If you have been sentenced to federal prison, you will become the property of the Bureau Of Prisons (BOP). If you know that to expect right away, your life in prison will be much easier.
  1. Don't trust anyone.
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    That goes for guards, other prison officials, and the person in the cell next door. If someone is being nice to you, ask yourself "What's in it for him or her?" They almost always have some hidden motive that you don't know about. In prison, nothing is free. For example, if someone gives or loans you something, you will probably have to pay it back with a hefty rate of interest. If you can't pay, they may demand a favor that could get you into big trouble, like hiding contraband in your cell.
  2. Hide your emotions.
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    If you want to look tough, do not show fear, anger, happiness, or pain. Emotions are your worst enemy because they reveal your weaknesses. Both inmates and guards prey on weakness. Don't give them the opportunity. If someone can figure out what makes you angry, they can use that to manipulate you. Similarly, if someone knows what makes you happy, they can try to ruin it for you. And because they are around you 24/7, they have unlimited opportunities to test their manipulative skills on you.
  3. Make use of your cellmates.
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    Do not be overly friendly with your cell mates but do ask some questions. Many have been in prison before and will be able to give you information about the prison you are being sent to as well as the system itself. You will have to judge for yourself whether to believe any of the information. Use common sense and try to figure out if that person has a reason to lie or mislead you. Some convicts will try to intimidate new inmates or mislead them for fun. Be careful.
  4. Choose your words carefully.
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    Potentially, anything you say to guards or prisoners, no matter how innocent you think it is, can be used to hurt you, manipulate you, or be taken out of context. Avoid discussing dangerous conversational topics. Otherwise, it can easily get you into trouble. Obvious subjects to steer clear of are religion, politics, racial issues, or your own personal feelings about someone or their family and friends.
  5. Always be polite and respectful to guards and other prison employees.
    If you give them a reason to hate you, they can make your life even harder than it already is. So, don't give them a stick to beat you with. It's true that some prison employees are better than others. Even so, never forget whose side they're on - it isn't yours. You need to get it in your head that the staff are always right and you need to do what they say. Even if you know it is wrong at the time, it is best to just follow the order, and you can address the problem at some later point.
  6. Don't stare at the other prisoners.
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    In prison, if someone stares at you it usually means they feel intense hostility or disapproval towards you. Alternatively, staring is a way of showing sexual interest. It's OK to look at people, but don't stare at them. There's a difference between looking and staring. When you're walking to your cell, do not stare into the other prisoners' cells. This is considered an invasion of privacy and can get you in big trouble.
  7. Don't be a snitch.
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    People who tell tales to the guards or other prisoners are despised by everyone and can be physically attacked. The best thing you can do in prison is to see everything, hear everything, and say nothing. If the guards ask you for information about some incident involving other prisoners, claim that you were looking the other way and didn't notice or hear anything. While this may irritate the staff on some level that you aren't willing to snitch, they will likely understand.
  8. Don't ask the staff to solve your problems.
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    Truth is, you can never go to staff for assistance with issues you may have, or else you will have problems with inmates if you do. If you go to staff with a problem, the only thing they can do for you is put you in the SHU as a protective custody inmate, and that will cause you trouble throughout your entire incarceration.
  9. Ask to be placed in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) only in extreme circumstances.
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    When fights occur in prison, the participants may be punished by being put in a segregation unit or be moved to a higher level of confinement, but it is extremely unusual for them to be charged with a crime, as long as all the participants were prisoners. Your legal protections in prison are severely curtailed by the system. The guards and administrators do not want anyone to make waves.
  10. Don't join a prison gang.
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    In prison, gangs are far more prevalent. These gangs work very differently on the inside than on the outside. Be mindful of gang members, but avoid joining a gang; gang members are soldiers, and gang leaders demand absolute loyalty. If you join a gang, you may be ordered to do something that will keep you in prison a lot longer; a gang member has no choice, because aside from getting out of prison, there's only one way to quit a prison gang while in prison: to die.
  11. Show allegiance to your race.
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    It is crucial to your survival in the prison system to immediately show your allegiance to your race -- though this doesn't mean you have to join a gang to do it. You get to know inmates of your race first. Especially the "important" figures within your race. You can be "friendly" with people of other races after that. In prison, blacks, Mexicans, Chicanos, Asians, and whites all look after their own. This isn't the time to be colorblind.
  12. Seek out people from your hometown.
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    In most federal facilities, there are inmates from all over the country. You can do an inmate search prior to turning yourself in. You'll be able to look through the prison inmate listing to see if you know anyone or where their home state is. When you get to your designated facility, you need to find other inmates who are from your city or state; these are your "home boys" and they will usually help you with things you have an immediate need for, such as basic hygiene items and shoes.
  13. Respect the personal space of the other prisoners and don't let them invade yours.
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    You will be tested and if you allow others to get too close to you for comfort, they will just get closer and closer until your subservience is obvious. Have respect and never reach over someone else's plate at the mess hall for the pepper, salt, etc. Don't allow others to reach over your plate either, or you'll look like a pushover.
  14. Get used to the new rules.
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    Above all, remember that the normal rules of the outside world simply don't apply any longer. When you're in prison, you're living on a different planet where all that matters to you is surviving the experience with as little damage as possible.