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How to Survive Your First 24 Hours in Prison


As you walk up to the correctional facility, you remember reading an article that said, “Chances are, you will remember your first day in prison for the rest of your life.” And if the menacing people entering with you are any indication, it will not be a good memory.

Every year in the United States, over 600,000 people enter prison gates, but about 10.6 million people go to jail each year. And prisons are not like country clubs.

The average size of a U.S. prison cell is roughly 4.5 m2 (48 ft2). Depending on the prison you’re in, on an average day, you are in your cell for about 23 hours a day.


And with COVID-19, this has been severely enforced. Will you have any privacy? Should you be scared of the showers? And how should you greet your cellmate?

A soon-to-be prisoner should educate themselves by reading good quality prison preparation books, and talk to a former inmate who has done substantial time both in the facility you will be in and at the same security level. Also, being physically fit can help set you up for success upon arriving at the prison. So, now that you’re here, this is what your first 24 hours will be like and how to survive them.


Step 1: Strip Search

At 8 a.m., your first stop is at Receiving and Discharge, also known as R&D. This process can take up to 8 hours. The staff will review whatever you’ve brought with you to determine what items you can keep with you and what will have to go. You will receive a set of prison clothes and be photographed and fingerprinted. You’ll get an identification card.

And on your first day, you will strip in front of guards. This means you must take all your clothes off, a guard runs their fingers through your hair, and checks your mouth and beneath your tongue. The guard can ask you to squat and cough, and raise your arms. This ensures no contraband is smuggled into the prison.

By 4 p.m., you will hopefully have completed the intake process and be ready to meet your cellmate. Before leaving R&D, you will receive a bedroll, which consists of sheets, a blanket, hygiene items, a towel, shoes, and perhaps a pillowcase.

Step 2: Meet Your Cellmate

Walking into a prison housing unit for the first time can be one of the most unsettling aspects of prison for new inmates. Most federal prisons have two prisoners per cell, whom you meet on your first day.

You will meet a guard who will point you to where you will go, and while you do that, everyone is watching, trying to figure out who the new prisoner is, and where they’re going to fit in. Once you get to your cell, you should knock on the door and introduce yourself firmly and respectfully.


And follow the suggestions and directions of your more experienced cellmate. If your new cellmate wants nothing to do with you, then you’ll need to look for support elsewhere. According to psychologist Dr. Jaime Blandino, a lot of people in prison have no choice but to simply figure out a way to survive, so they revert to primitive ways of relating.

Try to find connections with people who have similiar cultural, racial, or religious backgrounds as you. It might go against your morals, but in prison finding a tribe can be the key to your survival.

Step 3: Shower Time

By 6 p.m., you will be ready for your first shower. While prison movies and television shows tend to portray shower rooms as hotbeds of violence and assault, often this is not the case. In fact, you could be putting yourself in more danger by avoiding showers.


In prison, keeping clean is a necessity, not a luxury. Because you don’t want to upset anyone with your body odor. Since you’ll be spending so much time with your fellow inmates in shared spaces, a strong body odor is an easy way to put a target on your back.

Step 4: Good Toilet Etiquette

If you’re housed in a cell, it is best to use the restroom when your cellmate is not present. In emergencies, it’s fine to use the bathroom with a cellmate present, just notify them first. And hang a sheet up for privacy if possible.

If it’s your cellmate who needs to do their business, do whatever you can to give them privacy. Look towards the wall, because making any sort of eye contact with them is an easy way to sour the relationship, and potentially invite violence.

Step 5 Your First Meal

As a prisoner, you don’t have a choice about the food you’re served. Inmates assigned to the Food Service will issue a tray to you and place the same portions on every tray. Inmates cannot eat two servings of the same meal, as most federal prisons now have ID card scanners in place to ensure that each prisoner only eats once. If you are caught going through the line twice, you run the risk of being issued an incident report for stealing.

Step 6: Lights Out

This is your chance to process your first day in prison. As career criminal Cody Lachey said, I just sat down on my bed. I was stressed like you wouldn’t believe.

There was no way I was going to sleep. My whole world had just fallen apart. It was just me and my thoughts. And silence. It was eerie. I was tossing and turning but there was no way I was getting my head down. Literally, my whole life was flashing before me. I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep.


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