The first 30 days in prison will go by excruciatingly slowly and distressingly fast. So much happens when you first arrive, time seems to stop. Having at least an idea of the kind of experience you may have will go a long way in helping you deal with it all. This article has the intended purpose of preparing you for the journey through the first 30 days in prison.
Day 1 is the same in every prison everywhere. It is the processing, booking, intake, reception, and other colorful terms. They will ask questions: Who are you? What are you? They will take a picture, you’ll take a shower. You’ll get your prison uniform. They will ask you about your criminal convictions and your religion (your noncriminal convictions). Are you married? Gay? Do you have any immediate special needs? Things like insulin-dependent diabetes or a fake leg.
This is an important phase because what you say here will influence your stay here. If you do have any special needs, do not be “too cool” to say something, but balance it out with the knowledge that nearly none of the people you are talking to actually care. Some will be openly hostile. If you need something make it known. Be polite, courteous, but firm. These guys are used to being lied to, disrespected, harassed. Don’t give them a reason to take it out on you.
The entire process will take a few hours, depending on how many people come into the joint at the same time.
After your initial intake, you will be assigned a cell, or a bunk if it’s a dorm. Either that day or the next you’ll begin to be screened by the Medical Services Department. They will ask you all the basic medical history questions. Be totally upfront and don’t hold back. These people don’t really care, usually, but if you want to get any medical treatment or have any special needs, allergies handicaps, etc… you will need to be proactive. The prison will let you die if you are not on point.
They will give you a T.B. and get a blood screen. A dentist will check your teeth. The entire medical process will take about a week and happen in several installments.
Mental Health Services will come to see you. They will ask you a lot of questions. Their primary interest will be whether you are suicidal or not.
Do not, ever under any circumstances tell them you feel suicidal or even anything close to it.!
If you do you’ll be put on suicide watch for a week. Naked, in an empty glass-walled cell. No toilet, no nothing. If you really are suicidal, you’ll never be able to do anything. If you are not suicidal when you go in, you will be when you get out. The whole thing is stupid. Besides, suicide is not your best option anyway. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Survival and success are much better options.
At some point, a case manager will interview you. The person you talked to will be doing your initial analysis. This interview will determine where you’ll be housed, with whom, and the kind of programming you’ll be required to undergo. Yeah, it is called “programming.” The drug program, the sex offender program, the Anger Management program, etc…
Do not depend on these programs if you really want help. The bottom line is they don’t work because they don’t care. What required programming will do is keep you from getting parole, if you fail to complete it.
My best advice is, if you really want to change, is to ask the facilitator of the course or another person taking the course for the books and coursework. Work through them yourself, asking for help when you need it. Try the library as well. Prison libraries have a lot of self-help books.
So far I’ve told you what to expect from the DOC (Department of Corrections) in the first 30 days. The real circus is with other prisoners. Many of the things you are assuming will be right and most of it will probably be wrong. So here’s a quick and dirty rundown on Prison Society.
First, as a rule, sex offenders are at a higher risk for assault and abuse. Not always, but nearly so. Like 999 times out of 1000.
There are rare exceptions and these are usually 1 of 3: 1. They get lots of drugs. 2. They can tattoo. 3. They can fight like a demon.
In the first 30 days, only option 3 will be much help. Protective custody is generally the smartest option. It’s called the walk of shame, but it will get you sent to more relaxed places. No one likes a coward though so don’t embrace the PC lifestyle.
Second, drugs run the Prison Society. I stay away from them and both the cops and the gangs leave me be. Stay off the radar! People will offer you drugs. You may feel compelled to accept to fit in, to be cool, whatever. It’s bad juju if you do. For example, a strip of Suboxone goes for about $10 on the streets. They go for $400 in here. Can you afford that? No, no one can afford that financially or otherwise. In the game of life, drugs are a chute, not a ladder.
Third, people will try to find out what they can get from you. Money, sex, recreation. Learn the art of being respectful, but firm. Be very careful who you associate with. Violence is always on the table. You may need to fight just to establish that you will fight. A lot of people won’t and vultures prefer dead meat. Healthy, well healthy in prison terms, boundaries are the watch phrase here.
It is possible to create your own problems. Likely even. Respect in prison is not the same as you might think. It is such a predatory place and everyone is afraid to some degree or another. Any action can play out poorly. It is helpful to be friendly and polite. Not that stupid kind of friendly, but just remember names, say good morning, offer any of the untouched food on your tray to someone before you throw it out. Don’t look for sympathy as we’re all miserable here. Don’t stare at people’s stuff or look in other cells. Don’t reach over people’s food. Oh and if you’re using the bathroom (#2) flush often. It’s called a courtesy flush for a reason.
Most importantly, you must remember the prison is adversarial. It’s an us-versus-them kind of place. Cops versus cons, black versus white, gang versus gang. It usually makes no sense. Try hard not to get entangled in the politics.
One of the easiest ways to get jammed up is if someone thinks you are an informant. If you get too friendly with the guards, if you’re seen talking to them, people might suspect you of being an informant, a snitch. It is a hard accusation to disprove, so it’s best never to get it. Only deal with the guards when you need to.
Not all prisons are super racially tense, not all prisons are dominated by games or are super paranoid about snitches, but it is best to be safe until you know what’s what. Awareness, discretion, courtesy, respect. Do your own time! Don’t interfere with other people’s business. Don’t bring them in on yours!
Even if you follow all the advice, do everything right, sometimes you can be targeted for no reason. Sometimes someone just doesn’t like you. No matter what you do you are a target. This can happen, not often, but often enough. All you can do is endure it. Stick up for yourself when it’s possible, but ultimately it will be a matter of endurance. It will end, eventually. It could be weeks or months, even years, never days. Not fair, but prison is a horror show.
By: Gregory LaVallee