SETTING THESAURUS

PRISON CELL



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HELPFUL TIP:

Settings should always be chosen with care. Consider the emotion you want your viewpoint character to feel and how setting choices, weather elements, and symbolism might build a specific mood in the scene, create tension and conflict, or even raise the stakes.
SIGHTS:
Iron bars or a solid metal front wall with a sliding door
Cement walls
Furniture (single or bunk beds, a dented metal locker, a simple desk and chair) that is firmly fastened to the wall and floor
A barred window
A thin mattress and pillow, old sheets, rough blankets
A metal toilet and sink
Things written or carved into the walls (names, dates, sayings, vulgarity, etc.)
Painted cement floors
Bars with the paint worn off from hands gripping them
Prison clothing and lace-less shoes
Basic toiletries such as toothpaste, a comb, soap, and toilet paper
A ceiling light with a cage over the bulb or a recessed light that can't be accessed by an inmate
Worn books or magazines
Photos taped to the walls
Hidden contraband in the form of cigarettes, drugs, bladed weapons, money, syringes, electronics, lighters, food, cutting tools, etc.
Inmates pacing, reading, sleeping, staring at the wall, working out, writing letters, or studying for correspondence course exams
Guards passing through the hall, escorting prisoners elsewhere, and running unannounced room checks

SOUNDS:
Footsteps echoing in the walkways
Coughing, talking, muttering, swearing, yelling, and whispering
Shoes squeaking or shuffling
Pages turning
Water turning on and off
Toilets flushing
Grunting or panting while exercising
Mattresses and bed springs squeaking
Guards speaking or yelling
Door buzzers going off
Mechanical iron doors sliding open and shut
Locks snapping into place automatically
The jangle of a guard’s handcuffs
Voices over loudspeakers
Sirens
The sound of a fight or riot

SMELLS:
Sweat
Metal and cement
Mildew
Cleaning products
Bleached sheets and clothing
Soap
Food wafting up from the cafeteria
Dust
Toilet waste
Body odor
Cigarette smoke clinging to clothing

TASTES:
Water
Contraband items
Cookies, chips, instant coffee, chocolate, and other approved items purchased through the prison confectionery 

TEXTURES AND SENSATIONS:
Cold metal bars
Dull metal sinks
Walls of pitted concrete
A saggy mattress with no back support
Springs digging into a prisoner’s back
Lumpy pillows
Scratchy blankets
Old sheets rubbing at one’s skin
Running a finger over the face of loved ones in a photo
Slick magazine pages
A pen held tightly in one’s fingers while writing a letter
Bruising and muscle soreness from a run-in with an inmate or guard
A hard concrete floor
Sweat dripping down the face while exercising in one's cell
Sunlight coming through a high window
The chafe of handcuffs or ankle cuffs
Uncomfortable shoes rubbing at the feet
Pants that are constantly sagging and needing to be pulled up

POSSIBLE SOURCES OF CONFLICT:
Confrontations with inmates and guards
Despair and thoughts of suicide
Boredom
Prejudicial guards who decide to make one’s life difficult or abuse their power
Being assigned a difficult roommate (one who snores or talks incessantly, makes unappreciated advances, is violent, is a snitch, etc.)
A guard or roommate finding one’s contraband stash
Being afraid to leave one’s cell for fear of violence or retribution from another inmate
A broken toilet
Malfunctioning electronic systems that require prolonged lock-downs
Riots
A prison break

PEOPLE COMMONLY FOUND IN THIS SETTING:
Inmates, guards, a warden, doctors

SETTING NOTES AND TIPS:
Prisons have changed quite a bit over the years, making it difficult to identify a standard for this setting. Modern prisons have solid walls and doors instead of the age-old iron bars, and stainless steel furniture has replaced porcelain commodities. Doors are largely mechanized, opening and closing with a buzzer and the press of a button, making jingling keys a thing of the past. However, modernization is costly; while some prisons are updated, others retain the accouterments of the past or contain a mixture of the two. The type of prison will also determine what may be found in its cells. Maximum security cells house individuals rather than pairs of inmates and may have only the bare essentials in regard to furniture.

RELATED SETTINGS THAT MAY TIE IN WITH THIS ONE:

SETTING DESCRIPTION EXAMPLE:

A guard stood to the side of the door waiting as I glanced one last time at the barren walls that had housed me for seven years. The room was straightened—toothpaste scum washed down the cracked sink, table cleared off, bed neatly made. I didn’t need to do those things, but habits are hard to break. In my hands, I carried three items: a copy of Orwell’s 1984, a photo of my wife and kid, and my toothbrush. Maybe it was stupid to bring the toothbrush, but I didn’t want to leave anything personal in this place. I turned my back on the room and followed the guard into the maze of hallways and gates that would lead me outside to where my family waited. A strange feeling swelled in my chest, something absent so long I almost didn’t recognize it: hope.


TECHNIQUES AND DEVICES USED:
METAPHOR, SYMBOLISM

DESCRIPTIVE EFFECTS:
CHARACTERIZATION, REINFORCING EMOTION