The Highline Loft in New York City.


“I had it planned out in my head, I knew I was going in and use what jail had to offer, right from the police car, right from being locked up. The first time helped me understand how much there was available and so the second time was like, okay, now I know that I know what this place has to give and what I can do with it, I’m really going to do it.”


“It’s like I’m still being discriminated and still being punished for my crimes, my past crimes, and it sucks. We do get discouraged. Like you know, fuck this. I might as well through a fucking brick and go back to prison. You know, nobody is giving us an opportunity. I could say the hell with all this and go back to what I used to be, beating up people for their money. Robbing, stealing. I don’t want to go back to doing that. That’s the sucker’s way out. So I persevere.”


“You have to dig deep within and realize this is your life, your journey, and if you don’t do what you need to do, you’re going to be stuck right there — helpless.”


“Because I’m a thalidomide child, my arms are shorter than everybody else’s. So when they put you in a cell and the cell has a couple of bars in it and then they say okay, this is handicap accessible under ADA law. They put you in this cell and they say “Here, live”. But that’s for a person that has two normal arms, mine are short. So everything I do is a mission.”


“I offered her a cigarette and that’s big — you could probably put a contract out for people with a cigarette in that place, because they are very important. And she’s just like “No, my body’s my temple. Why would I hurt my body?” And she walked off and I was just stuck like wow, why would I hurt my body? I never even though of that.”


“My journey was bittersweet. It was bitter because I didn’t want to be in there but it was sweet because I began to heal, not just on the outside but on the inside as well.”


“It’s easy to get locked up but it’s hard to come out.”


“When I leave from group I feel free, a light weight. It could be a couple hours, it could be the whole night, like it threw it into the ocean. I threw it away. It’s a release.”