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How to prepare for a prison sentence

Updated February 21, 2017

Serving time in prison is not a pleasant experience. Psychologically preparing yourself for your new life -- and wrapping up your old life -- might allow you to better adjust to prison. It is virtually impossible to prepare yourself for prison, but clearing up unfinished business on the outside might help you ease into the transition of prison life.

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  1. Pay off all bills, especially if you have been given a short sentence. This allows you to avoid collection notices and a low credit score upon release. Call the utility and cable companies and arrange to shut off services. Pay off the remaining bill, or arrange for a friend or family member to pay it. Pay off credit card bills, if possible. Don't deplete all your available cash to pay off debts, but pay as many as possible.

  2. End your rental lease or mortgage. Make arrangements to pay the fee -- if you are ending the lease prematurely -- or come to an agreement with your landlord. Contact the mortgage company -- if you own a home -- and make arrangements to sell your home.

  3. Make arrangements for your children; find someone you trust to look after them. Sign over your parental rights -- at least temporarily -- so the new guardian can enrol your children in school. Give the new guardian your child's birth certificate. These documents are vital to your child's daily affairs.

  4. Enlist the help of someone you trust to look after your pets. Find a no-kill shelter -- or post an ad on Craigslist for someone to adopt your pet -- if you cannot find a trusted individual to care for the animals.

  5. Create a will to assign a permanent guardian for your children. Leave assets such as cash, investments and real estate to the person of your choice. You might never return home. You might die or be killed in prison.

  6. Leave your account details with your spouse, or another person close to you. Write down the names of your accounts and their corresponding account numbers. Write down the login details for all bank accounts, credit card accounts and bill accounts.

  7. Sell your furniture, appliances, car, TV and computer to raise cash prior to beginning your sentence. Post an ad on Craigslist, have a garage sale or sell items to pawn shops. Arrange for a friend or family member to store these items -- or purchase a storage unit and prepay -- if you are serving a short sentence. Sell items that your spouse won't be able to pay for on her own, such as a car with a high monthly payment.

  8. Earn as much money as possible. Work day-labour jobs to earn extra money before going to prison. The more money you have in prison, the easier your life will be.

  9. Put money on your "books." All left over savings, money you raise and any money given to you should go to your books. "Books" is another name for your prison bank account. Any amount of money can be added to your books. Use this money while in prison to purchase desired food items, stamps, toiletries and other items. Take your cash with you when you turn yourself in; the intake officer will take your cash and give you a receipt. That cash is immediately put on your books.

  10. Call and write to friends and family to stay connected to the outside. Write all of your contacts down on one sheet. Include their names, addresses and phone numbers. Inform your contacts of your prison address, so they can write to you. Keep this contact list with you when you turn yourself in. Most prisons will allow you to keep a contact list, but you might mail it to your prison address on the day you turn yourself in. Include your prison ID number in the address field; this ID was issued on the day of your sentencing.

  11. Gather a few personal photos of your friends and family. Prisons typically allow you to keep photograpsh if they don't contain nudity or depict illegal behaviour. Have them on your person on the day you turn yourself in, or mail them to yourself.

  12. Exercise, eat nutritious foods and become physically fit before beginning your sentence. Prisons often provide food that is not nutritious; it might affect your health. You are more likely to survive an attack by other prisoners if you are physically fit. A healthy body keeps your mind active and lifts your spirits.

  13. Receive a medical and dental examination. Take care of any health issues -- such as a toothache -- before going to prison. Prisons offer access to health care, but medical attention entails a long wait.

  14. Educate yourself in prison survival tactics. Prisoners are divided into racial groups, gangs, religions and sexualities. Keep to yourself, but the nature of prisons is such that this is often not possible. Groups provide protection from harassment and violence; prepare to find a group that you can belong to. Mental preparation is important. Your freedom is stripped, and you are told when to rise, sleep and eat. Forget about the freedoms of your current life, and prepare to accept your new reality.

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About the Author

Si Kingston has been an online content contributor since 2004, with work appearing on websites such as MadeMan. She is a professional screenwriter and young-adult novelist and was awarded the Marion-Hood Boesworth Award for Young Fiction in 2008. Kingston holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mills College.

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