Prison Survival Guide
Surviving in prison is a culture that has been passed down from generation to generation since the nineteenth century. It is not written down on paper or in stone for newly incarcerated inmates to read and learn how to survive.
Life in prison shapes this culture based on the current, long-serving, sentenced, and released inmates’ ways of life. Everyone in prison has experienced both hardship and ease while incarcerated. However, the biggest problem that most inmates, especially newly incarcerated and returning inmates, have is blending into prison society.
You should know that prison is a new society with housing blocks, walls separating the blocks, and pavements. They have their own culture, way of living, beliefs, ethics, and code of conduct. The difference between a normal society and this one in prison is that the prison society is enclosed by one big gate and wall.
The first week of prison can make your life in prison a living hell or a heaven in disguise.
How to ensure you survive in prison
Surviving in prison requires using common sense. Your common sense will help you navigate the jail and know what to do in certain situations. However, many of its regulations reinforce the patterns of hate, mistrust, and self-centeredness that neither make prison life more bearable nor better prepare you for life outside.
Nonetheless, there are some things that you can do to ensure your survival in prison. They include the following:
Preparing for life in prison in advance
Most accused criminals or arrestees are aware or suspect that they will be sentenced to prison time. In that case, you should prepare for the unknown in prison. Your lawyer can inform you about the possible incarceration facilities to which you may be sentenced.
You can google if you are not detained and check on the following things;
- Climate and geographical location
- The population of the prison
- Rules and regulations of the prison
- Information from former inmates who have served time there
- The biggest challenge of doing time there
- Cases against the prison
- What to expect once behind bars
Such information will help you and your loved ones if they worry about your whereabouts. In addition, such information will prepare them early enough to know how and where to visit if you are incarcerated.
If you do not have a family of your own and you have a business or pets, you can use this time to ensure that you have selected a temporary caregiver for your house, pets, flowers, or business, depending on the time you may be sentenced. Such preparations will reduce your mental stress about how things are going on the outside.
Living by the Inmate’s Handbook
Upon an inmate’s incarceration, they are provided with the basic necessities they may need to survive during the admission and orientation program. These items include a housing unit, a bed, beddings, toiletries, and, most importantly, an inmate’s handbook.
Although the inmates have their own code of conduct, all prisons have an inmate handbook. An inmate handbook is a reading material that contains the following:
- Map of moving within the prison
- Prison’s rules and regulations,
- Procedures for admission
- Programs and services available in the prison
- Dispute resolution
- Inmate rights
This handbook will explain what the inmate should do, why they should do it, and when. To reduce and avoid confrontation with or from correctional officers, you must follow the inmate’s guide.
Settling Down First
Since the prison is a community, almost everyone knows the new guy in prison. They will even know how long your sentence is, why you are in prison and the housing unit in which you have been placed. The way the information is gathered is still a mystery to the general population and the State Department of Corrections.
Upon your arrival, it is hard to even talk to anyone since you have no idea who they are and why they are in prison, to begin with. In that case, most of these inmates will attempt to offer you help. However, any help you receive will be expected to be returned in favor. The theory that no-good deed in prison goes unpunished is very true.
Nonetheless, some expect nothing in return, that is, with no malice. Such inmates will teach you the way of the prison, that is, the “how to survive in jail in real-life lessons.” They will teach you when to speak, remain silent, fight back, or walk away. Furthermore, they were once newbies in prison, and they understand how frustrating it can get on your first time in prison.
Housing Unit Managers
Some prisons will assign you to a housing unit manager, an inmate trustee in charge of inmates inside the housing unit. These housing unit managers or captains will show you where to queue up for the commissary, chapel, visiting room, fresh clothing and bedding, counts, and food.
They will also show you what the prison administration expects of you. This includes where to be and when to be there. However, they will not always be with you at all times as they are required to help other inmates out. In that case, you will need to work smarter and harder and learn fast. Besides, no one is responsible for the other in prison, as everyone is on a rehabilitation journey alone.
Knowing or Making Your Friends
According to research, friends an individual makes while in prison determine inmates’ recidivism rate after three years. In prison, there are good people and inhuman individuals. Besides, not one or two thousand individuals in prisons in the US have been wrongly accused and charged.
You should be very careful when making friends as some will have a bad influence on you, and instead of a successful rehabilitation process, you come out of prison worse than you entered. Before deciding who to trust and make your friend, you should consider a few things. For instance:
- Is this friend a negative or positive influence on you?
- What do you share in common?
- What are their; ideas after prison life, in prison life choices, ideologies, and solutions?
- Are they trustworthy?
Where can you get better friends?
Making friends in prison is not as easy as the outside despite everyone craving attention and friendships. Nonetheless, there are a few places where you can get a good friend with whom you share similar ideas and plans.
Most friendships in prison are based on race, locality, gangs, and social status. People of the same area or race tend to fight for each other by default while in prison. Other friendships are based on the fact that you are cellmates, and no one can watch better after you than someone you sleep with in the same room.
You may find a better friend in one of your in-prison programs and services, such as the library and educational and religious programs. Individuals in these programs are likely to know how they will ensure they rehabilitate in the most effective way to avoid going back to prison.
Although your friend in prison may be your only hope of getting an eye on your back, you should ensure you do not rely too much on them. You should ensure that you participate in the relationship rather than be one-sided. This applies when your friend over-relies on or manipulates you in the name of friendship.
The primary target of any inmate who enters the jail walls is to come out alive regardless of the issue leading them to prison, being for rehabilitation. Threats, accidents, and confrontations between inmates and correctional officers are common, and even if you are not directly involved, you may be a victim of abuse. This may be physical, sexual, verbal, and/or emotional abuse.
Ensure you are alert and know when to walk away or fight back in case of a strike or prison violence. Sometimes in prison, you will be required to fight for what is yours so that you do not make yourself an easy target.
In some instances, wars in prison are gang-related, and you may be forced to enter one gang that may protect you from being a target. However, gang-related protection services should be the last option, as gangs tend to do more harm than good.
Be aware of the favors you receive from other inmates or correctional guards. If not necessary, do not ask for loans, commissary items, or services within the prison from anyone, including your friends. This is because these favors tend to be demanded in huge profits as some inmates will prey on your desperation. Besides, loans, debts, and favors are highly prohibited in prison.
In addition, until you are confident that someone is trustworthy, refrain from sharing details about your private life. Instead of talking, listen more, as information in prison is power.
Keeping some information to yourself
Information can gain you respect or abuse from inmates or correctional officers. If the information does not involve you, you should avoid it at all costs. In addition, if the information concerning you may make you a target for your fellow inmates or correctional officers, you should not share it with anyone.
If you have information on an incident in prison or about to happen, you can warn the individuals you can trust to make them aware. However, you are not supposed to spread the information. When identified, you will be named a “snitch or spy.” Such individuals do not come out of prison alive or whole.
Prison Survival Guide for Inmates of Interest
Inmates of interest are the inmates with a profile different from regular inmates. These are the inmates who fall into the following categories:
- High-profile inmates such as serial killers, judges, and prosecutors
- Sex offenders, especially those with charges against minors
- LGBTQ+ community
- Police inmates
- Inmates with disabilities
When you identify as such an inmate, life in prison can be worse than you think, as you are a target of all other inmates. 90% of these inmates who spend even a day with the general population in prison endure physical, emotional, and sexual abuse from other inmates and correctional officers.
As indicated above, information in prison travels very fast. Additionally, some information will reach the prison before the inmate even gets to land inside the prison walls. In that case, you should request protection or readily available services.
Some prisons have Sensitive Needs Yards (SNY)/ protective custody areas available for these inmates at a high risk of being targeted. Inmates in SNY share cells with other vulnerable cellmates and follow the same food and leisure schedules.
For the prisons that do not have SYNs, inmates are forced to stay in single cells for most of the day, referred to as isolation cells. Some decisions to place inmates in these cells may be addressed by the court or as requested by inmates. Moreover, it is not a form of punishment but a way of protecting them.
What to do if you are with the general population
Maintaining a low profile may help you survive in prison without ever getting noticed by correctional guards or, worst, inmates. If they never know that you belong to this category of inmates, then you could co-exist with other inmates easily. This means you should keep information to yourself.
The safest thing to do is to ensure that you do not make yourself a target or create awareness. Once you start appearing on everyone’s radar, inmates pay correctional officers to run backgrounds on you, and when noticed, you may require custody protection to avoid abuse.
Transgender Inmates Survival Tips
Of the above list, LGBTQ individuals, especially transgender inmates, may experience severe conditions and traumatic experiences in prisons. The Prison Rape Elimination Act, for instance, contains explicit safeguards to protect transgender inmates. However, there is still a long way to go before the judicial system can give greater protections and resources for dealing with transgender convicts.
Additionally, transgender prisoners could require special medical treatment, including hormone therapy and other drugs requiring constant supervision. Prisoners must request an administrative remedy if these needs are not being provided to compel change.