How to Survive in Federal Prison

Posted by on Mar 3rd, 2010 and filed under HOW TO. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

I found this article in Wiki and thought of sharing with my readers.

If you have been sentenced to federal prison, you will become the property of the Bureau Of Prisons (BOP). As with most federal sentences, you will most likely have many years during which to deal with this new life. This article will offer some advice so you can prepare and survive.


1) Bite your tongue. If the judge doesn’t allow you to self-surrender to the prison where you have been designated, you will be handed over to the U.S. Marshal services. Do not speak with a Marshal about your case or anything else for that matter; just because you have already been convicted does not mean that you can’t be charged with something else.

2) Don’t overlook dental care. That’s because the choice and quality of care is much superior outside of prison. Certain treatments that you take for granted may not be available in prison, or won’t be as good. After all, if you’re in prison and you don’t like the prison dentist, where else are you going to go to have your teeth fixed? It’s not like you can easily find someone else! So, if there’s time to do it, consider having a dental check-up before you self-surrender, and get anything important fixed. Also, if you wear glasses you may want to have an eye test and get new lenses, assuming you need them. As with dental care, you’ve got a better choice of lenses and frames outside prison.

3) Line up some reading material. Most federal prisons allow magazines and books to be sent to inmates – on condition that these are sent directly from the publisher or a retailer like Amazon. If you’re self-surrendering and you know which prison you’re going to be in, consider taking out a subscription for magazines/journals, and order a couple of books from Amazon to read. Do this a couple of days before you self-surrender. Alternatively, give your friends and family a shopping list of books/magazines and let them take care of ordering things. There’s no web access in prisons, so make your selections before you enter prison.

4) Know what to expect in Atlanta. If you are placed in transit to prison, you may be sent to USP Atlanta to their hold-over facility. If you are designated for a federal prison camp or an FCI, you may be taken directly there without going to Atlanta. Many people who are designated for low, medium or high-level prisons go to Oklahoma City as their first stop. If you go to Atlanta, however, you will be placed in a two-man cell with up to three other inmates for 23 hours a day. You will be allowed out to rec in an enclosed area for one hour. You will be allowed to shower twice a week and have exactly five minutes to shower. The only thing you will be able to do is sleep. If you are lucky you will have one of the bunk beds; if not, you will have to sleep on the floor under the bunk or next to the toilet. You may or may not receive a mattress to sleep on, depending on availability.

5) Try to find out as much as possible about how the system works. If there is an official rule-book for the prison, read it. You can be punished for breaking a rule that you didn’t know existed. Breaking the rules will not only piss off personnel but inmates as well. It makes life harder for everyone. Ignorance of the rules is no defense. Information is power.

6) Take the maximum amount of money you are allowed to prison with you. You may be allowed a certain amount of money (up to $500). This money will be used to buy supplies you may need while incarcerated. This is called putting “money on your books”. You will need money for supplies such as stamps, envelopes, snacks and also hygiene supplies. Cash is not necessary and will be confiscated. Its best to go in with a US Postal Service money order as they are widely accepted in all prisons (federal and state). As well, do not let anyone know you have money, its best to play pauper. This will deter people from trying to extort money from you and you will be able to better survive prison.


1) Don’t trust anyone. That goes for guards, other prison officials, and the person in the cell next door. If someone is being nice to you, ask yourself “What’s in it for them?”. They almost always have some hidden motive that you don’t know about. In prison, nothing is free. For example, if someone gives or loans you something, you will probably have to pay it back with a hefty rate of interest added. If you can’t pay, they may demand a favor that could get you into big trouble, like hiding contraband in your cell.

2) Do not show fear, anger, happiness or pain. Emotions are your worst enemy. Emotions reveal your weaknesses. Both inmates and guards prey on weakness. Don’t give them the opportunity to do so. If someone can figure out what makes you angry, they can use that knowledge to manipulate you. In the same way, if someone knows what makes you happy, they can try to ruin it for you. And because they are around you 24/7, they have unlimited opportunities to test their manipulative skills on you.

3) Do not be overly friendly with your cell mates but do ask some questions. Many have been in prison before and will be able to give you information about the prison you are being sent to as well as the system itself. You will have to judge for yourself whether to believe any of the information. Use common sense and try to figure out if that person has a reason to lie or mislead you. Some convicts will try to intimidate new inmates or mislead them for fun. Be careful.

4) Don’t tell people anything they don’t need to know. Choose your words carefully. Potentially, anything you say to guards or prisoners (no matter how innocent you think it is) can be used to hurt you, manipulate you or be taken out of context. Avoid discussing dangerous conversation topics. Otherwise, it can easily get you into trouble. Obvious subjects to steer clear of are religion, politics, racial issues, or your own personal feelings about someone or their family and friends. Some of the prisoners you’ll encounter may have a short temper, or are mentally ill, of low intelligence, or just plain bad. Prisoners like that don’t have a warning written on their forehead – they look like regular guys. You can easily be misunderstood or deliberately misquoted by someone who’s trying to stir up trouble. What starts out as a petty argument over a trivial issue can turn into someone bearing a strong personal grudge against you. Don’t be paranoid. Just be aware that things may not be what they seem. E.g., the prisoner who tells you that gay or black people are just like everyone else, then asks what you think may in reality hate homosexuals or black people – he’s just testing your attitude or yanking your chain.

5) Always be polite and respectful to guards and other prison employees, even if they are evil SOBs. That’s because if you piss them off, they are holding all the cards and can make your life harder than it already is. So, don’t give them a stick to beat you with. It’s true that some prison employees are better than others. Even so, never forget whose side they’re on – it certainly ain’t yours. You need to get it in your head that the staff are always right and you need to do what they say. Even if you know it is wrong at the time, it is best to just follow the order, and if you have a problem with it, you can address it at some later point. Example: You work as a server in the kitchen and a staff foreman tells you to go clean tables in the dining room. You know that is not part of your duties and that you usually do not clean tables, but the best thing to do in this situation is to just go clean the tables, because you are an inmate and you are not going to win an argument with a staff member. Don’t do anything that makes staff feel challenged or intimidated; they have various ways of making you pay for that mistake.

6) Don’t stare at other prisoners. Although you’re simply curious about them, the other person can completely misinterpret what’s happening. In prison, if someone stares at you it usually means they feel intense hostility or disapproval towards you. Alternatively, staring is a way of showing sexual interest. It’s OK to look at people, but don’t stare at them. There’s a difference between looking and staring.

7) Don’t get a reputation as a “snitch”. People who tell tales to the guards or other prisoners are despised by everyone and can be physically attacked. The best thing you can do in prison is to see everything, hear everything and say nothing. If the guards ask you for information about some incident involving other prisoners, say that you were looking the other way and didn’t see anything. You can never go to staff for assistance with issues you may have, or else you will have problems with inmates if you do. If you go to staff with a problem, the only thing they can do for you is put you in the SHU as a protective custody inmate, and that will cause you trouble throughout your entire incarceration. Learn to use ambiguous answers when being questioned about things you may have witnessed, such as “I don’t know”, and “I don’t know what you’re talking about”. While it may irritate the staff on some level that you aren’t willing to snitch, they will likely understand. Don’t talk to prison staff any more than absolutely necessary, because while it may be just innocent conversation about the weather, other inmates won’t perceive it that way.

—-> When fights occur in prison, the participants may be punished by being put in a segregation unit or be moved to a higher level of confinement, but it is extremely unusual for them to be charged with a crime, as long as all the participants were prisoners. Your legal protections in prison are severely curtailed by the system. The guards and administrators do not want anyone to make waves. They will punish you for making waves much more quickly than they will come to your aid. You always have the option to ask to be put in the hole for your own protection. The hole is unpleasant, but it is relatively safe. Don’t ask for this kind of protection unless you fear for your life.

8.) Don’t join a prison gang. Just like in the real world, in prison there are gangs. But in prison, gangs are far more prevalent. These gangs work very differently on the inside than on the outside. Be mindful of gang members, but avoid joining a gang; gang members are soldiers, and gang leaders demand absolute loyalty. If you join a gang, you may be ordered to do something that will keep you in prison a lot longer; a gang member has no choice, because aside from getting out of prison, there’s only one way to quit a prison gang while in prison: die.

  • All prison gangs are separated first and foremost by the races they are typically associated with. Bloods/Crips/Black Guerilla Family (African-American); the Mexican Mafia (Mexicans); MS-13 (Salvadoran/Honduran/Guatemalan/Nicaraguan); White Supremist/Nazi (Caucasian), etc. There are many different divisions.
  • It is crucial to your survival in the prison system to immediately show your allegiance to your race (but this does not mean you have to join a gang). This may be a big pill for some people to swallow, but “when in Rome” you’d better do as they do. If you are some white suburbanite 19-year-old kid that pledged yourself as a crip, and you used to buy the dope you got busted selling from your crip homeboys in the projects, that doesn’t mean you can link up with them in prison. If you’re white and you walk in slapping high fives with the brothers before you shake hands with the white dudes, you’re going to send a rift through the whole community. This doesn’t mean you have to get a swastika on your forehead or “Blood for Life” tattooed on your chest. It simply means whichever race you are associated with, you seek them out first and introduce yourself. You get to know inmates of your race first. Especially the “important” figures within your race. You can be “friendly” with people of other races after that. In prison, blacks, Mexicans, Chicanos, Asians, and whites all look after their own. This isn’t the time to be colorblind.

9) Find people who come from the same place you do. In most federal facilities there are inmates from all over the country. When you get to your designated facility, you need to find other inmates who are from your city or state; these are your “home boys” and they will usually help you with things you have an immediate need for, such as basic hygiene items, shoes, etc. But beware of your home boys if there is anything wrong with you or your case, like if you are a informant, sex offender or anything else frowned upon by inmates, in which case your home boys will probably be the ones that will confront you on it. This could include assault, stabbing or whatever else they think you deserve.

10) Respect other people’s personal space and NEVER allow others to invade your personal space. You will be tested and if you allow others to get too close to you for comfort, they will just get closer and closer until your subservience is obvious. Have respect and never reach over someone else’s plate at the mess hall for the pepper, salt, etc. Don’t allow others to reach over your plate either.

–> Personal possessions like photographs, letters and other stuff are very important when someone is in prison. So, never borrow or use something that belongs to another prisoner unless he’s told you it’s OK to do it. Touching someone’s personal possessions without their permission is a no-no.

11) Above all, remember that the normal rules of the outside world simply don’t apply any longer. When you’re in prison, you’re living on a different planet where all that matters to you is surviving the experience with as little damage as possible.


  • When you enter prison, try to concentrate on what’s going on inside prison, because time will seem to pass faster that way. It’s difficult not to think about the things you’re missing out on in the outside world, but torturing yourself with it will just make you miserable. It certainly won’t get you out of prison any faster. Instead, concentrate on the things you can control in prison, not the things that are out of your reach outside the prison fence.
  • Try to blend into the background when you are in prison. Don’t draw attention to yourself if you can avoid it. Remember that the nail that stands out gets hammered in. Watch and learn.
  • Inmates who are homosexual are usually looked down upon and are ostracized by other inmates. If you are gay, you best keep it to yourself while in prison, because it will only cause you problems. Inmates who are unusually young or cute-looking may be approached sexually by others who are testing the waters. If you are approached, it is best to decline; you do not want to become the property of some other inmate.
  • Bear in mind that anything you say, especially on the phone, is likely to be overheard by both prisoners and guards. There are snitches among your fellow inmates that are looking to trade information for favors with the staff (this is encouraged by people like case managers). Be especially careful about criticizing another inmate as you can pretty much guarantee that it will get back to him.


  • Hopefully you will never be physically attacked during your time in prison. However, if you are, here are some points to bear in mind. You can be attacked anywhere in the prison, though usually it will happen in a place where there is no direct surveillance by guards, e.g., a corridor. Obviously, you could be attacked in a cell, though a classic place for an attack is the toilet or shower, when you are distracted. An attacker can seize a time-window of just 30 seconds to attack you, then walk away nonchalantly. So, watch their hands because that’s where the attack comes from. If someone has their hands in their pockets or behind their back, they could be concealing an improvised weapon such as a home-made knife. Don’t let yourself get backed into a corner where you have no escape route away from your attacker.
  • This may sound weird and uncomfortable, but could be life-saving: If you are concerned about getting attacked, sit when you go to the bathroom, and take your pants off completely. Since many attacks happen when you are using the toilet, it’s easier to defend yourself without your pants around your ankles, so you would not trip.
  • Be careful to never call anyone a “punk” or “bitch”, as they have a much different meaning in prison. If you should ever call someone either of those, be prepared for a nasty fight. If the attack doesn’t come immediately, it doesn’t mean it’s not coming. If someone should ever call you a “punk” or a “bitch”, it may seem logical to be the better man and walk away; however, while in prison, you have to show that you won’t allow yourself to be punked, and it is almost certainly expected of you to put up a fight when called either one of these two names. Prison is a violent place; watching what you say can save your life.
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3 Responses for “How to Survive in Federal Prison”

  1. Working & Surviving says:

    Federal prison? This article describes my co-workers on the job at a very expensive liberal arts college in upstate New York.

  2. Is this for real? says:

    Are you kidding? Go to the dentist before surrendering? That is the funniest thing I ever heard! If your going to prison, chances are you don’t really care about your teeth because they are rotted out from all the crack you smoked or knocked out because of the gangsta that tried to shoot you! Thanks for the amusement. I needed that.

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