I’ve Been In Your Shoes: What Are Your First Days in Prison Like?
By Richard McDonald
The first days in prison aren’t any different from your first day at work, school or any other place where you begin a new routine. There are new people, a new landscape and a new setting. It may feel a bit different and strange at first. You may feel lonely and miss your family and friends.
Things will quickly change. Prisoners around your cubicle will begin to introduce themselves to you. Conversations tend to be brief in the beginning. But eventually they’ll ask more about who you are and where you are from.
Will you relate to anyone else during your first days in prison?
Yes. Your fellow prisoners can relate to you, and you can relate to them. They know what it’s like to have a first day in prison. They understand what you are going through and the loneliness you feel. Your fellow prisoners will invite you into their social circles. Playing cards is a popular activity. Watching sports programs together is another.
There are several different religious groups in prison, too. These groups meet for prayers and to offer support and guidance. This is a great unifier among groups. Spirituality can bring people together. They have a calming effect on the atmosphere of the camp.
Being genuine is the greatest asset you have in connecting with fellow prisoners. If you are real, then you should get along with most people fine.
Does everyone get along in prison?
No. There are times when not everyone gets along. Many arguments are about little things, such as the remote control for the television. In my camp, four prisoners were shipped to the segregated housing unit (SHU) at the county jail because they fought over the remote.
The experience is like joining a clique in high school. You will notice that race plays a role in prison. I made it a point to be friendly with everybody. And being fluent in Spanish was an incredible benefit to me.
A prison is a place where gossip is rampant. People speculate about everything. The best advice is to stay as clear as possible from the gossip.
Can you make the transition to prison a little easier?
Yes. Make sure you read all the rules and regulations about the facility that are given to you. Get a sense of the layout and boundaries of the prison by taking a tour. Get familiar with things like the library, chapel, recreation area, classrooms, cafeteria and the laundry. Just listen, observe and verify information with other inmates. In a short period of time, you will know who is trustworthy and who is not.
Remember to arrange for someone to handle your outside affairs, like your annual tax filing. In some situations, you may still be required to file your taxes every year from prison. For someone to file your annual tax return with the IRS, they must have a Power of Attorney for any of your affairs.
The first days of life in a federal prison camp are unfamiliar. Mixed emotions are normal. You will learn to make your way. Stay under the radar, make a few friends and learn the rules of the prison. You will find it gets easier each day.