My 25 years of experience doing time in prison make me an expert at avoiding the pitfalls of prison. All prisons are different, but many of the rules of conduct stay the same. Simple common sense will save you most of the time.
Here are 10 Prison Tips for New Prisoners:
1. Hygiene should be your first concern.
You share a confined space with other prisoners. Brush your teeth. Bathe regularly. Keep your space and person clean and remember that you are grown. You don’t have a wife, mother, or maid to clean up your messes and pick up behind you. If you make a mess, clean it up. Prisoners tend to use the toilet to spit, rather than dirty the sink. The toilet is also used to wash clothes. When you use the toilet, wipe the pee off the seat and clean the bowl every time you take a dump. You’d be surprised how many prisoners have trouble remembering these simple rules of hygiene. I had a cellie who once refused to brush his teeth. “Okay,” I said, “Since you don’t want to brush your teeth, the next time I smell your nasty breath, I’m going to knock all your teeth out so you can wash them in the shower.” Immediately he decided to go trade some food for a tube of toothpaste and I never smelled his mouth again. It’s a shame that a man has to be told to brush his teeth.
2. Knowing what is and is not your business will keep you out of trouble.
In prison, you can’t help but be aware of what goes on around you. Ignore anything that does not affect you personally. Don’t expect things to be fair. They won’t be. Often the television will be controlled by the toughest guys. Accept that. If you want to watch what’s on, then do so. If they change the channel, just grin and go get a book to read.
3. Don’t make others do your time.
No doubt you are miserable and misery loves company. My first fight in Texas Prison was due to my cellie whining about getting his parole revoked on his 8-year sentence for a technical violation. I listened until I couldn’t take any more of his bellyaching about how his wife was doing dope and having sex without him. He expected to do 90 days. I had two concurrent sentences for 35 Aggravated Years and faced another dozen charges of Attempted Capital Murder Of Police in Hunt County, Texas and a 1st Degree Murder charge in Norfolk, Virginia. My sympathy for a man doing his 8-year sentence, 90 days at a time was non-existent. Always remember that your time might seem like a lot to you, until you find out that there are guys like me that have already done your time flat and have more time left to do than you have to start with
4. Try to keep a happy, polite demeanor.
Being courteous to the older convicts will make you seem more mature and confident. Don’t be too proud to listen to advice and don’t let pride be your downfall. My rule these days is to avoid fights unless the situation is worth killing and dying for. You can’t do time without the respect of your peers. That requires you to be willing to defend your property, person, and space. It’s a fine line between being willing to fight and having to fight. The truth is simple. Many prisoners only understand one language, the language of violence. Losing a fight is nothing. Refusing to fight will mark you as prey in a world of predators.
5. What you don’t have you do without.
Never borrow. Debt is a trap. There are always guys running stores. They’ll loan you money, whatever you want, for double the money back. If you just do without until you can have your own money, you’ll get twice as much. It’s worth the wait. Think of it as deferred gratification.
6. Gambling is looking for trouble.
If you lose, and you will, you’ll have to pay. If you win, you have to be willing to do whatever is necessary to collect your winnings. You’ll save yourself a lot of potential problems if you just don’t start gambling.
7. When any officer gives you an order don’t argue.
Yes, I’m sure you’ll be given illegitimate orders at some point. You can complain to rank later. You can file a grievance if you don’t like their response, but if you disobey, you will be in trouble with no way out. It’s a matter of being aware of the possible consequences of your actions and deciding if it’s worth it. If you have a short sentence, nothing in this place is worth getting more time over.
8. There is always sex in prison.
My advice is to avoid all sexual contact. I caught HIV in Texas prison. Having it makes me aware of how many others also have it. You can ruin your life if you choose. Do you really want to have to tell your friends and family you caught HIV in prison?
9. Tattoos are big business in prison.
My only tattoo was done my first time in prison back home in Alabama. What was I thinking? You can’t be an ex-con without a tattoo, right? I know better now. I was lucky I didn’t get hepatitus. If you get tattoos in prison you will most likely get hepatitis, too. Why chance it? If you want a tattoo, wait until you get out and have it done by a professional.
10. Gangs are a scourge in prison.
Don’t come to prison and join a gang because you are afraid to stand alone. You’ll get more respect by politely staying to yourself and minding your own business. Once you join a gang, you’ve agreed to allow others to make your decisions for you. They’ll order you to do what they are afraid to do themselves, saying they have already paid their dues back when it was hard, and laugh when you get more time and ruin your chances of ever going home.
In the end, doing time is a matter of making choices. Prisoners are not known for making wise decisions. That’s how we become prisoners. If you use your head, you can avoid much of the drama and get back to your family. If you don’t, you might not get home at all.
Daniel Harris is serving 35 years in Texas for Attempted Capital Murder.
Daniel H. Harris #00622851
2664 FM 2054
Tennessee Colony, TX 75886