Ever Been Arrested? – The Fear and Confusion of an Inmate When He Finds Himself in Jail – Part 1

Recently arrested offenders are embarrassed, angry, frightened and go through a physical and emotional withdrawl from all of life's pleasures

For those of you who have never been arrested and booked into a jail, it is nearly impossible to fully understand the trauma that an inmate has to deal with.  This Article will attempt to provide you with a clear picture of the horror and stress an inmate deals with as their drama unfolds.

The Arrest

When you are first arrested, multiple emotions are firing simultaneously: fear, shame, anger, confusion and more. While everyone handles this moment differently, the reality hits home as soon as the handcuffs are clicked into place, physically binding your movement, making the point that you are now under the  firm control of the police. That by itself drives home an extreme fear that must be experienced to be fully understood.

The shame arrestees feel is also very real. Friends, loved ones, neighbors, co-workers, people you don’t even know will forever have images of you being cuffed, loaded into a police car and driven away to jail.  It’s a horrible experience that will haunt you for the rest of your life.

The Booking

Your booking photo will be with you forever. No matter how hard you try to be cool, this photo conveys your trauma.

Once you arrive at the police station to be booked, you are thrown in a holding cell or are seated and shackled to a bench. Then you wait, and wait, and wait. You watch other recently-arrested people and observe how they are treated. You watch as men and women, who are in the same predicament as you are, spend 12-36 hours getting their mug shot, fingerprints and have interviews with nurses and police.

You experience the discomfort of hunger, thirst, cold and the humiliation of using the bathroom in full view of others. The loud echoes of a steel and concrete room reverberate in your head. The smells of human feces and vomit are ever-present. You may be treated by the police as if you are sub-human and guilty until proven innocent. They may laugh at your discomfort and look at you with disgust.  You are the enemy. Fights break out, other inmates are locked in isolation as they scream in pain and anger. You are angry at them, at yourself, at this world you now live. Increasingly, your mind is filled with these new prisoner thoughts.

Thoughts race and answers do not exist. You think: “I need to get out of here”; “I need someone to help me”; “Who can I call?”; “All my numbers are on my cell phone, which I no longer have access to”; “What about my job?”; “Who’s going to take care of my children?”; “How long am I going to be here?”; “What about my dog?”; “Am I going to be sent to prison?”; “Who’s going to pay my rent?”; “How am I going to get my keys to friends?”; “How can I pay my bills?” and if you’re an addict, “Am I going to have to go ‘cold turkey’?”; “I’m so sorry, I won’t do it again…please can I go home?”.

The Phone Call

If you are the friend or a family member who has the misfortune of fielding his ‘free call’, your first reaction will be to feel anger. You are angry that you are now in a position where the arrestee completely depends upon you to drop everything, get bail money, find a lawyer and get them out of a mess that THEY created. However, it is important to understand, they do not need to hear your anger right now as they are already angry at themselves. They have already been stripped of all human dignity and at this moment, they need you to be there for them.

However, all too often you can’t help them. Either you can’t raise their bail or they need to stay in jail until they are arraigned. Thus begins a new phase of trauma for your inmate.

The First Week in Jail

Reality hits home

An inmate’s first week in jail is the hardest. It is during this time that they have to adjust to so many things at once, it becomes overwhelming. Research has shown that certain events in an individual’s life, life-changing events, induce stress that can overwhelm most people. A new job, a move to a new home, a death or divorce – all of these are stressful, but are difficult to compare to the loss of freedom and radical adjustments to the frightening world inside a jail, a place we never thought we would be.

Let’s review what an Inmate has to deal with:

  • He is in Jail.
  • He is presumed to be guilty.
  • He is frightened of the people around him and fears for his safety.
  • His future is now empty.
  • He is vulnerable.
  • He is cold.
  • He has no glasses and can’t see clearly.
  • He has no cell phone.
  • He has a limited access to call you, if you choose to take the call.
  • His job is in jeopardy.
  • The custody of his children is in question.
  • He is hungry.
  • He faces extended jail or prison time.
  • He is treated with disdain and disgust by the authorities.
  • He is strip searched.
  • He has no privacy.
  • All his comfort foods are not available.
  • The jail food is bland, awful and limited.
  • He is being challenged physically and mentally by inmates who sense his fear and uncertainty.
  • He has no internet access.
  • He is thirsty.
  • He is worried about his children.
  • He is worried about his family.
  • He is ashamed of what his friends and family think.
  • He has no one to speak with.
  • He has nowhere to go to ask questions about what to expect.
  • He is worried about his apartment or home.
  • He is worried about his pet.
  • He is worried about his girlfriend or spouse.
  • He is worried about his car.
  • He is worried about his personal belongings.
  • His jail clothes are itchy, uncomfortable and don’t fit.
  • His bed is hard, uncomfortable, and is kept awake by the snoring of others.
  • He has to wait for mail every day, hoping he hears from loved ones.
  • He has to wait for a visit that may or may not ever come.
  • If he’s an addict; whether it be drugs, alcohol or cigarettes, he is going through withdrawal.
  • The nights are long as this is when the demons arrive and fill his head with more doubt and fear.

Don’t leave those you care about alone during this period after an arrest.  Help the inmate by bailing him out of jail. If that is not possible, you can show your support by visiting, writing and taking his phone calls. You may be pissed off at him, even rightfully so, but try to understand the trauma of what he’s going through during this, the lowest point in his life.

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If you found this helpful and want to understand more of an Inmate’s thoughts and fears, click here.

To read about what goes on in the mind of an inmate after several years, click here.

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writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.