What Are Excellent Questions To Ask A Prison Inmate

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Speaking with an inmate isn’t an ordinary experience. You’re talking to someone who thinks society doesn’t care about them anymore.

In some cases, you may be speaking to someone who is depressed due to the ordeals of imprisonment. You don’t want to amplify the problem, and that’s what makes interviewing an inmate a demanding task.

When coming up with questions for inmates, you want to keep them comfortable and entertained for as long as the discussion lasts.

If you’re seeing inmates soon and you’ll like to strike up a meaningful discussion with them, we can help streamline the process. Here are some excellent questions to ask a prison inmate for an engaging conversation.

How to discuss with an inmate

Prison inmates are regular people who are in prison because, well, life happens. Interviewing them shouldn’t be a big deal, and it’s just as difficult as talking to your friend.

However, you must be extra sensitive when discussing with an inmate. They’re going through a lot, and you don’t want to add to their humongous list of worries.

Here are some qualities that streamline the process of dealing with an inmate.

1- Positivity

Every correctional facility reeks of negativity. From the scary stories of how someone became a prisoner to the more fearful prison riots, a prison would be the ideal home for negative thoughts.

Since negativity repels negativity, you can’t have a meaningful discussion with an inmate with some degree of positivity.

Show the inmates that they’re not alone, and let them know you care. This reassurance will encourage them to open up and have honest discussions with you.

2- Friendliness

If you’re not already adept at making friends, you may not be the best interviewer for an inmate.

Inmates are used to seeing unfriendly people every day. If you’re not different from the other potentially frustrated inmates, why would they share anything with you?

Putting on a friendly smile should be an integral part of your interview costume. However, try showing compassion and empathy as the discussion might end up being touchy.

3- Respect

Inmates often think people treat them like a lower set of people, and they might be correct to some extent. Most people don’t respect prisoners as they see them as moral failures.

Since inmates rarely get respected, either by fellow inmates or by society at large, showing some signs of respect can exponentially increase your chances of getting a successful interview.

Questions to ask a prison inmate

Now that you know what qualities you need to have a successful discussion with an inmate, it’s time to source questions.

If you’re not good at coming up with conversation-type questions with some positive sentiment, we can help you. Here are some excellent questions to ask a prison inmate on your visit.

1- What is it like to be in confinement?

Every inmate has a unique opinion about what it means to be locked up. One common denominator amongst all is that they hate jail!

However, not everyone hates jail. Remember the story of the homeless guy who wouldn’t pay for dinner to get sent to prison where he’d get three square meals?

However, you’d be wrong to assume that your interviewee is that homeless guy. No matter who you’re speaking with, there is usually a high chance that they hate the confinement between the four walls of a prison.

Being in prison is nothing like real life. The guards are usually unfriendly and aggressive, and inmates always dream of a chance to be free.

Getting your interviewee’s unique perspective of what imprisonment means to them will help you understand and appreciate the freedom you always had.

2- What is the first thing you’ll do when you’re released?

Most inmates have elaborate lists of stuff to do after their release, provided that everything goes as planned.

 Your interviewee should be willing to answer this question without any negative emotional sentiments if they’ve been cooking up something before their release.

Most prisons allow inmates to acquire skills, and in some cases, get a degree. These programs make it easier for inmates to reintegrate into society.

While I assume they may want to talk about their plans to become self-reliant after incarceration, that might not be the case. Some prisoners only want to see their friends and family first after their release.

3- How has prison changed you?

Every inmate will have a new view of the world during and after their incarceration term. They don’t usually stay as they were before their prison sentence, and they have new opinions about life.

Most prisoners will better appreciate the importance of freedom even. They will also realize how good it is to be free to leave the house when their mums start nagging.

Some prisoners also decide to make something good out of their lives after the prison sentence, and they enroll to get a skill or a degree.

One change that happens to every prisoner is the detest of the prison environment. Inmates never want to redo the experience, except maybe for that homeless guy.

4- What was your favorite prison food?

Contrary to popular opinion, prisoners don’t eat bad food throughout the week. The food is usually manageable for the most part.

Since you’d ask your friend what their favorite food is, this question isn’t a bad one when you’re talking to an inmate either.

However, unlike you, prisoners don’t get to choose what food they’d eat. While they have a favorite food among the numerous food served in prison, they may only be able to eat it once in a given month or thereabouts.

Sometimes, you may discover that you both had the same food, and that’s a common ground. After all, the goal of this question is to keep the discussion lively.

5- Did you have friends amongst the prisoners? What about the guards?

Since being in prison is just like being in the outside world, it’s only natural that prisoners form bonds with each other.

When inmates have something in common with themselves, they may become friends and interact well in prison. For example, people of a specific tribe or ethnicity could get along quicker than others.

While prisoners do form good bonds with themselves, bonding with the guards is another different story.

While inmates befriending the guards sounds perfectly normal, it’s generally regarded as a bad thing. Other inmates view people who are friends with the guards as traitors, exposing the secrets of their daily life to the guards.

Since it’s unlikely that you’ll learn about any friendly guards, you may ask about their best inmate friends to get a little backstory on them too.

6- Did you meet any prison bullies?

It’s scary, but it’s true; most prisons have prison bullies that act as the prison version of school bullies.

While it may sound counterintuitive that there are bullies in prison, the prison isn’t full of dangerously violent people, as you previously thought.

Also, reporting a bully to the guards is out of the options, as the guards are typically less friendly than the bullies themselves.

There is only one way to get rid of a bully; fight them away. Most people get sent to solitary confinement after a fight, so prisoners avoid fighting in general.

And what if you’re interviewing the most notorious prison bully?

Just don’t ask him how it feels to be a bully to bullies.

7- What is your advice to young criminals?

Most inmates wouldn’t go the criminal path if they had a second chance, not after their incarceration.

If there should be anyone to advise young people threading the wrong path, it should be those who were once there.

In addition to questions to collect information about prisoners and prison life, you should also try to see what they think of other people paving their way to the harsh life of prison.

From previous interviews with incarcerated criminals, most of them only advocate against violence. They see violence as a tool of destruction that has no practical usefulness.

While it may sound like this stance results from the circumstances leading to their incarceration, it is mostly about their experiences in prison.

The more violent an inmate is in prison, the less bearable their experience will be.

8- How did you get into prison?

Depending on who you’re talking to, this question can get very emotional. Sometimes, you should abstain from asking this question if the inmate looks too calm.

People get into prison for more reasons than you can imagine, with most reasons not what you think. Some people get arrested for doing what they can’t even remember, and they get sentenced to prison out of the blue.

Also, many prison inmates get locked up for perpetrating violence in revenge for an even greater one.

There are chances that your interviewee tortured someone after assaulting their family. While the assaulter might have also undergone punishment, the law won’t tolerate any defiance.

Before asking this question, I highly recommend keeping a napkin handy as you might be in for stories that touch.

9- What’s the scariest thing you’ve experienced here recently?

Lots of scary stuff happens in prisons, and none of them is surprising. A prison should be full of convicted criminals anyways.

However, some events just hit a bit differently. Even prisoners have some times when they get almost scared out of their skins, and you can only hope that they’ll be willing to talk about it.

For some, it may be getting sent into solitary confinement due to involvement in a fight. For others, hearing about any of the numerous ills that happen almost daily is enough to send shrills down one’s spine.

When discussing with an inmate, you should try learning their unique perspective of the scares of prison life. Just get the napkins ready in case it gets emotional.

10- How long do you get locked up in a cell?

Prisoners don’t live the entirety of their lives locked away in a cell. They also spend some time out interacting with each other and participating in group activities to enhance their mental health.

If you’re curious, you can ask how long the inmate stays in prison. Working inmates usually stay out of their cells for up to 10 hours per day, and those that don’t usually have up to eight hours of free time.

However, this depends on the state policies on prisons and may differ for your interviewee. That’s why you should consider asking this question to be sure.

11- Do you think jail serves any good purpose?

You may not get the expected answer to this question. While you may think that inmates generally agree that prison helps curb crime and reintegrate criminals, you may be wrong.

Most inmates think they are in prison unfairly. They don’t fancy the idea of a prison, and they opine that the conviction process is painfully biased.

While this doesn’t seem relevant to the question, it’s just to prepare you for the possible answers. Showing disbelief at someone’s opinion is not a sign of respect.

While some appreciate the rehab programs that attempt to integrate prisoners into society, most also have grudges towards the prison system.


Prison inmates are people too. They aren’t some super-dangerous war villains that you should avoid at all cost. Interviewing an inmate during a visit to the prison can be super fun.

However, some specific questions don’t go down well with inmates. Avoiding those questions could work in an interview, but there is no comprehensive list to help you identify what questions to avoid.

Instead, only ask friendly and respectful questions. This way, you will get answers without triggering sad memories in your interviewee.

If you’re unsure how to go about that, we’ve compiled 11 excellent questions to ask a prison inmate that you can reuse on your next visit to the prison.

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