true crime

"In three days, I am going to prison for a long time."

A Quora user posed a question to the popular forum:

In three days, I am going to prison for a long time. How should I prepare?”

These are the responses that were offered.

Sue Ellen Allen, served 7 years in an AZ prison for securities fraud

Get a complete physical. See your dentist to have your teeth cleaned. Set up a family member or friend who will make a deposit into your inmate bank account. Arrange to get some magazine subscriptions that will keep you connected to the world like TIME and Reader’s Digest. If you like to write, subscribe to Writer’s Digest.

Prepare to take every/any class or program available. There aren’t many but they provide a mental escape. Be respectful. Watch and listen. Try to stay close to your family. The library can be your friend.

As for making friends, no one survives prison alone. Be judicious. People can betray you inside but so can they outside. It’s a microcosm of life. Trust inmates before staff.

Be prepared to make a life inside. And remember your attitude will save you or destroy you. Bo Lozoff’s book is a great recommendation. Also Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Autobiographies are inspiring and you need that. Look for jobs that allow you to help others, like teacher’s aide. Keep a hopeful heart and remember that you are just passing through. You aren’t there forever.

Take in a list of names, addresses and phone numbers of people you think will accept your collect calls. Some will, some won’t. Also, take in any other addresses you think might be helpful.


Good luck. It won’t be easy but it will be the most powerful learning experience you can have. And you can make it victoriously. I believe in you.

Stephanie D’Andrea

There are support groups for your loved ones out there, they are going to need them. There are quite a few on Facebook and I volunteer for one:

Flikshop is wonderful for getting pictures (postcards) so your loved ones need to know about it. It was created by Marcus Bullock, a man who served eight years in VA state prisons. He is a successful CEO of his own company now, that helps incarcerated people and their loved ones stay in touch.

Pigeonly is great for many things, including phone calls. Phone calls can get expensive. If you’re going to federal prison it will be very useful and save a lot of money to use Pigeonly voice. Here is the link:

Inmate Phone Calls | Inmate Services | Prison Inmate Locator

Most important thing is that re-entry begins at sentencing. Work on bettering yourself and becoming emotionally healthy. If you are in a relationship or married, I would suggest doing therapy workbooks together. It helps you evolve as a couple and keeps the bond strong.

There is a book written by R.L. Pelshaw, a man in one of my Prison Reform Groups that is a business owner and did time himself. The book is called Illegal to Legal, it’s about starting your own business as a formerly incarcerated person. If you can get someone to get in touch with me I will send you a copy free of charge as well as other important information and I will personally assist them in starting their prison family member journey.

Remember that every day is another day closer. You got this!


Donald Baranski, Domestic relations mediator (trained in dispute resolution)

I have represented clients who have vast experience with the criminal justice system. There is a vast difference between a county jail and a prison. Jail is designed for temporary stays for a year or less. Prison is designed for long-term stay for dozens of years for an inmate. The culture is quite different so if you have served time in jail, you will find prison much better.

I actually had a criminal client who cursed me out for pleading with the judge to give him jail time instead of prison time. He told me he would rather do two years in prison than one year in jail. I thought he was nuts. Then he explained why. In jail, inmates did not go outside, could not smoke, there was one TV for the whole jail in the day room that someone else always picked which channel to watch. In prison, he could have TV in his cell. In prison, he could go outside and play basketball. In prison, he could go to church, get a job, shovel snow in the winter for extra privileges, and have books sent to him to read.


I taught college courses to inmates in four state correctional facilities. I know from personal experience that prison is safer than jail. When an inmate is first processed in prison, they are administered psychological equations. Additionally, inmates are classified according to their danger level. I knew when I was teaching men who were within 18 months of their being paroled and when I was teaching men serving a life sentence without parole.

My advice is based on observations from being on the outside looking in as follows:

Follow the prison rules. Everything is about following the rules and conformity in prison. In prison, an inmate can get into trouble for minor things and major things. These offences will be used against an inmate when he is before the parole board. Those offences are never forgiven nor forgotten.

LISTEN: We deep dive on what life's like inside an Australian women's prison. Post continues after audio.

Take advantage of all the programs made available to you whether school, work, religion, counselling, AA, NA, or any activity like being on a prison paper.


Your body is confined. Your mind is free. Use your mind to read, to learn, to grow as a person.

It is easy to dwell on the negative and to be bitter about your incarceration. It is easy to blame others for your incarceration. Most inmates blame their attorney for not getting them off. That is TV fantasy. Attorneys are not magicians. Some inmates blame their victims. Right or wrong, the government has determined you must serve hard time. Appeal your conviction if it is warranted, but in the meantime, accept the hand dealt to you.

Try to set goals for yourself each day. For example to read so many pages per day or to write a letter to someone on the outside.

Realise that it is difficult for family and friends to visit you. Prisons do not make visits for your family and friends easy or pleasant. Prison personnel have a job to do. Their job is primarily security. You will quickly grow accustomed to having your personal space violated, to know what is contraband and what is not.

Your family and friends will find the invasion of privacy and having seemingly harmless items taken from them as offensive. I taught at four separate male prisons with four different wardens. It depended on the prison warden as to what the rules were. Highlighters used to mark text in a school book were banned in one. Nail clippers, nail files, tiny scissors, or anything metal would be banned by all prisons. I had a candy wrapper in my pocket and that was contraband and I was denied entry into the prison until I removed it from my person. The same for my attorney business card and the handkerchief in my breast pocket, all contraband.

Image source: Getty.

Realise that the correction officers in your facility have a job to do. They must provide security to each inmate and protect them from harm. There are numerous laws and the US constitution which they must follow. They have spouses and children that they are trying to support. They had nothing to do with why or how you arrived at their workplace. Your being incarcerated is not personal to them so do not make it personal. They have good days and bad days and mortgages, car loans, spouse issues, children's issues and even employment issues just like any other working person. At the end of their shift, they just want to go home to their loved ones. Their family worry about their safety at work. It is a very stressful job to be a corrections officer. I have represented many of them in their family matters.


Above all else, remember your humanity. You are a person who is convicted of a crime. Your crime does not define you as a person. You can be whatever you choose to be. Remain positive and focus on doing your best now and into the future.

Jake Way

Hi there,

I’m going to be a bit more real with you and avoid some of the philosophical stuff that’s already been stated. I was a teacher for a re-entry program in a Rhode Island prison and know a thing or two.

There are going to be things you don’t have control over now and this part of life is just going to hit you and you’ll adapt because you have to. Use your intuition, make good choices about relationships, think of the big picture and let go of the ego shit that gets people into fights and prevents them from getting parole. Don’t underestimate the power of parole to get you out of the box down the road!

Don’t overemphasise your worries on going to prison. In this moment, worry about setting yourself up for success when your sentence is over or you make parole.

I’d want to emphasise before anyone misses it is to get your finances in order! Cancel cards, get your car back into the dealership and give yourself a peace of mind that when you leave prison someday your credit won’t be devastated.


Quote from one of my former incarcerated students, “When I get out, my finances are going to be like a fucking kaleidoscope. I have no idea what they’re going to be.” He had asked the correctional officers if he could have the opportunity to cancel his cards or get some automatic payments set up and the CO told him to fuck off. “If you don’t want your credit ruined, don’t come to prison.” It’s tragic that’s the attitude of some CO’s. Financial stress is one of the foremost reasons why people re-offend years down the road.

Also, I’m not telling you to do this, but me personally... if I was going to prison I would park my money in an S&P 500 index fund. Nice little present for myself after I do my time. If I had to make a bet that I couldn’t take back for many, many years I would bet on the American economy.

The box sucks, but it’s not all bad. Some of the most memorable, funny, insightful moments will happen in there and there will be opportunities for education or hobbies. I had some of the most stressful moments as a teacher in a prison, but God did I have some of the best laughs in my life too. The guys in there were fucking funny. One of the cool things happening at my prison was the ability to become a dog handler/trainer and train seeing eye dogs for the blind. The dogs slept in the cells with them, I thought that was so cool.

Also, I hope you like books.

This story originally appeared on Quora and has been republished here with full permission.