Prison Has Its Own Set Of Rules

These 15 Rules Will Help You No Matter Which Prison You Are In

1. DO NOT EVER SNITCHThe fastest way to get hurt or even killed  in prison is to snitch. In prison neither the inmates nor the prison guards like a snitch. Keep your mouth shut and mind your own business. Remember you are there to serve your time and get out safely not be an informant for the prison system. I have served nearly five years in prison and I have seen people stabbed, beat-up, robbed and nearly killed because of snitching. JUST DON’T SNITCH.

2. YOUR CELLMATEIf there is one thing that can make or break you time, that is your cellmate.  Your time will be harder and more stressful in prison if you and your cellmate you do not get along. It is a tricky situation because in prison everyone wants to be with their own kind. It is not racist want to be with someone who is white or black like you. You do not want to be in a cell with someone who hates you because of your race, sexual preference or religion. When I was at Danbury, there was a hispanic gay man who shared a cell with a black Muslim man and there was always a fight or an argument because they could not get along or find a common ground. Managing time in the cell is very tricky too. You are sharing a 7 by 10 cell and bathroom with another grown man, it is really hard for both you to be moving around at the same time. You have to figure out a schedule where one of you can use the cell/bathroom when the other is not there. When I was in prison, I was lucky to have cellmates of all races that I got along with.  We discussed a schedule that we both agreed to so that we could both have some privacy. As a matter of respect, I never brought other inmates into my cell because that could create a lot of problems. Meet with other inmates in the yard or library, do not bring them into your cell unless you are the only person living in the cell and that rarely happens. IF YOU WANT TO BE RESPECTED BE RESPECTFUL.

3. DO NOT BORROW, BUY OR ACCEPT GIFTS FROM ANYONE – Borrowing from other inmates will eventually get you in trouble. You do not want to be indebted to anyone in prison. In prison everything comes with a price. An inmate gives you a piece of candy seems like nothing until he tells you that his friend that you owe money wants you to be his bitch. Do not accept commissary or buy commissary from inmates. In prison, many inmates have a “store” where they buy things from commissary and resell them to other inmates as three times the cost. Stay away from that kind of transactions, they can only get you into trouble. THIS IS TROUBLE.

4. DO NOT EVER PUT YOUR TRUST IN A CORRECTIONAL OFFICER– Keep in mind that correctional officers or (CO) are not your friends. They are Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So.  They look down on us, and usually are jealous of inmates who are well-known,were famous in the streets, have a lot of money or more education than they do. There are some officers who may be very friendly, but don’t get it twisted, they are still COs and their jobs is to make your life miserable. During my time in prison, I was respectful to all COs but at the same time I kept my distance and never talked to a CO one and one. Other inmates would assume you are snitching. If you must talk to a CO one and one, take another inmate with you to witness the conversation. Keep your mouth shut! You hear nothing, you see nothing.  And if you decide to snitch, know that the CO’s will tell other inmates that you are a snitch, and that can only mean trouble for you. Another thing that can get you in trouble is flirting with CO’s of the opposite sex. In all of the institutions I was in there were many female CO’s who would flirt with inmates, offer cell phones, offer sex, contraband and money. This is never a good idea and never ends well for the inmate. The best thing that can happen to the inmate is that they are transferred and the worst thing is a six month stay in the SHU while you are under investigation. Stay away from the CO’s but, be RESPECTFUL ALWAYS.

5. DO NOT GAMBLEOne of the worst things you can do in prison is to gamble. You will never win! In prison people gamble on everything. When I was at Devens, Massachusetts an inmate bet another about who was the main character in a 1988 movie. When they checked it out, the inmate who initiated the bet lost and he refused to pay. He almost got his head smashed in. He had to check into solitary confinement because he was afraid he would get hurt, but he could not tell the lieutenant why he felt his life was in danger because if he said he had a bet with another inmate, he would have received an infraction and lose good time. Thus, gambling in prison is a lose/lose proposition even if you win there is nothing to gain by gambling. DO NOT DO IT.

6. DO NOT STARE AT ANOTHER INMATE – It is never polite to stare at someone. In the world, someone might find a stare troubling and move on. In prison staring at another inmate will undoubtedly lead to a fight. I was at Danbury, CT new inmates were coming in one day, and I saw someone who looked familiar and I was staring at him just to determine it was someone I actually knew. The next day this person came up to me with his friends and demanded to know why I was staring at him. I explained quickly that he looked like someone that I know from another spot! It turned out that I met him at Canaan while in transit. We became reacquainted again. Imagine, if I did not know this guy, this could have led to a bad confrontation. Please do not stare at other inmates, in prison staring sends the signal that you want to fight. DON’T STARE.

7. DO NOT BACK DOWN FROM ANOTHER INMATE – In prison violent confrontations know no boundary. If you can avoid a fight you should do so at all costs. There is never any winner in a fight. But if you back down from a confrontation, you can turn out to be the bitch of the unit. You have to use your judgment about how to avoid confrontations but if someone has not touched you, the best way to avoid physical violence is to de-escalate the situation. You don’t have to back down, but you don’t have to escalate the situation either. Walking away is always a good thing, but make sure the confrontation is over. In prison, things seem to drag on especially if someone felt he or she was disrespected.  Your own personal judgment in each situation is crucial. If inmates find out that you are an easy prey, it won’t be long before they start stealing your commissary. I witnessed a guy who once arrived at Danbury in Unit G where I was – the day he arrived another inmate approached him to tell him what to do. He broke his nose with one punch. No one ever talked to him that way again. That was his way of saying “don’t fuck with me.” I do not preach violence, but prison is not the outside world. People would prey on the weak and worse you can become their bitch. DE-ESCALATE ALWAYS.

8. DO NOT LENDDo not lend money or anything to another inmate. No matter how much you trust each other, this could lead to trouble. When I was at Lewisburg Camp, an inmate asked me to buy him $50 worth of commissary and promised to pay me the following week. I never got paid and I resented him for that, and next time he asked me for something I said no. I made the mistake of complaining to a “shot-caller” who volunteered to collect the debt but because I don’t believe in violence, I declined. So lending anything of value to an inmate can create problem you do not need. Do not do it. YOU ARE NOT A BANK.

9. ALWAYS BE ALERT AND  READY TO MOVEIf you like to daydream, prison is not the place for it. You must always be on guard, ready to move, fight, or run. You cannot relax in prison. It is not a place for you to relax.  A fight can break out at any time, or someone can be coming to you with a “shank” a homemade knife. You have to be aware of your surroundings all the times if you want to be safe. In most prisons and jails inmates do not sleep face-down in their bunks, you don’t want your ass sticking out. There are a lot sexual predators in prison. In prison I always slept face-up with my boots on ready to move at any time. It is sad but that is the reality of prison. BE ALERT 24/7.

10. BEWARE OF FALSE PRIDEOne thing inmates hate more about other inmates are educated/professional inmates, “white collar inmates” who act as if they are better. If you have advanced degrees, let it go, don’t show up the guy who barely made it to the 5th grade. When I was at Danbury, as a lawyer with an advanced degree, I tried to fit in, I speak in language that anyone can understand. I never tried to put someone down, or exercised false pride. The system does not distinguish between educated inmates and those with no education. Acting like you are better than anyone else will lead to trouble. If an inmate asked you to help him with a letter, or homework or reading something, please do it respectfully, do not talk down to anyone. As a former lawyer, I helped a lot people, I probably got more years back for inmates than anyone I know. I never charged for my services and I never ever talked down to anyone. I helped so many people with legal work that inmates nicknamed me “The Real McCoy”, but I did it with respect. If I made an appointment with someone I kept it. If I gave my words I came through. NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE, YOU ARE AN INMATE.

11. DO NOT DISCUSS YOUR VISITS OR RELEASE DATEThere are inmates who have not had visits at all. If you are one of the lucky ones who have family that visit you often, please do not show off or discuss your visits. Sometimes, inmates would ask how was your visit, just simply say it was “ok” do not give details or talk about your visitors. Other inmates might get jealous of your frequent visit. When I was at Devens, I had a Bunkie who had not had a visit for seven years, and I was having visit every other week. I never really discussed my visits with him until I get to know him better, and I told him that I was very grateful for the visits. But if anyone else asked me, I would just say ok with no details. Your release date is for you and your family to know not inmates. Some inmates may get jealous that you are being released and cause trouble for you by engaging you into a fight. So, keep your release date to yourself, if someone asks you, you tell him you are not sure, or you don’t know. BE DISCRETE.

12. DO NOT TOUCH ANYONE IN PRISONThis seems obvious, but touching anyone in prison can get you into a whole lot of trouble. This applies to touching people and their property. In prison people are very territorial. For example in the TV room everybody has a chair. If you get there and you do not have a chair, do not move somebodies chair, do not touch the chair, do not sit in the chair, do not put you feet on the chair. If there is a microwave int he unit, and someone else is using it do not touch their food. Do not take their food out and do not ever eat their food. Do not touch anyone, do not touch anyone’s chair or anyone’s food.  Also, remember do not flirt or touch a female correctional officers either. KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF.

13. GANGS – Prison life includes gangs – that is an inescapable truth. Gangs such as MS13, Trinitarian, Bloods, Cripps, BGF (Black Guerilla Family), and DMI (Dead Man Incorporated). If you were not a gang member in the street, you do not want to be a gang member in prison. When I was in prison I met a lot gang members and “shot-callers” I stayed away from the Gangs. I never conducted any business with them. Some gangs would offer protection, do not do it. You can only get into trouble. If you mind your business, and respect and observe the above rules you do not need protection. In Danbury low I witnessed a white kid from Maine who was a member of a Hispanic gangs and he was buying K2 from them, but when he could not pay, they beat him almost to death, three days before he went home. He actually went to the hospital instead of going home. If you were a gang member in the street you will definitely be a member of your gang in prison but if you are not in a gang don’t join one.  GANGS ARE BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH.

14. SEX PRISON Sex is everywhere in life including prison. In prison, inmates are having voluntary and involuntary sex. When I was at Devens, there was an inmate named “Kardashian” from Hawaii. He came to the compound with flaming, and very soon, a gang member became his protector. A few weeks later he was in the library turning tricks in exchanged for protection. One day, the came to me and my friend to ask us to call Anderson Cooper of CNN on his behalf because he wanted to get married to another inmate and BOP would not allow it. My friend and I looked at each other and we told him we will see what we could do. But every month he was getting caught performing oral sex in the library while his protector stood in front of the door. Other inmates were paying the protector for the sexual favors that he was performing. If an inmate makes a sexual overture to you, you have two choices, request protective custody or kick his ass. At Devens the inmate named Kardashian made an overture to me by commenting on the size of my sex organ, well let’s say that he requested protective custody the next day. BE AWARE.

15. SECURE YOUR BELONGINGS Some inmates have nothing and they have to hustle in prison in order to survive. If you have family support and able to buy what you need, make sure you secure your belongings. Your clothes, your foods, your radio and MP3 must always be secured. When I was at Lewisburg camp in Pennsylvania, I did not lock my locker. No one told me that my locker needed to be locked. Others had their lockers opened, so I kept mine opened. For months I was living with an open locker and everything was fine, until an inmate from my neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York asked borrow $90 worth of commissary. He promised to pay me and never did. When I asked for the money back, instead of paying me, he set me up. He placed a box cutter in my locker and told one of the officers that he saw a knife inside my locker. The officer searched my locker found the box cutter, and locked me up. I received a violation for possession of a weapons and lost 47 days of good time, no commissary for six months, no visit for six months, and I got transferred from that sweet spot of a camp to Devens in Massachassusets which they call a low but really a medium because I was locked inside a cell from 9:30pm to 5:30am. Once I was gone, he did not have to pay me. So again, never a good idea to loan money or to borrow money. I probably would not have been in trouble if my locker was locked. So the lesson here, lock your locker and do not give out loans. LOCK YOUR LOCKER AND DON’T LOAN ANYTHING.

Eddie Vo



  1. Avatar
    Inis Smith

    Very good advice. My son is in low federal prison & has learned most of these. It’s a horrible situation. He had never been in trouble before but got into drugs after being on a narcotic for a root canal & bad things happened. We go to see him every 4-6 weeks & that is SO VERY IMPORTANT. He is one of the lucky ones that has family to visit. Most of his “friends” have deserted him & he says he would never had done that to his true friends…sad. I’m hoping I can print these 15 things out for my son & send them BUT I wouldn’t be surprised if the don’t let him have it.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    • Rise-N-Step

      Iris, thank you for your comments. I am sorry that your family has had to experience both the opiod crisis and being justice-involved. The most we can to is band together to support each other through this process. I am glad you found this article to be helpful and that you visit him often. You are fortunate-many do not have that luxury. Riise-N-Step has not officially launched our program but we ask that you share our website with your friends and family members and please ask your son to add us to his Trulincs at info@rise-n-step.com for him to become a member and tell us you are his mother.

  2. Avatar
    Inis Smith

    Thanks so much for your reply, nice to know there may be help out there. We hope the First Step Act can help too. My son Tyler has a CorrLinks account, not sure if he can add that, but I sent him an email to tell him. He asked me to see if he could be a premium member, but we can’t afford the $150 right now. Hopefully he will be allowed to get the emails where he is & sign up to be a free member like me. I’ll be surprised if he will be able to do it, we can hope & pray.
    Regards – Inis (Clements) Smith ?

    • Rise-N-Step

      He will be able to add us. We currently have over 500 members-in 19 institutions. They have all started as base members thus far. There is no charge for signing up. Have him add info@rise-n-step.org to his email account. Hope he will sign up soon!

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