Preparing for prison can be a difficult and daunting process, but there are several steps you can take to help make the transition smoother.

Learn about the prison system. It is important to understand the rules and regulations of the federal Bureau of Prisons. Prior to your sentencing hearing, your attorney will talk with you about the programming- the kinds of classes, or job training, that different facilities offer. Programs vary by institution but most facilities will offer educational programs, a library- including a law library, jobs, recreational activities often including organized sports, religious services, and commissary.

At sentencing, your attorney will ask your judge to recommend the prison that you’d like to serve your time at. The judge will recommend a placement for you and the Bureau of Prisons will take that recommendation into account when deciding what prison you will go to, you will hear this referred to as being “designated” to a certain prison. You can learn about available programming by visiting the Bureau of Prisons website. You may also find the inmate handbook for each institution on the BOP website. That handbook will help you with understanding the specific rules and regulations for each prison. If you know where you are designated, you can view a list of the prisons and find handbooks here.

Once you arrive at an institution, you will go through an admission and orientation period. The prison will explain to you how the institution operates and what your responsibilities are. You will not be able to take personal items with you, you will be provided with clothing, hygiene, bedding, and laundry services. Other items will be available for you to purchase through a commissary system, which operates kind of like a store. You may have money in prison, but the funds will be in your inmate trust fund account. Those funds can be used to make your commissary purchases, telephone calls, and emails. You can earn money in prison, but your family can also send you money which will be put into your inmate trust fund account.

You may also like to take a look at this Federal Bureau of Prisons Guide for more helpful information.

Seek Support. Having a strong support system can help you cope with the stress and uncertainty of being incarcerated. Reach out to friends and family, set up a group of people who are willing to help support you through this period in your life. Get addresses, phone numbers, and emails, so that you will have the ability to contact friends and family easily. You may want to designate a family member as a primary point of contact. You should provide that person with your attorney’s phone number and with the phone number of the facility you will be at. That will assure that if you run into a problem, someone will be appointed to try and help you. You should plan to communicate as much as possible with your support group while you’re incarcerated. It’s essential to helping you get through the time and essential to your successful reentry back into your life.

Get your affairs in order. To the extent possible, make sure your financial and legal affairs are in order. This may include paying bills, creating a power of attorney, or creating and/or updating your will. If you have assets, it is important that you appoint someone to act as your financial manager. You may want to appoint them as your power of attorney so that the bank will allow them to make withdrawals from your bank accounts on your behalf.

Address any health concerns. If you have medical treatments that you know you need and you have some time before surrender, take care of as many of them as possible. The Bureau of Prisons provides medical treatment, but the wait time can be significant, especially if the matter is not life threatening. It can be difficult to get eye glasses or dentures, and surgeries may require a long wait. For those with chronic or complicated medical conditions, there are facilities that provide more medical care. It is important that you talk to your attorney about your health care needs so that your attorney can be prepared to talk about those needs at sentencing and ask for a recommendation that you be placed at a medical facility.

Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. Receiving a prison sentence is an extremely stressful experience and can take a heavy emotional toll. You and your loved ones may feel angry and sad. The best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out for help if you need it. Talk to your attorney, talk to your family, consider if a counselor might be able to help. You and your family need to be heard and supported as you go through this time together.

Stay positive. As much as you may not be ready to hear this, there is life in prison. You may be separated from those you love, but you will have the opportunity to work, exercise, worship, educate yourself, and stay connected with those you left behind. The best thing you can do for yourself is try and find a purposeful life in the prison. Keep yourself busy, read, learn skills you might not have had the opportunity to learn otherwise, explore your spirituality, remain positive, and surround yourself with people who are moving the way you are.