By Ray Peleckas, Founder
I’ve had a lot of rough nights in my life. A lot of them. But not one of those nights comes anywhere close to my first night in jail.
To backtrack a bit, I received a sentence of 30 days. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? Well, try doing 30 days in jail, then get back to me on how long those 30 days felt like to you. After receiving my sentence - boom! They shackle me and bring me down to the courtroom cell where I waited in my private hell for about five hours.
Then it started. The door opened. The guard walked in and put the handcuffs and shackles back on me. He escorted me to a large van and I was sequestered to the back part of the van all by myself. The drive in the pitch black van felt like an eternity as I was jostled around endlessly from the bench to the ground and all around as I was not buckled to the seat. During the long drive, I was left with just my thoughts to figure out what was about to happen next. The anticipation and uncertainty of my next thirty days drove me nuts.
Finally, the van doors open and I’m escorted to what looks like the holding room for all the inmates arriving. Then I go through processing - picture, fingerprints, strip search. It was horrific. In front of all these strangers, you’re standing there basically naked as they violate every crevice and opening of your body to make sure you’re clean of anything illegal. Talk about a wakeup call. It was the real deal coming in whether I was ready for it or not.
After that warm welcome into prison life, they just dumped me into a big prison cell. It was exactly like what you see in the movies. It was probably about 30 feet by 30 feet with one little toilet in the corner and about 30-40 guys. I was, by far, the youngest person in there. At this point in the game, I was legit shitting my pants. I had absolutely no clue what to expect and that was the most terrifying part - the uncertainty of my fate from this point forward. I’m keeping it real here. I thought I was a tough guy before getting locked up, but this first day in jail was my rude awakening.
Any hopeful thoughts that I could hold my own in jail quickly disappeared. As I sat there in utter despair, I looked around at all these guys and wondered how they ended up in this prison cell with me. My thoughts raced and my heart pounded as I thought of all the horrible reasons these men were imprisoned - murder, rape, what?!? I sat frozen in fear because I just knew that these guys would have no problem torturing me since I looked so young and vulnerable.
Thankfully, during the few hours in this holding cell, nothing happened to me. I was finally moved to my "home" for the next month. You’re wondering how tiny my cell was, right? Well, get this - I ended up in what was basically a gymnasium. Yeah, you read it right. The prison was so overcrowded they ran out of cells and had to put hundreds of inmates into a gymnasium where the walls were lined with bunk beds.
The guard who escorted me to my new “home” handed me off to the keepers of this area. They handed me some more prison clothes, gave me my bed assignment and that was it. Nothing else. No rules. No instructions or introductions. No words of advice on how to make it out of jail in one piece. Just get the hell out of my face and figure it out on your own, you piece of crap inmate.
I found my bed, the top bunk of what was basically an extra long twin bed. There was already a guy in the bunk below who looked normal and even asked me how my trip to jail went. I was happy to finally talk to someone after so long. After a short time, however, I started to get a weird feeling from my bunkmate. Why was he being so nice? What did he want from me?! Then I looked around and tried to put a read on other people and their situations. I sat in my bed with my dreary thoughts until the lights went out at around 11pm.
Right before the lights went out, a fight broke out about two bunks down from me. A legit fist fight. Both of the guys were escorted out of gym very forcefully as you could imagine. Then the lights went out and I was terrified. What in god’s name was going to happen me in the dead of night in this room filled with hundreds of criminals out in the open. My mind would not stop racing. Was I going to make it through the night? Was something awful going to happen to me while I was asleep? There was no way I could get my body to unwind and get some rest. I was up literally all night trying my hardest to ward off visions of being beat up, raped or even murdered. As the night progressed, my thoughts became wilder and wilder and my whole body was immobilized by fear. Even up until this point in my life that first night in prison was the most frightened I have ever been in my entire life.
Yet, somehow, I made it through that first night without issue and in one piece. At 6 a.m., the lights turned on and it was time for breakfast. We were only given about 15 minutes to eat so we had to hustle over to the cafeteria tables and just eat. So, I grabbed my plate, sat down at a random table, and started eating. And that’s when the first person started to give me shit. Welcome to your new reality, kid. How did I handle it? You’ll find out soon enough.