12 min read
26 Apr

A note from the author:  

These tips are designed to empower people who feel helpless. They are for incarcerated people who want meaningful ways to incorporate self-growth into an unfortunate time in their lives, such as going to jail or prison. If you know someone in need of motivational advice or guidance during these events, please print and forward/mail this to them. Ask them to try one or all of these 18 tips to cope with doing time and feel free to try some yourself because loved ones need coping tools too.  

How did I get here, and why does my Kool-Aid taste weird? That's the first question that crosses the mind as an inmate begins their first meal in jail or prison (depending on your situation).     

Instead of questioning the Kool-Aid flavor (theorized/rumored to be Saltpeter aka potassium nitrate), take control in a seemingly powerless situation.  

Don't allow the ghost of your regrets to ride you to the ground. You must take steps to protect yourself from further destructive behaviors. Yes, a mistake was made, but that does not have to define you. The mistake may not have even been yours.  

We know the judicial system is not perfect. Innocent people go to jail and prison, but that does not matter anymore (unless you plan to fight by appealing the court's decision, of course).  

18 Tips to Cope with Doing Time:

1. Get busy! 

Ask guards, other inmates, and even the warden questions about what programs are available for you (i.e., drug dorms, AA, and so forth)?

Every facility has different programs with various qualifications and benefits, so seek more information and take steps to get into anything positive. It is important to understand the requirements for early release, parole, probation, or any other asset you hope to receive. Once you know them, please do whatever you can to excel at them.  

  • Ask for copies and keep documents of all achievements like completing drug/rehab/alcohol programs, getting your GED, etc., in a safe place. Mail them to trusted family or friends to make copies for you. 

You will use these as proof that you are on the right path and that you have a plan to contribute to society rather than be a burden (which is usually the assumption) when it's time for court or a parole hearing.  

  • Learn the rules of jail or prison and avoid getting into trouble.

A bad fight can easily add more time to your sentence, ensure parole is denied, or end in the infirmary (death is also possible). Every facility has its own rules, and learning them quickly will help you more than hurt you. 

2. Take a trade class.  

Please remember to research the regulations, laws, or criteria that pertain to the trade program before taking one that does not allow felons to work.  

Each state may have different laws, regulations, or criteria, so don't assume you're automatically prohibited or vice versa.   

They also have different legal ways around those laws. For instance, if you're a youth offender, your record would show clean. Therefore, where your friend beside you may not qualify for a particular trade, you could, simply because of your status as a Y/O (youth offender).  

What is a youthful offender? 

According to www.merriam-webster.com, the legal definition of a youthful offender is a young person (as one within a statutorily specified age range) who commits a crime but is granted special statute entitling him or her to a more lenient punishment (as one involving probation or confinement in a special youth correctional facility) than would otherwise be available. (Merriam-Webster, n.d.) 

Every state has different requirements to qualify for youthful offender status. This program is designed to help younger people avoid the long-term effects of incarceration.  

It is important to know that the (DOC) Department of Corrections has the power to help kids after they have been sentenced.  

If the court doesn't declare you with a youthful offender status, however, you meet the state's requirements, the Department of Corrections can grant it later. So, stay out of trouble and don't give up too soon! 

Knowledge gives the powerless power. Stop running away from it and run to the nearest law library instead. Please pick up a book and teach yourself everything you can about your situation and possible ways to rectify it.   

Ask family, friends, or religious members to help you get the books or articles explaining the trade rules, laws, etc.  

Some more laws and services are available that may help your situation tremendously. Still, you must stay positive, focus, and move with purpose to make this situation your triumphant moment. 

Knowing what trades allow ex-felons to easily join their workforce upon release will save you time and training in a field you can't work. Unless you plan on relocating to a state that will permit it, in that case, you must consider parole or probation stipulations allowing you to relocate to the new state, so plan accordingly.  

3.  Get your GED.  

Felons already have it hard. Make your future a little easier by getting all the education your state will allow you to receive according to your status and placement in the system.  

In the "free world," obtaining a GED can get expensive, usually costing up to $150.00 for most United States residents.  

However, there are more fees involved, like having transportation to testing sites, having a license or other proper documentation for taking the GED, and testing prep material. Not to mention the cost of retaking a failed test which is both a mental and financial burden.  

Cost is a significant hindrance for many people. Please take advantage of free learning and get your GED if you can! 

4. Join the church, Masjid, Synagogue, or religious group of your choice.

Pray and try to find peace while you're still. Jails, detention centers, or prisons have different means and access to religious services.     

5. Avoid joining a gang!

Do not participate or contribute to any activity that can jeopardize your freedom. Gang activity sounds like a safety net, but don't be fooled; it usually ends with blood or additional jail/prison time. 

Getting freedom, money, success, and happiness is all you should concentrate on achieving. Do not let other people stop you or hurt your chances for peace, freedom, and happiness! 

6. Avoid being rude or disrespectful.  

Please avoid disrespecting others; you never know what someone is capable of in these situations or who else has a problem with your attitude. 

Friends or prison family may attack you for saying or doing the wrong thing to one of their own so avoid confrontations all together when possible. 

Never touch other people's belongings or enter their space, especially without consent.  

Guards have the power to make your life a living hell, so tread wisely. They are not your friend, no matter how friendly they may seem. Playing with them can land you in solitaire for whatever reason they say it is due to, and it will be your word against theirs. 

Besides, other inmates may assume you are working with the state as an informant, and you will not be safe. 

7. Get creative and stay positive!

You can also start a support group for other inmates who would benefit from positive connections like an exercise group or your own form of a book club. 

Promote positivity; this may help you stay out of trouble and look impressive when a parole hearing or early release opportunity is underway.

8. Writing letters to your loved ones will help you in the beginning stages of wound healing. 

Offer encouragement, explanations, and love to those who need it if they will not inflict more pain or confusion. 

Communication skills will be tested. Sometimes, you will only have a few minutes for life-changing conversations (i.e., death in the family or your children needing more time with a parent). Still, patience and love should guide you to a positive outcome more times than not. 

Please don't take it personally when you don't receive mail every day; your family and friends are not trying to hurt or neglect you. 

People may not have the "time" you do (work, school, and life without you is their new reality). They also may not know what to say or don't want to worry you, so please be patient with people in the free world. 

Keep your letters upbeat and avoid fighting on paper. Words have power, and once you put them on paper, it's hard ever to take them back!

9. Write More! 

Write to anyone with anything to do with your case—the judge, the D.A., the victim's lawyer if applicable, and especially the parole board. Send them copies of any certificates you have earned. 

The goal is to show them and yourself that you are on the right path. 

Clearly explain why you should be given another chance. Every time you mail one of these letters, re-read it and make sure you are becoming that self-described changed woman. 

You will have a better chance at a great recovery and staying out of trouble if you really do make positive alterations to your mind, body, and spirit regardless of your physical living conditions. 

10. Visitation Rules

It is important to remember that every facility has different rules for visitation. 

Both you and your loved ones must endure these struggles together. However, you have the power to make this process as smooth as possible for them by learning the rules in advance of their arrival. 

Ensure they are correct, and then clearly explain the protocol to your loved ones, so they are not scared or surprised by the process. 

Visitation time can be stressful for you too. Having loved ones view you in unfortunate circumstances is not anyone's highlight of their lives. 

However, if you have someone invested enough to spend the time and money to come and see you, it would be wise to make the most of that time. 

They love and support you, so if you are not enthusiastic about having visitors explain your feelings, and with good communication comes better relationships. 

Avoid arguments during visitation. The last thing you want is your loved ones having to watch a guard drag you away. 

Please don't even think about sneaking drugs in like this. It is not worth the consequence both for yourself and your companion. The person sneaking it in can go to jail, and you can get more charges/time added to your sentence.   

11. Meditate. 

Take time during your day to stop, clear your mind, and breathe. 

Try the following breathing exercise: 

Lay on your back with your hands gently over your belly. Close your eyes and breath in through your nose, and push the air out of your mouth. 

Feel your stomach muscles contract as you take in another slow deep breath. 

Focus only on your next breath and release the tension, the stress, the anger. 

Release the bad feeling that is taking space in your world right now! 

Remember what you are thankful for, your kids, your family, your health, or just the chance to become the woman that you can be if you stop hurting the woman you are.

Breath in goodness and positivity. Breath out stress and anxiety. Do this for a few minutes every day or as often as needed. 

Learning some form of meditation such as yoga or breathing exercises can help you both while incarcerated and afterward. It is an overall healthy activity that promotes health, focus and coping with stress without drugs or alcohol. 

12. Read and write creatively! 

Find your passion by reading about things and places you always thought would be out of reach for someone like yourself. 

Write a book about your life, your time, or even a fantasy novel.

Make plans to travel when you're released. Don't worry about how much money you have during your planning; this is an exercise in visual stimulation and only requires your imagination. 

Do not limit yourself; anything is possible with the right attitude, knowledge, and a little hope!     

13. Exercise. 

The benefits of exercising are tremendous, and luckily you can do this anywhere, even your bunk. 

Try doing sit-ups, pushups, and squats in reps of 10-25 (depending on your level of stress or on how much weight you want to focus on losing). 

Jog in place, do yoga, or any form of exercise that helps you relieve stress or anxiety.

Breathing exercises can help too. Ask family or friends for magazines that inspire and instruct tools for different forms of exercise.    

14. Work the Work, don't let it work you! 

You will be required to work regardless, so make the most of it. 

Try to get jobs in the law library, kitchen, and any other capacity that will allow for your further growth or that will help you stay out of any more trouble. 

The parole board can monitor or review your progress, so keep that in mind as you decide to do your time or let your time do you!

15. Design, Create or Invent something. 

I know this might seem impossible why you're locked up but remember that they also said the internet was impossible. Think about your qualities, skills, and or talents. 

Find other people to collaborate with on projects or plans. If you can draw or write, and your friend is a beast at business or has computer skills that you do not, join forces. 

You have created your first team! Doing things like this can be beneficial even if it is only used as practice for when you are released. 

On the other hand, it is entirely possible to put together your talents and create something unique for the world, like a comic book for kids of incarcerated women. 

Written and drawn by real women can be inspirational and the start to a whole new career. The point is to get creative, get educated, and prepare for the life you will be responsible for creating for yourself! 

16. Save a Penny to Invest in your Future Now!

If you are one of the lucky few with money coming in from loved ones to help with the commissary, this tip will benefit you the quickest. However, if you are not receiving any outside help, there are options for you too. 

In the "free world," people often make ties to their church or try to save money for a rainy day. Every day is a rainy day in prison or jail, and having financial assistance is the umbrella that helps the most. 

That is true, but have you considered how much money you can save for when you are released if you save 10% of your financial assistance (money from your books/money in your account) starting now? 

Do the math for yourself. Add how much time you have with how much money you think you can save in that time and plan ways to add more money to your very own nest egg (or freedom fund). 

There are other ways for you to earn and save money while incarcerated too. 

Besides support from others, you have the power to have side hustles like doing hair and having them send the money to your account rather than pay you in snacks. 

This gives you the ability to save 10% of anything you can make and control what "healthy" snacks you do order from the commissary. 

Controlling your health and money will empower you the minute you begin empowering yourself. Ensure you are following the facilities policies to avoid getting into unnecessary trouble.  

17. Learn Prison or Jail Etiquette.

Mind your business while in jail or prison and avoid being a target for "snitching." 

There is another ecosystem that lives in jails and prisons, so learn that system quickly. However, do not ask too many questions either. It may be interpreted as a sign of weakness or ignorance. 

You also may be viewed as an informant, which is a dangerous position to be associated with, so avoid it at all cost! 

Knowing what guards are creeps waiting to watch you bathe will empower you to bathe when a different C/O (correctional officer) works. 

This does happen, and you need to be aware of these things as soon as possible. Rape between guards and inmates occurs more than you think, so be cautious and aware to minimize being a victim. 

It is critical to note that NO Victim is Ever to Blame and if you have been assaulted please seek help immediately.


18. Self-Love Training (it's not as corny as it sounds).

Incorporate self-love into your daily habits to encourage you to recognize, understand, and control anger or other destructive behaviors.  

Solitary confinement is a particular cell that inmates who get into trouble will be sent to for punishment. 

Control your anger, stay out of trouble, and avoid being confined to a cell for 23 hours a day. Only coming out to bathe is a difficult way to live and should be avoided.  

Think about every negative event and feeling you had because of that event and close your eyes.     

Now imagine that NEVER happened to you. You were never abused. You never had that accident that ruined so much more than just vehicles. You never hurt that one person. Who would you be?

All the negative events, people, and situations you've been through up until this very second are what make you more powerful and more special than you may know. 

Learn tools or techniques to encourage you to practice self-love. Instead of criticizing your flaws, admire the unique beauty that only you have and appreciate the strength that has gotten you this far. 

You made it this far for a reason. Let that reason be something positive so something positive can come from another challenge YOU MUST OVERCOME! 

After you read this, decide what you want to do with your time. True, it's your time just like it's your life but with more knowledge comes more money and a better chance at a successful reentry to society.  

You can achieve success after incarceration too. 

Please remember to read books that will encourage you to keep stepping in the right direction to achieve all the things you think are impossible. 

The goal is growth, and the way to get there is by changing bad habits into good ones.  

First, recognize your faults or areas that need improvement in your life, like financial difficulties (poor money management skills or lack of training/education). Or are family conflicts (poor communication skills) the obstacle you want to overcome? 

Next, find books, magazines, or articles to help guide you to making more prosperous and overall healthy decisions.  

Knowledge will guide you when you're being led the wrong way, so you must learn as much as you can as often as possible. 

To get to the money, you must take steps in its direction. Learn foundations of systems that will benefit your business goals.   

Read and learn the steps that match your talents to get the success you desire. If you think (like I did) that you have nothing special to offer-You are wrong!

Being away from loved ones and your normal life will be hard but you have tools to make this time your stepping stone or into a ladder to success after confinements such as jail or prison. Crush it with a bright future by using knowledge as your new weapon!   

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