Full disclosure: I've never been to prison, just like most of the people writing about prison workouts. I do have some perspective on the topic. Somehow, I've got knack for befriending prison guards and ex-convicts alike. My brother in-law is prison guard, as well as two good friends also work in corrections. I've got one good friend and had at least five ex-employees that have done time in jail. They all know that I'm a basement gorilla so we've all talked about working out. This is what I've learned about working out in jail from them.
First of all, just about ALL prisoners work out. Very rarely do they get as huge and as intimidating as Charles Bronson is. It's a way to pass the time. Most of them do push-ups and crunches. Lots of them. So many, in fact, that they swear off crunches and push-ups when they get out. Chances are if they weren't big into working out before they went to jail, they won't be big into it after jail. Their level of sophistication with bodyweight training hinges on this fact. One of the guys I used to work who spent too much time in and out of jail couldn't even do a pull-up.
How big guys get in jail from working out is exactly the same as how big you get working out outside of jail: how much food you eat. It's not so simple to get surplus food in jail. One of those guys who spent time in jail that I used to work with worked in the kitchen. According to him, it was the most sought-after job in jail. He gained 20 lbs in jail because he had access to extra food. He was fond of training with 5 gallon pails, left over from the kitchen, loaded with water or sand to work out. He did a lot of shrugs, high pulls, curls, and farmers walking with pails.
A prison guard friend of mine told me about another novel way that prisoners get extra food: they trade it for blowjobs. I thought he was joking. He wasn't. They can tell when they do a search of a con's cell and they find a bunch of extra food that they're not supposed to have and couldn't afford to buy. If they don't cause trouble, then they get to keep it. Awfully nice of them since they don't call it a job for no reason.
|Worth swallowing cum for? Yeah, prison sucks.|
While it's not considered a necessary budget item by prison bureau bean counters, the guards doing the dirty work generally like having gym equipment for the prisoners to use. The same guy that told me about the entrepreneurial jail house food traders also introduced me to an interesting term: behavioral modification tools. Basically, the guards use access to the gym as a reward for prisoners behaving themselves. If they're good, then they get to use the gym. This was about the time that he told me what all of my friends in corrections tell me: when you're a prison guard, you're largely a glorified baby sitter.
I had to ask if there was any truth to the whole notion of guards getting worried that prisoners work out to the point where they get too powerful to effectively control. As it turned out, that was another myth. As I said above, most guys who are huge in jail were huge outside of jail. It was explained to me that con-control wasn't done with one guard trying to subdue one inmate. It's usually several guards subduing one unruly inmate and few prisoners ever get strong enough to overpower five guards with batons and pepper spray.
This is about the extent of what I know about working out in jail and unless I hear it second hand, that's all I'll ever find out about the topic. While it's interesting to find out the extent that people with little access to so much of the stuff the modern fitness world considers necessary to get in shape can develop themselves, I'm not in a burning rush to emulate everything they do these days in jail. Based on what I've gleaned from talking about prison work outs, it's an awful lot like just about every other strength click: they do some things right and do other things wrong. The minimalism is the take-away from their training. You really don't need much to get strong.