The idea of starting the Paul Project was first sparked by our experiencing the fear of the unknown as we faced our own prison sentence. What fueled it was corresponding with a man facing a 10-year sentence. In a number of letters he sent me probably two dozen questions about what to expect in prison. As I responded to his questions he expressed his gratitude and let me know how helpful and comforting it was to have a clearer picture of what he might face. As I mentioned before, I’ll be answering his questions from time to time.
One question he had was around prison rules, both written and unwritten. I may post a few pages of one of the rules documents once I get it digitized. It would be an understatement to say that there are many written rules for each facility. And while the basic rules are the same, each compound does operate differently. There is very little orientation conducted so most of the time you’re going to be learning as you go. I asked a lot of questions and found guys who were willing to guide me through my first months. There are rules about counts, movement, contraband, drugs, alcohol, sexual activity, ID cards, mail, education, visiting, laundry, and much more.
Some unwritten rules relate to dealing with other inmates. For example, in a TV room seats are usually selected based on seniority. If someone has “claimed” a seat and you’re in it, unless you are willing to fight for it, you better move on. And unless you have a majority of guys behind you (or some juice) don’t even think about turning the channel. I’ve seen more fights over TV in prison than I have over anything else.
While there is a lot to learn when you get to prison, it is important to understand the written and unwritten rules as soon as possible. It will save you a lot of stress, and help you avoid potential physical threats and time in the hole.