At some point in your life, you may find yourself in jail. It is remarkably easy to find yourself in jail - it really doesn't take much. All that's required is:
a) a momentary lapse of good sense
b) an annoyed police officer or sheriff
Some people go to jail on a regular basis, and have learned the ins and outs of how the system works and how to behave. They've learned how to deal with an incarceration situation and how to come through the experience unscathed. You may know a few of these people. You may be related to a few of these people.
Most folks, however, do not have experience in a correctional setting. They do not know what to do, or how to act. Sometimes, through no fault of their own, these folks get hurt. This guide is for those people.
So you're in Jail!
The cops have just dropped you off at your local county jail and you're pissed. You've been wronged! You didn't do anything, dammit! You'll sue their asses and have their jobs! Screw the man!
Tip #1 - Your grudge against authority belongs on the street, not in here
The cops are the ones who did this to you, not the correctional officers. It serves no purpose for you to become agitated once you've been dropped off at the county jail. If you act in a way that a C/O construes as a threat to order in the facility, you could be:
a) put into an isolation cell to cool off for a while (keeping you from using the phone)
b) put into lockdown for a number of days (keeping you from using the phone)
c) put into intensive care, and then into lockdown for a number of days (keeping you from using the phone)
You'll be booked into the facility. Your fingerprints will be taken, your photograph will be taken. You will be interviewed by classifications personnel to determine your classification level. Do not annoy the classifications personnel. If you have no criminal history, and your charge isn't rape or murder, you'll probably get classified as a minimum security inmate, which is EXACTLY where you want to be. If you annoy the classifications personnel, there is a chance you will be classified as a medium security inmate, which is NOT where you want to be.
You will be interviewed by medical personnel. Tell them about any conditions you may have, and any prescriptions you may have. Be friendly and respectful. The medical personnel will determine whether or not you get your medication or special medical treatment.
You will dress in, giving your clothes to an officer to inventory and store, and getting jail-issued clothing in return. Be polite and cooperative. Do not be afraid to ask for a larger size item, or a smaller size item, if you feel what was given to you doesn't fit. You might be wearing these clothes for a while, so they should be as comfortable as possible.
Different jails issue different clothing. Typically you will be given a jumpsuit or pants and a shirt, underwear, socks and shower shoes. You will usually be given a towel, a cup, and an inmate handbook. Hold onto all these things, as you can be charged for the cost of those items when you leave if you don't turn them in.
You will be given a chance to use the phone. Most modern facilities have a free phone call system where you can make as many calls as you want up until the time you get taken up to your housing unit. Take advantage of this. Call mom and dad, siblings, aunts and uncles, friends, anyone you can think of who can come and bail you out. Pride at this point is stupid. Get the money you need to get out however you can.
So you couldn't get the bail money, eh loser?
Escorted by a C/O, you will be taken to your housing unit, also called a "mod." Hopefully you will be taken to a celled housing unit, where there are usually two inmates (sometimes more) housed in a single cell with a door that can be opened or closed, depending on the time of day. If you're in a really nice facility, you may even have control of your door.
If you're unlucky, you will be taken to a "dormitory-style" mod, with open bays and rows of beds. Prepare yourself for uncomfortable nights listening to snoring, smelling unpleasant odors, and hoping you won't have your things stolen while you sleep. If you're in a dorm-style mod, keep as much of your property as you can in your locker, or it will get stolen.
The housing unit C/O will tell you where your bed is. Go there, put your stuff away and get your bed ready.
Tip #2 Get along with other inmates
If you're in a celled mod, respect your cellmate, or "celly." Take whatever bed he is not in. Do not touch anything that might be his.
Some more hints to help you get along:
- Keep to yourself, but do not isolate yourself. Mingle like you're at a party full of people who would beat you to death with a salad bowl at the slightest provocation.
- Stay with your own race as much as possible. Often there are subtle racial issues in a correctional facility that you may not understand. Staying in the same general area as the rest of your race will often keep you from crossing an invisible social line. Don't cross that line. People get stabby.
- Do not ask other people what they are in for.
- Do not lie about your charges, people will find out what they are, and will probably be annoyed with you for lying to them. They might feel a bit stabby.
- Do not gamble unless you fully understand the stakes - it sucks to give away your breakfast tray for a week because you lost a game of chess.
- Do not borrow if you can help it, but if you do, pay your debts. Usually debts are paid back on a two for one basis: ie one candy bar today will cost you two on store day.
- Watch whatever other people want to watch on television, do not get involved in television arguments.
Tip #3 - If a fight breaks out, get to your bunk or cell.
As a general rule, if a fight breaks out between two other inmates, move away from the fight as rapidly as possible without bringing attention to yourself. Do not bump into other inmates while doing so, or you may find yourself on the wrong side of defensive aggression.
Your goal should be to remain completely uninvolved in the altercation and to get on your bunk or in your cell, whichever is appropriate, NOW. If your cell door has been closed, stand by the door with your hands in plain view. Do not speak. Follow C/O directions immediately. In a fight situation, or "code," responding officers are usually high on adrenaline. They don't know if there are two inmates fighting, ten inmates fighting, or an inmate and one of their fellow C/O's fighting. If you are in the way, they will go through you to get to the incident. It is very likely that you will get hurt. So get out of the way.Tip #4 You are vulnerable.
Be aware at all times that you may be assaulted at any time, for no reason at all, by another inmate. Regardless of how tough you are, or how skilled you are in a fight, you are vulnerable in a jail setting.
Be aware of your surroundings. Watch hands and body language.
If you think you are about to be attacked, get into a housing unit officer's field of vision. Help him do his job. Make some noise, bring attention to the situation.
If you are personally involved in an altercation, fight to live. Your strategy should be to protect yourself until correctional officers arrive to intervene and slam both of you to the ground. Do not resist responding officers at all, do not argue with them. They will win and you will get hurt.
It is entirely possible that you will get attacked from behind while standing toe-to-toe with your assailant. Keep this in mind and as long as weapons are not in sight, get your back against something solid.
If weapons are being used against you, run if possible. If running is not a possibility, back away quickly while holding the outside of your arms up towards your assailant. You will get cuts to your forearms but your vulnerable nerves and arteries on the inside of your arms will hopefully remain intact. If you have a chance, try to grab something to help you keep them from sticking something inside you...a chair, a broom, a fire extinguisher.
Pacifism is not an option if you are attacked. You will go to lockdown regardless of the circumstances of the fight. That's policy, so you might as well fight as hard as you can.
Tomorrow I will continue this guide, focusing on how to deal with correctional officers, how to make requests, programs that are available, and how to make your life a little more comfortable while you're waiting out your time, or waiting for your trial.