What Is The Secret to Surviving Prison?

Before I went to prison, I never thought much about what it would be like to be on the inside. I lived a normal life,graduated from college, and had a great job. I was 33 years old and had two speeding tickets on my record when I was arrested for marijuana possession and cultivation, so my experience with being behind bars was limited to what I saw on TV and in the movies.

The only time I ever thought about how I would survive prison or handle being an inmate was when I watched Prison Break or The Wire, but even then I didn’t give it serious thought because I never thought I would be a prison inmate.

Of course, that all changed in 2013 because the state of Missouri had not yet legalized medical marijuana. So, my politics and my willingness to do something I passionately believed in (even though it was against the law) ended up putting me in prison for four years, and I had to find a way to survive. That leads to today’s topicㅡthe secret to surviving in prison.

In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Treat other inmates with respect and kindness
  • Don’t join a gang or get a girlfriend
  • Stay busy when you are in prison

Treat other inmates with respect and kindness

Just as in the free world, when you go into prison, you have to treat the other inmates with respect and kindness. Inmates are human beings, not animals. If you go in looking for a fight, you will find one. Attitude is key to your survival. 

  • Always say, “please” and “thank you.” And, don’t ever forget to say, “excuse me” if you need to grab something or walk past someone. The better you treat people, the better your time behind bars will be. 
  • Don’t call someone names, especially something like “punk” or “b****.”
  • Never ask someone why they are locked up. If they want you to know, they will tell you. The same thing goes for length of sentence. 
  • Don’t ask and don’t tell how much time you are doing. The closer you get to your release date, the more trouble it can bring. People can get jealous, and someone might try to take your date.
  • Mind your business. Don’t try to walk into conversations or get involved in a situation that has nothing to do with you. 
  • Keep how much money you have a secret, and don’t borrow anything from anyone. 
  • If you are in need of something, find a hustle. Don’t borrow or steal, it will only cause you major problems. Instead, offer to do someone’s laundry or clean their dishes. 
  • Don’t try changing the channel on the dayroom TV without asking.
  • Stay away from card games.
  • Stay away from the guards and prison workers. If the other inmates see you talking too much to someone who isn’t an inmate, they will think you are a snitch. And, that’s the worst reputation you can have in prison. When it comes to surviving prison, if someone from the staff tries to talk to an inmate about an incident, it is a common response to hear, “didn’t see or hear anything.” And, that means to SAY NOTHING.

For me, the number one secret to surviving prison was to listen more than you talk.

Don’t join a gang or get a girlfriend

One of the most shocking things to me about prison is race relations between inmates. Everyone divides up by race, and you have to be aware of that if you want to survive prison. This doesn’t mean that you can’t associate with someone from a different race, but race seems to matter in prison

Joining a gang makes this situation worse because gangs are all race-related. If you just lay low and keep to yourself instead of joining a gang or a clique, your time is going to be much better.

When it comes to women’s prisons, don’t get involved in a relationship. It’s a big thing in prison to be, “gay for the stay” and then go, “straight at the gate.” I don’t know if it’s because people are lonely or because they want commissary, but women in prison love to hook up. However, all it does is cause serious drama.

Be very careful about who you talk to and who you become friends with. Staying out of relationships, cliques, and gangs will help you tremendously when it comes to surviving prison. Instead of worrying about everyone else, focus on yourself. 

The experience is horrible for your mind, your body, and your spirit, and you have to stay focused on those things. If you don’t, there can be some serious consequences.

Stay busy when you are in prison

Focusing on yourself can help you stay busy and survive a prison sentence. Hitting the gym as often as you can is important, or you can join a basketball or softball team. Get involved in different programming. Most prisons have some kind of sports, exercise, or fitness activity, and it would behoove you to be a part of something.

Sitting in your cell for 23 hours a day has the potential to destroy you mentally. You have to stay active when you get the chance. It is suggested to take classes or get a job. Keeping yourself occupied helps the days go by, and earning money to spend at the commissary or learning a new skill is a great way to pass the time.

Stay in touch with your family and friends as much as you can. If you have the money, write letters and make phone calls regularly. It can be hard to talk to people on the outside, but that support is important. I couldn’t have made it through my time if it wasn’t for my family and friends.

Take the time to learn how things work on the inside because there are two sets of rulesㅡprison rules and inmate rules. You have to navigate through that world, so pay attention to detail. Again, listen more than you talk.

Remember to be patient because nothing in prison happens quickly. Everything will take infinitely longer than it should, so expect that to happen. Finally, even if your release date is years away, start planning for your release as soon as you hit the yard.

When you are bored and sitting on your bunk, think about what you want to do when you get out. Where do you want to live? What kind of job will you try to get? If you get too focused on life behind bars, you are way more likely to land back in prison again.

I’m sure there are many more things that help people survive prison, but these things definitely helped me survive my four years behind bars. I never had any fights, never went to the hole, and never received a conduct violation. 

For the most part, it seemed like the other inmates liked me, or at least didn’t have a problem with me. And, that’s all I could ask for.

Do you think you could survive prison? Or, if you survived prison, how did you do it? Let us know in the comments below.


Top 10 Tips for Surviving In Prison


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