Observations and Prepper Lessons From County Jail, by M.R.

I am a correctional deputy, who works in a rural county jail in a mid-sized state somewhere out west, with some observations to share with my prepper community. When I first went into the jail to work, I felt naked without my EDC– a pistol, knives, and multitool. Don’t fret; I have them safely stored in my private vehicle outside should the SHTF happen and I need to make the trek home. However, I like to use every opportunity to learn something new.

Enlightened Observations of Communal, Cramped Living

As I have been making my rounds, conducting shakedowns, and dealing with the 300 or so inmates we have, my mind has been enlightened by some of their creativity. I asked myself, “What application does this have for me?” I also have gained a few ideas about either communal or cramped space living.

Things Learned From Fellow Guards and LEOs

There are also a few things I have learned from my fellow guards and law enforcement officers (LEOs) about how to live in different circumstances. I hope that I can share some things I have gathered for our benefit as preppers.

Travel Light

The inmates who have had time in the system often don’t keep too much with them, thus traveling light when relocated. They have to keep their clothes limited to the set of stripes issued, a few pairs of socks and underwear, and maybe some long johns or a sweat suit. Anything else, we take away. Inmates also can buy quite a few things from commissary. Some keep every paper, letter, magazine, et cetera. But those who have been through the process a few times, know it is a lot easier to stick to the basics and forget about keeping everything else, especially if they get transferred between different jails often.

Lesson: I would rather have extra room in my BOB and have space to add extra as I find or need it for the season, over having too much in a bag I can barely move.

Keep a List

You should keep a list. Inmates are required to keep their effects down to a single page list of approved items.

Lesson: Have a list of what things that you would want with you in a Bug Out situation and where they are located.

Have Ways To Be Entertained

Be sure to have extra ways to keep yourself entertained. In a lockdown, or before head count, the power to the cellblocks is shut off. Inmates will keep a deck of cards or a few books in their cells for times when they are unable to watch TV or don’t have room to workout. They also get to enjoy classic board games, like chess or checkers, Risk, dominoes, et cetera.

Lesson: Have non-electric ways to pass any leisure time.

Have a Place For Everything

Have a place for everything. While inmates don’t have much, the space in their cells is limited. It means that they need to keep their bunks tity, and store anything extra that they are allowed to keep in their storage bags under their bunks. Anything else extra is stored in a separate property locker in another part of the jail.

Lesson: If living in a bug out scenario, like a tent, cabin, or even borrowing a room from a friend or family somewhere safe, keep everything orderly. If you have to, store things in a separate place (like a cache).


Related to storage, keep your area clean. Every cell is cleaned by sweeping, mopping, dusting, toilets cleaned, and bunks made between wake up and morning headcount. The common room is cleaned daily every night at lights out. This not only is for health, with so many people living together, but just comfort. The single toilet in each bathroom at home can maybe go for a week, but in a cellblock with 12-20 people the funk can get going quick.

Inmates in solitary sleep on a mat on the floor. And it is not uncommon for inmates to fold or roll their mat up so they have room to exercise in their cell.

Lesson: Keep things uncluttered. Clean daily, if needed, and fold or roll your bedding out of the way for more space in your living areas.

Make a Hang Out Hanger

Some get creative with craft yarn or string to make a macrame hanger to store things like bowls and cups or TP. While not able to hang anything too heavy from tent poles, this would work for things like mess kits and TP in a wilderness camp. A clothes line can be used to a similar effect as a utility hanger when off duty as a drying apparatus. You might have a few paper towels in a car, but they are bulky.

Lesson: In a limited space situation, like a bug out, a few dishcloths or towels won’t do well by being stuffed in a corner. They will need to dry out to keep from growing mold and mildew. Ditto is true for any clothing that gets wet, as you may or may not have power to run a dryer.

The Common Room

Each cell block has a common room with tables, a TV, the phones, and some previously mentioned board and card games. Unless due to a disciplinary issue, the inmates can go and use the common area to relax, gather together, and eat. While still part of their confinement, it gives room to stretch and move away from their cells.

Lesson: Have a table under a tarp, or a common room of a house or cabin for group use.


Store and prepare food the right way. For hygiene, it is a good idea to keep your food away from both your living/sleeping area and your latrine. Backcountry backpackers will often set up their bear bag and camp kitchen 100 feet to 100 yards away from the rest of their camp in case a bear finds any evidence left behind.

One summer, I was working at a summer camp when another camper learned that lesson the hard way when he woke up to a whole family of raccoons on top of him. They were working to get to the gummy peach rings that he had left under his pillow. A bite to the nose from a racoon was how he learned his lesson the hard way.

Some inmates will buy a rubber bowl with a tight fitting lid from commissary. They will then use this bowl to store some extra food from their tray to snack on between meals.

Lesson: Keep your food stored away from your tent, for both hygiene and safety.

One is None

Two is one, and one is none. Yes, I know that I have two sections about storage, but work with me. I keep two handcuff keys, two pens, and two pairs of handcuffs with me at all times. In my work bag, I carry an extra radio battery, deck of cards (in case I can’t watch TV or use the Internet) and more extra pens and markers. Inmates are allowed to keep a full bottle or stick of hygiene items as well as one partial.

Lesson: Know the things that you use the most, or can’t do without, and have an extra.


Medical is important. My jail just got additional funding for another nurse. You would think from TV shows and movies that fights are a regular occurrence. Maybe they are at larger facilities. But one thing I know that we deal with on almost a daily basis are medical issues. We recently started taking blood pressure and pulse on prisoner intake when people come off the street because, surprise, they lied about using drugs. We also have people who have brain damage from drug use or other bad choices, which causes seizures. Diabetics who don’t monitor their sugar intake or blood sugar are here, and much much more illness and medical conditions. I recently got to attend an emergency medical conference purely for the training. The number of times I have worn riot gear is tied by the number of times I have had to ride in the ambulance with an inmate to the hospital. My department issued me medical shears with my radio on my first day, a whole month before even sending me to the range to qualify with my firearm.

Lesson: Remember, it is Beans, Bullets, and Bandaids.


Keep up on the news. With the recent school shooting in Florida, despite being in a neighboring city to where I used to live, I heard about it first while doing a walk through of a cell block. We have to keep abreast of the weather for “inmate safety” when sending inmates to the recreation yard, or if a snowstorm is coming in overnight, so I can get up early and still make it in on time. Many of us keep an open window of the dispatch system on our computer desk tops so we will know if or when someone will be brought in to the jail.

Lesson: Know what is going on in the world so you can plan and act, rather than be surprised and react.


Communications is a skill that will make or break any team, group, or family. I have seen more fights defused early by an inmate asking to move to another cellblock because there is a problem between him and someone else than I have seen staff break up. While my wife is beautiful and I love her madly, it was how she communicated with me as we were dating that made me fall in love with her. It is communication about a plan for storming a cell that keeps both the staff and inmates safe. It is having a good relationship with God so He can communicate to you through His word and inspiration.

Any plan is only as effective as those who execute it, and they can only execute it effectively if that plan has been communicated efficiently to them.

One of the pet peves I had with Star Wars: The Last Jedi was that when Vice Admiral Holdo took over the fledgling and dying fleet, she refused to communicate her plan with the crew on board the flagship. This led to a small mutiny.

Lesson: Communicate your plan with your team or family so everyone is on the same page and you can move forward unified.

While this is far from the full and comprehensive list of things I have learned from my time in front of bars, I hope it is a handy list to help your readers think outside the cell/box.

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been another entry for Round 75 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
  3. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  4. DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
  5. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  6. A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
  7. Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
  8. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.

Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
  2. A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
  3. A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
  4. A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
  5. A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
  6. A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
  7. RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
  2. A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
  3. Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
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  5. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
  6. Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).

Round 75 ends on March 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. My older sister was a Lt. at an Eastern State Women’s Prison for years. She said that the ladies were very clever in making something out of every day objects! They had much time on their hands. However, my sister was one of the very FEW never assaulted as she treated them all with respect, and kindness. She would make holiday goodies for them, but they could NOT call her by her first name. The Head of the Prison said there was the “state way, the prison way, and my sister’s way”. When the Head Warden retired she wanted my dear sweet 5’4″ sister to become the Warden. However, my sister preferred working with the prisoners, including the “psych” ward and more violent offenders ward, not having to deal with the State Dept. of Corrections and Politicians. I am 7 years younger and never knew what a spine of steel she had, sweet, pretty, competent, KINDNESS itself, but commanded NOT demanded respect.

  2. I talked with a guard from Ca. He said they only used nicknames. The prisoners didn’t need to know the guard’s real names. The guards seemed decent that I talked to.Only responding to the prisoners when it was really needed. And no I wasn’t in the prison.

  3. If the SHTF my family will not live like criminals in prison (although I appreciate your article) I will see that they thrive if it kills me. Being institutionalized like inmates is the worst possible scenario (I worked in corrections for over 25 years and fully understand the dynamics). Living like inmates will cause people to lose their “humanity”.

  4. I was a prison chaplain. One thing I learned is that there are two types of prison staff: those who think that men can change, and those who don’t believe that men can change.

    I believe that men can change, especially through the power of the Gospel of Christ. And it is important for society to give them a chance to change, and a chance to start over after serving their time.

    1. One of my pet peeves with the criminal justice system:

      If someone who has committed a crime does not have the means to, at some point, earn all their rights of citizenship back, what is the point of being good. In the mindset of too many if one screws up and commits a crime that person should be punished with second class citizenship status virtually forever. Example: convicted felons (out on parole) not having the right to vote, or one who has served their full sentence (jail time plus parole) cannot earn the right to keep and bear arms.

      One needs to be able to, over time and based on successfully and lawfully participating in society, earn their full citizenship rights back.

      Disagree if you will, but then again, the key word here is EARNED.

      1. I agree completely with Charles K. “Justice” includes the granting of lost rights to those who have received punishment. In other words, justice is a two-way street. They paid their debt to society, we owe them their rights. My friends in the Alternative to Violence Project, who work with incarcerated people are very clear about this. If we expect them to behave like human beings, we must treat them like human beings.

        “Whatsoever you do unto the least of my children, you do unto me,” He said.

        Carry on.

  5. I have no experience with the penal system, thankfully, but everything I just read, reminded me of my Boy Scout summer camp staff days, almost 40 years ago. ONE week of camping is one thing, but 7 weeks – while on staff – was a whole different animal, and a LOT of these lessons – about living in small spaces, over a long(er) period of time, came back home to me while reading it. GOOD reminders, since my memories are decades old now!

  6. A good read, I enjoyed it. I live in a town with a large state prison and many corrections officers. I wouldn’t want their jobs. When we first moved here my wife suggested I get a job at the prison as she heard they pay nurses well. They do. I said, “Honey, I’d rather take care of kids with cuts then people who cut on kids”. We had plenty of them in the ER over th e years I worked there. You could tell how bad they were by the number of officers that accompanied them. Some of them were very bad people and that’s probably an understatement.

    My concern is what happens to the prisons if it all falls apart? Are they locked down and left to starve or are they released to their own recognizance? I read a recent book about a tsunami hitting our area and it is a real possibility. In the book many of the officers abandoned their posts to take care of their families. Prisoners escaped, rape pillage and plunder ensued.

    Do the corrections departments have a plan for this? After active duty I was in the reserves and one of my titles was NBC NCO. I knew back then that if the city had to evacuate because of an impending nuclear attack the prisoners in the local jail were to be locked down. That was close to 40 years ago. Current thoughts on this would be appreciated.

  7. Convicts or prisoners,inmates are in mental wards. I have known several guards that worked at the nations largest and most dangerous jail,and jails in surrounding areas , if they don’t have a plan to get out(become full fledged police) or move up they can be as bad or worse than some convicts-remember the psychological impact on having the power in this situation automatically leads to abuse and another form of institutionalization.

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