Why is TikTok’s prison content so familiar?

Others on the platform post similar videos. One shows how to make a prison potato log that looks like a giant tamale; Another makes Prison Wrap, which is similar. There are even tons of cooking videos made by people still incarcerated: dishes cooked using methods that may or may not be prison-legal, recorded on phones that probably aren’t. (You can watch clips of people making empanadas in a can, cooking eggs in a plastic bag, or grilling wraps on a metal rack). For example, Marci Marie says Cookie Rolls were a special treat made when someone had something to celebrate.

Kitchen is just a subset of TikTok content made by formerly (and currently) incarcerated people. Some devote themselves to the camera and eagerly educate the audience about prison life, telling stories and answering questions. Marcy Marie answered many, including “Is it safe to make friends in prison?” (Yes) and answered the message about how to iron clothes (soak in water, press with a cup or hot pot lid, dry under the bed). Others describe their release day or how the holidays were celebrated or the best form for burpees. The more you explore prison life content on TikTok, the more it spans all the platform’s popular genres—cooking, life advice, boring dance, exercise tips—until the inside life seems quite different from the outside world. outside.

America does not A dearth of stories about prison life, stretching from centuries-old memoirs and novels to recent film and television. But in recent decades, most of these images have focused on the most shocking aspects of maximum security prisons. Reality and documentary shows—National Geographic’s “Lockdown,” MSNBC’s “Lockup,” A&E’s “Behind Bars,” Netflix’s “I Am a Killer”—focus often or exclusively on the worst, most dangerous facilities, the line Suggests flight and confusion and intense conflicts. TV dramas like “Oz” and “Prison Break” have done the same. America’s incarcerated population grew in the 1980s and ’90s, but it wasn’t until the arrival of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black in 2013 that television had an extended depiction of daily life in a minimum-security prison.

This emphasis on extreme conditions really distorts our perception of prison life. We are shown a hostile, alien, and degraded environment (“a different world” with “its own rules,” as stated in the intro to the episode “Behind Bars”) filled with violent, dangerous people (“murderers, robbers, and thugs.” , in the intro to the episode “Lockdown”). ). These appalling conditions are undoubtedly real, both documented in prisons and in other prisons. But when it comes to the system as a whole, and life within it, they may not be entirely representative. The United States incarcerates people at a staggeringly high rate—by most estimates, more than any other nation on the planet. Most of the 1.2 million people in our prisons are serving shorter sentences in lower security facilities, often for non-violent crimes. Their daily experiences, however horrific, are overlooked in the prison dramas that pass for the incarceration phase—the raucous, expensive video calls; unfit food; Agonizing hours in solitary confinement – to a whirlwind of murder plots, escape plans and sexual abuse.

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