10 Life Hacks to Help You Survive Prison


What can we say about prison that you don’t already know? Often, they are dirty and dangerous places that are filled with the worst of humanity. Prison is a place nearly all of us want to avoid. But, if you happen to be heading there, for whatever reasons (and we’re sure you didn’t do it – you were framed!), here are 10 life-hacks that may make doing time a little bit easier, or could even save your life.

10. Toilet Paper Oven


Besides the loss of freedom, being cut off from society and your loved ones, the terrible living conditions, and the constant fear of nightmarish violence, probably the worst thing about prison is the food. It’s mass produced and costs less than a dollar per person per day in most states. When the prisoner gets served, there’s a solid chance the food will be cold, too. We all know that nothing makes cheap, low quality food taste better than letting it sit around to cool to room temperature!

One way prisoners heat up their food is by using toilet paper. They simply wrap the TP around their hand so that it is rolled into a cylinder. Then they fold the cylinder in at the ends and light the center so that it burns from the inside out. By doing it this way, the fire burns slower and hotter, making it a better cooking source than a lighter or a candle.

Now, if warming up undercooked chicken over a fire kindled with toilet paper on a prison floor isn’t enough to deter you from committing a crime, then what is?

9. How to Keep Bugs off of the Bed


Bugs can be a big problem in prison, especially in older prisons. There is a whole host of reasons for this, such as prisons aren’t exactly pictures of cleanliness and in terms of budgeting, ensuring that prisons are vermin free is a fairly low priority. So if you don’t like insects, we suggest you avoid committing a crime, or avoid angering the police in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin.

So how do prisoners keep themselves bug free? Especially at night, when they can’t just brush the bugs off? Well, one interesting thing about bugs is that they won’t traverse water. So what some convicts do is get jar lids, put them under the legs of the bed, and then fill the lids with water. This at least ensures that the bugs won’t climb up the bed posts. Obviously, it doesn’t mean they won’t climb on from the walls, or fall from the ceiling, or fly and land on the prisoner. But hey, it’s something.

8. Beauty Tips


If you’re a fan of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black you’ll know that women prisoners can get pretty clever and inventive when it comes to beauty tips in the big house. “Fake-Up,” as prisoners in Florida call it, uses regular household items like instant coffee, Crystal Light drink mix, and Skittles. For example, you can make eye shadow from instant coffee. Instant coffee can also be mixed with Crystal Light to make a neutral colored lipstick, while Skittles mixed with hair grease can be used to color lips as well. Besides adding color to lips, Crystal Light can also be used for blush.

Women prisoners say that while it is against the rules, they find that putting on their fake-up is a major part of their day and helps keep up their morale.

7. Toothpaste


Believe it or not, toothpaste is one of the most useful commodities in prison. One thing you can use it for is to patch up walls. While we’ve never spent time in prison ourselves (that’s our story, and we’re sticking with it), we understand from watching too many movies that this is a good skill to have because it allows convicts to hide things like contraband, or escape tunnels.

Besides allowing someone to hide stuff in the wall, toothpaste is also handy for getting stains out of clothes and shoes. This is probably a more handy use for toothpaste than a wall patcher, because we can’t imagine that prisons are often very clean, and laundry services are probably limited. Finally, toothpaste is good for soothing bug bites and burns, which are problems that prisoners might have to endure regularly. Have we mentioned yet that prison sounds just downright awful?

6. Dental Floss

Toothpaste’s oral hygiene partner, dental floss, is also like a Swiss Army knife when it comes to prison life. Dental floss can be used as thread to stitch up clothes, or as a clothes line for drying – a perfect place to hang a shirt after trying to wash blood out of it with toothpaste. Dental floss can also be used in lieu of a knife to cut food and other soft objects.

Another way that dental floss is important in prison is that it is used as a communication tool to talk to people in other cells. Inmates will tie notes to the end of dental floss and then throw the notes or slide them under the door. If the notes don’t get to the right place, they simply pull it back and try again. This ensures that if the note doesn’t get to the cell, a correctional officer won’t find it.

Finally, if you gather up enough dental floss, it can be made into an incredibly strong rope that could be used to escape or as a weapon. And of course, we discourage doing both. Unless you’re Andy Dufresne, of course.

5. The Best Way to Stay in Shape

in shape

In prison, one thing people have is loads of spare time, but one thing they may be lacking is safety from intense violence. Something to solve both of those problems is working out. There are a number of workouts that can be performed to exercise every muscle in your body using only your own body weight and some resistance. An example of the workouts is the chart above. If you really need some weights, then fill plastic bags with water and then tie shirts around them for handles.

If safety is a big concern, you may want to learn Krav Maga, which is used by the Israeli Defense Force and has a literal translation of “Battle Contact.” It uses a lot of techniques that aren’t allowed in traditional martial arts like groin kicks, joint breaking, and eye gouging, and because of those differences, Krav Maga is incredibly effective. It’s well suited to prison, because if you’re going to get into a prison fight, it isn’t some UFC sanctioned tussle. It may be a fight for your life, and rule number one for saving your own skin against a larger, male opponent: aim for the balls.

4. Body Armor


One of the most terrifying things about prison is that anything can happen at any time. One way to defend yourself is to wrap your body, especially the areas covering your internal organs, with magazines; the glossier and the thicker, the better. Apparently, National Geographic, Life, and Ebony all make great body armor. Magazines are cheap, are not usually considered contraband, and most importantly, they are effective against shiv attacks.

If you saw World War Z, then you’ll know that this move will also help in case of the zombie apocalypse.

3. How to Make Tattoo Ink


In prison, there is a rich tattoo culture that’s much different than the tattoo community on the outside. While many people outside of prison get tattoos because they look cool or have a personal meaning to them, in prison tattoos can signify gang relations, or certain tattoos represent crimes committed by the person. So without tattoo guns or proper ink, how do they tattoo themselves?

One fairly easy way to make tattoo ink is to collect ash; this can be done by simply burning paper and collecting it in a cup. Then, mix the ash with water and shampoo. The mix should be thin, but just thick enough to stick to a pin or needle, and the color should be as dark as possible. Getting the mixture to the right consistency and a dark enough color is the biggest challenge when making your own ink. Once you have the mixture ready, dip the pin or a needle in the ink, make sure some of it sticks, and then puncture the skin.

Now that you know how to make homemade tattoo ink, please don’t tattoo yourself. It’s a good way to get an infection, it increases the chances of getting a blood-borne illness like HIV or Hepatitis, and it will scar your body. But if you’re in prison and you’re a talented artist, by all means, tattoo anyone who wants some ink done. It will keep you busy and people will owe you favors. Just remember to proceed with caution, because giving someone a bad tattoo in prison may be one of the most dangerous things you could do.

2. How to Make Prison Wine

One of the ironies of prison is that alcohol would be very helpful when it comes to passing time and facing the realities of everyday life, but for people who are locked up, finding alcohol may be difficult. The good news is that there is a way to make homemade wine. The bad news is that it sounds like it tastes so bad that it makes Four Loko look like champagne. The wine, called Pruno, is made from fermented fruit. One recipe comes from Nick Crouch, a bartender who also served time, where he made Pruno. For his recipe, you’ll need:

10 peeled oranges cut into wedges
10 browned, soft apples cut into wedges
1 cup Sugar in the Raw
1 yeast packet
16 oz and 1 cup warm water
8 oz can of fruit cocktail
1 packet of raisins

The hardest thing to find is a yeast packet, so bread crumbs can be used. First, you combine the apples (if you don’t have apples, ketchup works…somehow), oranges, raisins, and fruit cocktail in a 1-gallon Ziploc bag and mash it up. Once it’s mashed up, add all the sugar except for three teaspoons, and mix again. Then you add 16 ounces of warm water, seal the bag, and submerge it in still more warm water. Next, get the yeast or the bread crumbs, and mix it with the three teaspoons of sugar, then add it to the bag. Then store the bag in a dark place. Every day for seven or eight days, pour warm water over the bag and make sure it’s wrapped in a towel. It’s important that the bag never cools because that will kill the yeast. Also, every day you’ll have to open the bag, because fermenting causes carbon dioxide to build up. Finally, after about a week, your Pruno will be ready. You’ll just need to filter it, so grab a sock, and pour the mash into it. This will filter out the clumps of fruit and moldy bread crumbs.

According to Crouch, it tastes like a nasty sweet and sour margarita, but it will get you drunk. If you’ve tried Pruno, or attempt to make it, please post in the comments how it tasted. Assuming it doesn’t kill you, of course.

1. How to Make a Shank

For the record, we are not advocating making prison weapons and we are 100% not suggesting using them. But, as we’ve pointed out in a few, if not all of the entries, prison is a dangerous and unpredictable place. We imagine that, were we to ever go to prison, we’d want something to defend ourselves. So, that’s why we thought we should share two ways to make a shank.

One way is to use a plastic, disposable coffee cup lid. Simply use a lighter and heat the lid. As it melts, roll it into a cylindrical shape and then dunk it in cold water (like the toilet). Then you just file the hardened plastic into a sharp edge or point.

Another really inventive way is to wrap some Jolly Ranchers in a single file line in tinfoil. Heat the tinfoil, and the candy will melt together into a single, hard stick. Then, it’s just a matter of filing it down to a sharp point. While these shanks may not be as sharp as metal ones, they have the advantage of being able to pass through metal detectors – and chances are it’ll taste better than your Pruno, too.

Robert Grimminck is a Canadian freelance writer. You can friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, follow him on Pinterest or visit his website.

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