Admission and Orientation
For a few weeks after federal prison intake new prisoners will be placed on Admission & Orientation (A&O) Status.
A&O Status means the prisoner is new and must go through the A&O rounds. The goal of these rounds are to introduce prisoners to the prison, the various educational and rehabilitative programs available and to advise the prisoner of the rules, regulations and prison operations.
While there is plenty of informational discussion during this period, the other goal is to identify health, dental, and psychological issues which require additional attention from their respective departments. This can include interviews and examinations with departments such as Health Services, Psychology Services, Dental Services and the Unit Team.
During this status new arrivals also are required to sit for an A&O meeting with other new arrivals where the heads of various departments speak about what they do, what their departments offer, and the rules and regulations of the prison in general and their departments in particular.
It is during this time period that the prisoner is issued their A&O Handbook, which provides written overview of each department, any offerings, and other prison operations. For example, the handbook will outline the various Education Department programs and how prisoners can get involved. They also provide a discussion on the commissary shopping days, disciplinary regulations, recreation programs, and even present the various methods of reporting sexual assault. But more generally, A&O handbooks provide a topical overview of many areas of prison life.
Prisoners must also sign an acknowledgement of the prison rules and regulations, along with an authorization permitting Bureau staff to open and inspect all incoming mail.
Admission and Orientation is a good time for the prisoner to share any special needs or concerns with prison officials. A common misconception is that prison officials will fix what is broken or help if there is a problem, but this is generally not the case. It is important for prisoners to be good self-advocates. For example, if there is a need for dental care, tell Dental Services during this period and ask how you can be scheduled to get the problem taken care of. Likewise, if you are having problems with anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts, bring this to the attention of Psychology Services during the initial interview so they can help. The prisoner’s goal during this process is to learn about prison life, but to also highlight their needs to the proper officials who can help fulfill them.
That being said, everything a prisoner hears (from prisoners and staff alike) should be taken with a grain of salt. Everyone has their own angle and reason for presenting information and advice in a certain way. As prisoners start to get a better feel for the lay of the land, they can find people who seem trustworthy. These are the people prisoners should ask for advice and help. In the interim, cellmates are good sources of information not answered elsewhere. But test everything shared to ensure it feels right. If it feels necessary (such as when it concerns a major decision), take advice from a third-party and ask them their thoughts on the matter.
Following the general A&O meeting prisoners will be eligible for a prison work assignment. Most new arrivals are shuffled off into the kitchen, which is not always the best fit for them. But by being proactive prisoners can find better employment (e.g., prison employment that pays better or even prison employment that doesn’t require much work or time). The best bet is for prisoners to speak with a cellmate to learn more about better employment opportunities.
If you’re looking for Federal Bureau of Prisons’ policy statements for further information on prison life, the Bureau publishes program statements, which are designed to provide direction to Bureau staff on how federal regulations are to be applied at the local, regional, and national levels.
These program statements don’t discuss the life of the prisoner per se, but do discuss systems and programs. These can be located in your prison’s Education Department on the Electronic Law Library computers. It can be extremely helpful to review these program statements as needs come up so you can better understand what the policies are and ensure they are being followed as they concern your daily life and the lives of your friends.
For some final advice on adjusting to prison life, we recommend finding a good, middle-of-the-way group of people and sticking with them. You can test fellow prisoners by the fruits they bear. If they are getting high and drunk all the time, then that is what you can expect from them. You can also expect them to spend some time in the Special Housing Unit and be subjected to disciplinary proceedings. On the other hand, if you see that a group of prisoners are doing good things that you want to engage in (e.g., a sports league, educational classes, law work, physical fitness, etc.), then this would be a good group to try to become a part of – it’s just that simple.