10 Days, 10 Actions: Your Federal Prison Starter Kit

Driving to federal prison with my mom and brother, it hit me hard—I wasn’t prepared for what was coming. As we drew closer, the line from Red in Shawshank Redemption hit me–“No way I’m gonna make it on the outside,”. In my case, “I wasn’t ready for life on the inside.”

I found myself at a Carl’s Jr., trying to savor a final meal, a grim parallel to a last supper. It was a moment of harsh realization: This was real, and I was about to enter a world I had not fully braced myself for. Now, I want to share the insights I wish I had back then.

Here are the ten actions to take within your first ten days of going to federal prison. 

1. Steer Clear of the Prison Hustle

In my early days, I learned that even a simple act—like taking an unassigned mattress—can land you in trouble. I was fortunate not to get caught. Stay straight, especially during those initial weeks in federal prison. 

2. Own Your Decisions

Remember, if you pled guilty, you’re here because of your choices. Like me, you might have taken some wrong turns that led to this point. In those first days inside, start reflecting on those choices. It sets the stage for personal growth and a constructive time in federal prison.

3. Find Work That Fits Your Schedule

As soon as possible, seek a job that allows you time to pursue your own goals and develop your release plan. Whether helping in the library or assisting in recreational activities, find work that adds value to your days and allows you to prepare for the hardest part: going home!!

4. Create Value

Don’t just consume—create. Begin with a robust release plan. Demonstrate your commitment to living a law-abiding, contributing life. Share it with stakeholders!! Additionally, writing gives authenticity to your journey and helps you remember this time accurately.

5. Watch and Learn

Spend your early days observing your new new environment and learning the ropes. Pay attention to those who manage to stay positive and productive. You want to emulate them, not those lost in the cycle of criticism, complaints, and condemnations. 

6. Test Yourself

Whether it’s embracing the discipline of fasting, attempting to run a marathon, or simply tackling a distance you’ve never attempted, it’s crucial to push your boundaries. Early in my stay, I committed to running—even when it was the last thing I felt equipped to do. The pain and the struggle were real, marked by tears and shin splints, but pushing through those barriers set a precedent for my time inside. It’s about doing something you’ve never done, proving to yourself that you’re capable of growth and remarkable achievements even from prison.

7. Health and Fitness

Your body is your temple, even more so in prison. Start exercising from day one, but in moderation, so you don’t burn out or injure yourself. Along with physical activity, make healthy food choices from the commissary.

8. Rise Early

Waking up early is more than a disciplined start to the day; it offers you quiet time to think, plan, and exercise without the crowds. It’s a serene time that sets a positive tone for your day.

9. Let Friendships Develop Naturally

Friendships in prison, like anywhere, should form naturally. Take your time to make connections. It’s okay to say no and seek solitude when needed. The right relationships will form over time.

10. Ascend The U From Day One

See your sentence as a journey where you must climb from the lowest point from day one. Use your time wisely so that when release comes, you’re ready for it—financially, mentally, and spiritually.

If you want more guidance, schedule a call with our team and read or listen to Lessons from Prison.

Remember, you’re not just serving time; make the time serve you. 

Justin Paperny

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