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Why does Prison-Life’s content on TikTok feel so familiar?

    Others on the platform post similar videos. One demonstrates how to make a Prison Potato Log, which resembles a giant tamale; another prepares a Prison Wrap, which is similar. In fact, countless cooking videos have been made by people who are still in prison: dishes prepared using methods that may or may not be legal in prison, the process recorded on phones that most likely aren’t. (You can watch clips of people frying empanadas in a can, boiling eggs in a plastic bag, or grilling wraps on a metal bunk.) The videos are generally upbeat and often have a touch of nostalgia. For example, Marci Marie says the Cookie Rolls were a special treat, made when someone had something to celebrate.

    The cooking is just a subset of the TikTok content created by former (and currently) incarcerated people. Some are committed to facing the camera and seriously educating viewers about prison life, telling stories and answering questions. Marci Marie has answered many, including “Is it safe to make friends in prison?” (yes), and responded to a post about ironing clothes (soaking in water, pressing with a cup or hot pan lid, drying under your bed). Others describe the day of their release or how holidays were celebrated or the best form for burpees. The more you explore the prison life content on TikTok, the more it seems to reflect all of the platform’s popular genres – cooking, life advice, bored dancing, workout tips – until life inside doesn’t seem so different from life on the outside .

    America has no There is a shortage of stories about prison life, ranging from age-old memoirs and novels to recent film and television. But in recent decades, most of these images focused on the most shocking aspects of higher-security prisons. Reality and documentary programs — National Geographic’s “Lockdown,” MSNBC’s “Lockup,” A&E’s “Behind Bars,” Netflix’s “I Am a Killer” — often or exclusively focus on the worst, most dangerous facilities, highlighting breakouts and riots and intense conflicts. Television dramas such as “Oz” and “Prison Break” have done the same. America’s incarcerated population soared in the ’80s and ’90s, but it wasn’t until the advent of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” in 2013 that television had a comprehensive portrayal of everyday life in a minimum-security prison.

    This focus on extreme conditions certainly distorts our perception of prison life. We are presented with hostile, alien, and humiliated environments (“A different world” with “its own rules”, as the intro to an episode of “Behind Bars” says) filled with violent, dangerous people (“murderers, robbers and rapists” ‘, according to the intro to an episode of ‘Lockdown’). These terrifying conditions are undoubtedly real, both in the prisons being documented and in others. But when it comes to the system as a whole and the life in it, they may not be entirely representative. The United States is locking people up at a remarkably high rate — more, by most estimates, than any other country on the planet. A majority of the 1.2 million people in our prisons are serving shorter sentences in less secure facilities, often for nonviolent crimes. Their everyday experiences, even the grim ones, usually go unnoticed in prison dramas, which go beyond the grind of captivity – the erratic, expensive video calls; the inedible food; the painful hours in solitary confinement – before a whirlwind of murder plots, escape plans and sexual assault.