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How to Stay Positive in Prison: Four Important Tips


Being sentenced to prison can come as a huge shock, to both you and your loved ones. It may be very hard to stay positive in prison, especially if you weren’t expecting a lengthy sentence, or if you’re worried about your family in your absence.

Staying positive can help protect your mental health – and it’ll make your stay in prison a little easier. Even something as simple as listening to music that makes you happy can help.

Here are some practical things you can do to stay positive in prison:

1. Focusing on What You Can Do While in Prison

Andrew Medal, a highly successful entrepreneur, spent his two years as an inmate reading 197 books, writing 2 books, studying physics and history, and establishing a good routine.

There’s a lot you can’t do in prison. Many of your dreams or goals will need to be put on hold. But there’s plenty you still can do. Like Andrew, you might get into a routine of reading books (many prisons will allow family and friends to send books from Amazon and other retailers) – your prison library should also have a variety of reading materials, and some prisons allow inter-library requests.

2. Taking Advantage of Study Programs

All federal prisons offer educational programs related to literacy, English as a second language, parenting, physical and mental wellness, continuing education, and recreational education.

If you don’t have a high school diploma, being in prison gives you a chance to earn your GED – and potentially get a better job on release. 

Some prisons also offer vocational training, though this is dependent on the needs of the job market.

Take as many courses as you can. It’s a great way to stay busy and productive while in prison, and can help you leave prison with many more life and work skills.

3. Getting in Touch With Family or Friends While in Prison, e.g. in Minnesota

It can be tough to stay in touch with your loved ones while in prison. You may feel guilty about being away from them and you might be worried about your family’s life without you, particularly if you have young children.

But staying in touch with them will help both them and you. Write to them regularly – once a week or more. Make phone calls if you can afford to. Don’t be shy of asking for money if your friends or relatives can afford it – or ask them if they’re happy for you to make collect calls.

You may find that you hear from family and friends who you haven’t been in touch with. They can look up your details in an online database, such as for the St. Cloud Prison. If they don’t know where you’re incarcerated, they can search by state, such as by searching all the institutions in Minnesota.

4. Staying Physically Healthy and Fit

Try to stay as physically healthy as possible while in prison: it’s easier to be positive when you’re feeling healthy. While your time in the exercise yard or gym will be limited, do take advantage of it. In your cell, you could do simple exercises like press-ups, jumping jacks, squats, etc (though be careful not to annoy your cellmate).

You’ll also want to pay attention to what you eat. Choose healthy options where possible: focus on lean protein sources, fruits, and vegetables. Drink plenty of water, too. If you can, order multi-vitamins from the commissary. If you’re struggling to sleep well, see if you can purchase an eye mask and earplugs to help block out light and sound.

It’s not easy to stay positive in prison. But the habits and resilience you build during your time inside could serve you well in your life after prison.