How I Overcame Fear in Jail

Anyone sentenced to jail or prison for the first time is scared. If they tell you otherwise they are either lying or they’re mentally ill. Your imagination runs wild and every jailhouse show you have ever seen comes to mind.

The first time I went to jail I was only 18, and I went for 30 days. I was charged with a violent felony, which meant being housed with the “serious criminals.” The truth is, most inmates get through jail just fine, but until you have been there, you imagine the worst-case scenario times 10.

I was very scared, but I quickly learned how to overcome it for my own survival. Here’s how.

I kept to myself. Incarceration etiquette dictates a mind your own business attitude. I wasn’t rude or confrontational with other inmates, but I definitely kept quiet, especially those first few weeks while learning the lay of the land. Keeping to myself meaning that even while sitting among other inmates, I didn’t talk much, I just listened.

Carefully choosing my associates helped. I was just a kid at the time and the older, already been to prison at least once, inmates took me under their wing. I realized quickly that those men had nothing to prove and had matured enough to realize lying down to do their time beat bucking up and causing trouble. I carefully selected one or two old-timers and started associating with them and avoided getting to close to the younger, got something to prove inmates.

I worked out. A lot. Exercise relieves stress. It also lets other inmates know you have muscle and take care of yourself.  I developed a daily routine and I stuck to it seven days a week.

Related: Struggling to Maintain Sanity in Prison

I handled my business. I am not advocating fighting in jail. It can cause write-ups and injuries. But if someone tested me, I didn’t back down. I instinctively knew to do so would mark me for the remainder of my time. Truth be told, I got my ass handed to me in my first jail fight. I survived and learned to fight better. But the fact that I stood up for myself when challenged went a long way in others leaving me alone after that. In jail it isn’t about who wins it’s about who isn’t going to be pushed around without a fight.

I read letters from family and friends. Just reading those calming words would help me feel less afraid.

Related: Writing a letter to a prison inmate

I prayed. Regardless of what religion or faith you belong to, prayer helps. There is a common jailhouse saying, “Everybody finds Jesus in jail”.  I prayed every single night for my God to keep me safe. My first cellmate was of a different faith and I heard him praying to his God every single night as well.

Final Thought: Fear in jail isn’t always a bad thing. It keeps you alert, on your toes and constantly striving to earn as much good time as possible to get out sooner. Overcoming the fear also builds your confidence. Once you hit the street again, you realize a job interview or meeting the neighbors is no longer as scary as they were before you did a jail stint.

Check out: What I learned in jail last night.




Still on Probation researches and writes about Substance Abuse Treatment, Drug and Alcohol Addiction, Mental Health issues and how they impact people's lives within the United States.