How to Survive Prison: How to Survive Your First Weeks in Prison
Cracking the Code
When that prison gate slams shut behind you, you will have entered a new world. There will be a new culture and a new language to learn. How can you fit in and stay out of trouble? What if you make a mistake? Who can you trust?
Every prison is different, but most correctional facilities follow a "prison code."
"The code isn't written down, but it is passed down to prisoners year after year," explains former prisoner Ron Humphrey in the Prison Survival Guide. "It includes some commonsense principles that can help safely guide you through your time in prison. But many of its rules continue the cycles of hostility, distrust, and selfish behavior that don't make prison life easier and do not prepare you for life outside."
HOW TO SURVIVE YOUR FIRST WEEKS IN PRISON
There are several important things to remember about prison culture. Ron goes over several tips for those who want to not just survive prison physically but mentally and spiritually, too.
FINDING YOUR FEET
During your first few months, you will stick out as the new guy. Fellow prisoners may offer to help or tell you what to do. Much of this advice is well-intended and will help keep you out of trouble with both officers and your fellow prisoners. They might tell you when to talk and when to be quiet. They will show you where to line up for chow, counts, fresh clothes and linens, the chapel, visiting room, and the commissary. After a while, you will note one person or a small group—often from your own living area—looking out for you and providing good information.
One key place to look for people with character is in the chapel programs. Many states manage faith-based pods or units like the Prison Fellowship Academy® and others. There is a world of difference on these units, and it's worth finding out if you can access them. Chapel programs vary in quality, like anything else in life. But check it out: See if wise counsel and possible friendships are available at your location.
If you can't land a bunk at a faith-based unit, you'll probably be in GP or general population. You may think you have little in common with other prisoners, but this will change as close sleeping quarters overcome matters of race, age, and social status. Those in the next cell or cubicle can become the guys or gals you hang out with from day to day. In time, the relationships you build will reap rewards as you support each other through tough times. Everyone needs friends. But how you choose them makes a world of difference.
Slowly build ties with others interested in true rehabilitation. Try not to lean heavily on just one friend. That person may suddenly be moved to a different building, transferred, or released. A small circle of friends will be more stable for all of you.
Be careful about owing anybody anything. Debts (in or out of prison) are future trouble. They don't add much to your respect either. The bill may come due at an awkward or unexpected time. Avoid asking for favors from people you don't know. Everything has its price.
Avoid volunteering information about your personal life until you know you can trust someone. As they told you when they read you the Miranda rights, it "may be used against you."
Listen more than you talk. Don't whine or complain. Everyone is suffering. Learn, endure, and you can make a good transition to prison life.
HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS FOR A HEALTHY FUTURE
The principles of friendship are the same whether you're inside or outside prison. In the Prison Survival Guide, we offer information and encouragement that will benefit you during your incarceration and post-prison life.
"Your outside friends will be different, but the skills you used to select friends on the inside will continue to serve you well," says Ron. "We are social creatures. We were created to experience all life’s ups and downs with our fellow human beings. If you find and walk with the wise, you'll not only survive the fears and trials of prison life, you'll do better on the outside, too."