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25 Basic Rules on How to Survive Prison and Jail

How To Survive in Prison & Jail

From a former inmate, criminal attorney and the creator of PrisonPath

How To Survive in Prison, 25 Rules

Every culture has its rules. If you visit another country and violate what is considered appropriate behavior, you may at best, be ignored or, in the worst case scenario, subjected to scorn, ridicule, or violence. Being incarcerated is no different; prison is a strange country where the slightest infraction of the local culture can result in violence. The wise traveler always plans ahead, seeking to understand the culture of his destination before departing.

When you enter jail or prison, it is a new world not unlike a treacherous and dangerous jungle; knowledge of this strange world can help you to survive your stay. The following recommendations are not guaranteed to ensure safety, but if followed, they will certainly improve one’s odds of making it out of this cruel environment.


The following rules are based upon what I learned during incarceration in the Maryland state correctional system. It is based upon my personal experiences and also what I was taught by inmates who had spent a considerable part of their lives in various state and federal prisons.




When, you were in school, no one liked the kid who told on the other kids. In prison, the snitch is likewise looked upon with disgust and anger. Any short term gain from snitching shall be outweighed by the real threat of physical harm and/or death. I knew one inmate who gave information on a regular basis to the correctional guards. He never went outside to the yard or to the gym because of his well-founded concerns over retaliation from other inmates. He was even looked down upon by the correctional guards. One officer even asked for information from him in front of other inmates. I was told by another inmate of many years of experience that in all probability he will be shanked [knifed], before he was released.



If, you borrow or buy anything from another inmate, you are now in debt to that inmate. This seems obvious enough, but in prison, debts carry additional weight. The inmate gave an extra shirt to you because there was no heat in the tier. It was all fine and well until you are told by the inmate and his friends that you now owed $15 worth of commissary food or in the worst case, that you were now his Bitch. Some inmates, for example, would buy extra commissary food and then sell the food at a higher price to other inmates. If you bought a package of cookies from the inmate, you had to pay back three packages of cookies to the inmate. A fellow inmate told me about a new inmate who bought a package of cookies on credit from a lifer. The lifer sold commissary items out of his cell.When the new inmate’s family did not send money to his commissary account on time, the lifer offered no extension. He killed the rookie inmate. I borrowed from inmate’s commissary stores, but I was extremely lucky that it ended well for me. I always paid back in full. At the end of any day in prison, it was best to avoid taking any chances by buying or borrowing from another inmate.



They are not your friends. Most CO’s will either despise you or just do not give a damn about you. There are countless examples of this attitude by the CO’s towards inmates in my memoir. To many officers, an inmate is a lesser human being. If the officer had a bad day at home, then he made your life miserable for his own enjoyment. Even if the other officer on duty knew that his fellow officer was completely wrong regarding his or her treatment of you, the other officer may shake his head in wonder, but there would be no help for you. To be fair, there was a small minority of correctional officers who are reasonable and would help you if the circumstances were appropriate. After a period of time in any institution, you will discover the few roses among the many weeds.


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For information on our Prison Consultant Packages on surviving prison or jail, click Before you enter a local, state, or federal prison–jail, you will have many questions about prison life, and your attorney does not have the practical answers, because your lawyer has not experienced life in prison. As a prison consultant, I can help you.