CopBlock.org is a decentralized organization (with no official leaders) with the goal of educating eachother about police and the police state. Yet, I wanted to take a moment to talk about jails and serving time. For many of us here, filming the police, highlighting police brutality and other actions of the men in blue can easily lead you to a jail cell.
Before I get into my five tips to surviving your stay at the local “House of Corrections,” I want to note that my tips are for people who will make it to general population. If you’ve never been arrested before, you should know the following:
- You won’t be released until you’ve been booked in (processed), seen a judge/bail bondsman and/or were out processed by the jail itself. This can take several hours, even days – if you’re at a large jail, so don’t get worked up. The more you complain about the time, the longer they will take.
- You will have to go through classification before being placed into a unit. If you’re wondering why you’re on 23 hour lockdown when you first arrive, it’s because the jail is going to give you a physical, TB shot and classify you. Of course they claim that this is for your safety while in the jail, but in reality (since the services they provide suck), it’s merely a way to break you. During the classification process, you’re deprived of everything so that by the time you’re put into a regular unit, you’re almost thanking your captors for the little things they give you.
- Do NOT hoard or try to flush any contraband while in classification. The toilets have screen catchers on them and you will be busted and given additional charges. Hoarding, which I’ll tell you about later, will lead to more time in classification or a one-way ticket to the hole (23 hr lock down everyday).
I’ve spent several weeks in the classification area or segregation myself, mostly because I couldn’t get past letting them stick me with needles, answering their pathetic questions (like, “Do you use drugs?” I’d always ask them, “Are you going to give me drugs that I use?” They’d say no, so I would say, “Irrelevant.” This upsets them a great deal.) and subjecting myself to their “I don’t care about you” medical exams.
My advice for folks stuck in classification (by yourself) is to simply comply. If you want to share your story about jail, see visitors and get basic materials back, then complying is the only route to take. Any sign of resistance at this stage will be met with great consequences, as the cops love to make examples out of those who act up in classification – which sends a message to other inmates who might think of acting up. I would change my advice here if I were to be jailed with 50 or more activists.
So, when you make it past classifications, you’ll be taken to a pod (unit, or whatever they call them at your jail). This is when you’ll get additional uniforms, blankets, regular access to phones and commissary. Below are my five tips to helping yourself while doing time.
- Find a bowl and cup ASAP – People come in and out of jail all the time. Whenever someone leaves, they give all their jail goods to other inmates (its an unwritten rule and no one wants this crap on the outside with them). Therefore, many inmates will have several cups and bowls, which are imperative to cooking and other functions while in jail. Acquire these ASAP; you can also try to get a soap dish, toothbrush holder and other small knickknacks that will save on your commissary bill – as everything is WAY overpriced.
- Get money on your account ASAP – Depending on when you’re put into general pop, you’ll be able to order goods (like noodles, coffee and more) from your commissary. I highly suggest having someone put money on your account while you’re in classification, or right after you’re taken to jail. This will cut down on the waiting time, since most commissaries have to be in by a certain day. Once you’re able to order, start with some basics (if they weren’t given to you) like soap and other hygiene products. I would refrain from spending money on the clothing, radios and other high-priced items – mostly because those can be acquired by other means.
- Buy Coffee and Ramen Noodles – I would highly suggest stacking up on coffee and Ramen noodles. These are the currency of any jail and can get you many other things at a better rate. Even if you don’t drink coffee, buy it. You can trade coffee for other items (like better socks, radios or future items from upcoming commissary). I would always trade one scoop of coffee now, for two in return – when that inmate got their commissary next week. You can do this with just about any item, it’s called “1 for 2.”
- Get into a routine – If jail is anything, it’s predictable and repetitive. So instead of fighting it, join it, but do so on your own terms. Scheduling reading, mail, writing and workout (if possible) times are crucial. It will help the days go by faster and keep you away from the usual jailhouse BS that’s all too common.
- Limit (control) your interactions with the outside world – I know this may sound like bad advice but I’ve seen this a hundred times and experienced it myself. Inmates can become emotional wrecks, understandably, at the drop of a hat. Something as simple as a spouse not answering the phone or a friend telling you about the great night out they had can make time behind bars hell. I’d write people all the time; it’s easy to control when you have time to re-read what you’ve wrote, but too many visits can leave you feeling stressed and emotional…especially if 10 people are trying to help you but all bring you different stories. To help with that, I’d suggest making one person a ‘point person’ for you on the outside. This way, you can leave the visit with them to the important details you need to address and keep the other visits with friends more enjoyable. I also set a schedule for phone calls to my loved ones. This will not only save you money, as calls out of a jail are silly expensive, but it will cut down on your emotional roller coaster ride. Life on the outside is still going on and plans change, keep your cool by setting 1 – 3 times a week as call times.
Hopefully you never end up in a cage and have to remember these tips. Yet, if you do, understanding that while in jail your world stops. It’s like going back in time, both in technology and in the way you’re treated (like a child/property). Sadly, most who sit in jail are forgotten, not because they aren’t loved or thought of, but because the outside world is still spinning. Focusing on the task at hand, surviving your caging, is the most important task. The other stuff will be there waiting for you when you get out and you can’t deal with it until then anyway, so just put your head down and get out.