Tips Before Surrendering to Prison

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Top-Ten Checklist Before Surrendering to Federal Prison


I’m Michael Santos with Are you facing time in prison? Learn from our top-ten checklist on how to prepare for prison.

Don’t let the anxiety get you down. If you’re surrendering, prepare. Learn steps you can take to ease your adjustment inside. Learn what you can do to make the most of any challenges that lie ahead.

Our team at can help. We publish content frequently to help people understand prison. We offer webinars where people can learn. We offer podcasts to help people get ready. People who must surrender will find value in our free content. Use it.

We want you to know what you can do to build a life of meaning and relevance even if you’re going to prison. You may go to prison. But if you prepare, you can figure out ways to make the most of your experience. Come home successfully. Our team will show you how. And we’re going to show you how with our top-ten checklist.

See here’s number one on our checklist.


Learn From Step 1: The Surrender Details

If you’re surrendering to prison, make sure that you’re ready. What do you need?
First, find a point of contact. Maybe your wife. Maybe your mom. Maybe your best friend. Teach that point of contact what to expect. If things don’t go right, your point of contact must be ready to take action.

So, what do you need to know?

You need to make sure that your attorney is standing by ready to help you. Ask your lawyer to confirm that the prison has your paperwork in order. Understand the process

After your sentencing hearing, you’ve got to know the process that is going to unfold. The United States Marshal Service is going to have the responsibility of sending your PSI along with your Judgment and Commitment Order—also known as the J&C—to the Bureau of Prisons. The Bureau of Prisons has a central office located in Grand Prairie, Texas.

And the staff members in Grand Prairie have a responsibility for classifying every prisoner. After assigning a security level, the Bureau of Prisons is going to assign a prison. They call it designation. A person should know what’s going to follow.

So, the defense attorney should check to make sure the Bureau of Prisons staff members in Grand Prairie have done their job. They are supposed to send paperwork to the prison in advance. If the prison does not have the PSI or the J&C, or both, you can expect problems. Staff members are going to lock the prisoner in the hole. So the person must remain in that solitary cell for several weeks until somebody fixes the problem. Make sure you have a plan in place. Make sure that your plan is going to limit your possibility of serving time in the hole when you should be in the general population.

Tell your point of contact to expect a phone call within 24 hours of the day that you surrender. If the person does not receive that phone call, make sure your point of contact knows how to follow the plan. First, call the attorney. Ask the attorney to check with the prison and with BOP staff in Grand Prairie, Texas. If the attorney doesn’t act, well then the point of contact should act. Launch a campaign to learn what has happened.

Now it’s possible that the prisoner doesn’t have access to the phone on the first day inside. That’s okay. If the person’s in the general population, he can ask someone for help. Another prisoner can ask his family member to call the contact person. There is always a way to get the message out. And it’s important for the person to prepare so that he knows how to get that message out in case there is a problem.

The above steps are kind of like an insurance policy. If all goes according to plan, you don’t need to exercise this insurance policy. And truthfully all goes according to plan probably in seven out of 10 times. If things do not go well on the day of surrender, make sure that your point of contact person knows the plan, and knows how to act. After all, the BOP can make a clerical error. Errors happen. The well-prepared person understands. He understands how to prepare and to make sure that his contact person knows how to prepare. Expect challenges from the BOP. It’s like dealing with the DMV—only times 100. You must succeed anyway. That’s the number one thing to prepare for before surrendering to prison.

Here’s number two.


Learn from Step 2.: Understand your Finances

Prepare well with regard to keep finances in order. Finances don’t only include all the resources that you’re going to need. But also the resources family or loved ones are going to need at home. Make sure that you’ve got a preparation plan in place.

People without money in prison have more stress. That stress can lead to problems. The person who does not have a money plan in prison can suffer. He may say the wrong things over the phone. He may write the wrong message in a letter or in an email. People who do not understand rules can face discipline. Disciplinary charges can lead to loss of phone access, the loss of email access. It can result in a loss of visiting. Know the rules. Learn about prison to make the most of the journey.

A person can live in prison without any money. But if they don’t have money, they can’t use the phone. They can’t send emails. They cannot shop in the prison store. Like living in every American city, money makes life easier.

A person should set a budget. I spent $600 per month in prison. But I was active. I wrote books in prison. I wrote lesson plans. I ran my business in prison that earned money for my family. To achieve my goals, I had to have money in my prison account.

Other people don’t have to spend $600 per month. A small budget would be $100 per month. To use phone and email, expect to spend $200 per month. To shop in the store, budget another $200 to $400 per month.

Understand the store and spending limits prior to going inside.

To start the prison journey get the money ready. Ask someone to send the money. Send money by Western Union late on the day of reporting. Send $400 on the day of surrender. Add money into the prison account each month. Western Union is fast and certain, but it’s not cheap. After the first month, send money through the mail to the Central Lockbox in Iowa. With money, the prisoner can shop in the prison store. It’s called “commissary.”

Resources will help the person settle. Those items will ease the first days.

To send funds, visit

Consider bank accounts. How will you manage bank accounts from prison? Banks and brokerage houses may shock a new prisoner. If the bank learns of a conviction, the bank may close the account. A bank or brokerage may refuse an account. If a person has a felony conviction, banking can present a problem. Consider this reality. Discuss your financial plan with your bank or broker. Adjust if necessary.

Some people may assign cash account to others. Others may choose to hold other asset types. Prepare! Learn how to overcome challenges in prison.


Learn From Step 3: Create Reading Lists

Establish a reading plan before you surrender to prison. Create a methodical, deliberate plan. Reading will empower you through the journey.

Begin each year with a plan. How many books will you read each year? What purpose will your reading list serve? What steps will you take to record what you’ve read?

I had a process in prison. Each time I read a book, I wrote a report. The report would answer three questions:

1) Why did I read the book?

2) What did I learn from reading the book?

3) How will the book add to my success upon release?

I wrote how that strategy led to my success . It opened opportunities in prison. It led to success on parole. It helped to launch my career.

Share your reading plan with loved ones and those in your support group. Invite others to follow your reading plan. Urge them to hold you accountable.

The reading list you establish will help you climb through the sentence. If you’re serving a five-year sentence, make a plan. Commit to reading. Identify books that you will read during a given year. Supplement that list with additional books later. Extend this plan each year. Make progress toward completing your list.

Create a plan for receiving books while inside. Instruct your family to order books from Amazon. Ordering from Amazon limits problems. Staff are familiar with Amazon. Never order more than five books at a given time. Order magazines from the publisher. Family members should not send magazines because some BOP staff will reject them. Prepare your reading list in advance. Teach your support group how to order your books.

Learn From Step 4: Journaling and Writing

Begin with a writing plan. Document your journey through writing. Do not let the anxiety of prison cripple you. Alleviate anxiety by creating a writing plan. Then stick with the plan. Write about each step to show you built strength through struggle.

Prison presents an awesome opportunity to write a memoir. The memoir will lead to success after prison. We live in a world of transparency. Anyone can perform a Google search of anyone else. The criminal charge will surface. Rather than fearing search engine results, take a proactive approach. Begin sowing seeds for a better outcome.

I wrote more than 20 books from inside prison. I wrote books under my name. Other people in prison paid me to write books for them. Learn how publishing from prison can lead to your new business.

Don’t write to sell your book. Write so your book will sell you. Let your book launch your new career upon release. If someone asks why you went to prison, give them your book. If you don’t write, you’ll live with the prosecutor’s version of events forever.

Write your business plan from prison. Interview people. Learn their business models. Write as many business plans as possible. That investment of time will prove valuable. The job market is not friendly to people who went to prison. Create a solid plan. Come home with clear direction. You should know precisely what you will accomplish in prison. Become a self-sustaining enterprise. Success doesn’t happen by accident. Every decision influences prospects for success upon release.

I encourage you to blog and journal. Learn nuances of the BOP before starting your writing career in prison. Writing will prove therapeutic. Create your plan to succeed from prison.


Learn From Step 5: Prepare Personal Belongings

If you need reading glasses, bring two pairs with you. Choose inexpensive, sturdy glasses. The BOP commissary will sell reading glasses if you break yours. If you need a stronger lens, bring your prescription glasses. Choose sturdy rather than decorative frames.

You may bring religious items. Bring your book of worship. Bring your religious necklace. Bring what you need to worship. But bring the least amount of things with you. Keep it simple and bring what need, but no more.

Wear your wedding ring. BOP policy holds that the ring cannot be worth more than $100. That policy has been in place for longer than 20 years. Officials are not going to request a receipt to show the value. Still, don’t bring anything that is too flamboyant. The wedding ring cannot have gemstones.

I recommend that you limit your personal belongings when you surrender. If you want to bring an inexpensive watch, sneakers, or sweats, you must know the risk. Staff may not allow you to enter the prison with those items. The staff member on duty may look the other way. But it’s not likely. Do not bring checks, cell phones, or credit cards. Bring photographs, but no polaroid pictures. Limit the quantity of photos you bring with you. Be Spartan in your belongings. Ease your adjustment with stoicism. Your family can mail you photos as long as they are not polaroid photos.

If you need medicine, bring a one-month prescription. Bring a letter from your medical doctor. The letter should indicate your medical condition. Show that you need the medicine. Review the BOP formulary to make sure the medicine is allowed. If your medicine is not on the BOP list, find an alternative.


Learn From Step 6: Communication Preparation

Before you surrender, create a letter titled: Legal Contacts. Your letter should include info about the people you want to write. Include the names, addresses, email, and phone numbers. Include everyone in your support network. Designate a point person in your support network. Have your point person manage your visits and phone time. You only have access to 300 minutes of phone time per month. Begin with a plan. Prisons limit visiting hours, too. Your point person should manage your phone and visits.

Your list will help you when you surrender. Insert names and addresses into the BOP computer system. That action will help you to communicate. You will be able to insert 30 names into your contact list. You can adjust routinely.

Make sure that all people in your support network understand the system. They will not receive traditional email messages. Instead, they must visit either Corrlinks system, Jpay, or some other system to get email from you.


Learn From Step 7: Values / Goals

Begin with a clear definition of what success looks like. Identify values you profess to live by. Write your values out and discuss them with those in your closest circles. Let them know what’s important to you. Invite them to hold you accountable. Share how you will use your time productively.

Clearly define goals within each value category. Create timelines that determine success dates for goals you set. This process will restore confidence. Build your sense of self-direction through the journey.

Show your commitment to advance through the prison term. Grow in a deliberate, methodical manner. Give your support group a workable plan to ensure you never sink into a depression.


Learn From Step 8: Accountability Metric

Establish an accountability metric. That metric should identify clear timelines. Reveal when you will achieve specific, clearly defined goals. Share that metric with your support group. Invite your support group to hold you accountable. This strategy will show your commitment. Make incremental, daily progress. Those without this deliberate plan can easily sink into depression.

Don’t wait for calendar pages to turn. Take action.


Learn from Step 9: Quadrant Adjustment

Understand the quadrant theory. Each day will bring new possibilities. You will have opportunity costs. Strengthen your resolve. Do not let decisions threaten your peace. Prepare yourself. Understand strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Learn how to find direction. Pursue activities in a deliberate manner. Understand that you have the power to make decisions from a position of strength. Choose activities. Look for high reward and low risk. You may also choose activities that come with the potential for high reward, but also bring higher levels of risk. Understand!

My goal was to get out successfully. What is your goal? Are you striving to live as a model inmate, or to be successful? Choose accordingly.

Grow through your prison journey deliberately. Position yourself for success, as you define success with your values and goals.


Learn from Step 10: Release Plan

When you surrender, think about the day that you will get out. Create a process to govern your adjustment. Don’t serve time. Execute a carefully laid plan that leads you to get out earlier and better.

Bring your driver’s license and social security card with you. Your case manager in prison will hold those identifications in your central file. The preparation will ease your return.

Give a copy of your license to your support group. You need ID when you get out. Don’t depend on the BOP to provide it.

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