Disclaimer: This article is not designed to make you the baddest inmate on the block; it is to guide you into the unknown. If you get your ass whooped in there, it’s not my fault. This article is for entertainment purposes only. Now, continue reading on and learn how to survive your first night in jail!
If you are reading this, I assume you are a responsible, law-abiding citizen, a patriot, and a survivalist. You pay your taxes and do right by your family, as you should. You might also fall into the category of people who don’t plan on going to jail, ever. Not even to visit someone. Remember, however, that those unpaid parking tickets can turn into a suspended license and a warrant before you know It. Or you may choose to drive home one night after having too many drinks with the crew. Even things that seem trivial at the time can land you in jail, and when that happens, what you do from the moment of your arrest onward will impact your future and your freedom.
Survive Your First Night In Jail
Regardless of what circumstances led to a police presence and your arrest, be courteous and respectful despite your emotions. This goes a long way during your booking process, primarily cell phone numbers. If you are respectful and not defiant or resisting arrest, the arresting officer will most likely allow you to write down a few phone numbers on paper to take into the jail with you.
Your preparation to enter the last known primitive environment in America starts long before police contact. The keyword here is “primitive.” There is little to no access to technology, privacy, or comfort. The two primary skills you’re going to need on the inside are the ability to talk and the ability to fight. You should be capable of both and know how to use them with precision. Your ability to do both well will contribute to your overall survival.
During your first 24 hours, you will sit in holding cells with other inmates from different cultural backgrounds, which doesn’t necessarily mean color, ethnicity, creed, or sexual orientation. I am primarily referring to those who have done prison time or those who are drug users or dealers, transients, seriously mentally ill, or sexual deviants. Some may also be first-timers, like you. Keep to yourself and observe how they conduct themselves. Many will act like predators looking for prey. Don’t be prey.
Learn to Profile Your Fellow Inmates
You can distinguish between the two within minutes of entering the first holding cell. The predators will begin to ask you about your arrest and other personal questions, especially if you look like an easy target. Be vague and polite. They don’t need to know about you. You could also tell them you want to “do your time and get out.” Don’t try to act “hard.” They will see right through that and will find other ways to get to you. The other inmates will likely be asleep, withdrawn, talking to themselves or on the phone frantically attempting to call any number they can remember. If you are tired and start to doze off, make sure that everything you came in with is securely on your person. Inmates will often take anything they think they can use, especially the transients.
“He said the trick is to kick someone’s ass the first day or become somebody’s bitch. Then everything will be all right.”—Rob Newhouse in Office Space. This is not true.
Don’t Believe the Movies
Do not punch the first inmate you see. That’s a great way to extend your time in jail since assault is a crime. Do not start any fights, but finish all of them. Detention officers and deputies are trained in investigative techniques to determine whether you were a suspect or a victim in a physical altercation. All modern-day jails in metropolitan areas are equipped with high-definition cameras, especially in cells intended to hold up to 50 or more inmates. These aren’t your old, grainy 1980s gas station surveillance cameras. Some of them have the clarity of the cameras on a Mars rover.
Going to jail is like going to the worst, transient-smelling DMV you can imagine. It’s a huge, anxiety-ridden game of “hurry up and wait.” You will be shuffled between holding cells while waiting for your name to be called. And within 24 hours of arrest, by law, you will see a judge. This is called your initial appearance.
The judge will advise you of your charge or charges, your next court date, and your release conditions based on your charge(s) and criminal history. This is not the time to plead or state your case. However, this is the time to tell the judge that your wife is off work since the recent birth of your child, that you’re the sole provider, and that you also volunteer at the Humane Society. Don’t lie—just let the judge know that you aren’t a flight risk and that you will make all your court hearings.
Get Out of Jail Free Card
The best-case scenario is that you are released on your own recognizance. This means that you will not have to post a bond to ensure your presence at the next court date. You will be released from central booking within a few hours. There is no set time for your freedom, so do not harass the detention officers or deputies by asking them when you will be released. A decent-case scenario is that the judge gives you a reasonable bond to post.
All jails will have a current list of local bail bonds companies. Industry-standard cash collateral is 10% of the total bond with most bond companies. Ideally, you should post your bond before leaving central booking since you and your property are in one place, and there won’t be any delay in releasing you. Once you get dressed out in the black and white stripes and housed inside an actual unit, usually a different facility. A bit more staff coordination must happen in order to release you.