This post is about 950 words and can be read in 3-4 minutes.

By Emily O’Brien

This is the second post about my experience with the criminal justice system.  The first post is here.

The pop star Bono coined the phrase “Joy is the ultimate act of defiance”. This could not ring truer than it does for me. The prison experience is rarely associated with joy and humour. My time in prison was in no way easy, but it was manageable partly because I found something to laugh at every day.

When I was sentenced, I definitely was not laughing. I was tired, and so was everyone else involved. We all wanted to get it over with. We also were frustrated with getting battered by the seemingly unending legal fees.  It was time to surrender. After I said my goodbyes, I stopped pouting. Truthfully, I was sad, but I wasn’t devastated. This was the next chapter of my life and I accepted it.

The value of humour

I have always had a sense of humour. Sometimes I get in trouble for it. Sometimes people think I’m laughing at them because of my random outbursts, but I just can’t help it! I knew I had to take prison seriously, but I also couldn’t let it stop me from smiling. Even the guard who sneered at me to “not smile for my prison photo” didn’t bother me. I created a comic series called “Memeium Security” which matched clip art photos magazine pictures to the ridiculous scenarios and nonsense prisoners have to deal with daily. It was a huge hit, and not just among the prisoners but with staff as well. People requested copies to send home and would ask me when I was making more. Being able to laugh at the shared experience cultivated resilience and kept us united rather than being jerks to each other. Laughter also takes power away from those who try to bring you down. Besides, if you don’t smile, you get wrinkles really quickly…and we don’t want those!

Things to laugh about

Here are some of the ridiculous things I was able to laugh at during my time in the correctional system.

  1. The disastrous plumbing in the court jail: When my soon-to-be-buddy V and I turned on the tap to get water, it exploded all over us, and we were drenched. We laughed together and became friends instantly. We remained friends throughout our entire sentence.
  2. When I arrived at the provincial jail, they only had XXL size outfits left. I wrapped one of them around my head to used as a sleeping mask, but the correctional staff did not appreciate my innovation and I was told me it wasn’t allowed. My cellmate and I were in hysterics. It just seemed like not one ounce of comfort was possible there. In all honesty, how was I supposed to sleep? The lights never went off. Never.
  3. My gassy cellmate: My darling roommate may or may not have knowingly farted (not telling!) when she knew the guards were coming around for their daily count.
  4. Getting confused by the term “cell number”: Early in my time in prison I was asked to provide my cell number and proceeded to provide the digits to my mobile number….not what they wanted! I was scolded at the time for the misunderstanding but had a good laugh with my cell mate later that evening.
  5. Accidentally running on the range and people thought we were charging them: We quickly learned that jogging inside is not a good idea. Sorry for the scare!
  6. Smiling for my inmate ID photo: I wasn’t sad that I was there, I was ready, and I knew it. Why would I put on a frown if I didn’t need to?
  7. Absentmindedly walking outside during “count times” when I didn’t know the rules and getting scolded. Uh sorry people I’ve only been here 5 minutes!
  8. Getting questioned by the guards about my cash: They wanted to play detective and suggested I was part of a money laundering scheme because I had a bit more than average deposited into my account. I could not keep a straight face!
  9. Being known as the inmate with the worst visitor track record of all time: Pretty sure the staff think all my visitors are a bunch of heavy drug users due to false positive readings on the ion scanner security test, and not “pro-social” – a term used in the correctional system for people who do not contribute positively to the community…but nope, NOT TRUE!
  10. Having a brush with the institutional law for “nudity”: Almost got charged because I fell asleep in 40-degree heat with no clothes on…twice…oopsies!
  11. Rocking my institutional clothing on my two weekend passes: Federal prison survivor and proud of it! Plus, I got lots of compliments on the spring jacket!
  12. Getting in trouble for “putting money in the vending machine”: I’m pretty sure you made that rule up recently, but god forbid I should “touch” money to buy some Ringalos! The horror!
  13. Talking in a Southern accent with my friend V in front of staff. All. The. Time. Yes, they definitely thought it was weird, but oh well…we died laughing.
  14. Correctional Stripping: If I am going to strip I am going to do it with pride! Music please. I was never a professional stripper, but given the numerous times I had to get strip searched I definitely would say I was a correctional one


It’s important to find things to laugh at during a tough and challenging time, even when your ego takes a massive hit, to find humour wherever you can. It makes us stop thinking about whatever nonsense is going on in our lives and reduces stress, even if just for a minute. It brings people together instead. It helps us have collective resilience and strength, and I guarantee it will make getting through a tough time not only more manageable, but maybe even a bit enjoyable.


Emily O’Brien’s blog, Cons and Kernels, can be found here.




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