Symptoms, Scars, And 7 More Ways Having Multiple Sclerosis Is Like Being in Prison

Orange isn't just the new black. It's also the official colour of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness
Publish date:
March 21, 2016
multiple sclerosis, awareness campaigns

Pour yourself a bowl of Cheetos and put on your Hazmat suit because orange isn't just the new black, it's also the official color of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness and, as it turns out, being in prison and having MS actually have a lot in common. In honor of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, here are nine ways being in prison and having MS are actually kind of similar.


Multiple Sclerosis is the most common neurological condition affecting young people around the world. MS is a chronic, progressive disease that occurs when the body attacks the fatty, protective coating of nerves of the brain and spinal cord. This can result in anything from numbness to vision loss, paralysis, bladder and bowel problems, and depression.

And you know what else causes depression?

Being in prison.

Scar Face

Multiple Sclerosis is a fancy greek term that means 'many scars'. Kinda like the scars you might see in prison only on your brain and spinal cord and a little less cool than a bad ass prison tat.

Possibility of Parole

In the early stages of MS, most are diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS) which means they will experience periods of relief where symptoms improve and they are free to roam the streets carefree. Almost.

Unlike a true remission, this doesn't mean the disease is inactive. It's still doing some no good shady shit in the dark and sketchy parking lot that is your brain. And before long, you may hear your parole officer banging on the door of your Honda Accord.

So, start the car.

Kevin Bacon

With 2.3 million cases worldwide, chances are high that you are only one or two degrees removed from someone with MS. The CDC estimates that there are approximately 400,000 cases in the US and in Canada rates are as high as 1 in 500 in places like Saskatchewan.

In the United States, the statistics on incarceration are just as staggering. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 in every 110 Americans was in prison in 2013. Odds are someone you know is wearing orange, one way or another.

Location, Location, Location

MS is a young person's disease. So is going to jail.

Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20-40. Same goes for those with a ticket to the Big House. While the exact cause of MS is not yet understood we do know some surprising risk factors. Geography has a lot to do with it. Canada and Scotland have the highest rates in the world. The US has a lot of MS too but did you know America has the highest incarceration numbers in the world? And although women are three times more likely than men to be diagnosed with MS, men are way, way more likely to be headed to the slammer.

Bad Ass Vikings

Did Vikings bring MS to North America? Thanks a lot Olaf Tryggvason. Based on the geographic hot pockets mentioned above there is some sketchy (but awesome) research to suggest that Vikings were responsible for spreading it around. Okay, so Vitamin D deficiency could also be a culprit — these countries are far from the sun — BUT SO COULD VIKINGS.

Also, did Vikings bring crime to North America? Probably.

Just Be Cool

Nowadays, MS is usually diagnosed with an MRI and a spinal tap. In the olden days, patients with suspected MS were thrown in a hot bath. If they came out a little numb and walking like their legs were made of cooked spaghetti, they were given an MS diagnosis. That's because nerve conduction is impaired when body temps are elevated. Don't leave an MS'er out in the sun because they will experience a temporary worsening of symptoms. Like a magic trick, they will be back to normal once their body temperatures have cooled.

Heat can be problematic for the incarcerated as well. If you should find yourself in prison in Texas you might ask yourself, what did I do to deserve this utterly inhumane lack of air conditioning? (Answer: You killed someone)


Having a disease like MS can feel lonely and isolating. Some would say you really find out who your friends are. You know what else is lonely?


Let is snow

Like a snowflake, no two cases of MS are identical. In fact, they can be radically different. Your neighbor's MS is not the same as your co-worker's and just because you think one seems like no more than a minor inconvenience, it's important to know MS is a very serious and sometimes debilitating illness.

Also like snowflakes? Convicts.

There are a bazillion crimes you can go to jail for (like leaving a washing machine in your front yard). But, let's face it. Most of them are drug-based crimes. And that's another thing MS has in common with prison. From disease modifying meds to treating relapses with steroids or managing symptoms with a huge variety of medications, MS patients know a thing or two about drugs.

MS is a lot like prison. Sure, the food is better and there are fewer stabbings, but like prison, you have to share your space with someone you hate. Simple tasks can feel like hard labor. The pay sucks and you constantly feel like you're someone's bitch.

It can be harder to get an insurance claim approved than it is to post bail and while modern prisons may have done away with the ball and chain, for many MS'ers it can feel like there is a constant heavy weight attached to any one of their limbs. MS is poorly understood. It can carry all the stigma of prison with none of the street cred. It is a prison where captives have done nothing to warrant being trapped there, where freedom is limited, and our bodies are somehow not our own. MS is a life sentence.

It's Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. So contact your local MS Society to see how you can help. It's time to free the MS'ers. Or, you know, write a love letter to someone on death row.