I understand that preparing for prison isn’t going to be a step-by-step process. We aren’t talking about making a cup of coffee here. However, there are steps you can follow to set yourself up for a smoother transition.
I never thought I would go to prison, but I did. So everything you’re about to read is the knowledge I compiled through my experience.
Preparing for prison is not an easy task because it seems like your world is ending. There are three ways someone would realize they are going to prison. You either sense the authorities are on your trail, you have been indicted and released on pre-trial, or sitting in county jail or at a federal detention center, waiting for sentencing.
Step 1: Accepting Your Fate
This step only pertains to the guilty. But the faster you realize you’re going to prison and become okay with it, the quicker you can get on with your new reality.
If you are sitting in the county, you most likely will start eating away your feelings and spending hours calling your loved ones on the phone. This will accomplish two things: you will get fat, and you will bring your loved ones into your world of stress and anxiety.
If you are on the street, you might turn to drugs and alcohol if these have already been a reoccurring theme in your life up to this point. I know because I did. The closer I got to that date, the more I would drink, and the more frequent I would slip off into drug use.
Life before prison is tough, and it will probably worsen before it gets better, but the good news is, you are alive, and your life isn’t over. The path ahead isn’t easy, but you can make the best of it, I promise.
Step 2: Save Your Money
Next, I would suggest you start to save money now. If you are out and working, start putting some aside.
Suppose you are in the county. Start to minimize your spending and keep what you have because you will need it.
Trust me. There’s nothing worse than being broke in prison.
Step 3: Talk to Someone Who’s Done Time Before
Another thing you can do is talk to people who have gone through the experience of being incarcerated. Because in this day and age, there are people from all different walks of life that have gone to prison or know someone who has.
While preparing, my brother reached out to me, and apparently, a friend of a friend had reached out and said if I wanted to talk or had any questions, I could reach out.
Well, I didn’t, and I wish I would have.
Here are some good questions to ask someone who has been incarcerated:
- Is prison as scary as they make it seem on TV?
- How can I use my time valuably?
- How much money can I expect to make while incarcerated?
- How much money do you think I need to save to be comfortable?
- Are there programs to help me get out of prison sooner?
- What can I do to stay out of trouble?
- How do you get transferred to a different prison?
- If I cooperated, would I be safe?
- How do you deal with prison mentally?
- How much will I be able to see my family and friends?
If you’re are already in county jail, you have plenty of resources as you’re locked up with plenty of people who have served prison time. However, if you’re going to Federal Prison, I recommend getting a book called “Busted by the Feds” and starting to read it.
Step 4: Research Different Prison Facilities
There are different levels of prison, both at the State and Federal levels.
Detention Center or County Jail: This is where people are held while waiting to be sentenced or fighting their case. There will be inmates from every level of custody held here, from white-collar crimes to gang members.
Penitentiary: This is a maximum-security prison that houses high-level inmates. Typically, the inmates here are sentenced to a lengthy time in prison, and some are rather dangerous.
When you put many violent people behind bars in close quarters, you can imagine the environment it creates. Guards here will be armed and highly trained for the worst possible scenarios.
Note: If you have cooperated on your case or have committed sex crimes, you will not be able to stay at these facilities and will spend all of your time in the Special Housing Unit (SHU).
Medium-Security Prison: This type of prison will operate very similarly to the Penitentiary; however, a less volatile inmate will come with a step down in security. This is because the crimes committed to getting sent here are usually less severe, or the inmate has worked their way down from the Penitentiary through good behavior.
Nevertheless, don’t take this place lightly. There will still be plenty of violence and opportunity for chaos.
Note: If you have committed sex crimes, you will not be allowed to stay on the compound. If you have cooperated on your case, you may or may not be able to stay, depending on the facility.
Low-Security Prison: This is where prisons start to get a lot less scary. You still have people here who have done significant time in prison, and some may have even committed violent acts, but they are here because they have behaved for a long time.
The first prison I served time at was in Milan, Michigan, a low-level facility. I saw plenty of fights and experienced a couple of scary situations here, but for the most part, it was smooth sailing.
Your behavior is the only thing that dictates whether or not you find trouble. All low-level prison facilities have fences with barbed wire and guard towers but don’t worry; they aren’t as intimidating as they look.
Camp: These prisons are as scary as the name makes it sound. They house the best behaved, and very few people are trying to get sent back to a higher-level facility.
Some camps have work-release programs, where you can go out into the community and work. Other camps have college programs where you can earn an Associate’s degree or do correspondence courses to obtain a Bachelor’s or a Master’s.
The staff here is much more laid-back, and this is the most comfortable prison time an inmate can experience. I did five years at a camp in Yankton, South Dakota, and if you end up doing prison time, a camp is where you want to be.
This is as close to the streets as you are getting. If you can stay away from contraband and don’t get into fights, you will remain here until release.
Step 5: Don’t Start Any New Relationships
As for relationships, prison puts a lot of stress on them. It will feel like your loved ones are doing time with you because they are in an emotional prison early in your sentence.
Step 6: Get Your Affairs in Order Before Prison
Depending on how long you will be gone, you must know managing businesses or assets while incarcerated is extremely difficult. It’s prohibited, and all the phones, email, and mail correspondence are monitored.
Speaking in code won’t work and your minutes on the prison phones will be limited.
So as you are preparing, it’s essential to get your affairs in order. You may have mortgages, bills, businesses, and relationships, which are very hard if not impossible to manage from prison.
It’s in your best interest to find some responsible that you can trust and leave it to them. If you must conduct business, the best place to do it is in the prison visiting room.
Step 7: Write Down Some Goals
Think about Nelson Mandela. Do you think he just waited in prison and let his life waste away while he was incarcerated?
The answer is no. Nelson spent every moment he had, preparing physically and mentally for what was next because he knew the time of his release would eventually come, his life wasn’t over, and his people needed him. Finally, his 27 years in prison passed, he was released, and he became the first Black President of South Africa in 1994.
Figure out your goals, write them down, and plan how you will reach them. If it’s just a year in prison, get in shape, read some literature, and use it to recharge. If you have a longer sentence, then figure out early on how you can use your time to set yourself up for success when you get out.
Here is a list of potential goals that are feasible to achieve while incarcerated:
- Improve mental health
- Get Clean or Sober (Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous)
- Improve physical fitness
- Start your spiritual journey
- Learn a new language
- Learn a trade (welding, electrician, etc.)
- Study a topic (physics, stock trading)
- Get a Commercial Drivers License (CDL)
- Earn a college degree
- Network and get to know people around you
- Get certified (personal trainer or nutritionist)
- Write a book or journal