Of course, there are written rules in prison, and you can find them in the handbook at your institution. However, even though I served seven years, I didn’t find the time to read the handbook, and if you are in prison now, I will save you some trouble because this is all you need to know to make it through.
Written Rule #1, Don’t miss or mess up count time.
Stand up count is something that occurs every day. Weekdays, count time occurs at 4 pm and 9 or 10 pm (depending on the institution), and weekends and Holidays, count time occurs at 10 am, 4 pm, and 9 or 10 pm (depending on the institution). There are also counts throughout the night but officers will count you in your bed.
For the standup counts, the officer(s) on duty will expect you to be standing quietly by your bunk. Some places have red lights that signal a count time is about to happen and other places, the officers walk in and yell count time, and inmates clear out of the common areas, such as card and TV rooms.
It sounds simple, officers come in, inmates go to their bunks, and the officers count, but in prison nothing is simple. Count times don’t always happen on time, inmates don’t like to be told what to do, officers hate disobedience, red lights get left on for an hour, frustrations build, inmates can’t be quiet for extended (or short!) periods of time and all these things collide and count times get disrupted.
I once disrupted a count time at Milan Federal Correctional Institution by talking to my bunkmate. I didn’t notice the officers enter the room, they yelled count time, and I went silent but it was too late.
They counted the room that I shared with 13 other inmates and on the way out the officer on duty stopped at my cube and said, “You don’t want to shut the fuck up during my count, I’ll be back.” As soon as count cleared, that officer came back and searched every single locker in that 14 man room, except mine.
He took all my roommate’s possessions, things they weren’t supposed to have but also things the officer would never take on a routine shakedown in Milan, milk, bread, and food from the chow hall, extra bowls, and pillows, modified electronics, and etc. He proved his point, my roommates were pissed, and I never did it again.
Written Rule #2, Don’t go on the compound unless the compound is open.
The compound is anywhere outside that is not designated for recreation. It’s reserved for coming and going from places, it’s not for standing around and talking, or sitting on benches, even if there are benches to sit on. I know this sounds crazy, why would there be benches if you can’t sit on them. Because this is the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the faster you can realize that nothing makes sense the faster you can get settled into your routine.
Find out if there are 10-minute moves. Officers use these moves to control movement and catch contraband. These moves open up every hour and give you 10 minutes to get where you are going before they close and then the compound remains closed until the next hour when it opens again for the next move. Officers will also be on the compound during these moves pat searching inmates.
These moves were one of the worst parts of prison because it makes your trip to the library or medical that would typically take 15 minutes, take an hour or more. Because instead of running to the library, grabbing your book, and coming back, you have to wait there for the next move to get back to your housing unit. Also, every now and then they don’t call the next move or the one after that, then you are stuck indefinitely.
Bring a book, radio, or Mp3 player. Not all compounds have 10 minutes moves (Yankton Federal Prison Camp and most prison camps don’t), but you still have to make sure the compound is open. An easy rule of thumb is if you are the only one on the compound, it’s probably not open, either head back to your unit or the recreational yard, whichever is closer.
Additional reasons for the compound being closed, other than 10-minute moves:
- A fight/riot
- Somebody gets caught doing something illegal and is going to the special housing unit (SHU) also known as “The Hole”
- Somebody is missing
- Recall for count time (Weekdays: 4 pm/10 pm, Weekends: 10 pm/4 pm/10 pm)
- Recall for chow (Lunch: 10:45 am, Dinner: After 4 pm count)
- Correctional officer training
- Staff party or meeting
- There’s fog/smog on the compound that is limiting visibility
- Severe weather (lighting/hail/thunderstorms)
- Lockdown census
Written Rule #3, Listen to the announcements on the PA system.
These announcements come throughout the day, and for some reason when you first get there you can’t understand them, but eventually, you will. I use to always ask people around me what they just said when an announcement would come over the speaker, and they would respond, “Don’t worry, if they are looking for you, they will find you.”
At first, just listen for your name as that will be the first thing you understand. Over time, the rest will start to make sense and then the new guy will be asking you, “What did they just say?” Early on just follow the lead of the majority, unless the majority is rioting, in that case, separate from the majority.
Written Rule #4, Check the callout sheet.
This will be located in a common area, most likely near the front door or officers’ station. They are posted Monday through Friday around 2:30 pm and this will let you know if you are supposed to be somewhere the following day.
If you miss this callout, you will be called repeatedly over the loudspeaker, and depending on the officer, you may receive an incident report for it as well. An incident report is also called a “shot,” and it’s a disciplinary write-up.
When you first get to prison or a new compound, you will be on this sheet multiple times in the first few weeks to see medical, the psych, your case manager and counselor, and the coordinator of the Residential Drug Abuse Program.
After a while, the only reason your name will show up on the callout sheet is for an annual check-up or something you signed up for. There are also bunk moves and job changes towards the bottom of each callout sheet, so keep an eye out for that because sometimes your job will change just because an officer felt like it.
Written Rule #5, Find a job, or they will find one for you.
Your case manager will usually give you a few days or up to a week to find a job. I advise you to find something you can bear and maybe even enjoy. If you refuse to find a job, they will stick you on day compound, where you’re mowing lawns or shoveling snow, or an orderly detail such as the captain or lieutenant’s office where you are stuck all day, sitting on a bench in a hallway.
If you want to eat, I recommend food-service. If you like working outside, then day compound. If you have a trade you want to learn, then facilities. If you’re a book worm, then education. If you like working out, then recreation (gym).
Also, ask around for different programs your institution offers. For example, Yankton has a horticulture program that many other facilities don’t have, and Milan had an automotive program. You never know what each place has to offer. Do some digging, you might be able to pick up on a trade or find a new passion.
One last tip: move around. You don’t have to work at the same place for your whole sentence. Sometimes moving around a bit breaks up your time, allows you to learn new things, give you a fresh start with new people, and a new routine. If you want, you can change jobs ever 90 days.
Written Rule #6, Don’t cross yellow lines on the sidewalk and keep an eye out for signs.
There are certain places on every compound designated as “out of bounds,” some are labeled, and some are not, but you probably will only get in trouble if you cross the labeled ones or cross the unlabeled ones after a warning. The labeled areas will usually have yellow lines on the sidewalk, signs on the grass, or a sign posted on the door of the entrance.
Written Rule # 7, Know the consequences
There is a list of the different severity of shots in the handbook, ranging from 100-200-300-400 series shots, 100, being the most severe and 400, being the least.
100 series shots: (90-95% of cops enforce) (Loss of good time: 41 days – new charge)
- Dirty Urine Analysis
- Drug Possession
- Cell Phone Possession
- Threatening a staff member
200 series shots: (40% of cops enforce) (Loss of good time: 28 days)
- Stealing food from the kitchen
- Circumventing the mail system
300 series shots: (40% of cops care enforce tobacco and 5% of cops enforce the rest)
- Tobacco (Only 300 series shot that carries a loss of good time: 14 days)
- Unauthorized property
- Out of bounds
400 series shots: (.01% of cops care)
There are many more shots but these are the typical ones that occur. Follow the rules I have laid out, or don’t. I recommend that you stay away from the 100 series shots and practice common sense, you should be able to figure the rest out as you go. These are only the written rules that will keep you out of conflict with staff. Next up: I’ll share the unwritten rules, which will keep you out of conflict with other inmates.