How to Survive
the Slammer

A Regular Guy's Guide to Doing Time.

There are currently 6.5 million people in prison or 3.1% of our population. One in five men will spend at least one night in jail in their lifetime. It could happen to you.

You were framed. There was a one-armed man. You didn't realize that littering in Kennebunkport carries jail time. We believe you, but what if the judge doesn't? Men's Health magazine asked Johnny Z (who served 10 months for burglary) to explain how to survive a short sentence in the big house. Here's his confession:

Don't stare. It's rude, and fatal. "I wouldn't want anybody lookin' me in the eyes," says Johnny. "It's just a sense like, 'Okay, what? You want some?'" If you do get into a staring contest, make sure you win it.

Carry a condiment. Prison cafeterias are always hotbeds of trouble; just look at your plate. "The food sucks," says Johnny, who worked in the kitchen for his first 90 days. "The spaghetti is dry and it doesn't have any taste. The corn dogs are the best." For the non-dog days, Johnny recommends killing your three squares with Tabasco sauce. (You can buy it at the commissary.)

Hoard cigarettes. But don't light up unless yo like burning money. See, cigarettes are still the preferred prison currency. "You can buy anything with cigarettes. Anything. You can even get somebody beat up," says Johnny. Take the money your wife, girl friend, accomplice gives you and buy grand-name cigarettes - like Marlboros and Newports - on your weekly visit to the commissary. Then go shopping.

Do the laundry. There are some really crappy jailhouse jobs, e. g. toilet duty. Then there are the bad ones - blood mop-up detail, for instance. When you're asked to choose, make laundry number one and commissary clerk number two. According to Johnny, this is the easiest work, with laundry being the sweeter of the two because you have to report for duty only once a week. A commissary clerk, on the other hand, works 3 days a week.

Make your bed. Horrible stuff happens to inmates in the middle of the night - insomnia, stiff back, cricks in the neck. The perpetrator is the cot, which Johnny describes as "about as comfortable as a driveway." His advice? Start by removing the bottom sheet. Then rip open your state-issued pillow and remove the stuffing. Layer the stuffing evenly on top of your mattress and put the sheet back on top. Ask the guard for a new pillow.

Avoid diseases. "Always wear shores, always. You never know what you're going to step on," says Johnny. In the shower, wear flip-flops - and practice having eyes in the back of your head.

Source: Men's Health magazine, 9/01

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