Many understand that going to prison poses some drastic changes in people’s lives, given all of the things that happen inside prison walls. However, not many really consider or even understand the “reverse culture shock” that is also a huge factor in the lives of those who return from prison, especially if it was a long sentence.
Reddit user RedditR_Us recently went to r/AskReddit and asked those formerly convicted to longer than 5 years in prison what was their biggest shock in the outside world once they got out of prison. And Reddit delivered with many either telling their own stories or stories of their relatives.
Image credits: Jobs For Felons Hub
Bored Panda has collected some of the most insightful and interesting answers from the post, so check them out in the list below. While you’re there, why not also vote for the ones you liked the most and leave a comment on what you thought about this, or with your own stories.
I had an older gentleman come in one day and he seemed a little off. Not like weird, just like he felt out of place.
He came up to pay after his meal, and I was making small talk with him. Kinda laughing and joking, waitress shit. Whatever. He hands me his card and it’s a JPay card, which is what you used to get upon release from prison. I swipe it and hand it back, and suddenly he seems overwhelmed. I asked him if he was ok, and he was like, “This is the first place I stopped after I got released. I was afraid you were going to treat me different after you saw my card. I haven’t been in public in 20 years.”
I have literally no idea what he did. I don’t plan on ever looking him up, but like I was nice to him. He was emotional because I treated him like a person.
I went in around the first iPhone. Came out around 2014 and what disturbed me the most wasnt so much smartphones but how everyone everywhere had one in their hand staring at it. It felt very black mirror / twilight zone-ish.
Spent 6 years behind bars. When I got out the biggest shock was the beautiful sites and colors. I forgot how gorgeous nature was, it put the thought into my mind that I never want to go back, because there is no beauty in prison, the beauty is on the outside. I’m glad I’m out now, and every day still take in the amazing outside world for what it is.
Edit: I also am having fun with new technology. Lol.
Being in prison in the US seems to be a relatively common occurrence with over 2.2 million people currently serving a sentence. In fact, incarceration rates per 100,000 inhabitants in the United States are the highest in the world, clocking in at 655. This means that every 152nd person in the US is now incarcerated in some shape or form.
In context, third in this list is Rwanda with 464 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants, and number six is Australia with 172. Do you see how drastically the number dropped by just 6 positions?
The Sentencing Project states that today’s numbers are a 500% increase over the last 40 years. Such high numbers inevitably strain the prison system, leading to overcrowding in prisons and fiscal burdens on states, despite the ever-increasing body of evidence claiming that large-scale incarcerations are not an effective means of achieving public safety.
My brother served a little over 3 years but the morning we picked him up we stopped by a grocery store to let him grab some snacks. He’s walking back to the car with this stunned look on his face and finally as he gets to us he goes “I felt like I was on an acid trip I haven’t seen that many colors in so long, I need to sit down”.
I was in for Robbery 2: Mandatory Minimum of 5 years, 10 months.
One of the hardest things for me once I got out was making choices.
Let me explain; in prison, you might have a two choices for shampoo if your lucky. The first time I went shopping for hygiene essentials was at Target. I remember being so overwhelmed by the amount of choices for shampoo and having no idea which one to get. I stood in that aisle and cried for a few minutes before I just left without getting anything.
I interned at a private criminal defense firm. The most notable shock of any of our released clients had to be one man who in prison for 16 years (odd amount because he was paroled as part of plea deal). He had a daughter who was just a child at the time he was incarcerated, and when he got out, she had just had a baby, his first grandchild. She didn’t tell him about the pregnancy beforehand, she wanted it to be a surprise upon his release. I wasn’t there when our old client met his newest family member or his now-adult daughter, but when he came in a few months later, he still couldn’t talk about the new baby without crying happy tears. He had a picture in his wallet of his daughter when she was little he brought with him to prison, and showed us the new picture of his grandchild he keeps with it now.
For the most part, respondents to this Reddit thread explained things that seem quite common and regular to us, but given the context—the fact that they had long-term sentences within very limited and uneventful confines—it is surreal to think just how much a person’s life and view of things changes because of the sentence.
Things like feeling the bristles of a carpet between your toes and seeing bright colors are things we’re desensitized to, but spending 5+ years in prison changes that. One person explained that prisons are never dark, so getting used to sleeping at night is sometimes a hard task to do because of how dark many of our homes tend to be during the night.
For others, it’s the technological advancement that blows their minds. Some said they were shocked to see how realistic games have become, while others were surprised that things like Siri are not a thing. One commenter even wrote that their buddy would use Snapchat filters on everything—that’s how amazed he was.
My father was a councilor in a state prison for 12+ years. He told me the inmates would often talk about wanting to feel their body submerged in water. Taking a bath, swim, etc. There are only showers so that feeling up being weightless, floating, submerged was something these men would fantasize about.
My father was incarcerated from 2003 to 2016 & the biggest shock for him was technology & how much McDonald’s has raised prices lmao
After 8 years behind the wall freedom was my toughest obstacle. Freedom of choice, freedom of movement. I went in when I was still a soft faced boy of 19 and came out hardened at 27. My entire world changed. I was now in control (mostly, thank you probation and parole) of my choices. 60 different kinds of cereals, 2000 channels on tv, the option to go almost anywhere I wanted. Having had my life so neatly regimented and defined I actually thrived. Take that all away and I got lost within myself. It was a struggle to find that balance again but I’m happy to say that 6 years later I am happily married to an amazing woman, working in a great field as a machinist and making good money. I still struggle now and again but I know I’m making good choices now and am surrounded by love. And still have cravings for nacho meals, gods help me!
I did 6 years. My biggest shock was finding out you can’t do much of anything without a smartphone. Companies don’t even do paper applications anymore
Cousin did 5 for meth and robbery, when she came out she started crying when she saw my youngest sister was almost an adult.
Just got out. Weirdest thing was seeing all these damn scooters laying everywhere
I know a guy who did 2-3 years I think and I worked construction with him. I asked him “what is the biggest thing that stands out to you now that you’re free?”
He simply said: “the fact that I’m here with you but I can physically walk over there to that field 500metres away without anybody or any walls stopping me.”
A homie of mine found the freedom really obscure. He was so used to the guards telling him what to do that he got accustomed to it. He was really anxious because he had no sense of direction. On a lighter note, he was amazed by Snapchat filters. He kept on posting on his Snapchat story all selfie videos with filters.
My brother just recently got out after 4 years! The first thing he did was take a shower then run his feet along the carpet in the house, he said he “just had to.” We asked him what he wanted for dinner and he was like “anything..But I could make us some ramen..”
Along with that, I feel like people who were in prison for so long have a hard time making decisions anything we got him and asked what he wanted it was too overwhelming to choose. All honesty it makes perfect sense, he hasn’t had a much choice in his life for four years and asking him what kind of clothes he wants was hard for him. All he could say was “nothing grey, I don’t want to wear grey.” I hope he’s out for good, I can tell life outside is overwhelming at times but eventually he’ll get used to it 🙂
My aunt was imprisoned for about 25 years as a political prisoner in China. When she was released she was just agape at the cityscape and how it had changed. The smartphones, being able to pay by just scanning with WeChat (very commonplace there, for paying something like parking it is very convenient), all the cars. The fashion everyone wears now compared to her closet of clothes she had before being taken away so suddenly (literally, she was kidnapped from my mom’s family in broad daylight, unannounced) . In the end she took it all in much better than we all had expected. Right before the pandemic, she had just finished a three month vacation in Guilin with my other aunts. According to her, Guilin has changed the least.
The first night I tried sleeping in a dark bedroom like I did before prison, but couldn’t do it. My dad slept on the living room couch with a TV on, so I slept on the other couch. I needed to sleep around people & noise for a while until I got used to being alone again.
I was surprised, because one of the things I missed the most was sleeping in a dark, quiet room, alone in a comfortable bed. For a long time I slept with my arm or a pillow over my head because of noise & bugs.
For my cousin, it was the Gameboy Advance.
This was a while ago (2006 or so). My cousin, who’d been in prison for about 10-15 years, was finally getting out so me and a bunch of the family went to pick him up, then go get breakfast at some diner. I was just a little kid, at the time, so I was playing with my Gameboy Advance, while we were at the restaurant. I’ll never forget how much the game I was playing blew my cousin’s mind. He saw it and immediately said “Holy crap, what is THAT?! Look at those graphics! Oh my God, that’s insane! (His sister) are you seeing this shit?!” To me, it was just some “meh” Star Wars game, but to my cousin, it was the future.
I work in jail but when talking to a lifer who was about to go out on parole, i tried explaining smart phones, which blew his mind.
Then I described pokemon GO and he thought i was just messing with him. He got angry that I would make shit up.
I wonder if hes running around playing pokemon GO now…
I did 5 1/2 on a 6 yr sentence. I think my initial shock was how the physical landscape had changed. Places that were once vast swathes of field were now car dealerships and homes. The other one was how people treated and spoke to one another out here. I wanted to fight everyone for about 6 months.
I met a dude who had just gotten out of prison after 15 years, he said that his immediate shock was just seeing color. He said that everything in the joint was Grey looking, he went to Walmart and was overwhelmed by all the colors he had not seen in 15 years
I have done 5+ years in prison, i was mostly amazed by smart tvs, with netflix and browsers directly in the tv. And the 4g internet speeds blew my mind aswell.
I remember asking a coworker of mine. He said first was that no one had taken his car. It sat for 6 years unmoved in the street. Tires held air and battery was dead but started with a push. Second was how quickly things had gone up in cost. Rent, food, gas, things like that.
I spent roughly 9 years in total at a maximum security prison for some dumb decisions I made as a juvenile.
Self checkout stands at stores and wireless headphones were definitely one of those, this can’t be real moments. I questioned reality. Like when you cannot explain an instance and it scares you trying to cope with, did that really happen? That’s how it felt.
You forget about the details of things. Like the way carpet feels on the bottoms of your feet. What it feels like to shower completely alone and without flip flops on. In prison you have a certain number of smells that you’re exposed to every day, think of them as the first page in a book. But when you get out you have the rest of the book available. It’s a lot to take in all at once. With social media and everything, there’s the acknowledgement of the passage of time. When I got locked up I left a lot of friends and family behind and did 3 years on my own, no visitors, no calls, no mail. When I got out it was a trip to get on Facebook and Instagram and see how everyone I was ever close to had moved on with their lives, having kids, getting married, getting fat, losing weight, starting and quitting jobs, falling out with each other, some even passing away. People think about a prisoner doing time but don’t understand that the time does them. You are frozen in it. While you’re stuck in a constant loop of the same day every day, the rest of the world moves on without you. When you get home, you feel left behind. It’s an anxious panic to catch up after that.
A friend of mine was in prison from age 16 to 32, and he said the biggest hurdle to overcome was trying to learn how to date and have healthy relationships without going through the process of dating during adolescence and early adulthood. He had to learn to meet his partners where they were at and to understand that the women his age often had relationship experiences that they carried with them, positive and negative, that would impact them in their current relationships. He couldn’t relate because he didn’t have that “baggage,” so he had to learn it through them rather than by his own experience. He also strongly advocates for the need for comprehensive sex education and education about healthy relationships in juvenile detention and prison
I drive Uber and picked up a guy that had just finished 15 years for drug charges. He had only been out a few days and thought the Apple Car Play in my car was some type of alien witchcraft. I ended up telling him to move to the front seat and let him play around with the system for the duration. He really got into the endless music that Apple Music had to offer.
I did 5 years, as I went in after 2 weeks my dad died. 6 months before I came home, my husband died. It’s weird when you get out and realise time hasnt stood still. ( although I know it won’t you kind of think it does) my kids were all 5 years older ( obviously) yet the home was still the same. It was weird after 5 years, I think if I did longer it would have blown my mind. Although reality isnt a ‘thing’ in prison
I had a client ho was fascinated by siri on iphone. He was fascinated that he has a personal assistance at his disposal.He felt bossy
Just money in general… You have no idea how to handle money, that takes a little time to get used to.
was going to say, I have two family members who did a very decent amount of time… and of all the things that could’ve blown their mind, Spotify was the biggest.
Even the obscure house artists they were buddies with back in ’89 were on there. Not having to burn any cd’s or buy records.
They still can’t get over it
My cousin was in jail for 16 years i believe and got out in 2017 and i remember showing him minecraft and he said it was the coolest thing he had seen even before prison. I showed him some other games and he was absolutely blown away. I dont think i have ever seen a jaw drop down so far
That i didn’t have to ask to use a bathroom. And how many dangerous things people have around them at all times. I slid my knife away from me and under a napkin at a restaurant so i didn’t get in trouble.
When I got to ride in a car again, it felt like we were going about warp 15. I think we’re only moving about 45 miles an hour. It tickled my dinky like a rollercoaster for about ten seconds. Also, at the grocery store it was really hard seeing people willfully buying cans of tuna. But I think the hardest thing for me was to quit crushing up spicy cheetos and putting them in all my food.
I did 93 months in Federal prison. After I got released we stopped at a Burger King. There were 4 of us in the car and our food cost 24.00. I kept saying there was something wrong, that they must have made a mistake. I couldn’t believe how much it cost. Other than that, it was taking a shower barefooted. It felt so surreal.
Being in cars. I got car sick for years after. Also you go from almost everything being done or decided for you to free will and so many damn options. Also I had a serious problem with staying home all day in the beginning. I would go for 4 hour walks bc I could.
Rode a greyhound next to a guy who had recently been released. He spent the entire trip looking out the window fascinated by everything. He was particularly impressed by cars. He had not seen cars in person in years.
I knew a guy who went in around 2005 I want to say, got out a few years later and we were driving around. He kept pointing to people on the street asking ‘what are those?’
This was downtown Seattle at the height of Hipsters. That was a difficult thing to explain. Ended up with ‘The new Goths’ as a best translation.
My dad did some time, and on the way home he got excited because he remembered he could take a dump in total privacy for as long as he wanted
Walmart. My 1st day out. I had an unreasonable fear the exit would close or I would get lost so I kept glancing towards the exit every 20 steps or so. I didn’t think of using a shopping cart so my hands were full of clothes. Took me about 7 trips to feel comfortable in Walmart.
My father went to prison in 2011 and got out late 2019. He told me he couldn’t believe how much everyone is obsessed with their phones now and how much information people post online
5 years for aggravated assault & robbery. I was 3 months past my 18th birthday when I was sentenced. I lived in a small railroad town in South Central PA. I guess one of the biggest shocks for me was how much the town had changed. The scrub land where we rode our bikes and dirt bikes is now a strip mall. My friend’s driveway is now the main road through that part of town. Someone fixed up the old dive bar and turned it into a fairly popular restaurant and bar. Hell, whole developments popped up all over the place! And while I wouldn’t exactly call the changes “gentrification,” the town certainly has improved as far as standards of living, without ridiculously increasing the cost of living.
Speaking about my good mate since he doesn’t use Reddit. He did a couple different stunts that landed him time but he was surprised at who all got in contact with em after getting out. While he was in only a handful of people kept tabs on him, visited or called but as soon as he got out all these people he hadn’t heard from started congratulating him. He said it probably shouldn’t of surprised em but it did, he didn’t want any of that and thought all of it felt so disingenuous.
Silence and darkness.
Most people don’t realize it’s never dark when you sleep behind bars. Small lights stay on for security reasons. It’s also never quiet – from people bull shitting to grown men screaming and crying at the life that lay before them all hours of the night.
I heard San Quentin is the worst because people scream into the old piping that runs through the cells and it echoes and reverberates like a speaker.