Going to prison will disrupt a person’s life. Yet if a person develops a deliberate strategy, he may use the time to recalibrate and grow. Learn how.
Start with the Right Mindset
We know the stress and anxiety that accompanies a battle with the criminal justice system. We understand the mental challenges of a government investigation, a criminal charge, a sentencing hearing, and imprisonment,
We also know that the right mindset can lead to confidence and strength for individuals who choose to prepare.
If a person has never been in the judicial system before, the stress can be overwhelming. Despite having been successful in other areas of life, like building businesses from scratch, a criminal charge can overwhelm a person.
People may view themselves as pioneers, entrepreneurs, or having extensive experience navigating the world of business:
- They identify problems.
- They envision solutions.
- They create methodical plans in incremental stages that deliver results.
- They execute plans flawlessly to enjoy rewards that flow from their efforts.
Whey they encounter complications from the criminal justice system, however, they’re confronted with problems of a far greater magnitude. On some levels, problems with the law bring the force of being hit with a torpedo, or a grenade. If an individual receives:
- A Wells Notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission,
- A visit from an agent of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service,
- A visit from Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,
- Any other indication that law enforcement is making inquiries to launch a criminal investigation,
a destabilizing emotional trauma can set in. Once our clients learn that they’ve been targeted for prosecution, life changes.
Immediately, the individual knows that he is on shaky ground. But every individual responds to that change in circumstances in his own way. Ordinarily, the response fits into one of the following categories:
- Indignation and Anger
- Some people go through stages of vitriolic anger at a system that wrongfully accuses them. They have distinguished themselves as well educated, contributing citizens. The thought that anyone would accuse them of criminal wrongdoing repulses them. Such accusations attack their good character and the solid reputations they’ve built over a lifetime. They acted deliberately, built businesses with guidance from counsel and in accordance with principled plans that they intend to defend to the end. Such individuals have mountains of evidence that they believe will prove their absolute innocence.
- Sometimes, a visit from a federal law-enforcement officer completely stuns an individual. We’ve worked with people who are in such high states of shock that they no longer think logically. Whereas methodical decisions led to successful careers, criminal investigations completely devastate their sense of confidence. They feel as if they’ve slipped into a whirlpool or vortex and they don’t know how to escape. With investigators, prosecutors, and defense attorneys making decisions that have such monumental influence over their life, they lose their sense of relevance and perspective.
- Some people choose to ignore the reality of their predicament. These individuals cling to the belief that they’re going to dodge a bullet, convincing themselves that they can wiggle their way out of the problem with a combination of half-truths, lies, and cover-ups. They become storytellers, writing the narrative as they go, sometimes losing themselves in the script along the way.
- Paralyzing Fear
- Others who contact our team feel a sense of total loss and devastation. The criminal allegations decimated their sense of being. They cannot bring themselves to get out of bed. When they stand, they wonder if legs will hold them or whether they’ll ever find meaning in life again. Such individuals feel as if all has been lost and there is little point in moving forward. They are like quivering birds that lie in wait while hungry cats circle.
We don’t provide legal advice. Rather, we share all that we’ve learned about experiencing this system from the perspective of defendants or prisoners. We’ve learned that once an individual concludes the sentencing process, the time has come for the next step: preparing to serve the sentence in prison. There is no more room for emotions that weaken an individual’s judgment.
Anger, bewilderment, denial, or fear may have characterized each day through the pretrial period. Yet, once imprisonment becomes a fact, defendants must create plans to restore their sense of strength and perspective. A commitment of pursuing a deliberate path to the best possible outcome yields better results than meandering through the process. Further, individuals owe that commitment to their loved ones and to their future.
When people embark upon a journey through prison, they should understand the facts. More than 50 percent of the people who are sentenced to prison endure continuing difficulties. Those difficulties include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
- Heavier drinking, substance abuse, or self-medication
- Marital trouble
- Trouble with children
- Inability to relax
- Inability to prepare
While in custody, those problems can persist with further difficulties that include:
- Problems in getting along with other prisoners
- Problems in getting along with staff
- Disciplinary problems
Then, upon release, the problems continue:
- Problems reuniting with family and friends
- Problems with probation officers after release from custody
- Problems securing meaningful or fulfilling employment after release
- Establishing relationships with lending institutions or investors
- Confidence and resilience
Unfortunately, a journey through the criminal justice system can destabilize even well-educated people who have fallen into the clutches of relentless prosecutors. We aspire to help them.
For the most part, people want to do better. They want to return to a law-abiding lives. Despite current struggles, they do not perceive themselves as criminals.
Every judicial proceeding can feel like an attack on a person’s identity. When the proceedings drag on, with unexpected and inexplicable delays, anxieties increase. It’s easy to feel a loss of control because others are making so many crucial decisions that influence the life of a person and his or her family members. Either anger or self-loathing can follow. And as a consequence, a series of bad decisions follow.
It’s crucial to get out of this destabilizing and demoralizing state. Learn strategies to restore self-confidence, a sense of meaning. With the right mindset, a person can embark upon a disciplined, deliberate plan to triumph over the current predicaments—no matter what those predicaments include.
Visit our store to get lesson plans that will help you respond to the following questions:
- In what ways has your trouble with the legal system influenced your ability to rest?
- Describe the deliberate steps you’ve taken since learning about your problems with the law to prepare for the best possible outcome.
- What do you know about the challenges of confinement?
- Why will your adjustment through prison differ from more than 50% of those who face continuing challenges and struggles even after they’re sentenced?
Individuals who answer such questions with absolute clarity and confidence may still find value through the following information we include with this lesson on preparing to surrender. Those who cannot answer such questions confidently may benefit from personal coaching or consulting with those on our team.
What to Know Before Surrendering:
A person should get affairs in order after sentencing. Instead of ordering the U.S. Marshals to take a person into custody immediately following the sentence, a judge may authorize the defendant to surrender to prison after a relatively brief period of time, generally 30 to 90 days.
In other cases, the judge orders the Marshals “to remand the defendant into custody” immediately following the sentencing proceeding. Regardless of how an individual begins serving time in custody, whether the time inside begins immediately after sentencing or after a period of time, similar procedures will follow for all. Some insight into those procedures may help.
By understanding the system, a person can prepare more effectively. After sentencing, people can expect the following.
What if the Judge Orders me to Prison from Court?
Defendants who were held in confinement during the pretrial phase of the proceedings will likely remain in custody until the conclusion of their case. Fortunately, all of the time they served in custody applies toward the sentence. By the day of sentencing, they’re likely eager for the transfer to prison.
On the other hand, people who had been free on bond during the pretrial phase of the proceeding may be surprised to learn that a judge would order him into custody immediately after sentencing.
When an immediate remand occurs, the individual may go into a state of momentary shock. Whereas the individual expected to return home after the sentencing hearing to decompress with family and prepare for confinement, he will instead be taken into depths of the system, waiting in cages while the Bureau of Prisons classifies him and designates him (or her) to the initial place of confinement.
If authorities take a person into custody immediately following the sentencing hearing, the shock may feel traumatizing at first. It’s not so bad. Although the individual may struggle emotionally with the immediate separation from family and community, it’s not all bad. In the end, the person may learn to appreciate that the time against the sentence now counts. Each passing day brings a person closer to liberty.
Many who remain free on bond during the pretrial phase of proceedings feel as if they’re living in a suspended animation. It’s as if someone else has taken control of his or her life. The defendant cannot work effectively because the criminal justice problems hang over his head. The individual cannot make effective plans, because while the judicial proceedings move forward, there is no clarity on whether a conviction will follow or whether a judge will impose a sentence. Some people cope poorly with the accompanying frustrations by binge eating, drinking excessively, or sinking into depression.
People who have been charged with a crime undergo enormous emotional stress, largely because of the unknown. The unavoidable delays that follow as a consequence of our overburdened criminal justice system exacerbate the anxieties.
Proceedings through the criminal justice system can last for years and cost millions of dollars before a judge imposes a sentence. Individuals who endure all those lengthy proceedings frequently feel as if they’ve been serving time all along. Unfortunately, however, none of that time will have counted toward the completion of the sentence. An immediate remand brings finality, a beginning to the end.
When the Marshals take a defendant into custody, the defendant becomes “an inmate.” Individuals can prepare themselves to live “as inmates” by steeling their mind to the reality that the design of the jail and prison system places an emphasis on security first.
From the perspective of someone in custody—a prisoner—the emphasis on security will feel dehumanizing. Rather than recognizing the individual as a human being, those who work within the system will consider all inmates as being a possible threat to security.
To the extent that a person conditions himself to anticipate obstacles and frustrations, the individual will strengthen a sense of direction and purpose. At Prison Professor, we encourage our clients to repeat some version of the mantra:
- I am going to get through this phase of my life and return to society stronger than ever before.
The first shock to a prisoner whom a federal judge orders into custody is that two US Marshals will step behind him. They will order the prisoner to place his hands behind his back, and then a Marshal locks his wrists in handcuffs. The two Marshals will lead the prisoner from the ornate courtroom into a verifiable dungeon-like environment. Instead of the beautiful, carved wood paneling and plush carpet of the courtroom, the prisoner will see bright fluorescent lights, drab paint, bars, concrete walls, and floors. For the first time, he also will feel the deafening noise that accompanies confinement.
The Marshals may have fingerprinted the defendant once. But if the defendant is in a facility for the first time, he will get to enjoy that experience of inking his fingertips and rolling them across FBI documents once again. It is a process that a prisoner becomes used to over time, as authorities in every new facility will require fingerprints and mug shots.
After the fingerprinting and mug shot, Marshals will escort the prisoner to a judicial holding tank. To envision the holding tank, picture three concrete walls enclosed with a fourth wall of steel bars. A bench of some sort may or may not extend across the wall. Other people in custody will likely fill the holding tank, with many lying or sitting on the floor. The defendant will wait in lockup with other prisoners who await transfer to a detention center.
Before Surrendering to Confinement:
Early decisions influence outcomes of the judicial process. For many, confinement is going to become a part of the journey. Learn how to accept that confinement isn’t the entire journey, just a part of the journey. Decisions people make along the way will determine the outcome.
What Should Family Know?
Although authorities confine a person, in many ways, the prisoner’s entire family serves the sentence. As such, each individual should educate family members to the best of his ability about the challenges ahead. By ensuring that spouses, parents, children, and extended family members understand the implications of confinement, an individual makes significant progress toward easing stress that could complicate life inside.
Family members of prisoners frequently feel isolated and alone. Once in confinement, each prisoner shares close quarters with others who live in the same community. Within hours, prisoners will form bonds with others who endure similar circumstances. The days will turn into weeks and the weeks will turn into months. For many, the months will turn into years and for some the years will turn into decades. Prisoners will adjust in a community of people who all are separated from loved ones on weekends, birthdays, and holidays.
Ironically, family members may feel more isolated than the prisoner. Spouses may not feel at ease talking about their husband’s incarceration with friends or colleagues. They know that the criminal justice system brings a stigma. Spouses may feel like modern-day lepers, outcasts because of their loved one’s troubles.
Similarly, the children of people in prison suffer. Depending on age, a child may not understand why the parent isn’t home. Without a coherent plan, children may not be prepared to respond to questions such as:
- Why doesn’t your dad ever attend our team’s games?
- Why doesn’t your dad ever come to parent-teacher night?
- Why doesn’t your dad ever want to meet your friends?
- Why doesn’t your dad ever come around?
Some choose to camouflage incarceration from the children. Depending upon the length of time the individual will be away and prior family circumstances, some prisoners choose to spare their children the trauma of confinement by misleading them. A father will say he’s working out of town, on a military assignment, or attending some advanced professional training. Before choosing such a strategy, the prisoner should consider all of the implications, including:
- Will the child feel neglected because the incarcerated parent doesn’t take time to participate in family affairs?
- How will the parent respond if the child pleads for time on the phone?
- How will the child respond if the incarcerated parent receives a disciplinary infraction that prohibits him from accessing the phone?
- How will the child respond if during visiting, a guard reprimands the parent for holding the child?
Despite difficulties that such a strategy can present, some parents choose not to discuss incarceration with the child. On the other hand, those who believe it’s best to be truthful with children about their legal complications must prepare themselves to respond to all of the children’s questions. They must work together with their children to ensure that the child knows how to respond to questions from others. As with all decisions, the choices we make bring a series of ramifications. To the extent that we can anticipate those ramifications, we may strengthen ourselves in making the best choice.
Learn what to expect with regard to the challenges of confinement. We encourage people to architect a strategy that will help them parent from afar. It will not be easy. Likewise, sustaining a romance while living as a federal prisoner will not be easy. Those who prepare well will strengthen their prospects for success, in all endeavors.
Besides preparing their significant others and children, individuals should also prepare extended family members, friends, and colleagues for the complications of confinement. Choosing the right strategy may go a long way toward easing the transition back into society after the period of imprisonment ends. With that end in mind, our articles and videos will teach more about the different mechanisms available for maintaining community ties.
Keep Strong Community Ties:
People should work hard to maintain strong family and community ties while in custody. Unfortunately, rules in federal prison obstruct rather than facilitate the building of strong community ties. Learn the those rules that influence the culture of confinement.
People in federal prison have four mechanisms through which they can maintain community ties. They include the telephone, visiting, email, and regular mail. Below we describe each.
During intake, administrators will let each prisoner know that guards will record every call that he makes. Since the primary focus of every staff member is “to preserve the security of the institution,” each guard in the institution will have access to monitor telephone conversations. Electronic devices allow guards to monitor phone calls while they’re driving in vehicles, or while they’re sitting idly at a desk. If they hear anything that they deem inappropriate, they will issue a disciplinary infraction for abusing telephone privileges.
Penalties for such disciplinary infractions can be severe, including loss of visiting or telephone access for several years. We advise our clients to know those rules thoroughly before they surrender to prison.
Prior to accessing the telephone, prisoners will need to submit a form requesting authorization to add names and numbers to a phone list. Each prisoner may request to add up to 20 names to the phone list. Once the BOP authorizes the numbers, the prisoner may make outbound calls whenever the institution authorizes telephone access.
Accordingly, prisoners prepare themselves well when they contemplate a best-practice strategy for maintaining phone minutes. Due to telephone restrictions, some people choose to make one 10-minute call per day; some choose to make a few shorter calls each day. Others choose to allow a few days to separate each call so that they can enjoy long conversations.
In addition to determining how much time the individual is going to spend on a single call, disciplined prisoners may prepare themselves well by establishing schedules for calls. Every choice a prisoner makes has implications, not only for the prisoner but also from those in the community who derive a sense of reassurance from listening to their loved one’s voice.
The telephones will not allow prisoners to receive incoming calls. Further, prisoners will pay high-by-the-minute fees for each call they make, whether the call is local or international.
Again, prisoners who use the telephone in federal prison should stay aware of rules pertaining to telephone use. One of those rules prohibits prisoners from conducting business while they’re in confinement. Guards interpret such rules differently. At Prison Professor, our consultants have worked with individuals who’ve received disciplinary infractions related to telephone abuse for a variety of reasons. For example:
- Dan received a disciplinary infraction because he authorized his wife to transfer funds from a savings account to a checking account during a phone call.
- Steve received a disciplinary infraction because he instructed his wife to liquidate their stock portfolio.
- Paul received a disciplinary infraction because his wife patched him into a conference call with the family’s tax attorney.
Federal prisons offer prisoners access to a quasi-email system known as TRULINCS, which is an acronym that stands for “Trust Fund Limited Inmate communication System.” It can access a system known as CorrLinks, which is operated by a private company known as ATG. The TRULINCS system differs from traditional email for a number of reasons. For one thing, prisoners must pay a by-the-minute fee to access the TRULINCS / CorrLinks system. For another, when prisoners send a message through TRULINCS, the message does not travel instantly to the intended recipient. Instead, a process ensues:
- The outgoing message must first proceed through an electronic filter system to screen for possible violations of the disciplinary code.
- The message may proceed through additional screening by a guard.
- If authorized, the message will be sent to the CorrLinks website.
- The CorrLinks website will send a notification to the intended recipient.
- To retrieve the electronic message, the intended recipient must establish an account with CorrLinks, then log into CorrLinks to retrieve messages the prisoner sent.
- Authorized people from the community may send return messages to prisoners.
Unlike the Inmate Telephone System (ITS), which limits prisoner access to an average of about 10 minutes phone time per day, prisoners may use the TRULINCS system whenever it’s available. Financial budgets may limit the amount of time a prisoner can spend on the TRULINCS system, as costs range about five cents per minute, and 15 cents per page to print mail. But if an inmate can afford to purchase the minutes, he can send electronic messages through TRULINCS whenever administrators make the system available.
In some institutions, prisoners will access the TRULINCS terminals in the housing unit. In other institutions, prisoners will access the email system from some remote location within the prison. In addition to sending mail, the TRULINCS terminal serves additional functions that include:
- Checking financial balances in the commissary account.
- Providing access to case law for legal research.
- Providing access to Program Statements, Institutional Supplements, Program Descriptions, and announcements from staff members.
- Providing access to musical files that prisoners may download onto portable MP-3 players that institutions sell through the commissary.
To access the system, prisoners simply input their identification code and a PIN number into the system. Once logged in, the prisoner follows the prompts. Inmates may invite others to become a correspondent by sending an electronic invitation. If the recipient accepts the invite, the two can correspond through the TRULINCS system. The system authorizes correspondents to send simple text, but no photos or attachments. Each message is limited to 13,000 characters. As a consequence of monitoring, correspondents should expect messages to take between 30 minutes and several hours to transmit.
As with everything else in the prison system, people should make themselves aware of the rules associated with the TRULINCS system. Correspondence with the outside world is especially important while serving a sentence. Just as with the telephone system, BOP administrators have the discretion to prohibit an individual’s access to TRULINCS. They may prohibit a prisoner from using the TRULINCS system if the prisoner was found to have abused the system in the past. They also may restrict a prisoner from access to the system if they determine that the prisoner has sophisticated computer skills sufficient to circumvent security. Administrators may prohibit such individuals from using the system, or they may monitor him closely.
In addition to email, people in federal prison also have access to regular mail. In minimum-security institutions, prisoners may send letters in sealed envelopes. In higher-security prisons, prisoners must place their outgoing letters in unsealed envelopes so that guards can monitor the letters before sending them.
Guards open all incoming letters, regardless of security level. They distribute letters on Mondays through Fridays. Although electronic mail is quicker, many prisoners prefer the closer connection of handwritten correspondence.
Each federal prison offers visiting opportunities on a limited basis. Except for some high-security settings that require visits to take place without human contact, in Skype-like settings, prisoners may visit in closely monitored open room. Since the introduction of contraband frequently takes place inside of prison visiting rooms, visiting is a highly controlled part of the institution.
All institutions restrict the amount of time prisoners can spend with visitors. Some prisons authorize visiting five days each week, but limit the number of hours a prisoner can spend inside. In minimum-security camps, rules ordinarily limit prisoners to visiting on weekends. Even then, rules may not allow them to visit every weekend.
Depending on security level, guards will search inmates as they enter and leave the visiting room. In minimum-security institutions, guards have discretion on whether they should conduct strip searches. All higher security institutions require strip searches before the visit begins and after it concludes. Also, during the visit, several guards will make an obtrusive presence inside the institution. Guards in offsite locations will monitor visits through surveillance cameras as well.
To initiate visits, a prisoner must first send a “visiting form” to the person with whom he wants to visit. The form will require information that allows a staff member to conduct a background check. Once the staff member has completed the background check, he will update the visiting list. As an authorized visitor, the guest must subject himself or herself to all rules of the institution. That includes authorizing guards to search the vehicle and the individual’s body for contraband. The visitor must agree to walk through metal detectors and submit to other types of searching in the guard’s relentless commitment “to preserve the security of the institution.”
Learn visiting policies and how to make the most out of visits. Although visiting may seem invasive at first, in time, prisoners may rely on visits as a useful mechanism to maintain family and community ties. As with the telephone, the primary challenge prisoners have with visiting is managing access with the many time restrictions that administrators place on visiting.
The other challenge related to visiting concerns physical contact. Rules authorize prisoners to hug and kiss their visitors briefly at the start of a visit and at the conclusion of a visit. Yet if guards deem the outward display of affection to be too much, they may terminate the visit and issue a disciplinary infraction. Such rules can elevate the stress during family visits in some institutions. Our experts at Prison Professor always advise our clients to study rules pertaining to visiting. They will not want to lose visiting privileges during their journey.
We will conclude this lesson with a note on prison spending. Give some thought to financial resources and how to budget for the duration of a sentence. As with anywhere else in America, financial resources can ease the time inside.
Policy Statements limit the amount of money an individual can spend each month in the commissary, but items like telephone and email access do not count against spending limits. In the following lesson that discusses the first days in prison, we will spend more time on how financial resources can ease the journey inside.
Although restrictions may limit inmate spending in the commissary to between $300 and $400 per month, with telephone, TRULINKS, and other costs that we’ll describe in the subsequent lesson, living “well” in federal prison can easily require $1,000 per month. Since meaningful income opportunities are difficult to create in prison, we advise our clients to anticipate such expenditures prior to their first days inside.
- What steps have you taken to prepare your significant others for the complications of confinement?
- Describe what you know about maintaining community ties while serving time in prison?
- Considering the many restrictions associated with life in federal prison, what possible avenues do you perceive for building and maintaining strong support networks during the course of serving your sentence?
- What plans do you have in place to respond in the event that guards cite you with a disciplinary infraction?
- How have your preparations for the journey inside contributed to your level of confidence in being able to have a different outcome from those who struggle upon release from confinement?