Semi-structured interviews were conducted of 22 prisoners to gather information about the characteristic features of short prison sentences. Themes raised in comments included: the frequency and quality of sentences, addiction, family, and penal legitimacy. Most of the participants had extensive experience of prison, and the effects of this played out across sentences and years, accumulating and amplifying impacts. And, despite expressions of guilt and remorse, most participants saw their sentence as unjust, and mainly a reaction to offending history. We conclude by suggesting the need for research to shift focus from evaluating individual penal interventions towards more holistic and narrative accounts that cut across sentences.