Six Prison Survival Questions from a Prison Law Blog Reader

By Christopher Zoukis

The Prison Law Blog recently received an email from a man whose son is about to go to federal prison (sadly, we hear from family members in this situation all too often).  The son is being charged with one count of transportation of child pornography and, understandably, his family is concerned for his safety and general prison experience.  Since such fears are common to all who enter prison, we’ve decided to present this information not in a private email, but in Question & Answer format so that the information is available to other similarly situated persons.

Q) Are federal prisons safer and better run than state prisons?

A) Generally speaking, federal prisons tend to be run more professionally than many state prisons.  This is particularly the case when comparing a regular low security federal prison or medium security prison to a county work camp or prison.  Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities are uniformly funded, and national program statements, policies, and regulations dictate operations.  This alleviates the problem of wardens and superintendents being a law unto themselves which is common in some jurisdictions.

Still, there is an inherent amount of threat and danger in any prison in the country, regardless of the security level.  While virtually any prisoner can survive a federal prison camp or low security facility, life can be more difficult at a medium-security prison, and especially at high security facilities (called “United States Penitentiaries” or “USPs”).  As it is in every jurisdiction, the higher security the prison, the more likely violence and other troubles will occur and the more severe the prison culture becomes.

Q) Should my son seek protective custody due to the nature of the offense?

A) This is something that he will have to decide for himself.  Guessing here, I’m assuming that the son doesn’t have an extensive criminal history and will receive a sentence of less than 30 or 20 years.  If these variables are correct, the son will be housed either in a low security federal prison or a medium security federal prison.  By category, sex offenders are precluded from placement in a federal prison camp (minimum security), unless the restriction is waived (which is done very rarely).  Likewise, federal prison inmates with sentences in excess of 20 years have to be housed in a medium security federal prison and those with sentences in excess of 30 years have to be housed in high security federal prisons (unless this restriction is waived).

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A Lesson My Cellmate Taught Me: Standing for Principles

By Christopher Zoukis

The other day my cellmate presented a situation for my review.  He explained that a certain person I regularly sit with in our housing unit’s day room had a bad reputation for some of his political and social beliefs.  While I challenged his opinion on the matter, after taking some time to reflect upon his statements, I realized that he was right.  By sitting by and allowing offensive discussions to be held around me, I was contributing to the problem.  By remaining quiet, I was not combating or showing my disproval of the topic, but providing my tacit approval for such offensive conversations to be had.  It’s this standing — or lack of standing — for principles which I’d like to touch on today.  Image courtesy

As a prisoner, I am sometimes surrounded by some who aren’t of the best character.  This isn’t to say that these are bad people — much like how I’m not a bad person — but that all of us in prison have the propensity to make stupid decisions and, most likely, have impulse control and conduct issues.  But even with these inherent problems in the incarcerated population, there are good people in prison, people who walk right, are honorable, and are generally stand-up guys.  Simply stated, with a little effort, worthwhile associates can be found.

Those inside prison need to do what we can to promote positive behaviors and dissuade negative ones.  We do this through positive reinforcement (e.g., verbally agreeing, clapping, and associating with others) and negative actions of stigmatization (verbally disagreeing, leaving, and not associating with others).  But in prison, the conversation often turns to the negative, or if not the negative, then those having the discussions tend to not be as decent as they could be.  After all, we are all in prison for breaking societal norms and mores.

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