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 What do The First Few Days In Federal Prison Feel Like? 

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Michael Santos

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First Few Days In Federal Prison

The first few days in federal prison can feel traumatizing, especially to the individual who is incarcerated for the first time. Many people in federal prison offer advice of questionable value. They suggest that the best way to serve time is to forget about the world outside and to focus on the culture of confinement. The problem with such guidance is that the more an individual focuses on adjusting to the prison experience, the less prepared that individual will be to function upon release.

Although I’ve written extensively about the prison experience and what I’ve learned from interviewing hundreds of other people in prison, the feelings an individual experiences during the first few days in prison are personal. I know how it felt.

I was in my early 20s and I knew that the crimes I committed would result in my serving multiple decades inside. The sentence length was too long for me to comprehend. So I focused on the first 10 years. I thought about the goals I wanted to accomplish during that first decade. Envisioning success helped me to quash the feelings of hopelessness. Instead of lamenting over my imprisonment, I empowered myself with thoughts about what I could achieve inside.

Other people in federal prison have a hard time building that intrinsic motivation. They miss their family members. Without hope, they concern themselves with their prison reputation. Such concerns lead many into bad decisions that can exacerbate their problems. They feel isolated from society and feel as if they must establish themselves in the subculture of confinement.

Instead of feeling as though they can live a contributing, fulfilling life in federal prison they feel as if they must live in a Hobbsian world of hate, cynicism, and hopelessness.

Creating environments that foster such feelings brings disastrous consequences to society, as high recidivism rates show.

Michael Santos

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