15 Ways People Kill Time in Prison

Those forced to spend time in prison have to find ways to occupy themselves. While TV shows have made prison seem like a horrible, almost medieval place of violence and degradation (and to be fair, some are), what to expect in prison is very different from media depictions. Mostly, you'll be bored, and sitting around for long hours with little to do.

People find all sorts of ways to pass the time in prison. Many read; others write. Prisoners incessantly play cards, work out in their cells, watch TV, or work. A few prisons have programs allowing inmates to make and sell handicrafts, while most make educational experiences available. You might even learn the intricacies of law and knock some time off your sentence.

Here are some of the ways prison inmates kill time.

  • Sleep

    Photo: Michael Theis / via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0
    Prisoners have very structured schedules but can sleep during lock-downs and any times where they're not doing something else.
  • Find Ways to Work Out

    Find Ways to Work Out
    Photo: Bart Everson / via Flickr / CC BY 2.0
    While the heavily-stocked prison gym is mostly a thing of the past thanks to the expense of equipment upkeep, prisoners can still find ways to stay in shape and build muscle. Prison yards are often open for walking, you can run in place or do squats in your cell, do pushups on a chair (the so-called "deck of pain" routine), or fill trash bags with water and use a broom to make a barbell - though this is usually against the rules.
  • Watch TV

    Watch TV
    Photo: ICTY/Public Domain / via Flickr

    Prisoners are increasingly allowed to have small TVs in their cells, and others have large common rooms with a TV. Many prisoners tell of wiling away the hours and days watching TV, though they usually only have broadcast networks to watch, not cable. Cable TV costs money, and taxpayers don't want to think their hard-earned money is going to anything that makes prison life more bearable. Prisons don't usually censor the TV stations they get, as it's too time-consuming.

    DVDs are available as well, though usually nothing R-rated.
  • Write Letters

    Write Letters
    Photo: Bennett / via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
    Access to phones and email is severely restricted in prison, with mobile phones being almost totally outlawed. This leaves old-fashioned letter writing as the preferred way to keep in touch with loved ones - or meet a prison pen pal.