Guidelines for Surviving in Prison. By Dar Bryant

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

Do your time, don't let the time do you!

Are you or anyone you know facing prison time for some sort of criminal conviction?

Do you have a close friend or family member who has recently been incarcerated and does not know what to expect in prison? The following rules for surviving in prison should be a big help. Most I learned from experience during my incarceration. In other words, I am not only passing on theoretical information I received from someone else, I am also speaking from experience. These rules will help you or someone you know survive in prison. They might just save someone's life! Prison will Bring out worst and the best in a man.

A lot of the advice here is intended for youngsters just coming into the system.

In another words, If your over 50, nobody is going to be trying to get you into their crew. So a lot of the gang stuff I talk about, wouldn’t apply to you. However, there is still a lot of useful information in this article.

Remember: Do Your Time, Don’t let Your Timer do You!

It’s time to face it, your in prison!! Own it, and make the most of it. It’s only a waste of time, if you allow it to be. I got my associates degree while in prison. That is something I never would have done on the streets. I read 3 books a week and the bible front to back 3 times during my time incarcerated. I wrote 5 letters a week, worked out and got in the best shape of my life. None of which I would have done on the streets.

I also spent a lot of my time observing people. I used it as an opportunity to learn more about human nature in extreme circumstances. Now I am going to share what I found with you!. Hope it helps!

Rule 1: Body Language is Key.

How you carry yourself, will make a big difference in how hard or easy your time is in Prison. Don’t walk with your head down or shoulders slouched. Avoid eye contact, unless you are talking to someone. Try to always appear indifferent , just another day on the job kind of look. Portray yourself as someone who couldn’t care less. When you first get to prison, you will be watched by other inmates. They will be trying to figure out what your about. They will pick up on weakness , fear and attitude. You don’t want to project any of those traits. Just because it’s your first time in prison, doesn’t mean you should act like it. After a couple weeks of your aloof behavior. They will quit paying attention to you. That doesn’t mean you should quit paying attention to them. Forget trying to act tough. I promise you, there is always someone tougher. If you go in there trying to prove yourself a tough guy, you will get put in your place so fast your head will spin, if they haven’t taken it off.

Rule 2: Respect Other Inmates.

To respect others basically means not to say or do anything to them that you would not want them to say or do to you. This should go without saying; but you would be surprised at how many inmates do not follow this rule and end up getting in trouble, hurt or killed in prison. One of the worst forms of disrespect I am aware of is stealing from another prisoner. Stealing is not tolerated in prison. Your own friends will beat you up for stealing, even if it's just a can of tuna.

You also do not want to call someone a “punk”. This is just inviting trouble. Inmates take that seriously. A punk is someone who won’t stand up for himself. Therefore, when you call someone a punk you are basically insulting his manhood and challenging him to a fight.

Cutting in line is another violation. Prison has lines for everything: the chow hall, work, the clinic, etc. At times, prisoners must wait half-an-hour or more in several lines a day. When you cut in front of them, they see that as you thinking you are better than them; and they do not like that at all. Moreover, not only will the prisoner you cut in front of be angry at you, everyone behind him will be upset with you as well.

In some prisons, it is basically part of the prisoners’ code to discipline those who cut in line. If you are a prisoner standing in line and someone cuts in front of you, you are expected to “check” that inmate (tell him he needs to get in back of the line), and fight him if necessary. Otherwise, others will think you are a punk and beat you up.

Rule 3: Do Not Get Involved with a Gang

Forget what prison movies depict about the necessity of joining a prison gang for survival. In most prisons, you do not need to join a gang for protection. I was never part of a prison gang and I never got beat up, stabbed, raped or anything like that, And I was in a Medium security prison for most of my sentence.

The people that were getting beat up and stabbed were the gang members! The same ones that were supposed to have all of the protection! That is because gangs are always fighting each other for control. I remember when a fight broke out between MS13 and Crypts, and a bunch of them got beat down with softball bats. this was in Winchester prison in Tucson. next door, at Cimmoron, a higher security prison, Chicano’s and Mexican Nationals were going at it with a variety cell made weapons.

When you join a gang it is very difficult to get out. Especially in prison. A shot caller (leader) for the Chicano’s tried stepping down in an Arizona prison, where I did most of my time, and couple of guys from his gang beat him up with padlocks inside socks. Last I heard, the shot caller was in the hospital in a coma because of brain damage.

Don’t even hang out with known gang members. I picked up a dirty jacket (a bad prison record) because I was seen hanging out with members of the Arian Brotherhood. I was on prison record as a gang member. Simply because I was observed hanging with a couple of these guys. The prison staff deems you guilty by association.

Therefore, unless you absolutely, positively have to join a gang for survival because you are in some kind of hard-core, do-or-die prison, stay as far away from gangs as possible.

Rule 4: Watch what come’s out of your mouth.

a.) Don’t ask questions. Learn by observation. Keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open. Listen and learn the prison lingo. Believe me the way inmates talk in prison, and the way you will end up talking, is completely different that the language they or you would ever use on the streets. Just make sure you know the meaning of the words before you use them.

Don’t go around trying to make friends. EX: Like going up to someone you don’t know and saying something lame like” Hi, my name is____, what’s yours?” This is prison, street etiquette doesn’t apply.

Rule 5: Watch what you do.

Don’t sit on someone else’s bunk or enter their living area unless invited to do so. Never reach across someone else’s tray at chow to reach for something. Unless you want a fork stuck in the back of your hand.

Obey the yard rules. I’m not talking about prison rules. I’m talking about the inmates rules. If it comes down to breaking a prison rule, or breaking the inmate code, you break the prison rule. If you break a prison rule the worst that will happen is a loss of privileges or good time. To break the inmate code can get you hurt or dead.

Rule 6: Do Not Do Drugs

The first time I saw someone die of a drug overdose was in prison. My neighbor overdosed on heroin and died right in front of me. Not to mention, prisons perform random drug tests on inmates. I was tested about twice a year. Sometimes, they would wake me up at 3:00 a.m. to test me. If your drug test comes up dirty, then you are taken to solitary confinement for something like a month. In addition, you could lose a few weeks of good time; which means you will have to do a few more weeks in prison. I know a few people this happened to.

Solitary confinement is basically prison inside of prison. There, you are confined to your cell for 23 hours a day. You do not even get to come out to eat. They bring your food to you, and you eat it in your cell. The only reading material you get is a Bible. For the one hour of time you do get out of your cell, you can shower and make a phone call.

If you are found smuggling drugs into prison, you could get an additional five years added onto your prison sentence. For some prisoners, this extends their sentence two-fold! I remember when a guy tried smuggling a few balloons of methamphetamine through visiting. A visitor passed them on to him and he swallowed them, planning to retrieve them later.

Unfortunately for him, he was spotted on camera by the guards who were monitoring visits. Upon finishing his visit, he was escorted to a dry cell. A dry cell is a room with no toilet. Instead, you handle your business on a wire-mesh screen over a drain. That way, officers can sift through your waste in search for drugs. You are also recorded by a camera the whole time.

Can you believe that this guy actually tried swallowing his balloons of drugs again—after he defecated on the wire-mesh screen? The prison guards told him that it did not matter because they had him on camera, and that was enough evidence to convict him. The culprit spent some time in the hole, got transferred to a higher security prison, and no doubt got some time added onto his sentence.

Also, I am sure his visitor got into some kind of trouble with the law as well. Bringing contraband into prison is a felony offense. And on top of all of that, drugs are generally much more expensive in prison than on the street.

Rule 7: Do Not Gamble

Gambling could get you hurt badly in prison. I knew a kid that was killed over a $13.50 gambling debt. He did not even see it coming. He was laying on his bunk, eyes half closed when they came in him and attacked him with swift brutality. He received so many blows to the head, he didn't even look human.. He didn't stand a chance. Afterwards, the scene looked like something out of a horror movie. There was a pool of blood on the ground with blood spatter in various directions. I heard of another a guy who ran up an $1,800 gambling debt that he just flat-out refused to pay. He was a Sureño; so the people from his gang were responsible for violating (disciplining) him. Three of them gave him a beat down with padlocks inside socks. When I saw the medical team take him away, he had a gauze wrapped around his head, he was shirtless, and he had blood all over his head, chest and stomach.

Oftentimes, people, like that gambler, get violated because they make bets with people from other gangs or races. If they do not pay up on their debts, that could lead to a race or gang riot. Violating the offender quells this.

Rule 8: If your not Gay, don't associate with those that are.

AIDS rates are much higher in prison than on the streets. Not to mention, homosexuals are generally looked down on in prison. I lived in a 70 man dorm; and there were quite a few "known" homosexuals who lived there as well. Many times, other inmates in my dorm would openly speak out against homosexuals in their very presence, practically challenging them to say something, which they never did. Another problem with homosexuality in prison is that your ‘girlfriend’ might be someone else’s ‘girlfriend’ too, which could lead to a fight. In other words, jealousy is a factor.

Also, gangs have a zero tolerance policy for homosexuality. I remember when the Mexican Nationals found out that one of their own was involved with a homosexual and they gave him an unrelenting beating. I was taking a shower at the time, and I heard the commotion on the other side of the shower wall. It was brutal. It sounded like two or three guys stomping one guy for several minutes. There were a lot of thuds from what sounded like boots to the head.

Rule 9: Do Not Talk to the Guards

What I mean by not talking to the guards is not telling them illegitimate things that other inmates are doing. Keep that stuff to yourself! Prison guards respect a snitch no more than prisoners do. If you do something to anger them, they will let it be known that you are a snitch. If you are lucky, you will be able to secure a transfer to another prison before you get hurt. However, it would only be a matter of time before inmates in that prison found out that you are a snitch. In other words, you would have to watch your back until your release.

You cannot rely on prison guards to protect you in prison. You have to remember the environment you are in. It is not like the outside, where you could return to the safety of your home after reporting some crime to the police. In prison, you have to return to an environment full of criminals; most of which are there because someone turned them in. They have some resentments against that; and you may not wake up in the same condition you were in before you went to sleep, if you wake up.

Rule 10: Keep Yourself Busy with Positive Activities

Positive activities include things like exercising, working and gaining an education. I worked out on a regular basis for about a couple hours a day, five days a week.

In addition, I took some college classes to further my education. College teachers from the local Central Arizona Community College conducted them; and prisoners earned college credits upon their completion. This helped me avoid other activities and individuals that could have gotten me into trouble. As the old saying goes, "Idleness is the devil's playground."

You would think the following are common sense rules. But most people that have not been in prison, wouldn’t understand the importance of them .

Rule 11: Keep your circle small.

Be careful who you associate with. You will make friends in time. More than likely inmates you become acquainted with on the exercise yard, or on a work crew.

You run a high risk if you associate with another race. I am not a racist. But facts are facts, segregation is live and well in prison. You could put yourself in danger by hanging out with individuals from another race. This is especially true in the Southwest state prisons.

Rule 12: Get God in Your Life

The 1st time I went to prison, I began reading the Bible and drew closer to God. There are a lot of Christians in prison. Actually, a lot of the people in prison are good people that made bad choices. That really helped me, because the very same rules for surviving in prison I have been explaining in this blog are included in the Bible. The Bible will help you keep your priorities straight, stay out of trouble and make wise decisions in prison (and after your release).

Moreover, there are many Christians to talk to in prison who can encourage you in making good decisions. I had some good Christian friends in prison, and we talked often.

Prison is not a safe place. However, following the above rules for surviving in prison will greatly increase your chances of coping with it. They could make the difference between life and death!

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