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How to Survive Prison

Going to prison can be an intimidating and scary experience. While no one wants to end up behind bars, if you find yourself facing incarceration, there are things you can do to get through it safely. With some preparation and the right mindset, you can survive your prison sentence. This comprehensive guide covers tips and strategies for navigating the challenges of life in prison.

Maintain a Positive Attitude

One of the most important things you can do when heading to prison is to maintain a positive attitude. Going in with a negative or defeatist mindset will only make your time harder. Though you’re in a bad situation, look for the silver linings and opportunities to better yourself. Focus on getting through one day at a time and finding purpose in your daily activities.

Having an optimistic perspective and not letting the environment get you down will help you psychologically survive prison. Seek out others with positive attitudes and avoid negative people who will drag down your mindset. Read inspirational books and listen to uplifting podcasts when possible. Keep reminding yourself that this situation is temporary and focus on getting through it the best you can.

Obey the Rules and Avoid Trouble

To survive prison safely, you must follow all the rules and regulations. Even minor infractions can land you in solitary confinement or extend your sentence. Do what the guards tell you without argument or protest. Avoid any behavior that could be seen as disrespectful or confrontational.

You should also do everything you can to avoid trouble with other inmates. Keep to yourself, don’t share too much personal information, don’t gamble or take sides in disputes. Avoid borrowing or lending items to people. If you witness fights or illegal activity, don’t get involved, just walk away. Reporting trouble to the guards could make you a target. Essentially, fly under the radar by obeying the rules and minding your own business.

Be Aware of the Prison Politics

Every prison has an informal hierarchy and system of organization among the inmates. Certain people are in positions of power, control, and influence. It’s important to learn who those people are and understand the political landscape of your facility.

Don’t be overly friendly or disrespectful to any of the leaders. Don’t ask questions about them or talk to them unless they engage with you first. Avoid owing favors or getting into debts with powerful inmates. Don’t take sides in any disputes between groups. Remain neutral and deferential in your interactions with established prison leaders.

Find Ways to Make Your Time Productive

Serving time in prison means you may face many empty hours in your cell or boredom from repetitive work duties. Find productive ways to fill your time so you don’t dwell on the negative aspects of incarceration.

Take advantage of educational classes that are offered if they align with your interests. Learn new practical skills that can benefit you when you are released. Read books from the library to stimulate your mind. Write letters to loved ones about what you are learning and doing.

Setting goals and finding purpose in each day will help you maintain mental focus and avoid depressive thoughts during long prison sentences. Staying productive will also keep you out of trouble. Idle time leads to poor decisions that can extend your incarceration.

Carefully Choose Who You Associate With

The people you associate with in prison will greatly impact your daily experience. Choose your connections carefully. Hang out with inmates who seem level-headed, calm, and focused on their own business. Avoid gang members who may try to recruit you into illegal activities. Don’t spend time with overly negative or aggressive inmates who could influence your mindset or drag you into violence.

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Making a few positive acquaintances you can exercise or play cards with can help the time pass more enjoyably. But avoid people who brag about their crimes or try to intimidate others. The actions of the people around you could have consequences for your own release, so be selective about who you befriend.

Maintain Relationships with Loved Ones

Going to prison puts physical and emotional distance between you and your loved ones on the outside. But maintaining supportive relationships is key to surviving incarceration psychologically. Reach out regularly through phone calls, letters, and visits. Let your family and close friends know how much you appreciate them.

Ask your loved ones to keep you updated about their lives and events happening back home. Fill your letters with positive thoughts and stories to show how you are spending your time productively. Having strong outside support reminds you that you have a life and purpose after prison. Staying connected eases the isolation and keeps you grounded.

Avoid Drugs and Alcohol

Drugs, alcohol, and other illicit substances may be available in prison through underground channels. But you should absolutely avoid partaking while incarcerated. Getting caught would mean steep penalties or extended sentences. Plus, using substances can impair your judgment and cause you to make poor decisions that put your safety at risk.

If you have a history of substance abuse, seek counseling or join a recovery program if the prison offers one. Find productive outlets like exercise to manage stress and boredom rather than turning to contraband substances that could ruin your chances of release. Staying clean and sober will help you successfully navigate prison life.

Practice Good Hygiene and Self Care

Prisons are often overcrowded, which increases the risk of illness spreading. Be diligent about washing your hands and maintaining general cleanliness as much as you are able given the facilities. Try to shower regularly, brush your teeth, and keep your hair neat. Staying on top of hygiene will help you avoid health problems.

Make fitness and nutrition a priority if possible. Exercise daily, eat healthy meals from the cafeteria, and get good sleep on your scheduled nights. Taking care of your physical and mental health will give you the strength and resilience needed to manage prison life. Having solid self-care routines will also keep you disciplined.

Learn to Handle Confrontation

Prison culture generally involves a lot of posturing, aggressive talk, and tests of toughness. But you should go out of your way to avoid physical confrontations. Back down from fights, even over disrespect or insults. Defending your pride or responding to taunts will only lead to disciplinary action from guards or extended sentences if weapons get involved.

If you feel threatened or unsafe from specific inmates, speak with the guards privately when you can. But avoid seeming weak or scared in front of other prisoners. project calm confidence through your body language. Look people in the eye without staring them down aggressively. Speak respectfully if addressed but don’t engage with dramas or arguments. Your goal is to do your time peacefully and get out.

Keep Your Guard Up

While you want to fly under the radar as much as possible, you also need to keep your guard up in prison. Don’t be naive or overly trusting of inmates or guards. Protect your personal items and commissary goods. Sleep lightly and remain alert to what is going on around you. Avoid appearing soft or gullible, as this can make you a target. Project strength and self-assuredness.

Prison can be brutal, but showing fear or weakness only invites more predatory behavior from others. Find a balance between keeping your head down and demonstrating that you aren’t an easy mark. Trust your gut instincts if certain people make you feel unsafe. Guards will offer the most reliable protection if you are having issues.

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Don’t Isolate Yourself

It may be tempting to just keep your head down and retreat into yourself while incarcerated. But total isolation can take a psychological toll over an extended period. Interact with a few positive peers when you can for conversation and card games. Take a meal with others occasionally or work out as a group. While you want to avoid heavy involvement in inmate politics or dramas, some friendly interactions are helpful.

Being part of prison life without getting enmeshed in it gives you balance. Self-isolation risks depression setting in, which can make your sentence feel much longer. Find healthy social outlets that don’t compromise your commitment to laying low and staying out of trouble. Aim to blend into the population enough not to feel ostracized.

Take Things Day by Day

When you are first incarcerated, a lengthy sentence can seem overwhelming. Don’t focus on the total months or years ahead – take it one day at a time. Each day, maintain positivity and purpose through routines like reading, working out, calling loved ones, or participating in a program. Fulfilling each day as best as you can keeps your mindset from crumbling. Celebrate little goals and milestones.

Stay occupied with tasks, self-improvement, and positive thoughts. Don’t dwell on the past or count days until release. Control what you can day by day and let go of longing for the freedom you can’t currently have. Serving a prison sentence requires incredible mental toughness. Focusing on making the most of the present will get you through.

Don’t Let Your Guard Down Near Release

When your release date finally approaches, you may feel antsy and eager to get out. But it’s crucial not to check out mentally or slack off on self-discipline in your last weeks or months. Maintain your routines and avoidance of trouble. Don’t pick fights or act out, as this could jeopardize your parole.

Stay focused on what you need to do to secure employment, housing, and a support system after getting out. Line up needed IDs, documents, transportation, and begin reaching out to contacts who can help with re-entry. Take it one day at a time and stick to the behaviors that have gotten you successfully to this point. The final stretch before release requires as much commitment to self-control as the beginning.

Staying safe and secure in prison means following a code of conduct very different from life on the outside. With the right mindset and discipline, you can get through your sentence while causing minimal waves. Avoid trouble or affiliations that don’t align with your goal of serving your time and getting released. Focus on self-improvement and maintaining mental health. Surviving prison requires resilience, introspection, and perseverance.

Tips for Surviving the First Days in Prison

The very first days in prison are often the hardest. You are navigating a jarring transition and unfamiliar environment. Here are some crucial tips for making it through the initial adjustment period:

  • Observe and learn the routines. Pay close attention to daily schedules for meals, pills, head counts, lights out. Following routines quickly shows you know the drill.
  • Learn the rules ASAP. Inmate codes of conduct, policies on fighting, off-limits areas etc. Ask trusted inmates, not guards.
  • Be polite to everyone, but maintain distance. Don’t share too much info. Defuse tensions. You’re not here to make friends.
  • Stay alert but calm. Situational awareness is key but don’t appear scared or jumpy. Project confidence.
  • Avoid borrowed or lent items. Don’t become indebted to anyone. Reject gifts that could come with obligations.
  • Don’t gamble or hustle. Avoid underground dealings even if you see others doing them.
  • Keep area and person clean and neat. Poor hygiene makes you stand out negatively.
  • Sleep lightly at first. Ease into trusting surroundings. Sleep near a wall, not exposed middle area.
  • Find a positive outlet if you can. Reading, exercise, meditation. Productivity and purpose matter immediately.

The beginning of a prison sentence is about safely navigating many unknowns. By keeping grounded, alert, and disciplined from day one, you get yourself on the right path.

How to Handle Fear and Anxiety in Prison

Going to prison means coping with an extremely challenging environment. Fear and anxiety are natural reactions. Here are some strategies for dealing with difficult emotions:

  • Talk to someone you trust – Counselor, religious leader, case manager. Don’t bottle up feelings.
  • Join available self-help/support groups. Shared experiences are normalizing.
  • Try calming activities: Deep breaths, grounding exercises, meditation, visualization.
  • Journal about fears and emotions. Articulating thoughts can be cathartic.
  • Limit negative media/news. Some TV, papers highlight violence fueling anxieties.
  • Take it one day at a time. Don’t project far into the future dwelling on worst case.
  • Focus on what you can control. Your choices, self-discipline, daily routine.
  • Maintain perspective. This situation is temporary, even if long. Future goals matter.
  • Exercise and stay physically healthy. Boosts mental fortitude.
  • Reach out to loved ones regularly. Support system is invaluable.
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Prison is mentally taxing, but you have resources. Stay grounded focusing on each day and self-care. Counseling and social support can help you process fears in a healthy way.

How to Avoid Depression in Prison

Depression is common during incarceration given the loss of freedom and isolation. Strategies to minimize down moods include:

  • Maintain close bonds with loved ones through calls, letters, visits.
  • Develop a routine with productive activities like exercise, reading, journaling.
  • Be social when it feels safe. Casual interactions help.
  • Monitor negative self-talk. Don’t beat yourself up endlessly about mistakes.
  • Practice gratitude and mindfulness during small daily tasks.
  • Take advantage of counseling services if available.
  • Consider medication if depression is clinical. Do not self-medicate with smuggled substances.
  • If suicidal thoughts occur, immediately tell a staff member. You matter.
  • Bond with upbeat inmates focused on self-improvement, not criminal activities.
  • Find purpose via faith, education opportunities, helping new inmates adjust.
  • Remind yourself regularly this is temporary. Focus on getting through the day.

Don’t become totally isolated. Seeking support and focusing on what you can control makes the uncontrollable more manageable. You have options – use them.

How to Improve Your Chances for Parole or Early Release

Gaining parole or early release requires demonstrating to the parole board you are ready to reenter society successfully. Strategies include:

  • Maintain excellent conduct record. Zero infractions shows cooperation and discipline.
  • Enroll in rehabilitation/education programs applicable to goals and show progress.
  • Take on additional jobs or duties indicating positive initiative.
  • Stay connected with family showing outside support system.
  • Note any special circumstances not considered initially – health problems, family crisis, new info.
  • Document clear reentry plan – housing, employment etc to avoid recidivism.
  • Express genuine remorse at hearing. Take full responsibility, highlight lessons learned.
  • Submit recommendation letters from staff, instructors, counselors.
  • Provide certificates of program completion. Show concrete self-improvement.
  • Highlight consistent efforts to better yourself and help others inside.
  • If denied, listen to feedback and correct any cited deficiencies before reapplying.

Parole is not guaranteed, but showing your time has been productive and rehabilitative improves the possibility.

Table: Notable Prison Riots in American History

1971Attica Correctional FacilityNew York43 deathsSparked reforms in New York prisons.
1973Oklahoma State PenitentiaryOklahoma3 deathsLasted 5 days, significant property damage.
1993Southern Ohio Correctional FacilityOhio9 deathsOne of the longest prison riots in history at 11 days.
1971San Quentin State PrisonCalifornia6 deathsMarked increased racial tensions in the prison.
1993Lucasville PrisonOhio9 deathsResulted in over $5 million in damage.
1980New Mexico State PenitentiaryNew Mexico33 deathsDeadliest prison riot in U.S. history.

Prison riots highlight the potential dangers of overcrowding and poor conditions. While rare, large scale unrest underscores the importance of reforms and oversight in the prison system.


Surviving prison requires incredible physical and mental strength. By maintaining self-discipline, personal ethics, healthy habits, and perspective, incarcerated individuals can endure their sentences with minimal conflicts and set themselves up for success when released. Though prisons are tough environments, those who make smart choices guided by their ultimate goals of freedom can emerge with greater resilience and life lessons.

With a careful understanding of prison dynamics and focus on making each day positive, individuals in the prison system can manage their confinement. Support structures inside and outside prison are also invaluable lifelines. Serving time does not have to end one’s chances of living a purposeful life. By developing grit and perseverance, progress is still possible even in the most difficult of places. Surviving prison comes down to the human will to never give up hope or personal betterment.

Prison Inside Team

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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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