• Andi Settlemoir Barney

60 DAys In

I don't watch television really, so I'm usually behind the times. I do hear occasionally about shows that involve prison or incarceration, because it's obviously a topic on my radar. About a year ago, I had heard about "60 Days In", a show on A&E that is filmed in Fulton County's Rice Street Jail. It's the same jail I was in waiting to go to prison in 2005, and rumored to be one of the absolute worst jails in the country.


I have always been torn on whether or not to watch it. I leaned toward no. Mostly because I have achieved what I consider a pretty stable frame of mind around my incarceration and history, so why disturb it?


The thing is, deep down I know there are a lot of things I haven't dealt with, and they do surface. Usually at the worst times.


Last week, I was invited to do another prison-story-based lecture for a local quilt guild. I love this guild. This was my 4th lecture there in 4 years, and many of the members are dear friends. I put together a legit lecture about prison quilters - I love to tell my story and be vulnerable in these groups, but there has to be a purpose beyond me just telling my story. The feedback was incredible, and so many things were unexpected.


Anyway, someone in the audience had asked if I'd ever watched the show, as she was wondering if that's what it was really like. I obviously didn't have an answer.


It wasn't the reason I decided to watch the show. But talking so much about prison and my past, I realize how much I've buried just to get it to go away, and that lecture... it brought things to the surface.


Timing was interesting, because fresh out of this lecture, Paul and Aaron had to leave for the weekend, which means I was home alone (and exhausted when not working). I decided there was no time like the present to dive in and see this show.


I started with Season 4, not knowing that Season 3 first feature inmates at Rice Street. I'm intrigued, but yeah, the "reality" part of reality television has me skeptical. In my short opinion, what you see there is real. The things you see going on, the way they act, the madness. it's all real.


Obviously it brings up a lot in me, and it struck me why I almost need to do this for myself. The first thing that got me was the level of noise. It suddenly became clear to me why, even now 13 years later, noise is such an issue for me. I despise rowdy noise. I can't stand to be in a room with a lot of people and nothing to absorb the sound. My anxiety is nuts. It's not a, "it's too loud in here," feeling. It's an uncontrollable, "I have to get the fuck out of here right now," feeling.


The dorms at Rice street are all metal and cement. The dorms were build to hold 32 women, but at the time I was there, we had 50+ women in that tiny dorm. They house the women differently now in the South Annex, but the way you see the men living in this show, that's how it was in my dorm. We also had rows of bunk beds in the day room area, which you cannot see in the show (because they can't film the shower area).


It was constant noise, constant chaos. Deafening.


I hadn't realized it until this show, this is exactly where my complex stems from.


So I've decided a few things. One, I need to have something small and manageable in my life that doesn't involved sewing machines and quilting. So many future projects center around incarceration, so I need to put more effort into this blog and the programs we are working on. Also, one of the biggest questions I am asked is about what jail/prison is like. So I thought maybe I would use this show as a way to talk about the realities. So many things, good and bad, came up from this show for me. Things I'm afraid will get lost if I don't write them down.


And the question I feel like we will never have the answer to: what is the answer?


I'm starting a new category for this blog, we'll call it "60 Days In" for now. I'll go through the episodes I'm watching, and I'll offer up personal stories and clarify jail culture, and see where else that leads.


I think the hardest part is watching from this side, and seeing how damaging jail is for anyone. Remember, too, that jail is for people that haven't been convicted yet. Most are only there on charges, a few may be there serving a very short sentence. But the majority aren't even convicted.


And even more sad is that you can clearly see, jail doesn't do any good. It does way more harm than good. Sure, you can argue that people who've committed a crime deserve no mercy, don't have to be treated humanely, and deserve to be treated like animals. But keep in mind, the majority of people that go to jail/prison eventually come back out. Watch this show and any other incarceration-based show and tell me how this make a difference when they come back out?


So join me for this adventure if you like, and please offer up any questions or topics you think are in dire need of an answer (and keep in mind, this is only my opinion, based on my experiences).


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