Thanks to Google reviews, any potential consumer can judge the spiciness of the red curry at Peace China, the expertise of the staff at Flythe Cyclery or the quality of the acoustics at Dorton Arena.
The experiences of everyone who ever ate a pizza, replaced a tire or purchased a hamster are available online – every inattentive waiter or undercooked chicken leg chronicled online and available with the click of a mouse.
So in an age where people use Google to rank their visits to Kmart and evaluate their summer trims at Supercuts, it only follows that the trend of amateur online criticism would extend into this last dark corner:
Never miss a local story.
Thanks to Google, and occasionally yelp.com, nearly every correctional facility in North Carolina has an online list of raves and rants, some of which appear to have been compiled by actual inmates. Central Prison in Raleigh, which contains the state’s death row and houses some of the riskiest inmates in the state, earns 3 stars out of 5.
“Food was terrible,” wrote one reviewer. “But the beds, surprisingly comfy.”
Online reviewers are notoriously harsh, trashing a restaurant for a lukewarm cup of coffee or a grocery store for slow checkout lanes. But the mavens of North Carolina prisons have found plenty to like.
From Hyde Correctional in Swan Quarter: “Great bologna sandwiches!”
Or this testimonial from Southern Correctional in Troy: “Helped reform me. Also where I gave my life to Jesus and was baptized.”
It’s a prison. It’s not supposed to be a 5-star-hotel. All things considered, it wasn’t too bad.
Former inmate of Neuse Correctional Institution
But inmates being inmates, living a life of gloomy penitence, are quick to point out the shortcomings of their surroundings. Gangs. Fights with razor blades. Lousy medical care. Worse vittles.
Tabor Correctional in Tabor City gets the state’s worst marks with 2.4 stars. “My dad is in here and he said there is so much gang activity and so many drugs it’s unreal.”
Scotland Correctional fares nearly as poorly with the critics – in Spanish, yet. “Muy mala alimentacion,” writes this unimpressed food critic. “Lo se porque estuve hay preso.” (Translation: “Very poor nutrition. I know because I was there in prison.”)
I stumbled upon these jailhouse critiques by accident, never having seen the insides of a prison except as your humble correspondent. Some of them were obviously fake: “Awesome breakfast,” “Better than the Comfort Inn a few miles away … ” But I wanted to know whether officialdom kept tabs on these comments.
“We have noticed these Google reviews in the past for a few of our prisons,” said Keith Acree, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Public Safety. “We look into and respond to concerns that are actively brought to our attention through more formal channels like letters, email and phone calls. While we do some listening online for valid concerns, we can’t possibly look into every comment or issue that someone raises on social media, blogs or in Google reviews.”
It’s always nice to know that people in power are paying attention to your small voice, whether you’re buying a mattress or serving a stretch for murder. And I’m heartened to hear that these complaints aren’t coming from never-satisfied divas. I believe a former inmate of Neuse Correctional in Goldsboro said it best in his review.
“It’s a prison,” he wrote. “It’s not supposed to be a 5-star-hotel. All things considered, it wasn’t too bad.”