I’d like to welcome Christopher Zoukis, co-author of The Directory of Federal Prisons: PrisonLawBlog.com’s Federal Bureau of Prisons Facility Directory to my notebook today. I read a lot of mysteries where someone ends up in jail or looking at a jail sentence, rightly or wrongly, but I’ve never really considered the steps they, and their families, should take. It’s really an interesting and useful article.
By Christopher Zoukis
Preparing for a term of incarceration can be an overwhelming task. There are bills to pay, finances to get in order, medical appointments to schedule, a support network to put in place, and even mental and physical conditioning to consider. Sadly, many go to prison without having the aid of experienced counsel to help them prepare for this very challenging experience. This article strives to point soon-to-be prison inmates in the right direction, thus alleviating the stress of going to prison and the risk of failing to take an essential prepatory step along the way.
Finances: Stability and Security
The first step in preparing for a term of incarceration is to get one’s finances in order. While there are a smorgasbord of components to this step, two are of essential need: ensuring financial stability and security.
Financial stability consists of selling assets not needed during the term of incarceration — and which won’t be of any use during that time — and consolidating any risky investments. For example, if a soon-to-be inmate is going to be in prison for a decade, there is no need for them to have a car sitting in their garage depreciating. As such, it is probably time to sell the car. Or, if they have two houses or a house and a condo — and their family only needs one property — it might make sense to sell one of the properties to ensure financial stability.
Financial security is also of paramount concern. More than a few prisoners have been swindled by business associates, friends, or even family members during a term of incarceration. As such, it is smart for a soon-to-be inmate to consolidate their accounts, handle any outstanding debts, and enable automatic bill pay through a central account. This way the account’s access can be restricted, any available funds safeguarded, and any bills paid.
Family: Emotional and Physical Needs
After finances are in order, the soon-to-be prisoner should focus on getting their family — and themselves — mentally prepared for the drastic change which is about to transpire. This could be as uninvolved as merely speaking with family members and significant others about what is to come or as involved as weekly family therapy. A term of incarceration doesn’t only impact the family member going to prison, but all the others who are not. It’s important for everyone to feel secure in their position, surroundings, and security during this tumultuous time. Since prison tends to hinder communications, what needs to be said should be said prior to incarceration.
Perhaps even more important than emotional health and fortitude is ensuring that family members will be taken care of during a breadwinner’s term of incarceration. This means ensuring that a wife or husband is prepared to be the sole caretaker of children (or a close family member or friend), signing over management of any properties or vehicles so family members have a place to live and transportation, and anything else that is required to ensure that family members left behind have what they need until the breadwinner’s release from custody.
Personal Stability: Mental & Physical Health
Knowing that a term of incarceration is looming ahead can take a tremendous mental and physical toll. But understanding that mental and physical health concerns will probably not be addressed once incarceration has commenced is vital because it affords the soon-to-be prisoner the opportunity to take care of any outstanding health issues.
Prior to going to prison, soon-to-be inmates should see their doctor for a physical examination, a dentist for any outstanding dental problems to be fixed, an optometrist to renew prescriptions (or, better yet, to have laser surgery performed so that the headache of glasses in prison can be avoided), and a therapist to help one process what is going on and mentally get through the ordeal.
It can’t be overstated that mental and physical health concerns will probably not be addressed adequately during incarceration. As such, anything that can be fixed — or even patched — should be taken care of prior to the start of the term. Likewise, all treatment should be engaged in with the aim of providing a long-term solution. Even something as minor as a cavity or toothache can become a real quality of life problem once incarceration has commenced.
Creating a Support Network
Once in prison, a support network is essential. It makes all the difference to have people outside of prison who will visit, accept phone calls, send money, order books, and help the prisoner with whatever might come up, even if only someone supportive to talk to. Having a support network in place — including all of their postal mailing addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers jotted down — can make a huge impact from both a quality of life perspective and a mental health perspective. It’s amazing to think that having a friend or family member send $20 per month can make a huge quality of life improvement for a prisoner, but it can. Likewise, having someone to speak to on the telephone can help a prisoner decompress and talk through their stressors. A support network is also vital to a newly released prisoner’s success.
Any discussion about preparing for prison wouldn’t be complete without discussing how to get into the prison mindset. This is both a mental and physical endeavor and can make the difference between a terrifying and chaotic prison experience and a calm and uneventful term of incarceration.
Especially for the white collar offender, getting into a prison mindset is essential. People in prison try to hide their emotions, be as self-sustaining as possible, and closely guard personal information. While outside of prison someone might share what they do for a living or where they live, in prison it’s often a bad idea to do so if one makes significant money, if they held a position of high status, or if they lived in a particularly nice area. This is because these status components make the prisoner a target for scams and violence. The same is true with disagreements and such. While outside of prison someone might go to a supervisor if there is a problem, in prison this is seen as “snitching,” something that can cause significant problems (including physical violence and social ostracization). As such, soon-to-be prisoners need to get themselves in the mindset of having to solve all of their problems alone because in prison there is rarely someone else socially acceptable to go to for help. And to state it bluntly, the prison guards are not a prisoner’s friend. Going to them for help only causes more problems..
On the physical conditioning side, those preparing to go to prison should immediately get to a gym and hire a personal trainer. Physical fitness is a must in the prison environment. It’s not necessarily essential to know how to fight, but it is useful to look imposing, or, at least more imposing than someone else. The adage of not having to be the fastest, but just not the slowest when outrunning a bear, is very apt to this situation. The weakest link in prison is the one who is abused, assaulted, and preyed upon. Period. If the opportunity to lose some weight and put on some muscle mass — not to mention taking a few self-defense classes — is available, soon-to-be prisoners should take it and do so with gusto. The point is simple and absolute: being physically fit in prison acts as a significant deterrent factor which can keep a new arrival — and an old hat alike — out of problematic situations much of the time.
Proper Prison Preparation is Essential
Preparing for a term of incarceration is obviously not a stress-free activity. It is mentally and physically taxing not only on the soon-to-be incarcerated person, but on their family, friends, and business associates. Giving away one’s freedom is not an easy task (to say nothing of living inside the criminal underbelly of society), but with a period of preparation, the coming ordeal can be that much less eventful. This is the gift of being able to self-surrender to the prison or being out on bail and able to fulfill these vital needs prior to being sentenced to a term of incarceration.
Prison is hard enough as it is. By addressing these five areas of concern, soon-to-be prisoners can get themselves and their houses in order to ensure that their in prison stay goes as smoothly as possible.
About the Authors
Christopher Zoukis is an impassioned advocate for prison education, a legal scholar, and a prolific writer of books, book reviews, and articles. His articles on prison education and prison law appear frequently in Prison Legal News, and have been published in The Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, Blog Critics, and Midwest Book Review, among other national, regional, and specialty publications.
Mr. Zoukis is often quoted on matters concerning prison law, criminal law, prisoners’ rights, and prison education. Recently, he was the focus of an article at Salon.com concerning America’s broken criminal justice system and potential solutions to the current crisis.
When not in the thick of the battle for prison reform, prison education, or prisoners’ rights advocacy, Mr. Zoukis can be found blogging at PrisonLawBlog.com, PrisonEducation.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com.
Randall Radic is the Senior Editor and Chief Operating Officer of Middle Street Publishing (MSP), where he superintends PrisonLawBlog.com and PrisonEducation.com, and manages all of MSP’s print and online endeavors.
After graduating from the University of Arizona with a B.A. in the classics, Dr. Radic matriculated at Agape Seminary, where he received the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology, and then Trinity Seminary where he received the degree of Doctor of Theology.
Dr. Radic is the author of several non-fiction books, including Blood In, Blood Out: The Violent Empire of the Aryan Brotherhood (Headpress, 2011), The Sound of Meat (Ephemera Bound Publishing, 2008), A Priest in Hell: True Crimes of America’s Clergy (ECW Press, 2009), and Terminal Disaster: Inside the Money Machine (Sunbury Press, 2012).
Dr. Radic has appeared on National Public Radio and A&E Television discussing prison education and America’s prison gangs.
About the Book:
The Directory of Federal Prisons: PrisonLawBlog.com’s Federal Bureau of Prisons Facility Directory by Christopher Zoukis and Dr. Randall Radic is a comprehensive, yet succinct, guide to the contact information and basic character profile information of every prison within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, plus all private prisons under contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to house federal inmates.
It is an essential guide for everyone who knows anyone incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and sets the standard for basic character profiles and contact information for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
This electronic guidebook enables attorneys, family members and friends of federal prisoners, journalists, government officials, prison volunteers, and members of the general public to quickly locate the contact information and inmate correspondence address of every prison within the Federal Bureau of Prisons and every private prison which houses federal inmates.