Author: Ustaz Hussein
Have you ever seen a gritty prison flick and wondered to yourself…what would it take for you to survive prison? Or an episode of Banged Up Abroad and wonder…could I handle that shit? I said those things to myself when my friend was arrested by corrupt African police officers, thrown into a paddy wagon, and brutally beaten in jail. When I saw him a week later he was black and blue, pissing blood, and smelled like he soiled himself several times in his pants and wasn’t allowed to change. His crime…cursing a cop he refused to pay a bribe to. Abuse of power is very real all over the world, some places more than others, but it’s everywhere. And going to jail might just be one of those nightmares you had that becomes real in your own country, or while you’re abroad and piss off the wrong people.
I’ve had a lot of street experience in many countries, but fortunately, I’ve never seen the inside of a prison for more than a day or so. The closest I came was getting my house raided in Africa by, you guessed it, corrupt police! Luckily, I managed to escape by running out the back door and into the alleys. Hence, my endless talks about the value of a good pair of Adidas instead of fancy tactical gear that will flag you for internal security everywhere you travel. So, with no actual experience in jail, I spoke to a few people who have been in that environment to get a clear mental picture of that reality. One of my students who is a corrections officer in a Western country, another student who was a prisoner in an African country, and a friend of mine who was a special operations operative and routinely visited political/religious prisoners in a Middle Eastern country. I asked them what it would take to survive my first day in prison? After some quality discussions, I managed to distill the information into a quick First-day in Prison Survival Guide. Gangsters think about this all the time, and they are ready mentally and physically to handle these environments…martial artists are not. So, make sure you share this with as many of them as you know because this nightmare can become real for anyone, anywhere. And usually when you least expect it. Believe me, the last thing I was ready for was being locked in a room with screaming Chinese cops threatening me with batons. Shit happens…fast. So prepare yourself with the best preparation you can make.
I didn’t write this guide to make you enthusiastic about going to jail and testing out the lessons presented. Rather, the purpose is to give your mind a frame of reference so if something like this would happen to you at some point in your life, you’d at least have a mental preparedness for it instead of having “fresh fish” shining from the beads of sweat on your forehead when you walk into the prison yard. Mental preparation is the key to surviving and winning ANY hardcore situation. Read on and you’ll see why. Now let’s get into the lessons.
Lesson 1 – Shut the fuck up
Your first day walking into prison will be highly emotionally charged and you’ll feel like the entire world is on your shoulders. Other prisoners will be yelling obscenities, staring you down, making obscene gestures to get a rise out of you and size you up. You’ll feel like shit, but nobody gives a rat’s ass how you feel and what your problems are. Everyone in the place has problems: mental, physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual. Nobody cares about you. You’re just another number on the list of pathetic assholes who ended up in the worst place on earth. Shut up and stay quiet. Speak when the guards speak to you and forget about everyone else. Most likely if prisoners talk to you, they are sizing you up for lunch, nothing more. Ignore them the first day and calm your mind as much as you can and answer their questions with simple one-liners so they get bored and forget about you. Unfamiliarity and separation from your own environment will be a miserable burden on you in the first 24 hours of your incarceration. Wisdom in knowing when to talk and when to remain silent will help you to relax, focus, and ultimately…survive prison.
Lesson 2 – Prisoners smell bullshit like a shark smells blood
Prisons are ruled by gangs. One of the most powerful gangs in prison are the guards. But unlike the prisoners, they will tolerate you talking shit and boasting about yourself and your exploits…prisoners will not. If you start talking a lot about how tough you are, remember, you’re in a place where men have murdered other men several times. You will eventually find someone willing to step up and test you out to see if what you are saying is true, or if you’re a rabbit wearing the skin of a lion, as the old saying goes. The less you boast about yourself the more people will fear you. It’s a natural thing that people fear the unknown. Especially when the unknown is calm and seemingly uncaring in a very dangerous situation. The less you talk, the more you can keep the sharks at bay while you clear your head on day one.
Lesson 3 – Train your mind and body before you end up inside
The prisoners who have the highest survival rates in jail are the ones with,
A: a reputation
C: warrior skills
Most likely, you as a martial artist, will not have any cartel affiliations, cash or powerful connections to back you up when you walk into jail. Hence, warrior skills that you have trained for years in your respective art coupled with the “Shut the fuck up” formula above will be all you can rely on for your first day in paradise. What part of the world you end up in prison will dictate the actual level of physical safety you will enjoy on that day as well. In most underdeveloped countries, you can expect that the guards will be more abusive than the prisoners. Their jobs are directly aligned with brutal regimes notorious for human rights abuses, so kicking your ass or throwing hot coffee in your face is nothing anyone will call the newspapers about. In most developed countries, you can assume the opposite. The prisoners are more dangerous than the guards and have a lot more freedom to plot against you if you piss them off. Since you are confined in a small location with deadly men…being able to fight, use a knife, talk smart, and generally handle yourself will keep you on good footing with the guards and the inmates. Understanding how to make improvised weapons will be a supremely useful skill as well. So make sure you spend your time learning real combat martial arts before you ever get locked up. Silat Sharaf, Pekiti-Tirsia, WW2 Combatives, Mastro Silat, and Blauer Tactical Systems are some examples of good systems that can literally save you from being disemboweled on the street and help you survive prison time.
Lesson 4 – Smart bribery will get you far
Money is more valuable in jail than it is outside…because it’s scarce. And “money” can be many things, not only paper currency. Cigarettes, cash (for the guards), drugs, weapons, food, clothing, and sex are all commodities traded in jail. The last one being the only one you should never sell or buy if you wish to have a relatively comfortable stay in prison. When you decide you need to bribe a guard, try to watch and see who is the most reasonable amongst them when they speak to each other, not to you. If you can access that person alone and make the offer for a small token item at first, that’s the best choice. Do not trust anyone with anything valuable, prisoner or guard, until you’ve tested them on a small token item first. Then, still don’t trust them. You want to buy their assistance not allow them to rob you. Getting cheated or robbed will lower your status amongst the prisoners and you’ll be on the road to misery.
Lesson 5 – Find religion or run from it
If you’re in a Western country, find religion quickly. Most prisons in Western countries are controlled by prison gangs. One of the safest places to ride out your time is within the religious establishments in the prison. Stay in the Mosque, find Christ, practice Asatru, send subliminal messages to Odin…whatever offering they have available that will keep you occupied and away from the criminals is a good thing. And the prison guards will see you as less of a threat to them also. All very good.
If you’re in a secular Muslim dictatorship that’s against Islam…pretend to be irreligious or “basically” religious as some gentlemen told me. In other words, do your prayers and don’t start mouthing off and giving sermons. The secular mafiocracies like in Uzbekistan and the Egyptian regime are excellent examples of these types of places. They openly profess to be Muslims but they actually despise Islam and actively work against it. So make sure you stay on guard and don’t let them mark you as an “Islamist prisoner” or even worse…an Islamist anti-government pro-democracy prisoner. Any of those labels will almost guarantee you’ll never see the light of day again and get the worst treatment even child rapists wouldn’t get. So pretend to be irreligious or basically religious but don’t make a show. Shaving off your 3-foot beard and swapping your Taliban hat for a Chicago Bulls cap on the first day is probably going to attract more attention than you’d like. Instead, let them “educate” you as you gradually become more openly secular. As much as possible, try and make them forget you by not being too different.
Lesson 6 – Keep good relations with your cellmate and other key people
If you’re in a developed country, most probably you’ll have some sweaty inmate sharing the cell with you. Develop good relations with that person and make sure not to piss them off and do things that ruin your friendship with them. Be useful and share the space with as little friction as possible. Once that’s done, try and make strategic alliances with strong people in the prison either by way of race, religion, or money.
So there you go. The basic first-day survival guide is simple and clear, and I hope you’ll never have to use it in your journey on this planet. Like I said before, the most important thing in all this is your ability to stay mentally focused and strong throughout your incarceration. That’s the one key I gleaned from all the people I spoke to and it is Just as important when you’re dealing with street environments. Training yourself mentally with a proper program like the Warrior Mind Combat Blueprint we have at Silat Sharaf Tactical or any similar mindset training you have in your system will infinitely increase your chances of survival. And if you have solid technical combat skills and a bit of wisdom you’ll probably survive your time and get home. God willing.