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How to Survive Prison – A Guide for Inmates

Going to prison can be an intimidating and potentially dangerous experience. Being locked up with violent criminals often leads first-time inmates to wonder – how will I survive this? While prison is undoubtedly tough, following certain guidelines can help new prisoners stay safe and make it through their sentence.

Understand the Unwritten Rules

Every prison has its own unwritten code of conduct that inmates are expected to follow. Learning and respecting these rules is key to avoiding trouble. Some common unspoken guidelines include:

  • Don’t ask others about their crimes
  • Don’t discuss your own sentence or case
  • Don’t gamble or go into debt
  • Don’t provide info to guards or staff
  • Don’t show weakness or disrespect

Breaking the unwritten rules can make you a target. Observe and learn the particular politics of your facility.

Mind Your Own Business

Minding your own business is essential to avoiding violence and drama in prison. Do not get involved in:

  • Gambling rackets
  • Contraband trade
  • Group disputes
  • Power struggles
  • Guard issues
  • Other people’s sentences
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Stay neutral, avoid spreading rumors, and do not draw attention. Handle your time and let other inmates handle theirs.

Find and Stick to Your Group

Prison populations are broken up by race, gang affiliation, culture, and background. Stick to inmates that share your circumstances.

Common prison groups include:

  • Racial groups (Black, White, Latino, etc.)
  • Regional groups (East Coast, West Coast, by city)
  • Gang sets (Crips, Bloods, MS-13, etc.)
  • Biker clubs (Hells Angels, Mongols, etc.)
  • Religious groups (Muslim, Christian, etc.)

Associating outside your group can cause problems. Safety often relies on strength in numbers within prison dynamics.

Avoid Dangerous Situations

Stay alert and remove yourself from any scenario that seems potentially violent or threatening. Hotspots to avoid include:

  • Showers and bathrooms – Areas with few guards where fights/assault can happen
  • Yard fences – Inmate exchanges and contraband pass through here
  • Chow lines – Tensions flair and trays make weapons
  • TV rooms – Trivial disputes can escalate during sports/news
  • Cell searches – Never resist or become confrontational

Your safety radar should be constantly on in prison. Flee brewing conflicts.

Establish Respectful Relationships

Though wary of others, also forge positive relationships where possible. Having respected inmates watch your back is protection. Ways to earn respect include:

  • Stand your ground if challenged
  • Keep your word and pay debts
  • Don’t cooperate with guards
  • Share commissary/supplies
  • Use diplomacy to diffuse disputes
  • Don’t appear weak

Friendships and alliances, especially with prison veterans, could save your life.

Additional Survival Tips

  • Learn to sleep lightly and awaken quickly
  • Know emergency protocols if violence erupts
  • Carry yourself confidently but not arrogantly
  • Keep your cell clean and organized
  • Do not gamble or accept favors
  • Workout to build strength and stamina
  • Avoid drug and alcohol use
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Strength, discipline, and mental preparedness will help you hold your own.


Learning quickly from seasoned inmates, following unwritten rules, avoiding danger zones, and establishing respectful connections are key to surviving prison safely as a new inmate. It requires awareness, discipline, caution, and diplomacy at all times.

Prison is rough terrain, but going in with the right mentality, grit, patience, and street smarts will help you navigate your sentence productively while minimizing risk. Do not project weakness. But also avoid acting arrogantly or overconfidently. Walk the line between standing your ground and inciting violence.

The social order in prison is unlike anywhere else. But with time, you can adapt and learn to traverse it. Those who make smart choices, show humility, exude quiet confidence, and value peace over chaos will fare best behind bars.

Focus only on your own time and never ignore warning signs or threats. With the right approach, inmates can do their sentence with dignity while avoiding the worst dangers.


What are the most dangerous prison gangs to avoid or appease?

Major national prison gangs include: Mexican Mafia, Aryan Brotherhood, Black Guerrilla Family, Texas Syndicate, Nuestra Familia, Crips, Bloods, Gangster Disciples, and MS-13. Avoid their dynamics.

How should you respond if cell theft or extortion occurs?

Do not confront or accuse anyone. Quietly increase security of your space and valuables. Bring concerns subtly to a veteran inmate you trust for advice, but never snitch. Handle your business privately.

What are signs of guards who may abuse their power?

Profiling certain groups, taunting inmates, overlooking conflicts, writing petty tickets, targeting individuals, getting hostile when authority is questioned, discussing other inmates negatively.

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What are some ways inmates manufacture makeshift weapons if protection is needed?

Sharpening toothbrushes, pens, chess pieces, sporks, etc. into shivs. Hardening paperclips/utensils into stabbing implements. Putting padlocks or cans into socks to strike with. Weaponizing cleaning tools.

What are the most secure ways to stash contraband items in a prison cell?

Hollowed books, false bottoms in shelves/drawers, hidden compartments in furniture or windows, buried in dirt floors, behind posters/cards, secreted in religious items.

Imran Khan

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About us

We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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