Prison Survival Guides

Surviving in prison can be hard, especially for a newcomer. Different rules, lack of support, unusual and unfamiliar norms of behaviour make it hard for every inmate. We gathered the best free prison survival guides to help inmates, their partners, relatives and friends to survive tough times being incarcerated.

Below you will find 32 prison survival guides covering all issues from naturally surviving in jails and prisons to saving your marriage and discussing prisoner’s incarceration with children.

We hope you will never need this information! Looking forward to your comments.

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I. Guides for Prisoners and Inmates
1.1. A Guide to Prison Survival by Prison Fellowship
1.2. Survivors Manual: Survival in Solitary
1.3. A Prison Guide from “a guy who was recently released”
1.4. Making It: A Prison Survival Guide – by an ex-adviser to the President of the United States
1.5. Survival Guide for Impending Incarceration – a guide for individuals who are going to prison for the first time
1.6. The Black Peoples Prison Survival Guide
1.7. The Young African American’s Survival Guide
1.8. Prisoner Resource Guide
1.9. Surviving Prison – Advice By and For Transgender Women

II. Guides for Families, Partners and Relatives
2.1. Communicating Behind Bars: A Guide for Prison Inmates, Family and Friends
2.2. The Partners’ Guide to Prison
2.3. Preparing for the incarceration of a Loved One
2.4. Time Together: A survival guide for families and friends visiting in Canadian federal prisons
2.5. Understanding the New Jersey Department of Corrections Prison System
2.6. When a Person with Mental Illness Goes to Prison – a guide for family members and friends

III. Parenting from the Inside – Prisoners and Children Relations
3.1. How to Tell My Son I am in Jail
3.2. Dads on the Inside
3.3. When a Parent Is Incarcerated
3.4. “What About Me?” – When a Parent Goes to Prison – a guide to discussing your incarceration with your children
3.5. A Guide to Helping Children with a Parent in Prison
3.6. Florida Manual for Incarcerated Parents
3.7. Parenting From Prison: A Resource Guide for Parents Incarcerated in Colorado

IV. After Prison Guides
4.1. Survival on Parole
4.2. Getting Ahead: An Ex-Con’s Guide to Getting Ahead in Today’s Society
4.3. Reentry Survival Manual – Manual for People Leaving Prison
4.4. Getting Out – Your Guide to Surviving on the Outside

V. Other Valuable Sources of Information for Inmates
5.1. Resource Guide for Newly Appointed Wardens
5.2. Prison Suicide: An Overview and Guide to Prevention

I. Guides for Prisoners and Inmates

This section covers guides and books related to being in prison and surviving till the outside. These guides are mostly for inmates and prisoners.

1.1. A Guide to Prison Survival by Prison Fellowship

Prison Fellowship is a charitable organization at work behind prison bars, reaching men and women with the Gospel covers the following topics:

  • How to eat right and stay fit
  • How to feed your mind
  • How to help your marriage stay together
  • How to parent your kids from behind the bars
  • How to connect with the right kind of people inside
  • How to deal with anger and depression
  • How to guard against common prison diseases
  • How to tap into your spiritual life

This prison guide is not a long one (32 pages), but still a very good source, and all the information is well presented.

1.2. Survivors Manual: Survival in Solitary

I have been locked by the lawless. Handcuffed by the haters. Gagged by the greedy. And, if I know anything at all, it’s that a wall is just a wall and nothing more at all. It can be broken down. I believe in living. I believe in birth. I believe in the sweat of love and in the fire of truth. And I believe that a lost ship, steered by tired, seasick sailors, can still be guided home to port.

This detailed prison guide was prepared by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace, and humanitarian service. The AFSC have gathered testimony from prisoners in isolation and survivors; undertake research, planned human rights trainings and regional hearings; and organized lawyers, activists, families, and communities to oppose the use of control unit isolation.

This prison survival guide concentrated on personal experience, and most of the book is dedicated to letters from prisoners related to life in a control unit, survival, poetry from solitary, as well as relations with the community outside.

1.3. A Prison Guide from “a guy who was recently released”

The author who calls himself “a guy who was recently released” prepared a factual, practical and up to date account designed to help anyone who finds themselves facing incarceration. He ended up on the high-risk wing of one of England’s most notorious jails and now shares his experience. This guide might lack some specific US prisons and jails features, such as gangs, but still it is a great guide due to personal experience. Unfortunately the author’s blog is unavailable, so we publish the guide here. Should anyone know this person’s name, please let us know in comments.

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1.4. Making It: A Prison Survival Guide

by an ex-adviser to the President of the United States, C. Colson, Prisoner #23227

It was a sultry, late-summer day in 1974. I was in an Alabama prison. I was no longer a respected lawyer, no longer an adviser to the President of the United States. Now I was C. Colson, Prisoner #23227. I was at the lowest point in my life. A prisoner has a choice to make. Will this experience “make” or “break” the individual? Each one has this choice to make.

This prison guide describes the shocking experience of becoming a prisoner, which is a traumatic event for most people, especially for the first time. It gives general hints on surviving in prisons, how to be prepared and keep physically fit. The author believes spiritual fitness is the most important and dedicates a chapter to this issue. This prison guide also covers relationships with the outside.

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1.5. Survival Guide for Impending Incarceration

A guide for individuals who are going to prison for the first time

Well, I’m not certain where it is you are currently located. But I am certain about one thing. If you are being handed this information, then things are looking pretty much as if you are going to be locked down for awhile in one of the government facilities designed to keep you apart from the rest of society. I’ve created this little information pamphlet to give you some advice on some of the essentials you should know in order to make the transition into that environment as comfortable and safe as can be made.

By Gordon R. Greer

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1.6. The Black Peoples Prison Survival Guide

How to survive mentally, physically, and spiritually while incarcerated.

This book is written with the Black male in mind who is suffering the ordeal of incarceration. Although, it is intended for Black males, it may be read by Black females suffering the same predicament. Also, the information and insights contained in the following pages might be valued by any of our people living in this society. This is a self-help book. It is not just a textbook of practical jailhouse wisdom. It is a survival guide to help the reader safeguard his or her mental, physical and spiritual well-being while in prison. If you find yourself incarcerated this book may prove itself especially useful to you. Experience is the most qualified teacher, and I have been well-schooled by my past experience with prisons and people in them. For the past 15 years, I have been locked-up in Ohio prisons for a crime that admittedly, I did commit. Two days ago, at a parole hearing, I was given a five year continuance for being “too intelligent”. The parole board said that the education I received while incarcerated makes me more dangerous to society. That may very well be true, but not in any physical sense, because I am not a criminal.

Abdullah Ibraheem

1.7. The Young African American’s Survival Guide

This book was written by Kenneth West, an incarcerated writer. He wrote this book while being behind the bars, self-published and provided it free of charge to give away for anyone who needs. This book is about sex, drugs, violence, education, gang banging and some of the challenges the youth are facing.

As a result of the author’s own struggles and troubled childhood, he has developed a strong desire to work with disadvantaged African-American youth from inner city communities, particularly those from single parent homes, to encourage them to make better life decisions.

The author writes not only about being in prison, but which is very important, how to avoid prison. Highly recommended!

1.8. Prisoner Resource Guide

Covers Legal Support, Free Book Resources, Pen Pal Correspondence (Buddhist/Chrstian/Jewish/Non-Religious), Creative Writing/ Artistic Resources/ Journals, Reentry Assistance/ Family Support/ Continuing Education, Health/Nutrition/Personal Safety, Jobs and Careers.

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1.9. Surviving Prison – Advice By and For Transgender Women

This guide was created because transgender women imprisoned in the SF jails expressed a need for detailed information about going to prison or back to prison after not having been there in a long time.

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II. Guides for Families, Partners and Relatives

This section covers guides and books related to communication from behind the bars, as well as the beloved’ role in serving the jail time. Prisoner’s family can be a great support while an inmate is serving the sentence. These guides are also important for prisoners to familiarize with.

2.1. Communicating Behind Bars: A Guide for Prison Inmates, Family and Friends

“This guide was designed so that inmates could learn how to become effective communicators. Imagine… What if you could defuse tension and create accord in even the most volatile situations – just by changing the way you spoke? Wow! I wish there was a guide available when I was incarcerated during my 5 ½ years of incarceration in the BOP.”

Jorea McNamee-Blount, author of Getting Ahead: An Ex-Con’s Guide to Getting Ahead in Today’s Society

“This course will expose all of you to the benefits of effective communication skills, and hopefully influence some of you to develop a positive direction in your lives. It is ineffective for you to simply wait for your parole date to come around. Grasp the opportunity now and remember that God helps those that help themselves. I promise you that this course has helped me. Having no sense of direction and boredom is our intellectual enemy. “

Roberto Eltonello, author of A Fisherman’s Net

2.2. The Partners’ Guide to Prison

This guide is a collaborative effort by the partners of some of those convicted in June 2011 at Blackfriars Crown Court, London. Some of it is specific to certain courts and prisons but it should still give you an idea of what to expect. Hopefully you will never need it!

Being the partner of a prisoner is not easy. It can be emotionally and physically draining and dealing with the practicalities can seem daunting. We hope this guide helps you if the worst happens. Please remember that although you may feel isolated and powerless, you are not alone and there is always somewhere to go for help.

On behalf of all inmates’ partners let us thank Legal Defence & Monitoring Group for sharing it!

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2.3. Preparing for the incarceration of a Loved One

This guide prepared by Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT) briefly covers the following topics in the F.A.Q. style:

  • Custody and Guardianship
  • Letters of Parental Designation
  • Kinship Foster Care
  • Pregnancy in Prison
  • Mail and Packages, Visits, Phone Calls
  • Marriage and Divorce
  • Other Legal Issues

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2.4. Time Together: A survival guide for families and friends visiting in Canadian federal prisons

This handbook is intended to help you understand a complex correctional system. It will give you a greater understanding of the difficulties that you will have. It will help explain to you what your children are experiencing. It may help you to maintain and strengthen your relationship with your incarcerated family member.

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2.5. Understanding the New Jersey Department of Corrections Prison System

A Resource Guide for family members of the incarcerated. This handbook is designed to help answer questions that you may have regarding inmates sentenced to New Jersey’s prison system. It was developed under the premise that when people have accurate information, they are better able to handle new experiences and make informed choices.

2.6. When a Person with Mental Illness Goes to Prison

A Guide for Family Members and Friends

This guide is designed for anyone who has a loved one with a mental illness in the New York State (NYS) prison system. Tragically, almost ten years later, people with mental illness are not only still being arrested, but at a time when the overall prison population is shrinking, the percentage of people with mental illness in NYS prisons is increasing.

Prisons are strict, militaristic, closed systems where abuse is not infrequent and is difficult to remedy. Prisons are designed to punish and control — they are ill-equipped to handle people with mental illness. Confronting such a system can be overwhelming for family members.

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III. Parenting from the Inside – Prisoners and Children Relations

It is very important for children to unserstand why thir dad or mom left them. These guides might be helpful for inmates trying to keep relations with their children.

3.1. How to Tell My Son I am in Jail

In 2001, when the author began serving his term, his children were only 4 and 6. Upon release, they were 10 and 12. His daughter still holds a lot or resentment towards him for leaving her. His son is very loving and more understanding. This book will help a prisoner to answer the very important question: “What Do I Tell My Family?”

When I was locked up, I called my children on a weekly basis. I wrote to them and had other inmates make things for them. It is very important to tell your children that you love them. Children are very fragile. They tend to not tell you how they really feel.

Jorea McNamee Blount, Former Federal Inmate

3.2. Dads on the Inside

I always felt ashamed to contact my son, Freddy. I pretended if I wasn’t around him then he wouldn’t miss me. I guess it was “out of sight, out of mind”. In the parenting class I found the strength to write him. I apologized to him from the bottom of my soul. I told him I was selfish and that when I was committing crimes, I wasn’t thinking of him. I told him that I probably wasn’t thinking of myself. I asked him to give me another chance to be a real father and that by being a real father I’d accept responsibility then I have ever accepted before. I only have three years left in here and we could build a great life and we could teach each other new things. I told him that if he wanted, he could call his mother, his grandmother, and she’d take him up here to see me. I wasn’t sure how he would respond to the letter. I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. I was really afraid that he would hate me or even worse, pretend that I no longer existed. Last Sunday, he came up with my mom and visited me. I’m thirty years old and I held him in my arms and cried. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy and grateful for anything in my life.

William,
one of the many whose father affected by incarceration every year in the United States

3.3. When a Parent Is Incarcerated

The goal of this primer is to provide relevant and practical information for public child welfare agencies and social workers when working with incarcerated parents. This guide is intended for social workers, but can still be a valuable source of information for parents, who are affected by incarceration.

Children and families with incarcerated parents have been a relatively invisible population to the public, to policymakers, and to funders. Programs and policies, which have traditionally focused on the offender, his or her victims, and the public safety of the community, ignore the vast and growing number of other victims–children.”

— from Children and Families with Incarcerated Parents

We would like to thank the Annie E. Casey Foundation for this great book!

3.4. “What About Me?” – When a Parent Goes to Prison

A guide to discussing your incarceration with your children

A guide by New Jersey Department of Corrections, Divisions of Programs and Community Services, Office of Transitional Services

Many of the men and women currently incarcerated are parents of children under the age of 18. It is estimated that 1.7 million children have a father in prison and 200,000 children have a mother in prison in the United States. Approximately ten million, or one in eight children, have experienced parental incarceration at some point of their lives. The link between generations is so strong, that half of all juveniles in custody had a father, mother, or other close relative who has been in jail or prison.

Little is known about what happens to children when their parents are incarcerated. Children of offenders have basic needs: a safe place to live and people to care for them in their parents’ absence, food, clothing, and medical care. Beyond these basic needs, children have many less tangible needs. When parents are arrested, or placed in jail or prison, their children are often scared, confused, and upset. Often people don’t talk about having a family member in prison because it is very personal information. Children, though, may have a lot of questions they need answers to.

3.5. A Guide to Helping Children with a Parent in Prison

This guide is written by Jennifer Wyse, a student in the Applied Developmental Psychology program at the University of Pittsburgh, who is also a full time teacher. During her time teaching, the author have had the privilege of working with children from a variety of backgrounds and families. This experience led the author to focus on the subject of incarcerated parents.

3.6. Florida Manual for Incarcerated Parents

This Manual is designed to help parents who are incarcerated in Florida prisons and jails understand their rights and responsibilities as parents. Whether you have children when you become incarcerated, or they are born during your incarceration, caring for your children while you are incarcerated becomes a very difficult task. Many things can happen that can affect how much control you can have over your child’s care and well-being when you are in jail or prison.

This Manual is designed to help you understand your rights and responsibilities under Florida law, and help you ensure that you are able to achieve the best situation for you and your child while you are incarcerated.

3.7. Parenting From Prison: A Resource Guide for Parents Incarcerated in Colorado

In the past twenty years, there has been an unprecedented growth in the number of people incarcerated in the United States. Currently, there are more than 2 million adults in prison or jail. What is often overlooked in the design of criminal justice policy in the United States is the fact that the majority of women and men in prison are parents of children under the age of 18. Although exact numbers are not known, it is estimated that 1.7 million children have a father in prison and 200,000 children have a mother in prison in the United States.

Mothers in Prison in Colorado: National statistics indicate that 70-80 percent of women in prison are mothers who have an average of 2.5 children under the age of 18 living with them prior to their arrest and imprisonment. 85 percent of the children who have a mother in prison are under the age of 10. Another 6 percent of women enter prison pregnant. Currently, there are more than 1,300 women in prison in Colorado. Although no state agency tracks the number of children in Colorado who have a mother in prison, based on national averages, it is estimated that approximately 2,500 children in Colorado have a mother in prison.

Fathers in Prison in Colorado: National statistics estimate that 55 percent of men in prison are fathers of children under the age of 18. A third of men in prison are fathers to more than one child. Currently, there are more than 15,000 men in prison in Colorado. Therefore, it is estimated that there are 13,000 children in Colorado who have a father in prison.

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IV. After Prison Guides

Surviving on the Outside can be even harder for those who spent many years behind the bars. The world has changed, and ex-prisoners must get back on track.

4.1. Survival on Parole

This Study of Post-Prison Adjustment and the Risk of Returning to Prison was prepared by the Social Science Research Institute, University of Hawaii at Manoa and the Department of the Attorney General State of Hawaii

This publication provides a statistical portrait of persons released on parole in the State of Hawaii during Fiscal Year 1995-96, and reports on revocation rates during the subsequent two-year period. Perhaps more importantly, parolee characteristics that are related to parole “survival” (success) or failure are described, along with an indepth analysis of the factors that can actually be used to predict parole survival or revocation.

Topics covered in this guide are applicable not only to the state of Hawaii, but to all the US inmates. Being a scientific report, it is not an easy-reading book, but smart ex-prisoners might learn a lot on what is expected from them while on parole.

4.2. Getting Ahead: An Ex-Con’s Guide to Getting Ahead in Today’s Society

I am happy that you have a second chance at life, no matter how bad the tables have turned. You still have another chance at getting your life back on track. I hope the resources in this booklet help you as it did for me and many others.

J. Blount, Former Inmate, Federal Bureau of Prisons

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4.3. Reentry Survival Manual

Manual for People Leaving Prison. Based on the experiences of those who left or were leaving prison.

This manual is for you and for those who will walk this journey after you. It is a work in progress. It becomes more useful to those following in your foot steps if you help to improve the manual through your experiences. Please let me know if there are ways to improve the manual to help people leaving prison help themselves survive reentry and live successfully in the community. May successful living in the community be yours!

The Author / Center for Mental Health Services & Criminal Justice Research

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4.4. Getting Out – Your Guide to Surviving on the Outside

CRC (Community Restorative Centre) is a community organisation dedicated to the support of prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families. They offer personal and practical assistance such as information and referral,transitional support (including supported accommodation), counselling,transport, court support, training and outreach to prisons.

It is a guide for ex-prisoners and prisoners who are about to be released. Freedom presents many day-to-day challenges, like finding a place to live, understanding how Centrelink works, organising your money, or getting in touch with your family and friends.These things canput a lot of stress on someone who’s just been released.

It is a brilliant guide for Australian ex-prisoners, though US ex-prisoners can make use of it as well. If you know the similar guide dedicated to the US prisoners, please share in comments!

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V. Other Valuable Sources of Information for Inmates

5.1. Resource Guide for Newly Appointed Wardens

Wardens are the Chief Executive Officers of their institution. As leaders, they are accountable for the full range of executive responsibilities to include institutional operations, guiding staff, creating policies, providing services for inmates, and interfacing with the central or regional office and the local community. Although not the sole source of administering operational tasks, wardens are held accountable for the success or failure of an institution by the general public, the media, and the legislature. To say the least, wardens have their work cut out for them.

We believe that many prisoners might find information contained in this book useful to have a look at themselves through the eyes of those looking after them.

5.2. Prison Suicide: An Overview and Guide to Prevention

Although the rate of suicide in prisons is far lower than in jails, it remains disproportionately higher than in the general population. This research is related to this critical area.

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Feel free to share or repost this article. Our only purpose is to help inmates and their families to survive the hard times of jail sentence. However, we would appreciate a linkback to the original source in case this article was republished:

July 28, 2013 – by Paul Colbert for www.inmatecountyjail.com

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Comments (3)

  1. This is a very helpful website with all kinds of resources if you or your family is dealing with imprisonment or parole. Thank you for putting this website together!!

  2. Thanks for books on parenting from prison, will print out some pages for my hubby, I am sure he does not want our son to follow his footsteps…

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