People in prison know how important the small things are. To people on the outside, simple pictures of skyscrapers and Christmas lights may not seem like much, but everyday photos are priceless to inmates. For inmates, photos reveal the passage of time, provide a connection to the outside world, and kick-start their memories.
Gideon’s daughter recently sent him around 20 pictures of his fast-growing hometown and Christmas lights during the holidays. To the average person, they are nothing special. But to Gideon, who hasn’t seen Christmas lights in years and catches only random glimpses of his hometown, photos allow him to visit long-forgotten parts of the world outside the fences of his prison.
Not only do photos reveal the passage of time, but they also take Gideon back to his life before prison—the places he went, the things he did, and the people he knew. “It gets your memory working. That’s a good thing. It can turn into a bad thing, too,” he chuckled. He recently flipped through some of his photos, a surprisingly difficult task. “Too many good memories,” he explained. “They’ll turn bad on you.”
‘A thousand pictures, easy’
Gideon enjoys receiving all types of pics, but his favorites are shots of his children when they were young. He likes getting pictures of his kids as adults, but photos of their childhood are special to him. Gideon was incarcerated when his daughter was eight and his son was two, so pictures provide a rare link to his kids’ childhood.
Two pictures of his children are the only photos Gideon has displayed in his cell. One is a glamor shot of his daughter wearing a purple hat, and the other is a pic of his son in a leather jacket at an Easter egg hunt. Gideon stuck the photos on the side of his “locker,” a three-sided, six-cubic-feet wooden box that contains all his personal property. He must fit all his property, including his TV, clothes, and fans, into the shelf-like storage compartment.
The prison forbids inmates from hanging pictures and other items on the walls of their cells, so Gideon knew he wouldn’t be able to hang his photos there. “The only thing I got hanging up on the wall is one cross,” he said. He made sure to hang the cross in a place that isn’t visible from outside his cell; guards must go inside his cell to see it.
“I’ve got a thousand pictures, easy,” Gideon beamed. He keeps his pictures, which he has accumulated over the years, in manila envelopes and photo albums. He has three albums of photos of his kids when they were younger. “These are thick photo albums, too,” he said. Some albums hold at least 250 photos, and he has several that contain around 100 pics apiece.
Lost in the mail?
Prison staff members can make it difficult to send pictures and correspondence to inmates by inspecting mail that comes into the prison. While it’s understandable for staff to try to keep out contraband, some of the restrictions are silly. For instance, a few months ago, the prison confiscated a postcard from Gideon’s daughter because it contained no writing from the sender. Later, Gideon’s daughter scribbled random words and smiley faces on crossword puzzle pages so the prison wouldn’t confiscate them.
Staff members also look for papers that have been wet, fearing liquid meth or other drugs have been dropped on the pages and prisoners will eat the papers to get high. Staff members pull stamps off incoming mail out of fear that drugs have been applied to the back of the stamps for inmates to consume.