Prison Survival Guide
Are you or someone you know going to prison? We know it can be a tough time for the prisoner and their family. That is why we have compiled a federal prison survival guide that will answer all questions you may have about how to survive prison on the inside.
How to Prepare for Going to Prison
For those individuals who fell on their luck and going to federal prison for the first time, this can be a scary time for you. Especially since the criminal justice system is a complete foreign concept. We totally understand.
If this is your first time and your crime was not violent in nature, chances are you’ll be placed in a low-level security prison. These are the nice and easy prisons to be in.
Personally, if you had to be in prison, you would want to be in a low-security level one because they house non-violent offenders. So, there is not too much you would have to worry about.
We have compiled 7 tips to answer all your how to prepare for jail questions.
Educating yourself is one the best things you can do. You can start by reading this entire guide in its entirety first. It gives tons of tips, tricks, and inside scoop on how to survive prison.
Another great thing you can do is talk to someone that was in your shoes at one point. They can give you a bunch of knowledge that you will be forever grateful for.
One thing that people tend to not think about is their finances. You are going to be on the inside, who is going to take care of everything on the outside?
If you have a house, cars, and other miscellaneous bills you are going to need to appoint someone to take over as your financial advisor. This can be any one of your friends or family.
If you do not have anyone, or do not have anyone you can trust with your finances, we recommend reaching out to your attorney or appointing a financial manager to step in for the time you will not be on the outside.
Also, do not forget your finances should also include that you will need to have money on the inside too for your commissary purchases and telephone bills. This will help your stay in prison be a little more enjoyable.
Get Your Medical Check-Up & Dental Check-Up
While federal prisons have medical and dental services for their inmates, let’s be honest, it is not the best by any means.
It will be wise to make an appointed with your doctor to resolve any medical concerns you may be dealing with before going to prison. If you need new glasses, get new glasses. Need a new prescription for them? Get them before going to prison.
The same goes for dental too. If you have cavities, get them filled. Get your teeth cleaned. Make sure to get everything done before heading on into prison.
This does not mean that the prison medical system will not take care of stuff for you. It just means if you want things done in a timely manner it is wise to do it before heading on in because it can be a slow process in prison.
Prison can be taxing on the body. If you are going to a low-security prison, there is no need to worry about getting in fights with other inmates. If you are headed to a medium to maximum security level prisons, then there is something to worry about.
Fighting is not allowed in prison, but it can happen. You will want to be prepared, even if it means you just need to defend yourself.
Research Your Prison
If you are self-surrounding, you already know what prison you are being assigned to. Take a moment and locate it. Most federal prisons have their admissions and handbook guides available on the internet for you to look at.
This will be your best friend. You will want to read it and read it all.
These guides will tell you all about what is expected of you, what you can expect, and everything down to recreation time.
Find Your Purpose
You are going to have a lot of time on your hands once you are behind bars. That time can either make or break you. Do not allow it to break you.
Think about your purpose in life. Plan for the future. Make a list of things that you can improve about yourself during this time.
The inmates who practice finding their purpose are the inmates who spent this time improving upon themselves.
This another big one. In federal prison, you will only get 300 minutes a month. This sounds like a lot now, but when you add in your immediate family and other support systems, these minutes can fly by.
Have a plan on how you are going to communicate with everyone. There is also letters and emails too. You will need to sit down and see what all communication tools are out there and use it to your advantage.
First Day in Prison
You are always going to remember the day you first stepped into federal prison. The experience is something you will never forget. Your first time in prison will be filled with new admissions and going through the intake process.
Whether you self-surrenders or a prisoner under the U.S. Marshall Service custody, you will be taken first to the Receiving & Discharge area. Once you are here, all your possessions on your person will be reviewed.
If your items are under the permitted category, you will be able to keep them. If they are not permitted, they will be held for you until you are released.
After this process is done, you will be handed your set of prison clothes. You will be fingerprinted and have your picture taken. You will be issued an identification card.
While you are getting checked in, you will also meet prison officials from numerous departments. They will be there to get you admitted and do an orientation interview with you.
After the intake process is completed, if there is space at the prison you are currently in, you will be assigned to your bunk within the housing unit.
Before you leave the Receiving & Discharge area, they will give you your bedroll, which has your bed sheets, blanket, towel, hygiene products, shoes, and sometimes a pillowcase. Then they will walk you to your new housing unit.
If at the off chance there is no room for you in the facility you are currently in, you will be put into a Special Housing Unit, while they figure out where to place you.
What Can I Bring Into Prison?
There are many things you cannot bring into prison. It is wise to keep majority of your items at home for safe keeping.
You can bring in the following items:
- Two pairs of glasses
- Required medications
- List of addresses
- List of phone numbers
- Required legal paperwork
- Wedding ring (cannot have any stones embedded)
- Religious necklace (again no stones)
If you bring items that are not allowed to be brought into the prison, the Receiving & Discharge guard will give you a few options that include donating these items to Goodwill, having them disposed of, or mailing them home.
Will I Have to Strip in Front of Correctional Officers?
If you have done any sort of research, you know what to expect in prison, and this is a part of it. Everyone will you this first day in federal prison advice, you will get used to it.
Every new inmate and every inmate being released are required to go through a strip search. This search is conducted by a correctional officer of the same sex.
The correctional officer expects you to take off all your clothing. They will run their fingers through your hair, you will be required to open your mouth, lift your tongue, squat and cough, and finally raise your arms.
The reason behind the strip search is to make sure that there is no contraband whatsoever getting into the prison. It is not just for your safety, but for the safety of others.
Will I be Provided With my Necessities?
Of course. Before leaving the Receiving & Discharge area, they give you the following items:
- Slip-on shoes
The stuff that they give you will usually last you your first few days.
Your first full day at the facility, you will need to head on over to the laundry area. The laundry area will be able to fit you for your clothing. After that, they will give you everything you need clothes wise.
From that point on, this is where you will trade in your old items. New items can be purchased from the commissary, if you so choose.
How to Stay Safe in Prison
If prison is never a place you thought you would end up and you are heading there shortly, we know you are scared out of your mind. That is perfectly fine.
You want to know everything you can expect while you are imprisoned. You have heard the horror stories about fellow inmates being beaten, jumped, and sometimes even killed. That is some scary stuff right there.
While you can never really be completely and utterly safe in prison, we have compiled 13 top tips that will help you avoid most of the craziness while serving out your time.
Do NOT Associate with Punks
You know those television shows where the guy comes up to the other guy and promises to keep them safe if they are under their wing? Yeah, those are the punks we are talking about in this section
The short-term benefits always sound pretty darn amazing, but in the end, you end up a slave. Often, you are either sold or gambled to other inmates, and they end up using and abusing you.
To save you that trouble, it is best to use these rest of your tips to keep yourself safe instead of letting someone else take control of your life while in prison.
Do NOT Discuss Your Crime
First rule you learned when starting your job was to never discuss what you make. Well, this can be translated into prison lingo, do NOT discuss what your crime was.
Those of you who were convicted of a sexual crime, this is the number one rule on how to survive prison. Even in prison, they have standards.
If your crime was against a child, you may want to ask them before they put you in gen pop that you would like to be in protective custody. This will more than not, save your life.
Do NOT Gamble
When it comes to the dos and don’ts in prison, gambling is high on the list. Gambling behind bars is a dangerous game that can lead to your death.
If you cannot pay off your gambling bills, you make people angry. If you win the bet, you STILL make people angry. There is no winning in this situation.
Now, this does not mean, you cannot play friendly card games. Those type of games are fine, but if it turns into gambling for whatever, steer clear of it.
Do NOT Snitch
Your parents always told you as a child that it was not nice to tattle on your siblings, right? That same principle goes for jail too.
If your fellow inmates find out that you are snitching on them to the guards, chances are very high that they will NOT be happy with you.
Steer clear of tattling on your fellow inmates. It will save you from people disliking you.
Do NOT Become Indebted to Fellow Inmates
You will notice when you first get into prison, you will have inmates that are offering to lend you some of their supply to help you get on your feet.
Do NOT take it. It is a common way for them to make you indebted to them. You do not want to be indebted to anyone, because it never ends nicely.
Do NOT Stare
It is not nice to stare when you are outside in society, let alone when you are locked up. When walking through the prison, always walk with your head up and facing forward.
It can take you staring at someone for a split second for you to get beat. It is best you always keep your head facing forward.
Do NOT do Drugs
Doing drugs is bad when you are outside of prison. Doing drugs while inside of prison is even worse. You will end up becoming indebted to another inmate and likely get caught by a correctional officer.
Yes, we know that drugs while in prison seem to be readily available but save yourself that trouble and steer clear of it.
DO Work Out
You are going to have a lot of time on your hands while serving out your sentence, working out will be one of many ways to help you pass the time.
Not to mention, you will be bulking up, so you will look much more intimidating. This results into less people wanting to screw with you.
DO Keep to Yourself
Treat prison like your job. You are not there to make besties. You are there to do what you got to do and leave. Do not go around and tell everyone your private life.
Don’t tell them what you are in for (we already covered that). Do not tell them what your political stance is or what religion you are. That is none of their business. Do not put any of your private life out there.
Opening about your private life is just opening yourself up to getting ridiculed even more. Plus, this information can be used for others to have their outside connections harass your friends and family on the outside.
DO Be Respectful
Always treat others the way you want to be treated. This does not just go for your fellow inmates, treat the guards nice as well. The nicer you are, the less of a chance you will create enemies.
DO Stick With Your Own Race
Sadly, racial harmony does not always happen in prisons. Of course, you are free to talk to whoever you choose to. However, most of the time, people end up sticking to their own race.
By us saying that, we are not saying ignore your fellow inmates of other races. We also do not mean you should offend those inmates either.
Like we talked about in our last tip, be respectful to everyone you encounter. You show them respect they will more than likely show you the same respect too.
DO Be Positive
As we have previously stated, you are going to have a nice long time to yourself. This for many can be very, very terrible for their mental health.
Being positive can help that. Think about what you plan on doing when you get out. Think of all the things you are thankful for. Pass that positive vibe along. Positivity goes a long way. It will make your time in prison that much better.
DO Keep Open Communication with Family on The Outside
Do not shut your family and close friends out of your life. Keep them close. Call them regularly. Talk to them about your day. If you are having problems, talk to them.
They will be thankful you are opening about things. You need that support system. You will certainly need it when you get out and must readjust to live on the outside.
Even though you will be on the side of prison, this does not mean you cannot communicate with your family and friends on the outside.
Of course, this communication line will be heavily monitored and restricted, but there are many ways you can still communicate.
United States Postal Service
Yes, you can receive mail while you are behind bars. Even times you will be able to send or receive packages too. You will need to check with your prison on their letter and package policy.
Some prisons have it where you need an approved list of people you can send and receive mail from others, you make that list within the first few days of your incarceration.
Inmates can get correspondences from their legal counsel.
You will have access to telephones. Of course, this will cost you too.
If you are going to a federal prison, you will only have access to 300 minutes a month except in November and December, where they give you 400 minutes a month.
All calls going out of the jail will be monitored. You will also need to check if your jail also has an approved contact list.
If you are heading on into a federal prison. You will access to their email system known as TRULINCS (Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System).
This email system will allow you to email message all your authorized contacts. You will also want to know this service does come with fees.
When you first go into jail, your first day you will be overloaded with inside information prison. In that information, they will have explained about their visitation policies.
You can have visits with your family and friends. Most prisons have an approved list. You will need to add your family and friends on that list.
Visits typically consist of no touching, no gifts, and they are on selected days. Visits will always be monitored too.
Things to Do in Prison
You never thought you would have to deal with a day in the life of prisoner. That is completely normal though. Everyone has had that thought one time or another.
You are probably watching all the prison shows trying to figure out what do inmates do all day.
Well, television shows can depict a little bit of prison life, but they do not always show exactly what prisoners do every day all day.
Once you complete your admission and orientation, you will be assigned a work assignment.
Your work assignment will depend on what your skills and experience are along with what is currently available in the prison system.
If you do not have your high school diploma or the GED equivalency, you will be required to enroll in the GED program.
The federal prisons also offer tons of other educational programs for those that already have their high school or GED too. There is no better time to continue your education.
Recreation is not just working out either. Federal prisons have a complete recreation department. Some have sports teams too.
You will be able to exercise and take advantage of their other leisure type of recreation too.
In prison, you will be able to purchase an MP3 player. Yes, it is considered old technology to those people on the outside, but for those inmates on the inside, it is their lifeline.
To put music on it, you will have to buy the music too. It can be a costly thing, but it will be your lifesaver. It will be something you can do to take you away from prison even for a short while.
You will be able to take full advantage of the library. Not only for leisure reading, but also the law library. This is where many inmates spend their time.
We highly recommend taking advantage of the library whether you are looking to leisurely read or look up different law things to educate yourself.
Prison Health Care
Majority of inmates arriving to prison already of mental health problems, addiction problems, and physical issues anywhere from needing extensive dental work to diagnosed and undiagnosed diseases.
While you are in prison, yes, there is such thing as prison healthcare, but the going through the system can mean long wait times and not the best care.
The best advice we can give you is if you need any sort of dental work or have medical concerns; take care of everything before you go into the prison system. You can get the work done while in prison, but you will have to keep in mind that you may be waiting a long time before you see anything get completed.
Medical and Dental Care in Prison
Many people believe that the prison health care system is a pretty uncaring agency. Inmates always complain how routine and emergency situations tend to get overlooked and the care they receive is lackluster at best.
When in federal prisons you have access to 24-hour emergency care. However, what is considered emergency is a big gray area at best.
What the federal prison considers as emergency is:
- Severe trauma
Now the federal prisons have 5 classes of care. It is very similar to triage. Their 5 classes are as follows:
- Medically Necessary: Emergency
- Medically Necessary: Non-Emergency
- Medically Acceptable: Not Technically Necessary
- Limited Medical Value
Medical Necessary: emergency will always be treated right away. While those in the next two categories (Non-emergency and medically acceptable) will sometimes get treatment.
The last two categories; limited medical value and extraordinary rarely ever get any sort of treatment.
Now, let’s talk about dental care. The Federal Bureau of Prisons will fill in cavities. They will also do other dental work that causes you pain and problems such as eating and sleeping.
However, if any dental work is not an issue, you will be put on the waiting list. This waiting list tends to be years long.
Here are some good tips to help navigate through the prison healthcare system.
- To start the process for the prison health care system, you will need to complete the triage sheet. You will then want to bring it to Health Services Unit.
- Your appointment will be based on the scale above.
- Every Health Services Unit has a doctor on duty. Chances are you will see a mid-level practitioner.
- Any sort of treatment that they cannot perform themselves in the medical unit will have to be submitted to Utilization Review Committee (URC) for review. They will either approve or deny it.
- Depending on the pills, some prisons will allow you carry your own medications. Of course, you may still have to show up on the pill line for a bit until they can fully trust you to carry your own medications, but it is a start.
- If you are diabetic and need your insulin shot. You will be called in before breakfast and dinner to test your blood sugar and take your shot, if needed.
- If you have been denied health care through the prison, you are able to talk to a health services representative who is usually there in the afternoons.
Psychology Services in Prison
With so much time on your hands in prison, this can make anyone go a little bit crazy. If you already suffered from mental health issues in the past, this can easily amplify them tenfold.
Every federal prison comes with a Psychology Department. This is here for those who need mental health therapies can get them. They even have programs you can go through too.
Most inmates in general population will have group therapy. There are exceptions to those who are suffering from an extreme mental illness, where they can have one on one counseling sessions.
The different kinds of group therapy include:
- Criminal Thinking
- Anger Management
- Smart Recovery
- Non-Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program
- Non-Residential Drug Abuse Program,
- Drug Education
These are the core classes. They may offer other classes at the prison you are going to, so you will certainly want to check.
When you first arrive at prison, you will go under evaluation by the prisons Psychology Department. During this evaluation, they will let you know all of the programs they are offering and how you will be able to sign up for them, if you so choose.
When they offer new programs, which they do offer occasionally, they will post flyers in your housing units.
The Psychology Department does not just provide inmates with mental health care, but they oversee other things too. Another thing you will see the staff of the Psychology Department do is monitor the entire inmate population for any disruptive behavior.
When anything goes awry, such as finding suggestive materials or sexually explicit items, they are the ones who review this.
The Psychology Department is also responsible for keeping tabs on abuse and aggressiveness too.
Here are some useful tips to help navigate your way successfully through the mental health care system.
- The prison psychologist will not be able to prescribe you any psychotropic medications. However, they can work with the Health Services to help you get them through that department.
- If you feel that you are going to self-harm, or you are having suicidal thoughts, you will want to ask the correctional officer if you can speak with someone in the Psychology Department. Do not tell the officer that you are having these thoughts because they will put you on suicide watch. This is where you will be put in a cell with only a mattress. This is not what you want.
- The Psychology Department has their own library filled with self-help books. Take full advantage of it.
- While the participation in the psychology programs are voluntary. You may be required to take the drug education program depending on your offense.
Special Prison Survival Tactics
It is already difficult being in prison, but when you add in other issues that could easily affect your security and your well-being while serving out your time, it is just a disaster.
These issues can be anywhere from being LGBTQ all the way to the prisons black market. Finding survival tactics to avoid being targeted while serving out your time is a must.
Surviving in prison is like a complicated mix of how well you do and what you do. You can fix your attitude to better your chances of being in general population, which is usually easier life.
You can also participate in programs, follow all the rules to a science, and be respectful to all prison staff to make it where you will get out of prison as soon as you can.
LGBTQ Prison Life
Prisons are not really LGBTQ friendly for the most part. Inmates apart of the LGBTQ are usually the victims of abuse, whether it is physical, verbal or sexual than the other inmates. While the justice system is trying to attain better protections and tools for them, it still is very much behind. It is very common for LGBTQ people to spend a lot of time in solitary for their own protection.
There are some prisons who have sensitive needs yards readily available. These are entire yards that have been remodeled to protect prisoners that are at risk of being targeted. These inmates are usually sex offenders, homosexuals, informants, gang dropouts, transgender people, and high-profile inmates.
These inmates that live in the sensitive needs yard will also share cells with other inmates in the same category. They will have the same recreation and the same meal routines too.
Those inmates who are transgender will also have very different healthcare needs. If these needs are not being fulfilled, you will need to turn in an administrative remedy immediately.
Here are our top tips to survive in prison if you are a part of the LGBTQ Community.
- Fly under the radar. Do not make a scene out of yourself. The more you blend in, the less people will want to hurt you.
- If you start to fear for your life, go to the closest prison staff member and tell them. Chances are you will be placed in protective custody. Also, do not name names. You do not want to make things worse for yourself.
- Form alliances with other LGBTQ community people or people accepting of you. This should not be confused with forming a gang either. An alliance will help you fill included.
- If someone offers you their protection, do not take it. Chances are you will be forever indebted to them, and that in itself is not a situation you would want to be in.
Female Prison Life
The number of women in prison has increased substantially in the past 30 or so years. Three is more than a million women currently sitting in jails and prisons throughout the United States.
Over 40 percent of inmates that are female are charged with drug crimes. Majority of them are due to their romantic partner. The next type of crimes that women are convicted of consist of burglary, fraud, and larceny.
Female prison poses challenges of its own.
Female inmates have much different needs than male inmates. Unfortunately, prisons have not kept up with the times that much.
However, 21 states have banned the shackling of pregnant inmates, but in other areas, states are still very much falling short when it comes to women in prison.
Many females in prison are mothers. Many of them lose custody of their children because of how long they are in jail for. The cost to phone their children is sky-high, which results in them not being able to stay in contact with their children, resulting in a destroyed relationship.
Many females when they get to prison are pregnant too. It is not uncommon. These females are able to enroll in the program known as Mothers and Infants Nurturing Together. The program does have some criteria before they allow you in though.
You must be expecting the birth of your child in three months, you have less than 5 years on your sentence, and you are eligible for furlough. If you meet these criteria, you will be able to enroll in this program.
This program will teach you the parenting skills you will need to take care of your new baby when on the outside.
If you are accepted into the Mothers and Infants Nurturing Together program, you will be able to spend three months in the care of the program after your baby is born.
You will be able to learn all the skills first hand of taken care of them and being able to start a bond with your child. The program will also help you find a place for your children until you finish your sentence.
Upon being put into prison, you will be screened for pregnancy. The Bureau of Prisons has all the social and medical services you will need such as pregnancy care, child custody, birth control, and abortion.
Surviving Prison as a Sex Offender
If you are a sex offender and in prison, your life is very tough. If your crime involves children, you are on top of the food chain. Your prison life is going to be targeted by other inmates, and you will probably be monitored a lot more closely than the other inmates.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons founded the Sex Offender Management Program. This program is supposed to the fix for all sex offender management issues. All this really means is that the Psychology Department will be better equipped to handle these types of cases.
The Sex Offender Management Program is supposed to make the lives of sex offenders easier. To the point where they should be able to stay in general population rather than be in protective custody.
This program has two types. The types are:
- Non-Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program: 9-12 months
- Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program- 12-18 months
Low-risk sex offenders are required to take the non-residential sex offender treatment program. While on the other hand the high-risk sex offenders will be required to take the residential sex offender treatment program.
Sex offenders that are in SOMP facilities, do not really have to worry about their safety all that much. But those sex offenders who are not in SOMP facilities, which are mainly the medium and high-security prisons, have higher chances of being assaulted.
The low-security non-SOMP facilities is still an issue, but not as bad as the medium and high-security prisons.
The current list of SOMP facilities are:
- FCI Elkton
- FCI Seagoville
- FCI Englewood
- FCI Petersburg
- FCI Tucson
- FCI Marianna
- USP Marion
- USP Tucson
- FMC Carswell
- FMC Devens
The Black Market in Federal Prison
Think of federal prison like a city. It is basically its own cities. Like any city, there is some underground economies. The difference with the traditional city on the outside, you shop at your stores to get what you want, but in prison, you have one store, and you cannot always buy everything you want there.
This is where bartering comes in. It all started in our history with people trading this for that. That’s how inmates handle business inside prison. This black market is not always trading food or other non-violent items, sometimes it is an exchange of what they call “prison currency” and even services.
Basically, this all leads to people bringing in their items to barter with the prisoner’s commissary, which is usually ran out of their cell. Inmates tend to bring in stamps for these transactions.
The person selling stuff does not always just have the snack cakes and other innocent things, at times you can find drugs, weapons, and other things that can get some serious time put onto your sentence.
Alcohol and Drugs in Prison
You would think that prison systems are so closely monitored that there is no alcohol and drugs in their walls, but that is not the case one bit.
Every prison has drugs being smuggled in by guards or inmates. Not to mention, someone is brewing the alcohol too.
This is exactly what you get for confining people who have an addiction to drugs or alcohol. They always find a way to get their “fix.”
What you need to do is steer clear of this stuff. It is no good. It will do you no good. Do not associate with those who run the business. Do not associate with those who buy from these businesses.
They already have their own issues, and they tend to be more drama than they are worth. You do not want to get involved, especially if things start to go south.
Violence and Sexual Assault in Prison
You would think since you are behind bars that you would be safe, but that is not the case. Violence in prison is very common and surviving a relationship with an inmate is very hard.
The higher the security level you are, the worse it gets.
Sexual assault is a real thing too and needs to be worried about.
Most violence that happens in prison is typically intimidation, but there is also physical violence too. It is mainly inmates trying to dominate other inmates.
The first few months is where it is brutal. You do not have a group. You are not included somewhere just yet. Once you find your group, things should be a little bit easier.
Sexual assault is a very touchy issue in prison. Sexual assault victims tend to be LGBTQ, young inmates, and sex offenders.
For those who commit these sexual assaults, they do come with harsh consequences thanks to the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
Inmate Search by State of Incarceration
It is a time to be alive. You can search for inmates by state. These inmate locators include county and city jails alongside the state jails.
For the federal prison inmate search, you will need to head on over to the BOP site to lookup inmates sitting in a federal prison.
What is cool about this is it also allows you to do a prison search also. You will be able to see what prisons are in your state.
To complete a successful inmate search, you will need to know their first and last name, date of birth, or their inmate number.
This information is universal to any state that is going to do an inmate search on.