Movies, like all forms of art, require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. Ideally, a good movie can communicate some kind of profound and deep truth to its audience without necessarily being scrupulous about all details.

Most people, therefore, understand the need for some artistic license. Still, it can be fascinating to point out and ponder those things about reality that Hollywood portrayals get wrong.

This is especially true for something like prisons. Prison movies like Cool Hand Luke and The Shawshank Redemption have been some of the all-time classics of cinema. But does Hollywood play around with the truth in its prison movies like it does in its other movies?


To find out, a Reddit user named Warlock1509 posted a question and solicited answers from those who have actually been to prison — whether as inmates or workers. What does Hollywood get wrong about prison life? Astonishingly, the post got more than 500 replies from ex-inmates, and much of what they said was fascinating.

Here’s what was discussed in some of the most outstanding replies.

How Prison Life is Not Like Hollywood Says

  1. Prison rape is a terrifying reality for many inmates housed in some of the country’s most violent prisons, but it isn’t nearly as common as Hollywood movies suggest. One ex-inmate simply pointed out, rather blandly, “I went to jail and didn’t get raped. My cellmates were really chill, and we all respected each other.”

  1. In keeping with the theme that prison life is often not as wild or exciting as Hollywood portrays, one former inmate decided to talk about what is actually one of the most overwhelming features of prison life: sheer, soul-crushing boredom. Inmates are typically allowed very few items and have very little to do. That makes boredom an ever-present threat to inmates’ sanity.

  2. Contrary to what Hollywood might have you believe, the vast majority of prison inmates are not hardened criminals. Many are just impulsive people who made stupid, youthful mistakes. For quite a few, assimilating back into society is extremely difficult, even if they had been model inmates while locked up. Being an inmate carries a tremendous social stigma and often leaves many — even those who are intelligent and have skills — with few options.


  1. One man who had worked in prisons all across the world shared a fascinating series of insights. As already mentioned, rape in Western prisons is not as common as many think. However, prisons in countries like Brazil are shockingly violent places. It would be no exaggeration to describe them as slaughterhouses. People arrested for drug crimes also receive extremely harsh sentences in Asian prisons.

In short, not all prisons are the same. Many inmates, in fact, are eager to work — so eager, in fact, that fights often break out over jobs.

  1. Movies glamorize prisons in many ways. One of the less attractive aspects of that world that Hollywood never emphasizes is the sheer smell of the place. As one person who once worked in a county jail pointed out, the smell of urine and body odor is generally everywhere.