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White clouds against a blue sky with a small rainbow reflection
Photo by Cristina Glebova on Unsplash

Prison is not meant to be pleasant. But perhaps because of that, whether we’re serving months or years, inmates never take for granted the positive moments in their daily lives.

Here’s my list of the top 10 things to brighten a day in prison.

10. Tablet: Since cellphones are not allowed in prison, you become accustomed to carrying your electronic tablet everywhere you go. Tablets are the primary lifeline to the outside world. Tablets allow you to email family and friends, listen to music, play video games and watch movies and TV shows. They help keep you relaxed and occupied in a world that can easily become boring.

9. Mail time: Mail is typically delivered at 4 p.m. in my facility. You never know when your name will be called to pick up your mail, or if mail will be waiting on your bed after a long workday. Receiving mail from family is exciting. You feel special knowing someone has taken the time to send you a letter or postcard.

8. “Dem biscuits”: Prison food is not the tastiest, regardless of whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. Sure, you can purchase food from the commissary — outside of served meals — but unless you are starving, you eat just enough of the provided meals to get full. Everyone has at least one meal they look forward to. For some reason, most inmates, including myself, love biscuits and gravy. Something about “dem biscuits,” as some of us refer to them, has everyone asking for seconds.

7. Sunshine and clear skies: Arizona is known for warm weather and clear skies year-round. Going outside awakens the soul. If you are in closed custody units, where inmates are locked down 23 hours a day in a cell without windows, depression can be overwhelming. Never take for granted a moment to just sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather.

6. Nicotine: “Do you have a smoke?” is the most-asked question I’ve heard. Nicotine is a stress reliever. If you offer a cigarette to someone who looks like they are going through challenges, you’re probably going to make their day. It can be a nightmare talking to someone who has not had a cigarette in a couple of days.

5. Pictures: Most prisons allow you some space to post pictures of family and things you like. My wall holds my favorite NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes, hot models and powerful mantras. When I look on my wall, I stay motivated and remember what is important in my life.

4. TV: Generally, this is the most expensive item an inmate will ever own. Looking at the Arizona State Prison commissary list, a 13-inch TV goes for roughly $229. In some prisons, people can have TVs in their cells; in others they are restricted to shared dayrooms. TV is an escape to leave your worries and troubles behind. Travel to a distant planet far, far away with “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Channel your inner chef with Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell's Kitchen.” Sing your heart out with “American Idol.” Or, be a detective with “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” A TV makes the day go by smoother than any other thing or person in prison.

3. Hot showers: Water is free! After a long day of work or a tough workout, showers are refreshing. I love to start my day at 5 a.m. with a hot shower right before breakfast. Or I shower late at night while everyone is asleep.

2. Coffee, tea: The most-consumed beverage in prison is coffee. Tea is an option available to those who prefer to be less jittery. Similar to cigarettes, coffee and tea help set the tone for the day. Coffee choices range from bland state-provided coffee to Maxwell House espresso. Have a cup day or night, and make it as strong as you like. Milk and sweetener are optional.

1. Peace and quiet: Some prisons have thousands of inmates and hundreds of staff. The pods can have more than 50 inmates in a single living space. Lights come on at about 6 a.m. Inmates get ready for chow, go to work or school, visit the health unit, go to visits and go to recreation. Loud music plays throughout some living areas. There are many working, moving parts that occur throughout the daily operations of a prison. But at 10 p.m., the lights go out and the inmates go to bed. When the nighttime curfew happens, I truly feel a bit of comfort as I’m lying in my bed.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Chastyn “Nova” Hicks is a writer and artist incarcerated in Arizona.