Jessica Kent spent a year in New York prison for selling drugs and five years in Arkansas before breaking the cycle.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 17, 2021. It has since been updated.
The justice system is built to create a just society that benefits everyone but in most cases, they can be a problem in itself. Incarceration is a huge problem in America and rather than rehabilitate, individuals are most often forced to become repeat offenders, getting caught up in a vicious cycle. People held in jails are subject to horrible treatment. While most of the general public's knowledge of the jail system is based on pop culture, the stories coming out of jail can be infinitely worse. Jessica Kent who is 31 and lives in Chicago knows too well. She ended up in prison after suffering from drug addiction. She was jailed for the first time at the age of 17 for the criminal sale of a controlled substance. She ended up spending a year in a New York prison.
This was followed by her getting arrested again for violating parole and several other charges. She served 5 years in an Arkansas prison for 5 years. Giving birth to her daughter while she was chained to the bed in jail was a highly traumatic experience for her but it also made her determined to break the vicious cycle. It's been 7 years since she's been released from prison and she's achieved so much since. She received a Bachelor's degree in correctional program support services, is a full-time YouTuber with a popular channel, and is also working on her own autobiography. Her YouTube channel and TikTok account give followers an insight into life in prison, drug addiction, and recovery. She's now engaged and has two children.
Here are some of the things she has revealed about her time in prison:
Kent revealed that correctional officers often ignored the medical needs of inmates. "The worst thing that I saw correctional officers doing was neglecting the medical needs of inmates, including but not limited to, women having their period and bleeding everywhere. Sometimes it would take them hours to bring them clean clothes, sometimes they wouldn't if the stain was not big enough or it wasn't a big enough mess, then they wouldn't give you clean clothes," said Kent.
She also revealed that a woman was left pounding on the door for five hours after having a seizure, before receiving any help, in county jail. "Paramedics were finally called. And she did not come back. I don't know if she passed away, I don't know what happened, no one ever saw her again after that night, though. And I think that's a major problem. Many correctional officers think inmates are faking everything 'cause they've been lied to," added Kent.
She confirmed that inmates are shackled to the bed in jail. "I gave birth while I was in prison. As soon as my daughter was delivered, my legs were shackled to the bed. She was born healthy, then she was placed in foster care. After I got out of prison I worked for over a year to get full custody, I have full custody of her now. But the image of holding my newborn baby, with chains and shackles on my leg, is forever seared into my memory and that was the reason why I completely changed my entire life," said Kent. "I looked down and I saw that beautiful baby and those light chains and I just decided, I just knew that I was done. I was never going back to prison, I was never picking up another substance and I now have 9 years sober. It was dehumanizing and terrible and I have PTSD from that."
"Do officers and inmates get into a relationship, from a former inmate? In a nutshell: Yes. People that are there for a long time, they are human beings and they get lonely, and they want that intimacy and that feeling from another person. And that definitely happens to correctional officers. I've seen it, most inmates have. And it starts out very small, with a look or a smile, if you walk by them and touch them, which I would never do. I wouldn't even talk to them for toilet paper. But I have seen it happen," said Kent.
"Guards take advantage because inmates are in survival mode. We're just trying to have basic hygiene items and food items and we're hungry and lonely. We are starved for affection and attention, and it's a very tough situation on both sides. It's a crime and correctional officers that do that will be charged when they're caught. Cause they always get caught; all inmates see everything, we know what's going on and you will get caught and go to prison because this is essentially rape," she said.
"Every state is different, every place handles it differently. But usually, you're transferred from county jail. You're chained and handcuffed and sent to prison in a van or a bus. Then you get to prison and they strip you naked. They cover you with lice shampoo that smells for three days. You have to squat and cough to make sure there's nothing inside of you, that's really traumatic, really awful, and humiliating. You sit there naked as they either photograph or write down your tattoos, every place handles it differently like I said. Intake is like, "If you die, who do we call?" said Kent.
"It is the law that they have to have medical staff and mental health professionals in the prison. Unfortunately, you don't see them that often. You have to fill out a sick call to go to mental health other than the entry process where you go through medical and see a mental health person, then you get sent to your dorm. That's a very brief interaction. If you say you're suicidal, you'll be stripped of everything, put in a cell and monitored for 72 hours until you verbally say you no longer want to take your life. Because protecting your physical life is all they care about. Mental health is a very low priority," said Kent.
"You need money. It's not just for the extra. If you want to shampoo your hair, condition your hair, shave your legs. You have to buy hygiene items, toothpaste that is not glue. The state-issued paste is awful, it doesn't really clean your teeth. You have to buy these items. You have to buy deodorant, they don't provide that. You have to buy all kinds of hygiene items. If you want to write home, you have to buy stamps, envelopes and paper. If you wanna call home, that costs money too. Inmates need money, it's not just for extra things like food, although we are always hungry in prison because they feed you the bare minimum and we were starving. So yes, we want to make food and have snacks. So yes, it's a necessity, the money, anyway," said Kent.
"How do you know why someone is in prison? Let me just start off by letting you know there are no secrets in prison. None, absolutely none. You have no privacy, everyone's in your business. Everyone knows what's going on, everyone saw you look at that correctional officer a certain way, you know what I'm saying? You can ask them, "What are you in for?" And if they lie to you or if you get the feeling they're not being honest about why they're there, you just call home, write home, email home and say, "Look up this person." Look up their number, their DIN number, or inmate number you get when you go to prison, just look it up. You can very easily find out online why someone's there. Or you can even ask a correctional officer, which I would never do because I hated talking to them," said Kent.
"There are two kinds of dorms. One is the open dorm and it looks like a gymnasium with 50 bunk beds. And the other is a closed tier, so you'll have one or two other cellmates. Now, sleeping in an open dorm caused a lot of issues for me because that's probably where my PTSD comes from. I was always on edge and everyone would fall asleep and I would stay awake until most people were asleep and then I would feel comfortable enough to go to sleep. A lot of things happened at night. People would want to hang out or party or do whatever at night (party is a generous term for what was actually going on). There's some girlfriend stuff going on at night, you gotta mind your own business," said Kent.