First Day In Prison

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Your First Day in Prison

Chances are you will remember going to jail for the rest of your life. While the experience can differ between prisons, new admissions generally go through the same intake process.

Upon arrival, either as a self-surrender or a prisoner in the custody of the U.S. Marshalls Service, prisoners will first be taken to Receiving & Discharge (R&D). Once here they’ll have all of their possessions reviewed to determine what is permitted, receive a set of prison clothes, and be photographed and fingerprinted. An identification card will also be issued. This is much like the jail booking process.

In addition to the cataloging of new arrivals, prison officials from various departments will also meet with them to conduct admission and orientation interviews. This is to determine if they can stay at the prison, where they should be housed, and if there are any security or medical concerns which would preclude placement on the compound, or if certain types of care are required (e.g., physical healthcare, mental health care, etc.).

Fact About First Day in Prison and Arrival

After completion of the intake process, if there is space at the prison, new admissions will be assigned to a specific bunk within a housing unit. Prior to leaving R&D they will receive a bed roll, which consists of sheets, a blanket, hygiene items, a towel, shoes, and perhaps a pillow case. Then they will make their way to their assigned housing unit. If there isn’t space on the compound, or if someone isn’t there who is an essential part of the interview process, the new arrival will be placed in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), pending resolution of the issue. Read more about how to greet your cell mates and how to interact with guards.

What can I take into prison?

In general, you are permitted to bring two pairs of glasses, any required medications, a list of addresses and phone numbers, required legal papers, a wedding ring (one with no stones embedded), a simple religious necklace, and some prisons permit you to bring a U.S. Postal Money Order made out to your name and inmate registration number (if you know it). It might not be a bad idea to bring both the money order and cash. This way if the procedures are different, then the money can be deposited directly onto your trust fund account immediately if you have one. There are a few options for items that the R&D guard will not permit you to keep. You can mail the item home, donate it to a local Goodwill, or have it destroyed.

Do I have to strip in front of guards?

Yes, but it is something that you will get used to. It will also be conducted by a member of the same sex. New arrivals, much like those leaving, will be required to take all of their clothes off, run their fingers through their hair, open their mouths and lift their tongues, squat and cough, and raise their arms. All of this is done so prison officials can ensure that no contraband is being smuggled into the prison.

If I don’t feel safe going into the general population can I just stay in protective custody?
This is generally not advisable. Protective custody in the Federal Bureau of Prisons consists of being locked in a Special Housing Unit cell relatively indefinitely. This is like voluntarily going into disciplinary segregation for months or years on end. But, if you want to go this route, all you have to do is advise the R&D guard that you want to be placed in protective custody and it will happen. It would be better to try to make it at the prison than to give up before you even try.

The only time that “checking in” is advisable at this stage in the game is when a sex offender or informant is being reviewed for placement at a tough medium-security prison or high-security prison. In these cases going into protective custody can be a smart move due to potential safety issues. Note that USP Tucson is a Sex Offender Management Program facility and, as such, is an easier high-security prison. With this in mind, if you find yourself in one of these two categories, you might make it on that particular yard.

What are my housing options?

This is decided by prison officials. While some prison administrators do try to place people of the same race in the same cells (a political concern in prison), this is often not accomplished due to staff simply not caring enough. Regardless, this can be fixed easily once you get to the housing unit.

What types of questions will I be asked during the R&D interviews?

Some of the questions will be about your mental and physical health. These are fine to answer. But prison security staff will also ask questions about your case and about other security-related matters. Simply put, they already know what they need to know. Do not volunteer information about group or gang affiliation, if you testified against co-defendants, or other types of information. Some of this is a fishing expedition, don’t play into it. Keep your cards close.

Will I be provided with clothing, bedding, and hygienic items?

Yes. Before being sent to the SHU or to general population you will be issued slip-on shoes, socks, boxers, pants, t-shirts, sheets, blankets, soap, toothpaste, a toothbrush, and a towel. You will be provided with everything that you require for a few days. On your first full day being on the compound you will need to head over to {Laundry Services} [HYPERLINK TO #13] to be officially fitted for clothing. Once there they will issue you everything that you need. From that point forward you can exchange worn items and purchase new ones from the commissary, if so desired.

Contact us for more information on your first day in prison and other prison survival advice.

Related Resources:

What do you Eat in Prison? 

Showers and Toilets in Prison

Laundry, Clothing and Bedding

The Prison Commissary

Practicing Religion in Prison

Searches, Shakedowns ad Contraband

Inmate Counts

Smoking in Prison