When you enter jail or prison you are entering a new world, not unlike a treacherous and dangerous jungle; knowledge of this strange world can help you to survive your stay. The following 7 rules are not guaranteed to ensure safety, but if followed they will certainly improve your odds of making it out of this cruel environment. The following rules are based upon what I learned during 15 months of incarceration in the Maryland state correctional system. It is based upon my personal experiences and also by what I was taught by inmates who had spent a considerable part of their lives in various state and federal prisons.
1. DO NOT SNITCH
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. I was told by another inmate of many years of experience that in all probability he will be shanked [knifed], before he was released.
All prisons have a multitude of gangs…black, white, pink, red, green etc… At my prison, MCTC, (http://www.dpscs.state.md.us/locations/mctc.shtml ) there were gangs such as the Bloods, Cripps, BGF [Black Guerilla Family], and DMI [Dead Man Incorporated]. It was hard to avoid gang members in prison. Your best survival bet was to stay out of their way. Sometimes you could not and shit happened in prison. The BGF ruled the Baltimore prisons. One day, gang members were told to flex their muscles by a gang leader. Several members of the gang walked around the bunks and pulled a sleeping inmate out and dragged him into the bath room for a beating. It was their way of showing who really controlled the prison. Gangs are hazardous to your health.
The relationship with your cellmate can be very tricky in prison. If you have the choice of selecting the race of your cellmate, pick one of your own race. By doing so, this does not mean that you are a racist. It means that you are avoiding having someone in your cell who hates you for being white, black, or whatever he is not. It is important to respect the privacy of your cellmate. You will be living with a stranger in a room that is the size of a bathroom. If your cellmate is at the window, you give him space by staying on your bunk or going to your cell door. Do not bother your cellmate when he is using the toilet. During my time in prison, whoever had to use the toilet would string a blanket separating the toilet from the area by the window. This simple step provided us with the semblance of privacy and civilization. With time, you will be able to determine if your cellmate is one to be trusted.
4. BE CAREFUL OF YOUR JOKES – Show Respect
What may be funny on the outside can be considered a very serious insult in prison. It is crucial to respect other inmates. Once in prison, there were several of us joking in the rec room. I remarked in passing that an older inmate (doing life for murder) involved in the discussion reminded me of my crazy ex-girlfriend. Although we had been very friendly, he informed me that such jokes were highly insulting. He was not going to beat the shit out of me because he was giving me the benefit that I knew no better because I was a new inmate.
5. DO NOT USE DRUGS OR ALCOHOL
You will be very surprised to find that all types of drugs, including homemade alcohol, are accessible to you behind bars. You may have been a drug user before prison or now you want to take drugs because the time in prison moves very slowly. Know that you will be tested periodically for drugs or alcohol use.
6. DO NOT ACCEPT GIFTS
If you are new to a prison, do not take a gift from another inmate. If you find a candy bar on your bunk and eat the candy bar; you may be another inmate’s dessert. You can protest all you want, but the other inmate now considers you his personal bitch.
7. ALWAYS BE ON GUARD
In prison you always have to be on your toes. You simply cannot relax. For example, in any jail or prison, it was highly recommended that you did not sleep or rest face down in your bunk. During my first week in jail, in Clarksburg, a guard observed a young inmate lying face down. The officer laughed and told the inmate “Buddy, you in prison — don’t ever forget that – never sleep with your ass up.”