Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash.

Dear First-Timer,

For a first-time offender, it can be difficult transitioning from society as a civilian to being incarcerated and given a number in a system. After all, prison almost seems like a place that is designed to destroy a man’s identity. 

It is a degrading experience from the time you step out of the chain-gang bus to being verbally belittled by ranking officers with remarks such as, “Get out of your clothes now!”

Speaking from the perspective of a man who has been incarcerated for several years, it can be very challenging for a new prisoner. The best advice I could give to you is to not to lose sight of who you are as an individual and to hold on to your sanity and self worth. Every day you will experience a challenge that will test your patience and understanding.

You will not approve of some things that transpire within the population of inmates. This society has its own rules and regulations, which could involve gangs, politics, and gamblers. But you must remember: Every moment of your incarceration is a matter of choice, and just because you are in the midst of it, you don’t have to partake of it.

That is what I had to learn during my 11 years of incarceration.

You should use every moment to advance yourself by enrolling in school. Look into obtaining an education, be it a GED, a vocational program or college. Better yourself and be productive in society.  

This is a temporary stay for some of us; for others, not. But that should not hinder anyone from trying to do better. One thing that you always have control of is your mind.  You are always the ruler of that!

I advise every new prisoner to take advantage of any opportunity to better themselves because prison has its pros and cons. If you want to do better, you can. Prison offers all the courses you need to improve yourself. It also offers you the opportunity to learn the hard way, through hardship and pain and from degrading experiences such as solitary lockup to the loss of special privileges such as commissary, phones, visits, property and recreation.  

I want to share this message with you: Don’t be a fool! Learn from and improve yourself, to make yourself proud and your family proud. Don’t allow prison to be a constant for you, like some individuals choose to make it. Use prison as an opportunity to find your identity and do not allow it to destroy you.  

Peace,
Marcus Henderson

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Marcus Henderson

Marcus Henderson is a creative writer who hopes to provide insight on incarceration and how it has inspired him to write and be a voice for the unheard. He is incarcerated in Texas.