50 Prison Quotes About The True Cost Of Incarceration

Take a moment to think about your freedom with these prison quotes.

According to the World Prison Population List, more than 10.35 million people are incarcerated behind bars. 

The United States of America leads the world with an inmate population of more than 2.2 million.

The country of Seychelles has the highest prison population rate in the world, with 799 per 100,000 people behind bars. 

The United States has the second highest rate.

In the last 40 years, our planet’s population of people in prison has increased by 500%.

Crime rates have remained relatively stable during that time.

We do not see an increase in crime, but we see an increase in convicts.

How is this possible? 

Changes in sentencing and policy have resulted in a skyrocketing prison population.

New prisons are constructed yearly despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is ineffective in achieving public safety. 

Take a moment and read through our prison quotes and sayings.

Prison quotes from Nelson Mandela

1. “In my country, we go to prison first and then become President.” Nelson Mandela

2. “The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.” Nelson Mandela

3. “Even behind prison walls, I can see the heavy clouds and the blue sky over the horizon” Nelson Mandela

4. “The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed.” Nelson Mandela

5. “I always knew that someday I would once again feel the grass under my feet and walk in the sunshine as a free man.” Nelson Mandela

6. “Prison itself is a tremendous education in the need for patience and perseverance. It is above all a test of one’s commitment.” Nelson Mandela

7. “I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me.” Nelson Mandela

8. “A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred; he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness.” Nelson Mandela

9. “When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved.” Nelson Mandela

10. “No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.” Nelson Mandela

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Insightful prison quotes

11. “None of my peers avoided prison. None of ’em.” Nipsey Hussle 

12. “Once we are destined to live out our lives in the prison of our mind, our duty is to furnish it well.” Peter Ustinov

13. “The closest thing to hell on earth is prison. It’s the worst experience I’ve ever had in my life. Besides death.” Duane Chapman

14. “Going to prison is like dying with your eyes open.” Bernard Kerik

15. “It was hard to play the drums at all when I got out of prison.” Varg Vikernes

16. “I attended college in prison. I was in jail, so there ain’t no going to no classes.” Kevin Gates

17. “In prison, you have to forget about the world on the outside.” Charlie Shrem

18. “I can work for the Lord in or out of prison.” Charles Colson 

19. “Prison is essentially a shortage of space made up for by a surplus of time; to an inmate, both are palpable.” Joseph Brodsky 

20. “In prison, you get the chance to see who really loves you.” Suge Knight 

Prison quotes from Prison Mike

21. “I’m Prison, Mike! You know why they call me Prison Mike?” Prison Mike 

22. “Well, there’s somebody I’d like you to meet, somebody else who has been to prison.” – Prison Mike

23. “In prison, you are somebody’s bitch.” Prison Mike

24. “The worst thing about prison was the—was the Dementors.” Prison Mike

25. “No, not, ‘Harry Potter.’ There are no movies in prison. This is my point! You guys got it soft and cushy! This place is freaking awesome!” Prison Mike 

26. “Look, prison stinks, is what I’m saying. It’s not like you can go home, and recharge your batteries, and come back in the morning, and be with your friends having fun in the office.” Prison Mike

27. “Okay! Listen up, everybody! Um, you guys said that prison was better than this place, and I heard ya, loud and clear, so I am instituting some changes to make this more like prison.” Prison Mike

28. “So, what we need to do is to forget about this whole Martin in prison thing. People will draw unfair conclusions about Martin, and, or black people.” Prison Mike 

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29. “No! If you think prison is so wonderful, then enjoy prison! They are such babies. I am going to leave them in there until they can appreciate what it’s like to have freedom.” Prison Mike

30. “Okay. Okay, fine. You guys think prison is so great? All right. Well, here you go.” Prison Mike

Inspirational prison quotes

31. “I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there, and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad, he would be a United States Senator.” Mary Harris Jones 

32. “Home is where you are appreciated, safe and protected, creative, and where you are loved – not where you are put in prison.” Nawal El Saadawi 

33. “The martyr cannot be dishonored. Every lash inflicted is a tongue of fame; every prison a more illustrious abode.” Ralph Waldo Emerson 

34. “Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of civilization.” Winston Churchill 

35. “If I’d written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people – including me – would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today.” Hunter S. Thompson 

36. “When you’re in prison, you want to know that you were thought about.” Kevin Gates 

37. “The White House is the finest prison in the world.” Harry S Truman 

38. “Within yourself, deliverance must be searched for because each man makes his own prison.” — Edwin Arnold

39. “A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space.” Gloria Steinem 

40. “Today is the day to break free from the prison of the person you know yourself to be and step into a self you have yet to know. Will it be comfortable? No, but do it anyway.” Debbie Ford 

Prison quotes to inspire and teach

41. “He that is taken and put into prison or chains is not conquered, though overcome; for he is still an enemy.” Thomas Hobbes

42. “A mind enclosed in language is in prison.” Simone Weil 

43. “Mandela did go to prison, and he went in there as a burning revolutionary.” Winnie Madikizela-Mandela 

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44. “The difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion is the thickness of a prison wall.” — Denis Healey 

45. “Prison was tough on me. I saw people in prison that made me ashamed I was a human being.” Evel Knievel

46. “I think corporations are a whole lot different than people. I mean, I don’t know a corporation would be put in prison. I do know people would be put in prison.” Jon Tester

47. “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela

48. “Letting people out of prison without professional staff to oversee their rehabilitation is irresponsible.” Sadiq Khan

49. “It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.” Nelson Mandela

50. “After one has been in prison, it is the small things that one appreciates: being able to take a walk whenever one wants, going into a shop and buying a newspaper, speaking or choosing to remain silent. The simple act of being able to control one’s person.” Nelson Mandela

What did you learn from these prison quotes?

Incarceration is big business.

With some states struggling to generate money, prison construction can be a lucrative business investment.

Private companies continue to build new prisons.

In the United States, for-profit prison systems are a billion-dollar industry. 

Prison is expensive.

The US corrections system currently costs over 80 billion dollars annually.

The cost of one inmate per year in a state like California is $81,000.

Families of inmates spend at least $200 a month for additional food, communication, and toiletries. 

Prisons also use inmates’ work for food service, laundry, textiles, and furniture.

Many large corporations use prison labor to sustain their manufacturing needs.

On average, prisoners earn roughly .84 cents to $3.45 per day, barely enough to pay for a few phone calls outside. 

Some states do not pay prisoners at all, and their labor is considered compulsory with their prison sentence.

These policies offset the true cost of running large-scale prison systems. 

What’s your biggest takeaway from these prison quotes and sayings?

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