Originally published in National Geographic.
Albert, 82 years old, through his cell window is about to be locked into his cell for the night. As a security guard makes a round of the premise. Albert grew up in foster care from the age of three to nine years old, and he's been in and out of prison since he was sixteen. "If I wanted something in life at 3 years old I had to take it, if I needed food I had to take it, if I wanted a drink of water I had to take it. It wasn't given to me, you know."
Robert, 70, looks out his cell window. He has spent nearly 30 years in prison after being convicted of murder. In his free time, Robert mentors younger prisoners who have come in with drug addictions, something he's very passionate about.
Norma, 76 years old, makes her bed in what used to be a closet. Norma requested to be separated from the younger female prisoners who she says are too loud and give her anxiety. A fellow inmate made this blanket for Norma.
Norma, 76 years old, cleans her teeth after breakfast at Maine Correctional Center.
Albert, 82 years old, is patted down by security as he arrives to medical to get a blood test. He pulls out of his pocket a small piece of paper with a drawing of a pipe on it and says to the security guard, “What is this?” The guard replies, “That’s a pipe!” Albert cracks up laughing, “What’s wrong with you? This is a piece of paper!”
Norma, 76 years old, has been in prison for 14 years and has never had a visitor. Inside, younger women have adopted her as a mother and grandmother. Most of these women are there for drugs and have lead traumatic lives. Norma encourages them to do better - to sign up for classes or earn their GEDs - so they can leave prison with something more than they brought in.
Robert, 70, is in prison medical four times daily for respiratory problems.
Prison systems across the country are facing a crisis as their populations gray. Rising medical costs are a factor in the growing costs of incarceration nationwide. Robert's medicial expenses cost the country between three and nine times more than the medical needs of a younger imate.
Steven, 63 years old, tries his best to stay healthy in prison. He works out daily, in the warmer months runs the prison track, and buys his food from the commissary in order to avoid the prison food.
Albert (right), 82 years old, plays chess with another inmate. Albert, who is wheelchair bound, rarely travels farther than 30 feet from his cell. When he does "travel" he plays chess (8 ft away), boils water for tea (30 ft away), or picks up one of his three meals from the guard desk (15 ft away) which he eats in his cell.
Robert, 70 years old, has been in a Maine prison for about three decades. “I was always into arguments drinking and drugging. It was the spur of the moment that I done it, as soon as I done it, I knew what I done wrong but I couldn't change it." "Today I don't get into arguments, I just refuse to get into them, if things aren't going my way right now I just turn around and walk away.”
Albert, 82 years old, watches the news on television and eats his lunch. “I want to point out something - I’m in prison. A lot of violent people here. But I’m safer than you are. You’re out there where people are screw-loose running around with AK47s. There is no one coming in here with an AK47, shooting everything that moves, nobody. I’m safer than you are. Come on! That is never going to happen to me here. So my advice… they have a women’s prison down state, get locked up, you’ll be safer! ha ha HA HA”
Albert's cell has notes and pieces of writing everywhere. He once spent ten years in solitary confinement, which he said he got through by reading, writing and designing a house.
Every few weeks a new set of adult dogs and puppies come into Maine State Prison. These dogs are from shelters. The men share their cells and train them, in order to give them a better shot at being adopted.