Life holds many surprises, especially when it comes to social media. You may be familiar with a web site named Quora. People post questions on Quora and the readers answer them. Usually, those answers reference personal histories, educational background, or professional experience.
Sometimes I read answers to learn about something that is totally outside my experience. As an author, I find this helpful for seeing outside my own relatively limited life. I have sometimes asked questions about something I’m writing and have received informative answers that helped with solving a plot problem or explaining a technical issue.
Other times, I write answers where I think what I have to say will help or educate the person. Recently, however, I found myself reading a lot of answers to a particular question I commented on.
The Quora Question
“I am facing 30 years to life in federal prison. Should I take some clothes to prison? Is this allowed? Or will I have to wear prison uniform during the entire sentence?”
Now, I am not certain this is a real question. Quora pays for questions but not for answers, so people do submit stupid questions (Yes, there is such a thing), And several respondents called BS on it: So, there’s that.
I also see questions designed to stir up people’s emotions, and questions that can be answered with a five-second Google search. I ignore those.
When I read this one, however, I saw answers that focused completely on the alleged criminal, and I thought I would point out a different way of looking at it.
Full disclosure: I have no experience whatsoever with a criminal conviction, a prison sentence, doing time in either a federal or state prison, and life on the inside. But—you’re gonna love this—I do read mystery novels about Stephanie Plum, author Janet Evanovich’s character who works for a bail bondsman and hunts down people who have skipped bail.
My Quora Answer
Thus, I wrote the following answer:
“If you are facing this sentence but still free to pack your own clothes, that means you are probably out on bail. Given the severity of the sentence hanging over you, bail was probably significant. You may have put up your own money and/or your house as collateral, and thus are free to decide whether to give it all up by running. This is a “Your money or your life” situation and you would choose your life.
But, if someone else helped you out but putting up money or their home, or something else of great value, they will lose it all if you run. That will most likely have a negative impact on their finances and their lives. Here it’s not “Your money or your life” but “Their money or your life.”
Running will also betray the trust they have put in you. Do you really want to do that? Are you confident that you could pay them back by working for cash on a Mexican fishing boat? Do you not care about paying them back? Is your life the only one you care about?
I have no answers to any of those questions. I simply put them out there for you to consider. If you are not the only person in this equation, please consider the impact of your actions on others, especially if they are friends and family.”
Comments on the Answer
For some reason, readers began commenting on my answer instead of the original question. Thus, their comments appeared in my email and I was just astounded by what I saw. Many of the responses came from people who, unlike me, do have direct experience with what the questioner purports to be facing.
I read them all because the answers taught me something—or several things to be precise. I learned some new words and prison terminology. Some of them raised the hair on the back of my neck. One taught me something right away: “If it is federal charges they are facing and in that case there is no bail.” And now I know.
The responses to this person fit into several categories.
You can read all the answers I saw in their entirety here.
Run for Your Life
The first big surprise came from the number of respondents who recommended doing running from the law and even provided advice on how to do it. I admit that running would never have occurred to me, but some answers made perfect sense when I imagined myself in this situation.
“Run! Run like death certain is chasing you, don’t look back, and go somewhere where lawlessness and criminality is as common as oxygen.”
“… get yourself to another country that does not have an extradition agreement with the United States. Hang around Miami Florida and find somebody that’ll take you to Cuba.”
“Leave the country, leave the planet. If you have the means to do so.”
Don’t Run – They Will Catch You
Well, of course they will catch you. As one man pointed out, if they could catch Chapo Guzman, they can catch you. Then, of course, your life will be worse because running will add years onto what is already a hefty prison sentence.
“And don’t bother running either. You already got caught doing something stupid once already, hence the 30-year prison sentence. You’ll just get caught again. If you REALLY want to get out of the prison sentence, go kill yourself. Save some tax dollars and prove to us how tough you are.”
“Take it from a guy who have done that amount of time. Take your pill and work this thing out because if you want to be true to yourself you will not run but face whatever is in front of you, that’s what men do.”
Here’s How to Survive in Prison
Lots of folks chimed in with advice on how to survive in prison, starting with, “Forget about packing; they will provide everything you need.” Much of it came from people who had been there, done that, and wore the orange jump suit. The ones who got down to the real nitty gritty are the ones that creeped me out. You can read those for yourself as I will not quote them here. Following is a relatively mild example:
“… So be aware of where you are in prison and NOT CAMP SNOOPY…STAY OUTTA RACIAL GANG POLITICS OFF DRUGS, DONT GAMBLE…Try to get into a routine and your goin to be ok…lastly definitely DON’T GO IN BEING A TOUGH GUY, THAT WILL QUICKLY BACKFIRE ON YOUAN FAST.”
“Only thing I can say is don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re going to get 30 years to life in prison.”
My unofficial prize goes to the man who suggested the questioner go to Mexico and sell all his body parts because that’s better than doing a “30 rock.”
There are educations and then there are educations. I felt like a reporter sitting down with some ex-cons to find out what the prison experience is really like. I’m glad I learned about prison life from a Quora post instead of real-life experience. Personally, I like all my body parts and intend to keep them.