Surviving a term of incarceration is no cakewalk. For all first-time prisoners, the transition from free-world living to prison culture is abrupt, extreme, and caustic. It’s like nothing else, and there are very real consequences to violating the unspoken codes of decorum and the concept of “respect,” a term which takes on a whole new meaning in the prison context.
This article presents seven secrets to surviving a term of incarceration. By internalizing and abiding by these principles, anyone new to prison culture will save themselves a lot of strife and possibly violent encounters.
In short, they can transform potential hard time to easy time.
Secret One: Don’t Snitch
The number one rule in prison is to not snitch. There is no worse crime in prison culture than to inform on a fellow prisoner. When serving time in prison, inmates often see others engaging in unsavory, unethical, or even illegal conduct. This is simply the way it is in prison. When such conduct is observed, the inmate should simply look away, continue on with whatever they were doing, and keep the knowledge of what transpired to themselves. When someone is found to have informed on fellow prisoners, they are usually either assaulted or “checked in” (forced to go into protective custody). By refusing to provide the prison administration with information, this very dangerous trap can be avoided in its entirety.
While there may be instances when it appears that keeping one’s mouth shut can result in disfavor from the powers that be, those consequences pale next to what can happen to a prisoner who is identified as a snitch by his fellows.
The Prison Law Blog recently received an email from a man whose son is about to go to federal prison (sadly, we hear from family members in this situation all too often). The son is being charged with one count of transportation of child pornography and, understandably, his family is concerned for his safety and general prison experience. Since such fears are common to all who enter prison, we’ve decided to present this information not in a private email, but in Question & Answer format so that the information is available to other similarly situated persons.
Q) Are federal prisons safer and better run than state prisons?
A) Generally speaking, federal prisons tend to be run more professionally than many state prisons. This is particularly the case when comparing a regular low security federal prison or medium security prison to a county work camp or prison. Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities are uniformly funded, and national program statements, policies, and regulations dictate operations. This alleviates the problem of wardens and superintendents being a law unto themselves which is common in some jurisdictions.
Still, there is an inherent amount of threat and danger in any prison in the country, regardless of the security level. While virtually any prisoner can survive a federal prison camp or low security facility, life can be more difficult at a medium-security prison, and especially at high security facilities (called “United States Penitentiaries” or “USPs”). As it is in every jurisdiction, the higher security the prison, the more likely violence and other troubles will occur and the more severe the prison culture becomes.
Q) Should my son seek protective custody due to the nature of the offense?
A) This is something that he will have to decide for himself. Guessing here, I’m assuming that the son doesn’t have an extensive criminal history and will receive a sentence of less than 30 or 20 years. If these variables are correct, the son will be housed either in a low security federal prison or a medium security federal prison. By category, sex offenders are precluded from placement in a federal prison camp (minimum security), unless the restriction is waived (which is done very rarely). Likewise, federal prison inmates with sentences in excess of 20 years have to be housed in a medium security federal prison and those with sentences in excess of 30 years have to be housed in high security federal prisons (unless this restriction is waived).Read More