Have you ever wondered what a prisoner’s day looks like? While every prison operates according to their own rules and regulations, those who are incarcerated in prison typically follow a regimented routine as to how their day is structured. This is determined by the prisoner’s classification level—low, medium, and high security. Prisons under a higher-security classification (i.e. disciplinary problems) have fewer choices and liberties on how they spend their day.

A Day in Prison

Typically, a prisoner in low or medium security starts their day when their cells unlock in the early morning hours.  Breakfast begins around 4:30am, where they are served a basic meal in a cafeteria (known colloquially as the “chow hall”). After breakfast, prisoners that have a work assignment report for duty at 6am. Those that don’t have a work assignment may attend a class or they may return to their bunks for leisure activities (i.e. listening to the radio, reading, writing letters, etc.)

a modern prison cell

Around 11am or noon, lunch is offered for prisoners. After finishing lunch, prisoners have the opportunity to return to their work assignments, work out at the gym or rec yard (short for “recreation yard”) for exercise and socializing. They also have the option to return to their cells.

Dinner, the third meal of the day, occurs in the evening—usually around 4 or 5pm. After dinner, prisoners may have scheduled activities, whether it is outreach program for youth, visits to the library, drug prevention programs, religious services, educational opportunities, etc. Prisoners on work duty may return from their assignments.

Some prisons allow for prisoners to watch television in the evening. Prisoners that have supplies from the commissary may prepare their food in their cells. Depending on the prison, inmates may have the ability to make phone calls to family members. This period lasts typically until 8pm, where prisoners return to their cells. At 11pm, the prison turns off the lights to signal prisoners that they should begin preparing for sleep.

This monotonous process begins again the next day and every day for the remainder of their sentencing. Depending on the day of the week or holidays, the routine may be broken up, but generally, it remains the same.

A Day in the Life of a Prisoner