By: James R. Cooley, Contributing Writer

Ask anyone who has been in prison to describe how to survive it and you’ll probably get a different answer from every one of them. Most will agree that prison just plain sucks, to put it politely. However, there are some things you can do to make your imposed stay better.

Here’s a list of the Top 10 Tips for Surviving in Prison:

1. Don’t forget the 3 M’s – Your Mind, Your Muscle, and Your Mettle (Spirit).

Prison is stressful. Stress is hard on your mind, body, and spirit. Falling into the trap of focusing on one of the three and neglecting the others has consequences. Develop a routine that keeps your balance in all three. Everyone has seen the picture of the “ripped” guy from prison. While you are hitting the weight pile, don’t forget to keep some balance in your prison life.

2. Attitude. You heard the saying “your attitude determines your altitude!”

In prison, your attitude determines almost everything that happens to you. You will walk a fine line with your attitude. Come across as too tough or with a bad attitude…and someone will adjust it for you. Come across as weak and you will be taken advantage of in a very bad way. You got to have the right attitude to get along with your fellow inmates and staff. Remember #1 above, attitude is a part of your mental state! Have a good one!

3. Start planning from Day 1 for your release.

If you don’t, you must enjoy prison because odds are you’re coming back. Do some research. Talk to other inmates. Get your people on the outside to help you if they can and will. Plan for everything you can – job, a place to live, budget, etc. Remember Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance!

4. Maintain your lines of communication with the outside world.

Keep in touch with friends, loved ones, etc. That means writing, calling, and emailing. Use every means you can to keep in touch with those who you want to have a relationship with when you get out.

5. Be prepared for some of your “friends” to dump you and forget you!

It happens to almost everyone. Be ready!

6. Listen twice as much as you talk especially until you know what is going on where you are.

7. Get the “lay of the land.”

Every prison is a community in itself. Learn who is who and where everything is located. Learn the rules: both written and unwritten.

8. Be patient.

Everything moves very slowly in prison. Prison staff aren’t in any hurry to do anything for inmates. Get ready for long lines and delay after delay.

9. Choose your prison friends carefully…very carefully… and your enemies even more carefully.

The right people can help you find jobs and learn about hidden programs or benefits in prison. The wrong people can get you hurt, put you into segregation, or even get you more time.

10. Find the “gold.”

Every prison has one or two good programs that can really help you in prison or out of prison. Look for them! While staff may mention ideas to you, talk to inmates who are in programs or know inmates who were in the programs and are now on the street.


James Cooley is serving time in Federal prison in Texas for embezzling nearly $700,000 from his employer.


We send your comments to our writers, but if you’d like to contact James Cooley directly, please write to:

James R. Cooley #12756-062

FCI Fort Worth

PO Box 15330

Fort Worth, TX 76119-5905