A Day in Prison Life: Part 1

Most of us get our ideas of what prison is like from TV or the movies. Watch the popular Netflix show, "Orange is the New Black," and you'll get the impression that women's prisons are violent and scary places. We spent the day at the Dakota Women's Correction Center in New England, and found the reality to be somewhat different.

"Orange is the New Black" is based on a book written by Piper Kerman, who was jailed in 2004 on money laundering and drug trafficking charges, and served just over a year in a federal prison.

The popularity of both her memoir and the hit series on Netflix, shows how fascinated people are by what goes on behind the barbed wire.

But warden Rachelle Juntunen says what you see on TV and what happens in real prisons can be vastly different.

"It's not scary, we don't have a lot of violence," said Juntunen.

Hear the word "prison" and tall walls and triple barbed wire are probably what come to mind.

You don't expect to see a painting of the Virgin Mary on the outside wall. You'll find a church and a daycare alongside North Dakota's only women's correctional center.

"We are a unique setting as an old Catholic school that was turned into a prison," said Juntunen. "So, there's no banging bars, it's a dorm setting."

The worst enemy here, say the inmates, is boredom.
Inmate Kerry Lehman says, "I've taken every class here I can, and I've repeated classes because I've been here for over five years."
Lehman was one of the 131 women housed here. This facility was designed for 126.
They start out in this orientation unit, with 16 to a room. They're here for 30 days, many of them coming off of drugs, before they are integrated into the main population. There's no privacy, and it also tends to be lonely.
"The biggest challenge being here is being away from family, the ones you love, because we're kind of out in the middle of nowhere," Lehman adds.
So Juntunen says prison becomes a microcosm of society.
"If you look at the research, they tend to re-establish family dynamics while they're incarcerated, so there's some tendency to bond with the women that are here."
But, as in families, it's not always smooth sailing.
"It's a lot of drama," says inmate Nicole Koch. "You know, with women, they like to talk so most of the time you just keep to yourself and mind your business."
That business...work, study and prayer... can lead to a better future. The reincarceration rate here is under 30 percent.