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 Self-surrender to Prison: 15 Tips 

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Michael Santos

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15 tips for managing the process of self-surrendering to serve a prison sentence. Follow them and put this day behind you.

15 tips for managing the process of self-surrendering to serve a prison sentence. Follow them and put this day behind you.

Surrendering to serve a prison sentence is likely one of the most challenging things for anyone to do. Up until that point, people have endured arrest, arraignment, pre-trial, conviction (by trial or guilty plea), sentencing, and maybe even a failed appeal. 

Still, the person must complete a prison sentence. 

So steel yourself. 

Put one foot in front of the other. 

On the day of surrender, a person can expect the following process. We encourage people to prepare before surrendering in order to conquer the obstacles that block so many others from experiencing a successful journey.

  1. Report as instructed. After sentencing, you will receive a letter letting you know where you are designated to report to begin serving your sentence. The date and time for reporting are specified. Be on time. Failure to show up as instructed can be grounds for escape charges. If you encounter any issues on your surrender date, immediately call your attorneys and the prison facility waiting for you to report and let them know what is going on with you. *Pro-Tip: Many people choose to travel to the facility area the day before to minimize possible complications with getting there as instructed.
  2. Receiving & Discharge (R&D). R&D prison staff processes of all new people that surrender to prison, or transfer into a prison. You may be the only person surrendering that day, or you could be one of several. There is no way to know. 
  3. Be patient. The intake process can take several hours, and it is out of your control. Be prepared to listen carefully and follow instructions. Be ready to wait your turn and to sit in a holding cell as long as it takes. You may get a brown bag lunch depending on the time of day and the time it takes to get through the intake process. At some facilities, the intake process can go into a second day, in which case you could spend the night in an R&D cell or the SHU (Special Housing Unit) until they can finish your processing. *Pro-Tip: This has become more common during the COVID-19 pandemic, given the testing and quarantine requirements. 
  4. Identification. Using your sentencing paperwork, R&D will confirm your identity. You will provide a DNA sample, fingerprints and take a photo for your prison ID. 
  5. Three-part intake. R&D staff’s initial interview is to identify whether the new person has special medical, social, or mental-health needs. The three parts of the initial intake process are medical, social, and psychological evaluations. 
  6. Medical. If you have a letter from your doctor describing special medical needs, you will want to highlight this now. R&D staff may not review the letter in detail at this point, but they will add it to your file. R&D staff also look for signs that a new person came in under the influence of drugs and alcohol. While R&D staff knows that reporting to prison is stressful, they will not be happy to see any person arrive under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Make life easier for yourself; just don’t do it!
  7. Social. A key concern here is whether the staff should assign the person to a housuing unit away from the general population for any reason. For example, a person may have a law-enforcement background, or a sex offense. Depending upon the security level of the institution, a person’s crime may influence where the person serves the sentence.
  8. Psychological. Here, a key concern is whether a person appears to be in severe emotional distress or is experiencing suicidal issues. To the extent possible, you want to remain calm and not lose your composure. Some facilities place new inmates on suicide watch if there are signs of significant distress.
  9. Bringing in Property. There are only a few things people can bring into prison at the time of self-surrender. Everything else will be thrown away or mailed back home. Anything valued at more than $100 will not be allowed. Allowed items are two prescription eyeglasses, a plain wedding band, a religious necklace, prosthetics, one religious book (like a Bible or Koran), dentures, and legal papers (not including your Pre-Sentence Investigation Report, which is not allowed). Keep a copy of the form documenting the property you were allowed. You may need this form should prison staff ever question the source of any of your non-commissary items. 
  10. Bringing in Cash. If possible, it is helpful to bring some cash to start your commissary account. Cash is processed more quickly than money orders. Having cash will allow you to buy your most needed items (coffee and creamer, phone and email minutes, etc.) during your first few days. Most people recommend around $500. More than that can spark suspicions from staff that you do not want to deal with at the time of self-surrender. Keep the receipt for the cash until you can confirm that prison staff added the correct amount to your commissary account.
  11. Strip Search. You will have to take off all of your clothes for a visual inspection to ensure you are not hiding any contraband. You will also have to squat and cough. This is unpleasant and humiliating, but there is no way to avoid it.
  12. Prison Clothes. After the strip search, people typically get a temporary prison uniform.
  13. Orientation. There will be at least one full orientation session, if not more than one, after you are processed and moved to your housing unit. The intake process does not cover everything you need to know. Be patient. Take things one step at a time. Many facilities provide a prison handbook at intake that you can start to read when you get to your housing unit. 
  14. RDAP. If you are a candidate for the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), you will want to mention this at intake. In some cases, staff members will assign people directly into an RDAP housing unit after initial processing instead of the general population.  
  15. Mentors. Many prisons assign mentors to help acclimate people to the rules of the housing unit and show them around the facility. This will be a good opportunity to meet others, ask questions, and get tips to help you during your first weeks in prison. 

No doubt reporting to serve a prison sentence can be daunting and emotionally draining. However, remember that it is temporary and manageable. Prison Professors, an Earning Freedom company, helps people prepare for prison and create a self-directed plan for success in prison and beyond. 

Prison Professors, an Earning Freedom company, works alongside (not in place of) civil and criminal defense counsel to help clients proactively navigate through investigations and prosecutions. Our team also helps clients prepare mitigation and compliance strategies.

If you have any questions or are uncertain about any of the issues discussed in this post, schedule a call with our risk mitigation team to receive additional guidance.

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