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Preparing to Self Surrender to Federal Prison: a Guide for Potential Inmates

This document should help you as you prepare to self-surrender to federal prison.  If you are a defendant in a federal trial, take heed of this advice well before jury deliberation, because you may be remanded to custody and not have the option to self-surrender upon conviction.

Your attorney should request self-surrender privilege at sentencing.  This way, you will be notified of your designated prison in advance and can make some preparations.  Otherwise, you will be subjected to the Bureau of Prison’s unique form of Diesel Therapy, in which you are shuttled by U.S. Marshalls from holding facility to holding facility across the country until you arrive at your designated prison. 

First Things First

Set up an advisory team.  You can have one or more people do these jobs:

  •  Trusted advisor with power of attorney to act on your behalf with banks, credit cards, insurance, doctors, etc.
  •  A treasurer who holds your money and deposits it in your inmate account on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.
  •  A secretary who holds copies of all your records and your address book.  Check in with this person once a week so that family and friends know they can get a message to you at a regular time.  They should have access to a computer and the internet so that you can make information requests.
  •  Attorney to handle post-conviction matters.
  •  Medical advocate if you have any serious conditions or health needs.
Locate the following important records.  Mail yourself a copy and give them to your secretary to mail to you as needed:

High school diploma (otherwise you will be placed in GED classes)
  • Medical records.  If you have any special conditions, prepare to have an advocate working on your behalf on the outside.
  • List of addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.
  • Will (write it now if you don’t have one).
  • List of books & magazines to provide to people who would like to send a gift or care package.
Secure your valuables.  You can’t trust anyone to take care of them as well as you would, so you should either bury your valuable items in a watertight container or get a safe deposit box.  If you would like to save cash, convert it to bullion before storing it with a friend, in a safe deposit box, or in the ground.

As soon as you get your self-surrender address, circulate it to family and friends.

Medical Matters

Visit the dentist to treat any cavities or root canals.  Prison dental care is primitive, so take care of your teeth while you can.

Visit the optometrist to get new glasses which you will wear on the day you surrender.  (Contacts are not permitted.)

Get copies of all your medical records.  Do not assume you will have access to your prescription medications.  You will need to be evaluated by the prison medical staff and re-prescribed any medicines they decide to give you.

Money Matters

Budget $300-500 a month for commissary purchases.  This includes the $290/monthly commissary limit and the additional $200 you can spend on stamps and phone calls.  If your sentence includes restitution, you are required to make payments in prison from the money on your books.  Keep this in mind when you plan your monthly budget.

Western Union is the easiest and quickest way to get money on your books.  All you need is an inmate number and the operator will help you with the rest.

The Day You Surrender

You can take $1000 cash with you on the day you surrender.  Take at least a few hundred dollars to put on your commissary account immediately for phone calls, stamps, and food.

Use ink to write important phone numbers and addresses on your hands.  Tell your loved ones that it will take a few days, maybe even a week, to get your inmate phone account PIN set up so that you can make outgoing calls.

You are permitted to take your eyeglasses, wedding ring, and one religious jewelry item.  Bring your driver’s license so that you are eligible for any jobs that involve driving.  Leave your wallet and watch at home.  Wear throw-away clothes because they may or may not make it back to the address you designate.