20 Unwritten Rules Prisoners Must Obey If They Want To Stay Out Of Trouble

20 Unwritten Rules Prisoners Must Obey If They Want To Stay Out Of Trouble

From the outside looking in, prison might seem to be a place where rules don’t apply. But that isn’t the case… at all. In fact, there are many unwritten regulations that the inmates have to follow. And they will face consequences for breaking them. So, strap in folks – we’ve taken a closer look at 20 examples of this secret code.

20. Don’t jump the queues

Can we get a show of virtual hands here – does anyone like queuing? We didn’t think so! Regardless of that, though, it’s something that we have to do multiple times across the week. And as it turns out, it’s much the same in prison, too. Yep, lines are still a thing behind bars.

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From the dining area to the bathrooms, you’ll often spot a queue of some sort. But according to an ex-prisoner named Noah Bergland, who writes for the website resilience2reform, cutting the line is a very bad idea. And it doesn’t matter if someone’s created a space for you, you still might just irritate the wrong person.


19. Don’t touch anything that doesn’t belong to you

Some of us can get a little tetchy when other people start touching our belongings at home. Hey, it can’t be helped! At worst, though, the guilty party will only receive a telling off for their wandering hands. Yet that’s not the case in jail. It can get pretty heated there.

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As per Bergland, you’ll get into big trouble by picking up objects that don’t belong to you behind bars. Yes, few things will start a fight quicker than grabbing an inmate’s reading material or snack. So, if you want to avoid all that hassle, just keep your hands to yourself.


18. Never miss a meal

If you’re a food lover, then prison might just be your worst nightmare. Think about it – the inmates aren’t exactly treated to five-star meals during their stay. But regardless of your opinion of the menu, you’ve got to grin and bear it. Turning things away could lead to some major problems.


To go into more detail on that front, a reddit user shared their thoughts on the site. They wrote, “Eat. Eat the bag lunch you get in booking, and every meal that follows. It’s gross and you won’t want to, but you won’t know how long you’re going to be in for. And it’s nearly impossible to get caught up on a day or two of missed meals.”

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17. Avoid the bathroom mop and broom

Prisoners are responsible for keeping their cells clean throughout their respective sentences. After all, they’ve got to live there! Mind you, that job comes with its own perils if inmates aren’t careful. As it turns out, they need to familiarize themselves with the different mops and brooms in the cupboards.

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Bergland revealed that these compartments all contain a bathroom mop and broom. He told resilience2reform that they “stop cross contaminations.” Anyway, should an inmate grab those by mistake, they could end up smearing a lot of nastiness across their cell floor. Yuck. And word will travel if anyone spots them doing it. Talk about a double whammy.

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16. Don’t complain or cry

To shed some light on this next unwritten rule, an online user opened up on the “AskReddit” subreddit. They said, “Don’t get too angry or riled up. Everybody’s yelling and loud at night? Guess what, it’s jail. You yelling ‘shut up’ isn’t going to make them quiet, they’re going to get louder.”

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From there, the reddit user added, “Don’t cry all the time. Cry as little as possible. Don’t cry when you’re in visitation, on the phone or in court. Let your folks see that you’re doing alright, even if you’re not. You don’t want them worried anymore than they already are.”

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15. Knocking the dinner table

Here’s a question for you folks: do you enjoy chatting around the table at dinner? If the answer’s yes, you would’ve hated prison in the past. You see, those areas were once meant to be completely silent. Any kind of murmuring would’ve resulted in punishment from the jail staff. To say it was strict is a huge understatement.

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But while it isn’t like that anymore, a related tradition has stayed in place. Bergland noted that inmates still tap the dining tables when they’re ready to depart. In years gone by, it was an unspoken farewell to get around the rules. Pretty clever, wouldn’t you agree? It retains the same meaning today as well.

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14. The weight room schedule

Prisoners can maintain their fitness and strength in the jail’s weight room, yet they need to learn a few things before jumping in there. This is valuable intel! As Bergland wrote on resilience2reform, “The weight room has workout time slots throughout the day, and certain people have laid claim to these spots.”

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“Don’t just go to the weight room and expect to use whatever bench or weights are free,” Bergland added. “[The] chances are somebody’s coming to their slot momentarily. Getting a workout spot is an act of patience and observation. Pay attention and you’ll find slow parts of the day. After scouting for a while, it’s much safer to assume nobody is using that time slot.”

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13. Writing letters

If you ever find yourself in prison, then you’ll quickly realize how important written letters are. Sure, it might be an old-fashioned form of communication. But behind bars it’s one of the only ways to talk to your family and friends. You still need to be a little wary of what you say, though.


Why? Well, a user on reddit went into more detail. “Don’t write home about what goes on in jail. The staff WILL read your letters, and they don’t appreciate [it],” they explained. “[This] happened to the brother of a friend of mine. The guards not only gave him hell for it, but they told the other inmates about it too, and encouraged them to give him hell for it.”


12. Don’t disturb napping inmates

Nothing beats a good nap – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! It’s a great way to recharge your batteries during the day. With that in mind, they’re just as important in jail. So, the last thing that you’d want to do is interrupt an inmate who’s enjoying a bit of shut-eye in their cell.

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According to Bergland, that could create some unnecessary problems going forward. To avoid those issues, he urged prisoners to be more mindful of what’s happening around them. If a person’s napping in their bunk, stay quiet and keep away from the light switch. Simple stuff really, but it’ll maintain the peace.


11. Mind what you say to your cellmate

It’s always nice when you’ve got a friend who’ll listen to your troubles and woes. After all, everyone needs to vent sometimes. And it’s even better if they’ll keep those conversations to themselves. Yet it’s a very different story in prison, as that level of trust’s hard to come by. Even if you’ve got a “pal.”

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The horrible truth is that you can’t assume anything when it comes to friendship behind bars. If you do, it could cause you a lot of grief. A reddit user reiterated that, writing, “Remember that your cellmate isn’t your friend. What you say to them in private will likely be told to others.”

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10. Maintain good hygiene

Having a good level of hygiene keeps us healthy and free from any troublesome germs. And that’s especially helpful in prison. “Shower as often as you’re allowed, wash your hands with soap regularly, and change your underwear as often as you’re able,” a user on reddit explained. “People in jail have all sorts of nasty bugs.”

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“When I was in, MRSA was the big scourge,” the user added. “But also being clean and refreshed helps you mentally, and gives a little structure to your day.” That’s not all, though. Bergland claims that inmates with poor hygiene will attract a lot of unwanted attention from the other prisoners, leading to some heated clashes.

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9. Never back away from a fight

How does that phrase go again? Oh yes. “Violence is never the answer.” It’s an accurate assessment – why raise your fists when a confrontation can be defused with words or thoughtful actions? Mind you, it’s a very different story behind bars. You won’t see too many posters with that motto plastered across them!


Instead, you’ve got to become accustomed to violence. As the stars of the reality television show 60 Days In found out, you can’t back down from physical confrontations if you want to gain the admiration of your fellow prisoners. In fact, one of them informed Business Insider that you shouldn’t be afraid to receive a “beating,” because it won’t hurt your standing too much.


8. Moving into a new bunk

Picking a bunk in prison isn’t like choosing a bed when you go to summer camp. There’s a system in place that you’ve got to follow. Bergland informed resilience2reform that inmates are handed a spot as soon as they walk through the door. They don’t get a say in it. Yet that can change with time.

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Yes, after a prisoner spends a prolonged spell in their jail, they can switch bunks and head into a new cell. Prior to all that, though, they’ve got to get the green light from whoever else is staying there. Bergland stated that serious issues will quickly arise should that courtesy not be extended.


7. Let fights play out

We’ve got a question for you, folks: if you see two people fighting, how do you react? Do you keep your head down and walk away, or feel the urge to break the skirmish apart? Now, should you lean more towards the latter, then prison is the last place you’d want to end up.


Why? Well, it’s pretty simple. As per the Insider website, prisoners recognize that physical confrontations are initiated to solve certain problems. It isn’t their place to step in and stop it. So, they’ve got to let it play out – as hard as that might be. Could you cope with that rule?

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6. Always knock before entering a cell

It’s always helpful to maintain certain habits as you get older. For instance, we’re big on knocking. Instead of barging into a room unannounced, give the door a light tap. It could save you a lot of hassle! People in prison are sticklers for this as well, with Bergland going into more detail on resilience2reform.


According to Bergland, prisoners can’t stand it when other people stroll unannounced into their rooms. They appreciate the courtesy of a knock. But the situation can really spiral if the door’s shrouded. That’s a clear sign that an individual is enjoying some “personal” time in their cell. So it isn’t a good idea to interrupt – regardless of whether you knock first.


5. Paying your bills

Yes, you’re reading that right. Yet we’re not talking about utility bills here. As it turns out, inmates have other financial obligations to abide by when they’re behind bars. For example, a prisoner might ask their pals for a pack of cigarettes or a certain food item. They won’t be getting that stuff for nothing, though.


On that note, Bergland made it clear that prisoners have to stay on top of those payments during their sentences. If they don’t, they run the risk of getting badly hurt. Their associates could be targeted, too, which is something else to consider. Pretty wild, wouldn’t you agree?

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4. Snitching

“Snitches get stitches” – you’ve all heard that phrase, right? But is it true in prison? Well, Bergland certainly believes so. Looking back on his experiences behind bars, he remarked, “Nobody likes a jailhouse rat.” So, leaking information to the facility’s officers is a big no-no, bringing with it serious consequences. Violent retribution can be averted, though.

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You see, Insider reports that prisoners can ask for a “roll out” when they’re rumbled. It’s another way of saying that they need to head to a different part of the facility to protect themselves. Mind you, their reputation can still follow them. Before the person knows it, word could’ve reached their new cell block about their previous activities, taking them back to square one.

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3. Dealing with COs

During an inmate’s stay in prison, they’ll spend a lot of time with people known as correctional officers, or COs. These individuals are responsible for watching over the jail, keeping tabs on its inhabitants. Unsurprisingly, that can lead to friction with some of the prisoners, yet their relationship shouldn’t always be antagonistic.


In fact, one unwritten rule suggests that inmates should think twice before negatively judging the officers. A user on reddit explained, “Don’t assume all COs are your enemy. They are not there to punish you. Yes… you’ll need them sooner or later. Try to get along.”


2. The TV room

Yep, prisoners are able to watch their fair share of television in jail. Then again, it isn’t as simple as picking a seat and going from there. Bergland revealed that the TV room has an incredibly strict structure to it, with inmates having set positions. They can’t sit anywhere else.

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Spaces open up when people are released, but new prisoners can’t just nab those seats. Instead, the departing inmate will have given their blessing for a friend to take it. That’s quite a system! On top of that, Bergland also stated that inmates shouldn’t channel surf. It could anger someone in the room.

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1. Mind your own business

Should you ever find yourself in jail, it might be a good idea to keep your head down near larger groups. Why? Well, Bergland provided some insight on that front via resilience2reform. “Stay out of the business of others unless they’ve included you,” he wrote. “So stay in your lane, put the blinders up, and do your time.”

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“And don’t eavesdrop and gossip,” Bergland added. “It’s called ‘ear hustle’ in prison. Nobody likes an ear hustler. Inmates might snap off or ask aggressively if they were talking to you. Don’t include yourself in others’ conversations unless you’re asked.” So, without wishing to sound rude, mind your own business. It’ll be worth it.

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